F1 Fanatic guest writer John Beamer looks at the changes to the cars at the Japanese Grand Prix.
The Japanese Grand Prix saw F1 make its long-awaited return to Suzuka, which demands a fundamentally different style of car to Fuji.
Fuji has few high speed corners and in quite twisty, especially in sector three, before the start-finish straight. Set-up must balance high downforce for the twisty sections and low drag to avoid being overtaken on the straight. The compromise is to sacrifice downforce to avoid being passed.
Suzuka on the other hand has some spectacular high-speed corners. High downforce is required but cars operate in a different part of the aero map. This gave the advantage to Red Bull as its car is supreme at generating downforce at high speeds.
Given that Suzuka was a flyaway race following Singapore few new parts found their way on the cars. Also it being the end of the season more teams choose to focus on their 2010 machines. That doesn’t preclude us from having an interesting discussion though.
It wasn’t a surprise to see Toyota at the top of the timesheets in FP3 and during the race. For a start Toyota always seems to pull out a bit more at the Japanese Grand Prix and the track suited the car.
Like the Red Bull, the TF109 is particularly adept in high speed corners. Unfortunately the car doesn’t have the mechanical grip and to optimise for lap time more wing is required which reduces straight-line speed. At Suzuka the Esses demanded high-speed downforce, which is what the TF109 provides in spades.
The TF109 didn’t change much between Singapore and Japan. The front and rear wings were marginally updated after the low-downforce races of Spa and Monza. Also the the brake ducts sported a vane to divert air towards the bargeboards and sidepods which helps seal the floor and optimises cooling.
Being a relative minnow few words are penned about the Force India’s technical march forward. Given the leap the team has made it is worthy of a mention. For both Singapore and Japan the VJM02 had revised pod wings that doubled up as wing mirrors. Many teams up and down the grid have adopted this innovation. Ferrari originated the design but many teams were reluctant to adopt it because the placement of the mirrors compromised driver visibility. The limitations of the 2009 regulations means that there is more aerodynamic benefit by moving to outboard mirrors.
The benefit of combined podwing/mirrors are obvious. A drag-inducing object is moved away from the main bodywork. Actually drag is only reduced marginally – after all the device is still there – but the attachments are deleted. The main benefit is that airflow over the top of the car is less disturbed. This creates more consistent airflow to the rear wing which both increases downforce at the rear and optimises the diffuser (by creating lower pressure above the diffuser, which acts to pump air through it).
To further refine airflow Force India also introduced some shark-teeth fins by the cockpit. These will create micro-vortices which improves airflow to the rear of the car. For a small team the aero updates and innovations are impressive.
The remaining races
Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull dominated in Japan by virtue of being lightning quick through the Esses in sector one. Can the RB05 repeat this advantage in Brazil and Abu Dhabi and steal the championship from Jenson Button’s gloves?
The odds are low. Out of the two circuits, Interlagos is more likely to play to Red Bull’s strengths – it has a couple of high-speed turns but the slowish sector two means that the track isn’t that aerodynamically demanding.
Having said that, at Suzuka Mark Webber’s Red Bull managed to set the fastest lap with a prototype of the front wing designed for Interlagos. Red Bull continues to push development of the RB05 hard so expect it to be competitive in a week’s time. Hopefully the push by the design folks this year won’t compromise next year’s car when larger fuel tanks and smaller front tyres will mean a reasonable change in how the cars aerodynamics work.
Yas Marina, on the other hand, looks like a classic McLaren ‘point and squirt’ track. There are few very (if any) high speed corners. That coupled with a long straight, which is a boon for the KERS cars, means teams will need to carefully offset low drag with high downforce. I’d be astonished if Red Bull held a significant advantage – look for the RB05 to be mid-pack unless Newey can weave some magic in the wind tunnel.
One under-reported rumour sweeping the paddock during the Japanese Grand Prix is the possibility of McLaren buying BMW’s engine division – probably because Martin Whitmarsh formly denied it. Nonetheless, the rumours claim that only BMW’s racing team has been sold and the engine unit is still up for grabs.
Given Mercedes’ desire to buy into Brawn and McLaren’s push into the supercar OEM space it makes sense for the Woking-based outfit to develop its own engine. And the BMW power unit will be a scalp. We know from last year it is quick and reliable and would allow McLaren to sever its relationship with Mercedes early. Watch this space.
More F1 technology