Tech analysis: Mercedes rivals' early push to catch up in 2018

With both Formula 1 drivers' and teams' titles going to the Mercedes camp, closest rivals Ferrari and Red Bull have ramped up 2018 development, aiming to prevent the same outcome next year.

Tech analysis: Mercedes rivals' early push to catch up in 2018

The curtain has come down on another F1 season, in which a relentless rate of development has helped swing the balance of power from race to race.

In the final few grands prix of the season, with the pecking order largely settled, crews up and down the paddock have set about understanding concepts for their 2018 challengers, sacrificing time during free practice sessions in order to get feedback from their drivers and get full-scale, real-world data.

Red Bull

Red Bull RB13 push rod suspension
Red Bull RB13 push rod suspension

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Red Bull has been evaluating a new suspension set-up since Austin (above), in an effort to improve the ride and handling characteristics of next year's car but also to optimise the car's pitch characteristics, allowing the team to refine the aerodynamic concept.

Red Bull RB13, front wing comparison
Red Bull RB13, front wing comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

In Abu Dhabi, Red Bull accelerated preparations for 2018, trialling a totally revamped front wing that was tested in tandem with the suspension layout.

The changes centred on a more conventional wrap-over-flap arrangement (blue arrows), while the primary flap (red arrow) was also turned down and connected to the mainplane and neutral central section juncture - as is commonplace up and down the grid.

This also required the shape of the adjoining mainplane sections to be altered, all of which adds up to a revised vortex being shed from the region (Y250).

The revised wing also deals differently with the outer portion of the wing, as it was increased in width (yellow highlight). This section of the wing is usually reserved for shaping the airflow around the front tyre, improving the shape of the wake being generated, pulling it away from the floor to improve downforce and reduce drag.

Lastly, and connected to these changes, was a different approach to the inner endplate canards, as the twin, twisted configuration used throughout 2017 was replaced with a simpler version.

Ferrari

F1’s development cycle is as much about recognising your opponents' strengths and weaknesses as your own.

More often than not, we see design trends appear up and down the grid as one team finds a solution that becomes of interest of all their competitors.

This season, one such area has been the diffuser, a focus for designers given the much larger volume made available to them with the revised regulations. As such, we have seen teams treating the periphery of the diffuser in a different way.

2017 diffuser edges
2017 diffuser edges

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren, Renault and Toro Rosso have all chosen to reduce the overall width of the actual diffuser, utilising a series of extra vertical surfaces formed by multiple Gurney trims to form a more complex outer wall that sees high pressure from the upper surface injected into the edge vortex.

The idea is to change the vortex's properties, improving downforce and reducing its susceptibility to ingress from air squirted laterally into its path by the tyres as they deform under load.

Williams FW40, Ferrari SF70H and Ferrari SF15-T diffuser upstands
Williams FW40, Ferrari SF70H and Ferrari SF15-T diffuser upstands

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

It’s something that has been worked on extensively by Ferrari already over the last few years, albeit in a different way, as the Italian team loaded the upper surface of the diffuser's upper corner with an array of different flaps in order to affect the pressure gradient, consequently pulling airflow through the diffuser at a different rate while having an effect on the edge vortex.

Ferrari SF70H new diffuser, Abu Dhabi
Ferrari SF70H new diffuser, Abu Dhabi

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

However, having noted the move toward this trend by its competitors, Ferrari trialled its own version during free practice in Abu Dhabi.

In an ironic turnaround, considering Sebastian Vettel’s comments in Singapore about Red Bull’s deflectors - which are essentially a carbon copy of Ferrari's design - it is Red Bull’s design that the Scuderia’s diffuser bears the most significant resemblance to.

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About this article

Series Formula 1
Event Abu Dhabi GP
Location Yas Marina Circuit
Teams Ferrari , Red Bull Racing
Author Matt Somerfield
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