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Flexible friends: redux

31st July 2010

“Until we saw your pictures we had no idea at all…”

That’s quite an honest (and rare in the know-it-all world of Formula 1) admission to make – especially when it comes from a very high-up director of a title-challenging team.

Even the television pundits who dismissed the flexible wing story as a “red herring” at Hockenheim had to take it seriously in Hungary!

How could they not?

The Red Bull RB6 was a monstrous machine at the Hungaroring, demonstrating physics-defying levels of grip and speed. All that, combined with its sheer poise and ability to change direction, resulted in a 1.2-second Q3 advantage over the nearest non-RBR car.

The nose/front wing section introduced at Silverstone played its part, so let’s look at the details.

When designing a formula car it’s a given that a stiff front wing should give better handling consistency than a flexible one; but with subsequent analysis and control, flex can be applied with both bend and twist employed to keep a consistent balance.

Both the RB6 and Ferrari F10 appear to have wings that increase in flex as the car’s speed builds, but it would be interesting to know if the movement takes place at a fairly low speed up to an end stop, so that the gain is always there, resulting in increased aero efficiency and grip levels.

Interest is also focused on the Red Bull front crash structure.

After the new wing failed on Sebastian Vettel’s car during practice at Silverstone, Red Bull cited circuit bumps for the breakage – but certain switched-on F1 insiders suspected something different.

At speed and under heavy aero load the nose appears to droop, which would suggest that they are either running a pivoting nose, or some device to allow the front of the flat bottom – known as the bib – to flex up and away from the ground so that they can run an overall lower front ride height.

If this part of the car is not measured during scrutineering, a preloaded pivot of the nose would not show as excessive deflection (when measuring the front wing flex), meaning the car is passed as legal.

Perhaps Red Bull should paint the RB6’s nose section blue and not yellow, since this only serves to highlight the Concorde–like droop!

Of course, running the front low will give a big gain, probably at least 0.1 seconds per millimetre, but since the new way of measuring the permitted clearance was introduced it’s been very difficult for designers to find legal ways of getting back to where they were.

Ferrari (the F10 runs very low at the front, too) and Red Bull have perhaps found an ingenious way to get around the measuring procedure while doing something quite different when the car is on track.

Now that the FIA has announced that front wing deflection tests will be ramped up for the Belgian Grand Prix it will be very interesting to see the results of any changes made.

If the governing body only reduces the amount of permitted front wing flex, the difference in lap times will be small – but if they also stop any flexing of the of the bib, the difference will be big.

Watch that space.

Please now take a few minutes to enjoy my pictures from the 2010 Hungarian Grand Prix by clicking here.

 

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