Force India VJM09 Launch: After Progress in 2016, Will This Be Their Breakthrough Year?

Force India spent much of the first half of 2015 developing an extensive package of upgrades resulting in them bringing a ‘B-Spec’ car for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, which led to impressive results throughout the latter half of the season, including a podium for Sergio Perez in Russia.  This means the 2016 VJM09 is very much an evolution, with very few changes of note for the launch spec car.

The most striking feature of the Force India is still the nose: rather than trying to shorten it to increase airflow beneath the chassis, they’ve simply removed sections of it altogether. It’s a novel approach which seemed to work well in 2015, so there’s no reason why this will not be the case in 2016 as well.XPB_791543_HiRes.jpg

The Force India VJM09 should be a strong competitor in 2016, and with news that the team are planning to introduce a new aerodynamic package from the first round of the season in Australia, Force India look like a team who are firmly on the rise.

Images © Sahara Force India F1 Team / XPB Images

Renault R.S. 16 Launch: Will a Return as a Works Team Bring Results?

Renault are one of the iconic brands of Formula One, and after a five year hiatus as a team (though remaining as an engine manufacturer) they are back.  They’ve repurchased the Lotus team, and with fresh impetus have set themselves a relatively modest target of a return to the podium within three seasons.

Visually the R.S. 16 is very similar to the Lotus E23 of last season.  This has much to do with the fact the Renault deal happened quite late in the day: the team’s budget prior to this was very small, but also, Lotus used the Mercedes power unit last season and were due to do so again this year until Renault returned.  This meant the design work that had been done around the Mercedes had to be altered to suit the different powertrain.  The biggest visual difference between the E23 and the R.S. 16 is the mandatory height increase of the sides of the cockpit.  The car also retains the E23’s transmission, though of course it has been modified to fit the totally different engine.renault-r16-6.jpg

The airbox configuration of the E23 has been carried over as well, and it is one of the more interesting solutions seen on the grid.  There is the central duct where air is taken in for combustion, while there are two ducts below this to provide air to a heat exchanger to help cooling the power unit.  In the image below I have highlighted the location of these:

airbox

The Renault power unit is the same as Red Bull’s ‘Tag Heuer’ engine, though nothing else is shared between the teams.  While the Red Bull exhaust incorporates two small pipes for the wastegate gasses, Renault have opted for a single pipe, which is a slightly more aerodynamically efficient solution as it is easier to package:upren545

Overall, the Renault R.S 16 is a very similar concept to the Lotus E23 it succeeds.  The Renault power unit isn’t generally considered to be particularly strong at this point, and financial issues prior to Renault’s return meant the Enstone squad were limited in what they could achieve.  As such, it could be a difficult season, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Renault being one of the earliest teams to switch focus to the 2017 car.

All Images © Renault Sport F1 Team

Haas VF-16 Launch: Will The First American Team In 30 Years Taste Success?

For the first time in 30 years, there is an American team in Formula One.  However, this isn’t the only reason this new team is particularly exciting.  They are the first team to take full advantage of the ‘listed parts’ regulations by having an expansive technical partnership with Ferrari, who will supply power unit, gearbox and suspension amongst other things.  This gives the team a very good basis to work from, though there is still an extensive amount of work that had to be done by Haas themselves: the monocoque itself and every ‘wet’ part – the parts of the car which come into contact with the airflow – must be Haas-original, and this accounts for a lot of the car.

For their first chassis, Haas have recruited Dallara to lead manufacturing.  Dallara are one of the most successful motorsport constructors, but in Formula One they haven’t had the best of records, with their last design being the 2010 HRT (though this was more to do with failures of the team themselves rather than Dallara).

The nose is one of the more distinctive on the grid, almost a hybrid between the shorter noses with the thumb-tip and the longer nose found on last season’s Ferrari – a very clean solution.  The front wing is well developed for a first car, and it appears a lot of thought has been put into this.  Due to the part-sharing arrangement, the front suspension is the same as the Ferrari, but it’s interesting to note the bump where the pushrods connect to the chassis: either the team has struggled to package the suspension as well as Ferrari, meaning this area will produce flow separation and a lot of drag, or the vanity panel is hiding an area where an S-Duct (through which air from under the nose is diverted through to the top) may be implemented as the season progresses.  The sidepods intakes are nicely proportioned as well.  haas-vf-16-21.jpg

The rear end is another nice area of development: the airbox rounds off a lot at the back, while the rear wing endplates incorporate slots towards the leading edge to redirect air.  This is an area where they’ve taken advantage of the knowledge they gained from Ferrari in the windtunnel last season, though the sidepods don’t have as pronounced an undercut to them as other teams have managed.haas-vf-16-31.jpg

Overall, the Haas VF-16 is a very tidy first car.  The team have targeted points in their first season, and this target, while ambitious, doesn’t seem impossible with this car and their two drivers.  It will be intriguing to see how well this car and team do in 2016.

All Images © Haas F1 Team

Manor MRT05 Launch: Is This The Year Manor Join The Midfield?

Manor Racing have had a troubled start to life in Formula One.  After entering in 2010 under the Virgin Racing banner then running under the Marussia name since 2012, the team have been towards the back of the pack.  After scoring their first ever points in Monaco with the late Jules Bianchi at the wheel in 2014, the past season and a half has been a trying time both on and off the track for the team.  With new ownership, fresh impetus and an engine deal with Mercedes, the MRT05 represents a fresh start for the team.

The nose of the MRT05 is very long, similar to the concept McLaren ran in the early part of last season, and also similar to the nose designed for the never-raced 2015 car. It will limit the amount of air reaching the underside of the car, and it is an approach that is different to the rest of the grid, so it’ll be interesting to see whether there is any significant disadvantage to this.  In addition, it is possible that Manor will develop a more conventional 2016 design later in the year.image2.img.2048.medium.jpg

The big change for Manor this year is the move from Ferrari to Mercedes engines.  They’ve got a strong power unit, which will push the team further towards the front, while the new Williams gearbox and ancillaries will also help the team’s push forward.

The rear end of the car is also mostly carried over from the unraced MNR1 concept, and is a tidy design.image31.img.2048.medium

Overall, the MRT05 should bring Manor closer to the front of the field than ever, possibly even putting them in touch with the tail of the midfield. Their most likely challengers will be newcomers Haas, though if they get on top of this new car quickly, it could be a season to remember for Manor Racing.

Images © Manor Racing / Sutton Motorsport Images

 

Red Bull RB12 Launch: Can They Take The Bull By The Horns?

Red Bull were the dominant team at the start of the decade, but the change in regulations for 2014 left them playing catch up.  Their biggest sticking point in the V6 Hybrid era has been the Renault power unit, and for this season they will be with the same manufacturer once again (albeit rebadged as a Tag Heuer). This means they start 2016 on the back foot, but the 2015 RB11 was considered by many to be the best chassis on the grid, so the new car will certainly be a contender.

The front wing is one of the most advanced on the grid, with no fewer than 10 elements.  This level of refinement will give them great control over the airflow as it passes over the car.  The nose is one in the ‘thumb-tip’ style – Red Bull were the first team to utilise such a design, and this is the culmination of three seasons worth of knowledge in this area.  The widely spaced front wing mounts give a lot of underbody flow, an area where the team have traditionally been strong.

red-bull-rb12-b.jpg

The 2016 Technical Regulations have mandated that all teams must make the sides of their cockpits 20mm higher than last season to improve lateral safety.  They’ve also got to withstand more punishment: a 50N load (equivalent to roughly 5 times the force of gravity) for a sustained 30 second period, compared to 15N before.  This picture shows the 2015 cockpit on the top and the 2016 one on the bottom:Red-Bull-RB11-final-livery-2015-2

Towards the rear of the car, the RB12 looks very tidy, with a very nice ‘coke bottle’ shape towards the diffuser.  The rear suspension geometry has also been altered, with the wishbones now with a more flat alignment, which raises the roll centre of the rear of the car.  This will make the car more stable during cornering, while reducing the stress on the tyres under acceleration.

red-bull-rb12.jpg

One of the major talking points in 2015 was the team’s relationship with Renault.  They were very vocal in their criticism of the power unit, but having tried to make a deal to use a different supplier, the only viable option that remained was to stick with the French brand.  The deal involves the engines being renamed after watch brand TAG Heuer, but make no mistake, these are still Renault units.  While the engine will be the same as the Renault works team, the exhaust is an area where Red Bull have gone in a different direction.  Red Bull have opted for the inverted ‘Mickey Mouse’ shape, while Renault have gone with a single pipe to exhaust the wastegate gasses.

Red Bull CREDIT XPB IMAGES.jpg

The Red Bull RB12 looks to be one of the most refined designs in the field, and with a strong chassis success is always a possibility but unfortunately the Renault power unit might preclude them from anything more than the odd race win this season.

All Images © Red Bull Racing

Mercedes W07 Launch: Can They Make It Three Years In a Row?

Over the past two seasons, Mercedes have been the dominant force in Formula One.  From the moment the V6 Hybrid regulations were announced, they’ve been one step ahead, with the design of the power unit and it’s integration with the Mercedes chassis being the gold standard in the sport.  It’s not always easy for a team to improve a car which is the class of the field, but that is exactly what Mercedes have had to do with the W07.

From the front, there isn’t much that has changed.  The solution Mercedes came up with in 2014 made clever use of the regulations regarding the front crash structure, and after refining it to an even more compact design last season, they’ve continued with a similar design this season.  Mercedes-w06-1-e1456044328595.jpg

Cooling looks to be an area where the team have tried to improve things: the airbox intake has been enlarged and provides cooling for the power unit and coolers, allowing the team to reduce the width of the front of the sidepods.  This reduced frontal area will reduce the amount of drag in this area by a considerable amount while giving the aerodynamicists the chance to control the nature of airflow towards the back of the car.

While the power unit has undoubtedly been the best on the grid over the past two seasons, Mercedes High Performance Powertrains (HPP) haven’t been able to rest on their laurels over the off-season, while the change in wastegate regulations means the exhaust layout has had to be changed.  Mercedes have opted for two smaller pipes sat below the main exhaust to extract wastegate gases, which should mean the engines are louder than previously: the gases acted as a muffler when they re-entered the main exhaust flow, and now they are routed separately, this will no longer happen.image1.img.1024.medium

Following up one of the most dominant cars in the history of the sport is easy in one respect – you’ve got the best baseline to work from – but it is also extremely difficult as you are the one with the target on your back, plus the law of diminishing returns suggests there is only so much improvement that can be made.  However, Mercedes start 2016 as firm favourites, and it is difficult to see beyond anyone other than Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg winning the 2016 title.

All Images © Mercedes AMG Petronas

 

 

McLaren MP4-31 Launch: Can This Historic Partnership Reach The Top Once More?

McLaren-Honda is one of the most evocative names in the world of motorsport, and last season’s results were difficult to watch for fans of this historic partnership.  The team placed second-to-last in the World Constructor’s Championship, and the Honda engine was seen as the major weakness: Fernando Alonso famously derided it as ‘a GP2 engine’ and ‘embarrassing’ at the Japanese Grand Prix (Honda’s home race at Honda’s home track).  According to their bosses, both McLaren and Honda have been working non-stop to improve, and the result of this is the MP4-31.

The car itself isn’t that much of a departure from last year’s design.  The tip of the nose has been further refined, as it was throughout last season, with a small ‘thumb-tip’ allowing a good amount of airflow to energise the underside.  The most striking attribute of the front is the sharp join between the monocoque and nose, taking full advantage of the pullrod suspension geometry to get the nose as low as possible as quickly as possible.

The rear end of the car is extremely well-packaged, with a slightly wider back to improve cooling and house the revised Honda power unit.  The sidepods undercut by a huge amount, maximising the airflow potential into the diffuser.  Additionally, the serrated areas in front of the wheels on the floor will ensure some of the air that heads towards the wheels is diverted, reducing the drag force from the wheels.mclaren-honda-mp4-31-2016-d.jpg

While the chassis itself has been improved, the engine is the area where McLaren must see most improvement if they are to progress up the grid.  Their problems stemmed from the Honda power unit using a smaller turbo compressor, which made the Motor Generator Unit – Heat (MGU-H) inefficient.  As a result, the hybrid power that this was supposed to collect was in short supply, and by the time the car reached halfway down the longest straight on a circuit, this energy was no longer available, leaving the car over 150 horsepower down on their rivals at some points.HONDA-F1-0

Over the winter, Honda have been working on the compressor to eradicate these problems, and early rumours suggested they’ve managed to extract a peak of over 200 more horsepower out of the power unit, which would put them on a par with the Mercedes engine.  In addition, cooling problems plagued the car throughout 2015, so this is an area both McLaren and Honda will have focussed on.

After a difficult 2015, the McLaren MP4-31 represents a fresh start, and if the team can get some reliable running during pre-season testing, then it isn’t too hard to see McLaren-Honda back towards the front of the grid.

All Pictures © McLaren Honda

 

 

Ferrari SF16-H Launch: Will The Title Finally Return to Maranello?

Ferrari haven’t been world champion for eight years now, and for a squad that spent much of the early 2000s dominating the sport, it must be a particularly bitter pill to swallow.  The 2015 SF15-T was the best of the rest behind the all-conquering Mercedes, and this season the Maranello squad will be hoping their new mount, the SF16-H, will be the car that takes them back to the top of the sport.  The new car looks notably different to it’s predecessor, with changes all around.  If the team can get on top of all of these changes quickly, and if the 2016-spec power unit is competitive, then this year, Ferrari could be a real contender for the title.

The first changes to note are clear from the front of the car, with the SF 16-H on top and the SF 15-T below:

ferrarifrontcomparison.jpg

Immediately the new nose jumps out as one of the most striking differences.  After utilising a more bulbous solution previously, Ferrari have finally converged to a more commonly seen solution on the grid with the ‘thumb-tip’ nose as seen on cars such as the Williams and McLaren.  Additionally, the widely spaced front wing mounts remain, which will ensure a large amount of airflow will reach the splitter and the rest of the underside of the car, theoretically making the SF 16-H more aerodynamically efficient in this area.  This will be an aspect of the car the team have concentrated on for 2016, because revising the underbody aerodynamics to make full use of the extra airflow will bring big gains in terms of lap time.

The FIA television cameras that were mounted on the side of the nose at the start of 2015 were eventually placed on stalks and raised above the top face of the nose, and this can be seen on the new car as well.  This effectively allows the team to use them as aerodynamic ‘flow conditioners’ – smoothing out some of the turbulent airflow that passes over them, allowing the components behind them in the flow to work as intended with more predictable behaviour.

The front suspension is another area of big change.  For the past four seasons, Ferrari have used a pullrod system, as shown on the left highlighted in yellow.  This means the suspension system uses this ‘rod’ to ‘pull’ the top wishbone down to the track.  For this year however, they are using a pushrod system, shown on the right in orange.  This means the ‘rod’ is used to ‘push’ the bottom wishbone down to the track.  ferrarisuspThe main advantage of the pushrod setup is that it has a tendency to keep the car more level, while the location of the mounting points makes it far easier to work on and tweak setups during a session.  However, it does have a higher centre of gravity than a pullrod system (if you look at the components that make up the suspension on the left, as a whole they are visibly lower than the pushrod setup on the right). This could have a noticeable effect on the car, especially considering the next point: the roll centre of the SF 16-H is lower than that of the SF 15-T due to the changed suspension geometry .  Combining these two points could well make the car much more responsive during cornering, but that may come at the expense of increased tyre wear.

Towards the rear of the car, there is just as much change.  Again, the 2016 car is on top, with the SF15-T below:

ferraritopferrari15top

The air intakes on the sidepods are smaller than last year, suggesting the team have got on top of cooling, with this suggestion being backed up by one of the most impressive aspects of the car: how tightly the bodywork wraps around the power unit and gearbox.  This flowing shape allows the airflow to stick to it, feeding air to the diffuser which is one of the vital downforce-producing components on a Formula 1 car.  This is better shown in a three-quarter view (the yellow lines are to highlight the approximate nature of the airflow around the sidepod and into the diffuser, showing just how important this area is):

ferrari_sf16-h.jpg

Finally, something to note for the new SF16-H along with the rest of the grid this season is the new rules regarding the exhaust.  The wastegate on the turbocharger aims to regulate the maximum boost pressure by taking some of the exhaust gases from the flow, but when these gases are returned to the exhaust, they act as a muffler, making the cars quieter.  In reaction to the complaints about the lack of noise from last season, these gases now must be routed through a separate exhaust pipe or pipes, which should make the cars slightly louder for 2016.

Overall, the Ferrari SF16-H looks to be a huge improvement over the SF15-T, and there is every chance that it will take the fight to Mercedes.  However, it remains to be seen what the Silver Arrows can come up with, and Ferrari will need to get up to speed with their changes very quickly during testing if they are to be fast out of the blocks.

Over the next few weeks, I will analyse all of the remaining F1 2016 cars and their progress in pre-season testing, before branching out into the wider world of motorsport.

All Images © Scuderia Ferrari / Ercole Colombo

Williams FW38 Launch: Will Evolution Hold The Key To Success?

With the launch of the Williams FW38 comes the first glimpse of a 2016-spec car (Renault’s much-talked-about launch was last year’s car in a livery which will never be raced, while Red Bull’s new colours appeared on the 2015 RB11), though at first glance it would be easy to dismiss it as a carbon-copy of the FW37 used last season. This evolutionary approach is certainly no surprise given Williams’ relatively modest resources and the fact that this is the third year of a stable set of technical regulations. With the ruleset remaining fixed, it gives the team the opportunity to pursue every last ounce of performance from the design philosophy they chose back in 2014 at the very start of the V6 Hybrid era before the new for 2017 regulations are revealed.

This should give the team a good basis to start the season with – while competitors who have taken a more revolutionary approach try to get to grips with their new machines, Williams should have a solid grounding of how to get the best out of the chassis and how it handles the Pirelli tyres (the team suffered with tyre warm-up issues at times last year, especially in qualifying, meaning the new Ultra-Soft tyre may benefit them more than others) and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the team get their best results during the first four or five races of the season before everyone settles into their own groove.

Comparing the launch spec FW37 with this year’s challenger gives a good baseline to look at the changes:

FW37 vs. FW38 - Imgur.jpg

The most striking change from the front is at the sidepods.  The air intakes for 2016 are smaller, suggesting one of two things: either the cooling requirement for the newest iteration of the Mercedes power unit is less than for last season, or that Williams overestimated the requirements for last year to remain on the safe side.  Either way the smaller intakes will improve the aerodynamic efficiency of the car, which for a car that was already one of the fastest in a straight line is an exciting proposition. This reduced cooling requirement is reflected in the tighter coke-bottle effect at the rear of the car that can be seen in the top picture.

On the launch-spec car, the 2016 car has three extra elements on the top of the sidepod compared to 2015, while the mounting point of the turning vane has been moved there as well.  However, by the final race in Abu Dhabi, these were already on the FW37.  The front wing itself is much the same spec as Abu Dhabi 2015 as well, and will be for the first test as the team get up and running.  Come round one in Australia, this will be refined, while according to Tobias Gruner of AMuS, the team plan to update the nose itself to a more Mercedes-esque approach, doing away with the ‘thumb tab’ nose altogether, which should improve the airflow beneath the nose.  This will mean the underbody aerodynamics will be more effective in producing downforce.

(Interestingly, for 2016 Ferrari have opted to use the small protrusion for the first time after option for a more bulbous design for the last two seasons – but more on that tomorrow.)

While the FW37 was one of the best cars at high speed, it’s performance in slow speed cornering was more of a concern.  The team have tried to retain the car’s strengths while eliminating this weakness, and one of the ways in which it has tried to do this is by slightly altering the suspension geometry.  At lower speeds the mechanical grip is key, and to get more out of the suspension, the system has been slightly lowered and the geometry changed with the result of a lower roll centre (the point around which the centre of gravity acts to create a moment when the car is turning) compared to the FW37.  This could have the result of making the car tend to oversteer more than it’s predecessor, which could help the team heat the tyres in qualifying, something they’ve struggled with recently, while giving them the increased mechanical grip they are looking.

Overall, the new Williams FW38 looks to be a solid proposition for the new season: an already strong car has been improved and evolved giving the team a solid basis, while it is powered by the Mercedes engine which is still set to be the class of the field.

Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at the new Ferrari SF16-H which was also launched today.

All images © Williams Racing