The first test is over and it represents a great juncture to evaluate the F1 2018 cars. F1 teams are very smart when it comes to launching their cars. Launch usually happens a week before the tests and the teams are wary of the fact that rivals can copy a novel design. In order to keep the opposition guessing right until the last minute, teams launch their cars with last year design elements. A launch is basically a PR event and a livery show, therefore, elements like front wings, barge boards etc that can be copied aren’t shown.
But during the tests, we get a closer albeit still not the complete idea of what the cars are. So lets head down and take a look at the technical analysis of the different innovations which represent different philosophies of 2018.
The biggest visual change and differentiator for the McLaren is its sidepods. With numerous vanes sprouting out of the upper surface of the sidepod, this approach is unlike any other team. Of course, this is nothing new as McLaren ran the same design last year. But for 2018, the vanes have doubled in number to 6. I’m no aerodynamic engineer but my guess is that these vanes serve two purposes. First, it creates vortexes to energize the air and send it towards the back of the car. The other being to streamline and stabilize the air coming to it which is distorted as a result of the tyres. The sidepod intake size has also reduced a lot in comparison to last year. A direct comparison with this year’s Toro Rosso reveals the difference between the cooling requirements of both the engines. The Renault engine has far less cooling requirement than the Honda. This enabled the designers to reduce the size of the sidepods in general and reduce drag.
Another area of intrigue on the McLaren is the rear suspension which is vastly different from any other team. McLaren is no stranger to going the extra mile with its suspension to help benefit aerodynamics but this time they have gone one step further it seems. Even Adrien Newey is impressed. McLaren has reshaped and co-joined the wishbone elements to deliver the most aerodynamically efficient shape possible. The whole upper elements have been forged into a near single unit to help deliver an aerodynamic boost. However, such a move does not come without potential compromises in terms of weight and stiffness from the suspension point of view.
It wouldn’t be a Red Bull if it weren’t extreme, right? Right! The technical wizard that is Adrien Newey has once again come up with extremities that always make the opposition take notice while also propelling the underpowered Red Bull to fight for the top honors.
Two things are worth taking notice of in this year’s Red Bull. The first is the front suspension. The other is the sidepods.
Starting with the suspension, Red Bull has gone for very high suspension arms. Now usually the arms connect to the chassis directly i.e the pivoting point is on the chassis. But for 2018, the energy drinks company has gone for a setup which is higher than the chassis even. This has resulted in extensions on the chassis which then, in turn, carry the pivoting points.
The second innovation on the Red Bull is the sidepod. There is a reason that all the cars usually have the same width of the sidepods. The reason is that these sidepods carry the side impact structure. Think of it as a horizontal shaft which absorbs the energy which results from any impact on the car from sideways. The structure usually sits above the sidepod inlet. Last year Ferrari came up with an innovation and put this structure beneath the sidepod inlet allowing the inlet to sit high up. Red Bull took cue from the Ferrari design and went ahead. They have completely detached the structure from the sidepod placing it infront of the inlet. This serves two purposes. First, now that the sidepod need not accommodate the structure, it can be smaller. Second, the impact structure now acts as an aerodynamic structure and an attachment point for the bargeboards.
The most radical car last year was the Ferrari. Under the stern command of Sergio Marchione, the Italian designers and engineers came out the most creative they had been. Last year Ferrari had not one but two inlets on each sidepod. This greatly reduced drag while still fulfilling the cooling requirements. The SF70H was aerodynamically the best car last year.
The Ferrari design was so novel that a couple of teams have copied it for this year. Ferrari, on the other hand, has moved a step ahead. Let’s take a look at the innovations the Italian stable has introduced for this year.
Starting with the sidepods, the two inlets per sidepod philosophy is carried on. But both are roughly the same size meaning that the cooling requirements of the car are less. This, in turn, reduces the size of the sidepods reducing the drag and aiding aerodynamics. Ferrari has installed a number of turning vanes on the sidepod shoulder in exposed carbon black to guide airflow towards the rear end.
But the most intriguing element is the wing mirror on the Ferrari. The Italian designers have come up with very interesting mirrors. On the SF71H, Ferrari has been very creative by allowing air to pass through the mirror pod and, presumably, out and around the top and bottom of mirror the other side. They won’t produce downforce, as the air is split evenly through the pod, but they will manage the wake more effectively and could reduce drag slightly in the process.
The season will start from 25th of March and it is from then onwards, over the course of the year, we will get to see which innovation propels which team forward.