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Key innovations for 2013

Small sidepods, passive stalling devices and interesting exhaust configurations come to mind as some of the key components that will be seen in the upcoming 2013 Formula 1 season.
Monday, February 18, 2013

February 15th, 2013 (F1plus/James Parker).- Winter Testing is now underway and all focus is now turned on to the 2013 Formula 1 season. With limited regulation changes ahead of 2014 where things will really be shaken up, cars for this year are following the philosophy of evolution rather revolution, and that in itself will leave designers scratching their heads on performance gains that can be had with upgrades during the season.

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So, we don’t plan to go deep into the technical jargon, but rather to provide a simple yet effective assessment on the potential development races that will occur during 2013, what areas of the car are to see fairly big changes and what might dominate the new year in terms of on track action, so with that in mind, without further ado, let’s get started.

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Passive Stalling Devices and Flexible Wings

The first yet most hotly developed area of the cars this season potentially will be the great mysterious passive stalling devices, and a knock on effect of this will be “flexi wings”. For 2013, as most of you will now know, DRS regulations have changed by a considerable amount. Whereas in 2012 drivers during practice sessions and qualifying were allowed to use an unlimited amount of DRS during a lap in order to maximise lap time advantage, for 2013, that is all set to change.

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Based on safety grounds the FIA have stated that DRS use in both sessions will now be restricted to its ruling in the race, where DRS can only be switched on in designated areas on the race track or more commonly known as the “DRS zones”. As we also know, for 2013, the regulations have stated that any DRS operated DDRS (or Double DRS systems) are banned on cars which were first innovated by Mercedes utilising a special nose cone which channelled air over the front wing and therefore stalled it on activation of the DRS device.

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This leads us beautifully on to passive stalling devices, with the new DRS reg changes for 2013, it will put even more emphasis on rear wing stalling in an attempt to attain as greater straight line speed - DRS is no longer king.

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The Lotus F1 team in anticipation for the 2013 season changes were developing a passive system late on last year around Suzuka and Korea time, utilising “ears” on the side of the airbox to channel air down tubing within the rear bodywork, at which point it reaches an L shaped duct. It then directs the airflow towards the rear wing therefore creating a stalling effect.

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Lotus tried its own DRD at Jerez. the final unit will probably be different for the the first race.

The whole system is completely passive, and the devil is really in the detail. For it to work, a “switch” needs to happen in the airflow, for it to detach itself away from the main central duct and therefore up the L duct towards the rear wing. This is done through a fluid switch that, when at a certain speed is reached; the airflow is encouraged to pass through the L Shaped duct thanks to a step in the main ductwork before they split.

In winter testing at Jerez, the “ears” were once again present on the Lotus E21, but it is unknown whether substantial testing did occur during the 4 days of running. The big hurdle the team faced with the passive system was generating the right balance in terms of aero stability last year. You do not want the rear wing to stall at a relatively low speed as the car will lose a substantial amount of rear downforce and then become hugely unstable. But then of course you do not want the opposite effect and the system activate at a much higher speed, as that speed will be much harder to obtain and therefore the advantages of the stalling effect will be greatly reduced – it is all about compromise.

Adrian Newey has been working hard during the winter, and for the RB9, at the Jerez Winter test the RedBull team debuted their own depiction of the passive system. It featured a system that utilised the beam wing potentially which directed air towards the bottom plane of the rear wing (big thanks to Matt Somerfield -@SomersF1- for pointing out the beam wing concept). This is of course a lot different to the periscope type system feeding the rear wing with an L Duct that both Lotus and Mercedes have played with.

The importance of this system, if implemented correctly and a balance can be found is potentially huge. With limited DRS usage now in force throughout an entire Grand Prix weekend, a passive system that can stall the rear wing effectively will give any team a great advantage throughout an entire lap – not just in the DRS zones as the DDRS was solely being used for.

Wings won't be as flexible as they were in 2012. (Getty)

Of course alongside this new innovation, is the adoption of “flexi wings” pioneered by many teams last season, more controversially by RedBull, whose front wing on the RB8 was seen on numerous occasions in slow motion replays flexing quite freely under load. This was done by the front wing flexing on a horizontal axis when under a certain frontal load at speed and therefore reducing its effectiveness in terms of drag, increasing straight line speed round a lap.

It is generally regarded that the RB8 last season was potentially one of the slowest cars in a straight line, especially at aero heavy circuits such as the Hungaroring and Singapore – Newey once again following his philosophy of downforce perfection. Due to this substantial disadvantage at many circuits, it is thought that it is the reason why RedBull pushed the boundaries in terms of “flexi wings” maximising the stalling effect on the hugely efficient front wing and therefore enabling themselves claw back as much straight line speed as possible on rivals Ferrari, Lotus and McLaren.

For 2013 however, the rules have been tweaked, whereas in 2012 only 1 downward load test was needed to pass a front wing, at each end, for 2013 a further load test will be added before any front wing is deemed legal.

This further test will see two more downward reference points given, one further forward and another further back from the current points. This is all to clamp down on the amount the wings are currently flexing in a bid to minimise the effects they have. Will this stop teams reaching the limits in terms of flexing? I do not think so, and I fully expect it to be an area of intense development for some teams as big rewards can be gained.

Exhaust & Diffuser area

For 2013 one of the key aspects of development for any team will be the exhaust and diffuser area, especially after the strides RedBull made last season with major upgrades around the exhaust area for the Asian leg of the 2012 season. Ever since the ban on EBD’s after 2011, teams have been desperately trying to optimise the airflow towards the rear of the car and sculpting exhaust gases towards the diffuser in order to gain back as much rearward downforce and stability as possible.

This image from SUTTON shows the tightness of the RB9 in the back.

For the 2013 Formula 1 season, with stable regulations as such, the biggest gains can be made in this area, and many teams have already caught my eye in this respect. Caterham have been highly controversial during the Jerez winter tests with a hugely intuitive exhaust design that has caused Lotus F1 Technical Director – James Allison to question its legality. Within the exhaust exit channel itself, the Caterham team have placed a distinctive turning vane covered in a thermal coating which looks to direct the hot gases exiting the exhaust towards the rear floor and on to the diffuser.

The turning vane of course increases the efficiency in which the airflow hits the rear floor area and the knock on effect of that is increased downforce. Whether it remains for the first race in Albert Park is yet to be seen but it could be a solution which some teams look to follow. Of course the benchmark for the 2013 season is expected to be the RB9 and when we look at the rear of RedBull car it is incredibly interesting.

One of the biggest challenges for any team is to channel any potential airflow travelling around the car as well as over it towards the influential diffuser area. Around the exhaust area of the RB9 the under-tunnel configuration remains, which influences the airflow around the sidepod area and directs it towards the rear floor of the car alongside the exiting hot gases of the exhaust. The half-shaft covers remain on the suspension components in order to utilise it as an aero device, leading to airflow not be disrupted and therefore increased efficiency is achieved.

This area surrounding the rear floor is where I expect big gains to be made throughout 2013. The whole objective of any team is to minimise the disruption airflow faces when it goes over a car, leaving them greater choices when it comes to influencing that airflow to where they want it – IE the diffuser.

Sauber's C32 features very small sidepods.

This is where the Sauber comes in. The C32 is all designed around the principle of complete rear aerodynamic efficiency with the objective to achieve the least amount of restrictive elements on airflow over the car towards the rear. By doing this they have made the sidepods 10-15cm narrower than last season, and have created an incredibly aggressive undercut to allow more airflow around the car towards the diffuser.

This takes the principle of tightly packaged sidepods to the next level, to a point that no other team have tried. Of course incredibly small sidepods can potentially cause cooling issues, and radiator housing was a monumental hurdle to overcome with a distinctive lack of space according to Technical Director – Matt Morris.

But there have been no reported issues so far in winter testing at Jerez and if all tests are passed in Barcelona it could mean the C32 will not experience any difficulties during the 2013 season. Potentially this could leave Sauber as the surprise of the season as many people have already noted the stability and composure the car has in the much higher speed corners where aero efficiency and rear downforce come into their own.

The advantages of this are clear, smaller sidepods disrupt less airflow and therefore it then directly becomes more efficient itself. If the idea works, other teams cannot simply follow as the sidepod area is an intrinsic part of the overall chassis, not simply something you can just bolt on in an upgrade.

So what does this mean then?

2013 looks set to be a very exciting season for innovation. With the evolution rather than revolution philosophies that teams have been forced to adopt, it will mean that they will have to be a lot more creative in terms of extracting extra performance out of the cars as the year goes on. Passive devices should become an apparent no brainer when optimised with the new DRS restrictions and it will really be a race to see who can get it working first. Whether the substantial gains can be made in the exhaust area has yet to be seen, but I am really looking forward to see how the C32 Sauber car stands amongst rivals with its design so different to others on the grid.
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