Tech Draft: Post Saudi Arabia technical thoughts

Tech Draft: Post Saudi Arabia technical thoughts

Tech Draft: Post Saudi Arabia technical thoughts

This edition of Tech Draft reflects on technical topics at the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix some of which were carried over from Bahrain’s season opener a week earlier.

After last weekend’s second round at the super-fast Jeddah Corniche Circuit, the Formula 1 season and new era is now in full swing, and whilst the Bahrain Grand Prix last weekend left some technical questions unanswered, this one has certainly raised some more.

First off, the bouncing at high speed experienced by F1 cars in 2022 due to ground effect aerodynamic stall that we affectionately refer to as “porpoising” continued to be an issue for many teams.

Even the pace setting Ferraris are still bouncing around at times, although at times it seemed that Carlos Sainz was suffering from it to a larger degree than Charles Leclerc in the free practice sessions. I suspect that converging car setups was the reason for it settling somewhat for Sainz in the race, though.

It appears that it is probably only Red Bull racing that has found some form of resolution for the behaviour, although I am not sure that the championship has visited a broad enough range of circuit characteristic types yet to confirm this.

That is not to say that Red Bull have fully mitigated the behaviour either because even they are still obviously bouncing around at times, but not as severely or as often as some. If it is so, it might be a reasonable question to ask whether it is due to Chief Technical Officer Adrian Newey having previous experience in designing ground effect F1 cars, even though it was decades ago?

Regardless, “porpoising” is not a problem that is going to be resolved in a hurry and by all at the same time, and I do wonder whether it will take something unfortunate such as a high speed accident directly attributable to the characteristic for the FIA and/or F1 to step in with a more formal regulative solution.

Closer racing, more overtaking and competitive diversity

After last week’s Bahrain Grand Prix, I wrote in GP247’s review Team Talk article that I felt that although I felt that at face value it appeared that the new era F1’s were able to race closer, follow each other better, and that the competitive spread was better, that I would reserve my judgement until we had seen a more diverse sample of circuit characteristics, and I still feel that way.

I do feel as though we need to see how the 2022 cars race together at circuits such as Imola, Barcelona, and Monaco, but after Jeddah, I’m already feeling very positive about it. The hard racing at the front at the end of Sunday’s race between Leclerc and Max Verstappen seemed to be free of obvious aero-wash losses, tyre over-heating, and engine cooling issues.

Although, if I was to have one very early concern, it might be that its possible that DRS is now redundant to requirement.

Push or pull rod front suspension?

One of the more intriguing arguments raging with f1 technical pundits at the moment is whether or not the pushrod or the pull-rod is the most effective front suspension geometry concept for the new rules.

The reason for adopting one over the other is the way the suspension designs can be packaged, how desired suspension angles can be accommodated, and how the front center of gravity and roll center are optimized.

Some attribute the front end pushrod design of the Ferrari F1-75 to its better ability to generate front tyre carcass temperature in comparison to the front end pull-rod concept of the Red Bull RB18.

Ultimately though, it will be about each team optimizing their own concept and persevering with it because a change to the other concept at this stage of the design life of the cars is impossible for all practical purposes.

Red Bull’s fuel issue; remember Sebastian Vettel in Hungary 2021?

In the immediate aftermath of the Bahrain Grand prix rumours were rife that the reliability issues of both the RB18’s of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez were the same as each other, and due to an issue with a lift pump.

However, by the time the F1 circus had arrived and settled down for action in the Jeddah paddock, the real reason behind Red Bull Racing’s fueling was confirmed by the team as something different, a vapour lock that wasn’t venting.

Does that sound familiar? It should!

Cast your memory back to Sebastian Vettel’s disqualification from second in the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix because the FIA was unable to extract the full 1 liter fuel sample required by the rules.

The fuel tank in an F1 car is a vulcanized composite rubber and cloth bladder cell that is positioned in a void in the carbon composite monocoque directly behind the driver’s back.

However, due to the highly complex packaging geometries of a modern F1 car in the space directly behind the driver, the fuel cell has become a geometrical beast with all sorts of undercuts and shapes that can create vapour locks as heat sinks into the cell environment throughout longer runs that can sometimes result in fuel pickup issues, even though there may be sufficient fuel somewhere in the volume.

In eras past when more exhaustive testing has been allowed, these sorts of issues have generally been ironed out before the first race of the season.

Nevertheless, after a successful full race completion by both cars in Jeddah,  I would expect that Red Bull have by now completely mitigated the issue, and that we won’t see it happening again in 2022.

Mick Schumacher’s brutal accident

Now that we have witnessed two races at two very different circuits with completely different characteristics, I think the on-track action we have been privy to so far is a firm confirmation that the team responsible for developing the set of technical regulations defining the new-for-2022 definition of F1, led by Ross Brawn, Nikolas Tombazis, Pat Symonds, and Rob Smedley have not only improved the close proximity handling capabilities of an F1 car, but they have also ensured that driver safety is above all, with Mick Schumacher’s terrible accident in Q2 on Saturday night providing all the evidence you would ask for.

The accident was a very high speed one, and although the angle of incidence was oblique enough for it to not be fully frontal, the frontal component was enough for it to be a real test not only to the deformable side impact structures, but to the frontal structures as well.

The mere fact that Mick walked away and in theory could have driven the very next day was testament to the safety measures mandated by the technical regulations and built into his car.

Of course, the catastrophic loading resulted in the carbon bellhousing detaching from the power unit engine block, but the drivers survival cell was intact, there was no side penetration into the drivers area, it appears the halo device may have prevented debris entering, and due to the helmet padding and HANS device Mick’s head and neck weren’t subject to severe whiplashing.

F2 serving as F1’s training ground?

This season there is no doubt that, from a technical standpoint, there has been a need for drivers to use different driving techniques to realise ultimate speed out of the cars, primarily due to the change to the adoption of ground effect aerodynamics, 18” diameter wheels, and increased weight.

I am a fan of the Formula 2 Championship, and I follow the races as best I can, and it was when I was watching Saturday’s F2 sprint race in Jeddah that it dawned on me that in the context of the technical change that F1 has encountered from the start of this season, drivers who have progressed into F1 from the end of the 2018 F2 season onwards might already have a head start on the more senior adversaries of theirs that are currently on the grid.

Lando Norris, George Russell, Mick Schumacher, Yuki Tsunoda , and Zhou Guanyu have all had to come to grips with the ground effect Dallara F2 2018 chassis that weighs in excess of 700kg, whilst Schumacher, Tsunoda and Zhou have also done so on Pirelli rubber fitted to 18” wheels.

Whether this observation is just pure coincidence remains to be seen, but all seem to have adapted quite well in 2022, to date.

The red flashing tail lights do mean something!

Finally, contrary to the conclusion of the Sky F1 commentators during Sundays telecast when Verstappen was complaining to his engineer on the radio about Leclerc’s erratic rear tail light flashing, of course it does matter. The lights might not be brake lights, but they do flash when a power unit is de-rating, and drivers can use this to help plan overtaking attacks accordingly.

Commentators should know better.