Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Red Bull bring back the shark fin

March 10th, 2009 No comments

RB5 shark finLast month, when Williams introduced their radical ‘skate fins’ I wondered why Adrian Newey, the man who introduced shark fins to Formula One, decided to shrink the engine cover on the new Red Bull RB5 to little more than a ‘stingray barb’.

Well, it seems like he was just teasing us as Red Bull have arrived at the Circuit de Catalunya with the mother of all shark fins.  As you can see in the picture, the engine cover of the RB5 now stretches all the way back to the rear wing!  There’s a closer view at

The 2009 race season hasn’t even started and already the teams are seeing what kind of crazy stuff they can fit around the new aero regulations.  McLaren have installed a completely new floor with cutout sections near the rear wheels and whether the FIA will allow Williams to keep the skate fins remains to be seen.

I don’t really mind the standard shark fin and even those skate fins are ok but I think the Red Bull’s new engine cover spoils an otherwise good looking car.

Shark fins, skate fins and the new Williams paint job

February 27th, 2009 No comments

Trulli testing the TF109 in BahrainIt seems like fins may be making a return to Formula One in 2009.

Renault’s R29 was launched with an elongated ‘shark fin’ engine cover and Toyota, despite launching their TF109 without it, have been using one in testing.

Now, at the launch of their final high-tech livery for 2009, Williams’s FW31 has grown a pair of ‘skate fins’ either side of the cockpit.

Red Bull was the first team to introduce a fin-shaped engine cover on their RB4 in pre-season testing at Barcelona last year and by the end of 2008 almost all the teams were using some kind of elongated engine cover.  Williams tested a shark fin but never raced it.

The shark and skate fins are intended to improve the quality of airflow over the rear wing.  This increases downforce and so allows the teams to run a lower rear wing angle, thereby increasing top speed.  It should also provide enhanced rear-end stability under braking.

Given the reduction in downforce levels for 2009 it is perhaps surprising that only Toyota and Renault have chosen to carry over the full-blown shark fin from last year and Adrian Newey, the man who first introduced it to F1, has shrunk the fin on the new Red Bull RB5 to a pointy little spike (stingray barb?)

The new aerodynamic regulations for 2009 have forced the car designers to go back to the drawing board and I expect we will see other teams finding holes in the regulations that they can exploit as the season progresses.

Pictures of the new Williams FW31 livery are below:

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Williams saves weight with paint

February 23rd, 2009 No comments

Williams FW31 testing at AlgarveWilliams have announced they are extending their partnership with paint supplier PPG who have been supplying paint for Williams race cars since 2003.

When you look at a Formula One car the paint job is one of the first things you notice and getting it right can turn an average looking car into a piece of art.  But it’s not just about making a car look good.

While McLaren recently highlighted their paint partner AkzoNobel’s advances in reducing the time required to paint a new part, Williams claim that PPG have developed a paint that can give important weight savings that will translate to faster lap times on the track.

According to the Williams press release:

Every weight saving on our race cars makes a real and direct contribution to lap time and paint finishes are part of this consideration. PPG have consistently helped us maintain our finish standards while reducing the weight demand. This winter we have worked in tandem on another progression in the painting of the FW31 race cars which has enabled us to use less primer and no lacquer coat, providing another significant step forward. We value their important contribution and this new and extended agreement is both commercially and competitively welcome.

I have no doubt that, after losing the sponsorhip of Baugur, Lenovo and Petrobras, the agreement is commercially welcome but can a significant weight saving really be made from paint?

There is a (probably apocryphal) story that this is how the 1934 Mercedes Silver Arrows racing cars got their colour.  Before the introduction of sponsorship, racing cars had always been painted in the traditional colour for their country; Britain was British Racing Green, France was French Blue and Italy was, of course, Rosso Corsa.  German cars were painted White.  From 1934 onwards a maximum weight limit of 750kg was introduced and Mercedes-Benz found that their W25 weighed 751kg.  After puzzling over what they could do to lose weight, racing manager Alfred Neubauer came up with the idea of scraping off all the paint to leave the silver aluminium exposed.  This supposedly saved the 1kg required and the Silver Arrows were born.

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Williams won’t use KERS in Melbourne. Will anyone?

February 18th, 2009 No comments

Nico HulkenbergWilliams have ruled out using KERS at the first race of the season in Melbourne at the end of March and as the Malaysian Grand Prix is the following weekend it is unlikely they will run the system there, either.

KERS devices store energy created under braking which can then be converted into power at the touch of a button, giving a boost of up to 80hp.  Williams have chosen to go down a different route with their KERS development; while most teams have opted for an electronic device, Williams are using a kinetic version that uses a flywheel instead of storing electrical energy in batteries.

A Williams spokesman said:

We’re clear that we’re not going to be using it in Australia but not clear when we will use it.

Integrating KERS into an F1 car raises a number of complications.  Electrical devices generate significant heat which must be dissipated somehow, a problem made harder by the new aero rules banning ‘gills’ in the bodywork. Williams’s kinetic device shouldn’t have the same heat problems as the electrical devices but it still has what is probably the biggest drawback to using KERS: weight.

To get the most out of the slick tyres being introduced in 2009 an F1 car’s weight needs to be shifted forward.  A KERS device takes up weight that could be used for ballast to better balance the car.  It also shifts the car’s centre of gravity higher and it’s location may compromise the fuel tank capacity.

So what have the teams said of their KERS development?


Williams haven’t even run KERS in testing.  Kazuki Nakajima:

To be honest, so far, I have never run a car with KERS.  We once had KERS on the car but we didn’t use it – I never pushed that button.


The only other team, apart from Williams, to definitely rule it out.  At the launch of the TF109, Toyota announced they would start the season without KERS.


Heikki Kovalainen seems pretty confident in his McLaren:

KERS has been running pretty well – it’s been running at full-power without any errors so that’s quite encouraging.


Despite being one of the most vocal critics of KERS, Ferrari’s testing seemed to be going well.  At Mugello Kimi Raikkonen had positive results saying:

The system works well like every other new component.

However on Tuesday Kimi  spent more than three hours in the pits because of a problem with the cooling circuit.


KERS’s biggest supporter, BMW’s Mario Theissen, is not sure whether it will be ready for the first race:

I am sure we will be ready at some point; I don’t know if we will be ready for Melbourne


Fernando Alonso seems to think Renault will use KERS in Melbourne:

Our system is truly competitive, it is working well with no problems.  I think we will start the championship with it and without many concerns, but we have to test it first.

Red Bull

Red Bull have the same KERS system as Renault but team principal Christian Horner won’t say when they will use it:

We have to wait and see if it proves its worth in testing and then decide whether or not we run it at the first race in Melbourne.

The others

While the Force India and Toro Rosso cars are yet to be revealed it is expected they will incorporate their respective partners’ devices; McLaren for Force India and Ferrari for Toro Rosso.

So will any teams use KERS in Melbourne?  While no-one wants to commit to it publicly, I reckon we will see at least one team ready to push the K button at the first race.  Yes, there is a weight trade-off and cooling and reliability could be a problem  but I think that extra 80hp could really provide an advantage even if it is only used off the line and into the first corner.

Image: Williams F1

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What is aero mapping?

February 17th, 2009 No comments

BMW scale model in the wind tunnelThe pre-season testing reports have often made reference to ‘aero mapping’.  But what is it?

In this post I take a look at what it means when Hamilton spends the morning “concentrating on aero mapping and finding a good balance” but first, a disclaimer: I’m no aeronautical engineer.  If there are any engineers reading this, please feel free to correct any mistakes in the comments!

Basically, an aero map is aerodynamic data; numbers on a piece of paper, or more likely in a computer. The aero map shows how the wing elements and ride heights on a racing car perform in different settings in terms of lift and drag.  Race engineers can then use these maps to help them choose the best settings for a particular circuit.

Because it is just a set of numbers, the aero map can be loaded into a simulator for testing.  Pedro de la Rosa explained how they simulated Ferrari’s flexible rear-wing:

In the simulator, we tried an aero-map, all theoretical, nothing physical. Based on those numbers, we were able to achieve higher topspin. This is what I tested in the simulator. As far as I know, we never raced with that. It was just another item tested in the simulator.

Although a racing car’s basic shape and general aerodynamic performance are first sketched out on the designer’s drawing-board, this is only the beginning.  Over the course of development and testing every team spends many hours in the wind tunnel trying different setups and parts and ‘mapping’ the results.  The same concept can also be applied to track testing using laser sensors and suspension force transducers.


A slightly less technical solution was also seen in testing at Jerez recently when the McLaren of Heikki Kovalainen was spotted with a green liquid on the chassis.  According to a McLaren spokesman:

This is what we call a ‘flow vis’  – where we take a paraffin-based light solution and apply it to the car.  The solution is light enough to flow over the car, drying quickly to determine the airflow over the bodywork.

This is a common occurrence when testing new cars and is used to confirm the wind tunnel readouts.

With the limitations on testing this year and the new aerodynamic regulations all the teams are working hard to make the most of the track time before the season starts.  The aero maps created will be vital in helping the race engineers find the perfect setup for Melbourne in a month’s time.

Images: BMW AG, XPB

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