Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis
Topic

Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis

The rear wing rethink defining F1's title battle

The tiny margin between Formula 1's title protagonists Red Bull and Mercedes is forcing both to rethink their aerodynamic set-up at races this year.

The rear wing rethink defining F1's title battle

With speed gains in any area now being enough to swing form one way or another, the two teams have been locked in a game of cat and mouse about set-up approaches.

Of particular focus has been downforce levels, and especially rear wing configurations, as both balance the right level of downforce needed against the drag and impact this will have on tyres for qualifying and the race.

Obviously the drama surrounding flexi-wings fuelled intrigue about the designs of both teams, but that's not been the only development in a fight that is incredibly tight.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, passes Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes W12

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, passes Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes W12

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

The Portuguese Grand Prix was the first real sign that the teams were so close to each other that they were making concessions in order to one-up their rival.

In that instance, Lewis Hamilton's car was fitted with a lower downforce rear wing, which gave him the straight line speed boost needed to overhaul not only Verstappen but his team mate too.

The wing used by Hamilton utilised the double wing pillar configuration, but you'll also note the smaller mainplane and top flap, with the latter having a much shallower V-groove in the centre too.

Red Bull Racing RB16B rear wing comparison

Red Bull Racing RB16B rear wing comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

It was in Spain where the drama really started to ramp up though, as Red Bull had arrived with a new rear wing that would be traditional fare for what is considered a high downforce circuit.

The wing featured the more traditional shape and deeper profile in order to provide the downforce and balance required by the lower speed corners of the Circuit de Barcelona Catalunya.

However, with an eye on its rival down the pitlane, and not wanting to be susceptible to being overtaken, as it had been in Portugal, Red Bull switched to its spoon shaped rear wing for FP3, qualifying and the race.

This, of course, was the catalyst for the discourse over flexi-wings, as Lewis Hamilton and Toto Wolff made comments that threw the practice under the spotlight once more.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B
Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes W12

The higher downforce wing was obviously on the menu for both Red Bull and Mercedes as the sport returned to Monaco.

But, unlike the other teams, Red Bull opted to run without a T-wing for the extra stability and nominal downforce it can provide.

Meanwhile, over at Mercedes, it opted for its more simplistic but marginally more effective double element T-wing to try to help stabilize the rear end and give its drivers a little more confidence on a circuit that was never going to be a happy hunting ground for the silver arrows.

Red Bull was all set to take centre stage in Azerbaijan, as the threat of protests regarding its rear wing intensified.

But, it arrived at the street track with an entirely new design, one with the express intent of cutting downforce and drag and essentially nullifying the need for a wing that overtly flexed.

Red Bull Racing RB16B rear wing comparison

Red Bull Racing RB16B rear wing comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The new design featured a more gentle curvature to the lower portion of the mainplane, whilst the design features normally added to the endplate, such as the upwash strikes, serrated cutout and sinuous louvres, were all removed.

Meanwhile, Mercedes was struggling to get the best out of the W12 during Friday's free practice sessions in Azerbaijan and so opted to split its drivers once more.

Bottas pressed-on with the double pillar configuration that was also set-up with more downforce in mind, whilst Hamilton switched to the single pillar arrangement with a lower downforce configuration.

And, whilst Bottas continued to struggle, even though the extra downforce should have helped fire temperature into the tyres, Hamilton's W12 came to life and put him back in contention with the front runners.

The new technical directives surrounding the flexi-wings came into force for the French Grand Prix, putting to bed any question marks over the legality of the wings being used by the teams.

However, the game of cat and mouse between Mercedes and Red Bull continued at Paul Ricard, as whilst Red Bull ran the pre-Baku specification rear wing during Friday's sessions, it made the switch to the lower downforce wing for the rest of the weekend.

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes AMG F1 W12 rear wing, Azerbaijan Grand Prix
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W12 rear wing, Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Mercedes went in the opposite direction though, as whilst it tested both versions of its rear wing on Friday, it opted for the higher downforce arrangement on both cars for qualifying and the race, which was once again paired with the single centrally mounted pillar, rather than the double swan-neck pillar arrangement.

The choice between the two configurations not only has a bearing on the performance of the wing under normal conditions though, as the strength of the DRS when it's deployed also has to be factored in.

In the end, Red Bull's low downforce solution won out: as it gave Verstappen the straightline speed advantage that helped him hold off Hamilton after the first stops, and then overtake the Briton late on.

It's been fascinating to see how the battle over wings has played out over the course of the first seven races of the season, as it's a sort of mini tactical battle between the pair that's forcing both to make a choice that ultimately neither is probably comfortable with.

shares
comments

Related video

Supercars names 'drop dead date' for Australian GP

Previous article

Supercars names 'drop dead date' for Australian GP

Next article

Schumacher may need to "get his elbows out" in Mazepin F1 fights

Schumacher may need to "get his elbows out" in Mazepin F1 fights
Load comments
Why unseen Hungary heroics could be Latifi's making Prime

Why unseen Hungary heroics could be Latifi's making

The chaotic start to the Hungarian GP set the scene for F1's less heralded drivers to make a name for themselves. Esteban Ocon did just that to win in fine style, but further down the order one driver was making his first visit to the points and - while the circumstances were fortunate - took full advantage of the chance presented to him

Hungarian Grand Prix driver ratings Prime

Hungarian Grand Prix driver ratings

This was race that showcased the best and worst of Formula 1, producing a first time winner and a memorable comeback to a podium finish. Avoiding trouble at the start and astute strategy calls were key to success, but where some drivers took full advantage, others made key errors that cost them dearly

Formula 1
Aug 2, 2021
The "heart-breaking" call that led to Ocon's Hungarian GP triumph Prime

The "heart-breaking" call that led to Ocon's Hungarian GP triumph

Set to restart the red-flagged Hungarian Grand Prix in second, Esteban Ocon had some doubts when he peeled into the pits to swap his intermediate tyres for slicks. But this "heart-breaking" call was vindicated in spectacular fashion as the Alpine driver staved off race-long pressure from Sebastian Vettel for a memorable maiden Formula 1 victory

Formula 1
Aug 2, 2021
The F1 champion who became an Indy king in his second career Prime

The F1 champion who became an Indy king in his second career

Emerson Fittipaldi’s decision to go racing with his brother led to him falling out of F1, but he bloomed again on the IndyCar scene. NIGEL ROEBUCK considers a career of two halves

Formula 1
Jul 31, 2021
Why Mercedes is pleased to be in the Hungary hunt at a 'Red Bull track' Prime

Why Mercedes is pleased to be in the Hungary hunt at a 'Red Bull track'

Mercedes ended Friday practice at the Hungaroring with a clear gap to Red Bull thanks to Valtteri Bottas’s pace in topping FP2. But there are other reasons why the Black Arrows squad feels satisfied with its progress so far at a track many Formula 1 observers reckon favours Red Bull overall...

Formula 1
Jul 30, 2021
How Red Bull endured its second car crash in two weeks Prime

How Red Bull endured its second car crash in two weeks

OPINION: Red Bull was justified to be upset that Lewis Hamilton survived his British GP clash with Max Verstappen and went on to win. But its attempts to lobby the FIA to reconsider the severity of Hamilton's in-race penalty were always likely to backfire, and have only succeeded in creating a PR disaster that will distract from its on-track efforts

Formula 1
Jul 30, 2021
The ‘screaming’ F1 engine future that may not be out of reach Prime

The ‘screaming’ F1 engine future that may not be out of reach

OPINION: It wasn't just the Verstappen/Hamilton clash that had the Red Bull and Mercedes bosses at loggerheads at Silverstone, with the nature of Formula 1's 2025 engines also subject for disagreement. But hopes to have loud, emotive engines that are also environmentally friendly don't have to be opposed.

Formula 1
Jul 29, 2021
How Lotus uncovered, then squandered its last ‘unfair advantage’ Prime

How Lotus uncovered, then squandered its last ‘unfair advantage’

Cast in the mould of its founder Colin Chapman, Lotus was powerful and daring but flawed – as it proved through further soaring peaks and painful troughs into the 1980s. DAMIEN SMITH examines a game-changing era

Formula 1
Jul 27, 2021