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Top Gear Philippines

Formula 1 technology spotlight: Blowing in the wind, aerodynamics examined

As we head to the Red Bull Ring in Austria--formerly known as the A1 Ring--for the first time in 11 years, and with Red Bull Racing on a high from capturing a rare win from the so-far dominant Mercedes team, it's worth noting that despite Mercedes's dominance down the straights, the Bulls have proven themselves just as fast, if not faster, in the corners.

Given Adrian Newey's credentials as a car designer, it's perhaps unsurprising that the RB10 is so good, despite being down an estimated 80hp versus Mercedes-equipped rivals. There's a reason the team has four straight championships, and it's all down to aerodynamics.

We all know that the big wings on Formula 1 cars help push the car onto the ground, creating downforce, which increases grip greatly. In fact, an F1 car is somewhat counterintuitive to drive. Go too slow, and there's not enough grip. You have to push hard and trust that the car will stick.

But modern regulations have been shrinking wings year after year. This year, the front wing is 150mm narrower. This hasn't changed the front-wing designs for the major players all that much, and many are using similar designs to last year's. The big differences are out back. For 2014, the rear wing is some 50mm shallower, providing much less downforce. And there is a blanket ban on lower-beam wings, as these sit where the new exhaust goes. The FIA is anxious to prevent the return of the exhaust-blown diffusers that helped grant Red Bull those four championships.

The exhaust-blown diffuser was an interesting piece of kit. A diffuser is basically a wing built into the floor of the car. Typically, diffusers don't produce as much downforce as a wing, since less air can reach it under the car. Blowing onto the top of the diffuser with the exhaust helps create downforce, even in slower corners where wings typically don't work well. And the exhaust plume acts as a fence to keep air going over the diffuser, much like the vertical fins on the front and rear wings.

When the FIA restricted exhaust positioning to limit exhaust-blown diffusers, Newey's team found a way to use the downwash from air moving over the top of the RB9's slim sidepods to retain the effect. And in the 2013 season, they managed to find a creative way to remap the Renault engine to allow off-throttle diffuser blowing without falling afoul of rules banning just that.

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It may be tempting to think that the removal of the exhaust-blowing effect via the central-mounted exhaust severely hampers Red Bull, but it should be noted that all the major teams had been using the effect before it was banned. And the RB10 is still arguably the class of the field when it comes to aerodynamics.

The team had suffered many teething issues with cooling and reliability before the season started, due to the tight packaging. But working through those issues has paid off. The RB10 has relatively slim bodywork, considering its big air-to-air intercoolers, and the cutaways allow more air to get to the rear diffuser than on many other cars. And the front-end aero is still class-leading. A steep rake, with the body angled nose-downward, is a Red Bull design staple, and allows the team to use a shallower diffuser, which further improves diffuser efficiency.

On some tracks, the Red Bull is the only car that has come within spitting distance of the Mercedes team in qualifying, and it sometimes matches the Merc in full-race pace. With the same power, one could easily imagine they'd be dominant.

But as noted in our previous article, the engine freeze effectively prevents other teams from copying the Mercedes turbo solution, and any major Red Bull comeback will likely have to wait till next season. The only question will be whether Vettel will be gunning for his fifth title, or teammate Daniel Ricciardo for his first.

Photo from Infiniti Red Bull Racing


Austrian Grand Prix fast facts
 Circuit  Red Bull Ring (formerly A1 Ring)
 Lap distance  4.326km
 Race distance   307.020km (70 laps)
 Lap record  1:08.337, M. Schumacher (Ferrari, 2003) 

 

 2014 Austrian Grand Prix preview and schedule 
 Dry-tire allocation   Soft (prime), supersoft (option) 
 Weather forecast  Sunny, cool
 Practice 1  June 20, 4:00 pm (local time)
 Practice 2  June 20, 8:00 pm (local time)
 Practice 3  June 21, 500 pm (local time)
 Qualifying  June 21, 8:00 pm (local time)
 Race*  June 22, 8:00 pm (local time)

*Catch our live tweets and join the Twitter discussion by following @TopGearPH

Niky Tamayo
Writer
Niky joined Top Gear Philippines on the promise of someday getting to braid James May's hair. He's still waiting.
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