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Flexible friends

27th July 2010

Friday afternoon trackside at one of Silverstone’s flat-out sections, viewfinder to my eye, I focused in on the fast-approaching Red Bull RB6.

Panning smoothly as the car rushed towards me I noticed something odd. The front wing endplates, usually running parallel to the ground, seemed almost to be touching the Tarmac below.

Now I probably wasn’t alone in noticing that the Red Bull’s front wing – from the season’s opening race – appeared lower than that of its rivals, but what I spied on the run to Abbey seemed more pronounced.

Coincidentally the events that unfolded at the British Grand Prix centred on Vettel’s and Webber’s new front wings – or rather, post-P3, Vettel’s front wing.

Perhaps the brouhaha surrounding the team’s supposed favouring of one driver over the other distracted attention from the front wing itself, and from its apparent flexibility. I resolved to dig a little before shooting the cars at Hockenheim.

Now you don’t need to be a car designer to know that there are obvious advantages to running a formula car’s front aerofoils as close to the road as possible. A considerable increase in downforce with very little increase in drag are just two of the major benefits.

Drawbacks are few, possible high speed oversteer and perhaps an inherent reduction in strength – which could result in dramatic failures.

Certainly some rival team engineers suspect that Vettel’s wing failure at Silverstone may have had something to do with the inner workings of Red Bull’s trick new nose section.

At high speed and under heavy load the RB6’s ground-hugging, skirt-like front wing endplates bring to mind a late ’70s, early ’80s ground effect car: the air speeds up as it’s channelled underneath, sucking the machine closer to the road, resulting in awesomely fast corner speeds.

Indeed at Barcelona earlier this year Mercedes’ GPS system, busy tracking the F1 cars careening around the flat-out Turn 3, registered similar entry speeds for the MGP W01 and the RB6.

A few seconds later, at the corner’s exit, things had changed. The Red Bull was pulling away with a 12kph advantage.

If that’s the kind of performance the Milton Keynes outfit had with its old front section, imagine it with the new one.

Judging from my photographs Ferrari has worked out the secret – although the front wings on both the F10s and the RB6s have been deemed legal, so the rest must now follow.

There’ll be some midnight oil burning hard in Woking, Brackley, Enstone, Wantage, Hingham, Hinwil, et al.

The 2010 F1 arms race just went to Defcon 1.

 

Please now take a few minutes to enjoy my pictures from the 2010 German Grand Prix including the flexible wing shots by clicking here.

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