Tech Talk: Bahrain front wings and the never ending quest for more downforce

With potential developments of the all new V6 turbo Power Units now frozen, generating downforce through aero tweaks for the new era Formula 1 cars is a development battle which will rage all year long and in Bahrain some of the big hitters had some interesting front wing options on offer – tech guru Matt Somerfield dissects it all for us;

Red Bull RB10 front wing

Red Bull RB10 front wing

Red Bull RB10

We all know of Red Bull’s PU plight, with an unsubstantiated figure of the team being short of 80bhp being touted around. Aerodynamically though the RB10 is a strong contender and follows in a long line of Newey penned cars that take advantage of extremely sculpted bodywork.

Red Bull have therefore arrived in Bahrain looking to skew some of their aerodynamic performance in order to reduce drag, making up for their poor speed trap times, owing to the bhp disadvantage. One of these changes came in the form of a new front wing;

As we can clearly see the team have stripped the RB10’s wing of the upper cascade elements in an effort to counter the changes at the rear of the car. The cascades are used to help shape the wake induced by the front tyres, guiding airflow up and around the front tyre in order to pull the wake away from the outside edge of the floor.

What is important to note however is that Red Bull have made marked changes to RB10’s front wing for 2014 when compared with the RB9.

Red Bull RB9 front wing

Red Bull RB9 front wing

Having for a long time (like their rivals) pursued a front wing design with more slotted sections at the wings outer section, the RB10’s wing differs. With the 2014 regulations dictating a front wing 150mm narrower (75mm either side) an effort by all the teams has been made to change the flow characteristics in order to retain the same effect as their predecessors.

Red Bull have decided to abandon the premise of more slots at the outer edge of the wing and instead run 5 full length flaps (three made up from splits in the mainplane) with a slot in the upper most flap running half it’s length making it a 6 tier wing, when compared with last years 7 tier wing (See below for last years cascade-less front wing for Monza).

The upshot of the new front wing’s additional full length flap (now 5 rather than 4, with the 4 flap/cascaded wing used in Australia shown below).

Red Bull RB10 front wing used in Australia

Red Bull RB10 front wing used in Australia

The front wing used in Malaysia featured 5 flaps (but retained the cascades) is likely an even more controlled, precise Y250 vortex, protecting the centralised flow (under the nose) from the wake of the front tyre and increasing the effectiveness of the flow around the sidepods (which in turn increases performance over the rear of the floor and the diffuser).

Whilst the full length flaps work to move air outbound around the tyre (with the assistance of the strakes beneath the wing) the flaps still maintain the proportionate amount of downforce delivery. The loss of the cascades isn’t catastrophic, as not only will there be a marked reduction in drag but this years tyres are markedly more resilient.

Construction wise the tyres deform less when cornering, in order to be more compliant with the additional torque that the new Power Units provide. This means that because they change shape less, controlling the wake has become less challenging and therefore Red Bull obviously believe the cascades to be less important.

Mercedes W05 nose and front wings in Bahrain pitlane

Mercedes W05 nose and front wings in Bahrain pitlane

Mercedes WO5

Mercedes have been carrying around and trialing a new Front Wing since Melbourne but this past weekend it got raced for the first time.

As I have previously discussed the new wing features a change in endplate ethos (above, new wing, front) whilst the smaller outer cascade was also replaced by a vertical fin (below). At the last race in Malaysia the team continued to use the same front wing as we had seen them utilise since pre-season testing but allied to this were small Vortex Generators placed on the flaps in order to raise the efficiency of the rear strakes.

Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Bahrain Grand Prix, Practice, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Friday 4 April 2014.

Mercedes W05 front wing detail

Mercedes utilized the new wing at the start of the Bahrain GP weekend and didn’t look back, they did however learn from the specification used at the last race with Vortex Generators found on top of the flaps in order to assist the rearward strakes (above).

McLaren MP4-29

McLaren’s upgrades in Malaysia were indicative of a team that is still looking to expose aerodynamic performance from their car whilst also managing the effects of the new P U’s.

In Bahrain the team made a relatively small alteration to the main cascade, narrowing it’s width and adding a vertical ‘r’ vane in the centre. The vane’s job is to further assist in the movement of airflow outbound around the front tyre.

McLaren MP4-29 front wing detail

McLaren MP4-29 front wing detail

Centrally placed it’s ‘r’ shaping allows the airflow to bleed laterally across the cascade in yaw, conditioning the airflow and inevitably creating a vortex that rolls off it’s tip as the pressure gradients meet. The placement and shaping of the vane is therefore designed to mitigate losses associated with the reduction in surface area.

The idea of course is for the smaller cascade to do just as good a job as the larger iteration, reducing drag but retaining downforce and flow conditioning. The upshot is that the narrower cascade will also have less influence on the flaps below, further enhancing the wings properties. (Analysis by Matt Somerfield)

Subbed by AJN.