Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis
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Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis

How Aston Martin has moved on from Mercedes clone controversy

One of last year’s biggest Formula 1 talking points was the similarities of Racing Point’s RP20 and the Mercedes W10. With another year under its belt, the Aston Martin rebrand and a green paint job, has anything really changed?

How Aston Martin has moved on from Mercedes clone controversy

Aston Martin’s AMR21 was one of the more impressive cars to be seen during the busy launch period, primarily due to the fact that the team didn’t really hold too much back.

The images shown at the time of the launch and those issued subsequently have done little to hide some of the delicate detailing that some rivals have attempted to conceal. That’s a pretty bold statement to make and in some ways goes to show how lofty the team’s ambitions are.

Having had sight of the world-beating Mercedes W11 for an entire season, has Aston Martin copied Mercedes’ homework again or truly injected its own DNA into the AMR21?

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Racing RP20, Aston Martin Racing AMR21, Mercedes AMG F1 W12, front brake duct

Racing RP20, Aston Martin Racing AMR21, Mercedes AMG F1 W12, front brake duct

Photo by: Aston Martin Racing

At the front of the AMR21 we see one design aspect that was massively scrutinized during 2020 – the front brake ducts.

The images released by the team suggests that the brake duct design has been carried over from 2020, with the inverted L-shaped inlet still collecting the oncoming airflow to help cool the brakes and create an aerodynamic effect which aids the outwash created by the front wing.

At Mercedes, it has opted to deal with the turbulence created by the front tyre more aggressively in 2021. This is most likely to try to keep that turbulence away from the now narrower floors and has resulted in a bulkier inlet with the wider section now placed at the bottom.

Identity crisis

Aston Martin has made a design U-turn in 2021, opting to return to the periscope-style sidepod inlet arrangement and lower-mounted side-impact protection spars (SIPS) that were a feature of the 2019 challenger.

This arrangement has arrived at the expense of two development tokens but will undoubtedly unlock more aerodynamic performance, allowing the design team to pull the sidepod bodywork much tighter to the car’s internals, while also helping to mitigate some of the losses associated with the narrower floor.

The changes made to incorporate the lower SIPS on the AMR21’s chassis also appear to coincide with a pinched section creating a route along the side of the chassis to the sidepod inlet – which appears to be even narrower than the Mercedes W12, albeit they have very different shapes.

Aston Martin AMR21, Mercedes AMG F1 W12, side pods

Aston Martin AMR21, Mercedes AMG F1 W12, side pods

Photo by: Aston Martin Racing

As we can see above, the AMR21’s sidepods have a much more rounded shape than the W12 when viewed from the front, especially around the shoulder section, which means it also has a wider control vane protruding out of it (red arrow).

Whereas Mercedes has opted to connect the horizontal sidepod slat with the main horizontal sidepod deflector, Aston Martin has returned to the solution used in 2019 (blue arrow). That is more akin to what we see Red Bull use – the elements are detached from one another, with the end of the slat hooked over in order to shed a more specific vortex.

When it comes to the sidepods, engine cover and general rear end architecture of the four Mercedes-powered cars, it becomes more obvious just how much the AMR21 and W12 share in common – but how subtly different they are too.

The engine covers of 2021 Mercedes-powered cars

The engine covers of 2021 Mercedes-powered cars

Photo by: Aston Martin Racing

Mercedes and Aston Martin have clearly been very aggressive regarding how far they’re prepared to push the cooling limits  in order to get the aerodynamic trade-off, with bulges and blisters used to envelope the power unit and its ancillaries. The biggest of those blisters can be found in the central part of the engine cover, around where you’d expect the inlet plenum to be, which has also been rumoured to have been changed for 2021.

Williams and McLaren, the latter returning to the Mercedes family this year, have been slightly less adventurous. That’s not to say that their aerodynamic packages will be weaker as a consequence, but it does mean they have headroom to make improvements in this region.

Mercedes W05 detailing PU106 powerunit installation, turbo compressor arrowed inset

Mercedes W05 detailing PU106 powerunit installation, turbo compressor arrowed inset

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Interestingly, the Mercedes ‘works’ outfit is the only Merc-powered team to use a liquid-air charge-cooler system during the hybrid era, with the teams they supply all favouring air-to-air intercoolers. It’s still unclear at this stage whether this will remain the case for 2021, but with the AMR21 displaying similarly tight packaging to the W12 it could indicate it’s the first to make the switch.

Irrespective of whether the AMR21 features the layout or not, there are arguments for using both types of systems. Mercedes would appear to prefer the symmetrical layout for cooling, packaging and aerodynamic reasons, whereas with the intercooled option, the packaging, design and weight of the whole system is slightly lopsided.

The other major consideration is the length of the boost tract, with the charge-cooling system allowing a much shorter route from the turbocharger to the engine plenum, potentially improving power unit performance as a consequence.

Aston Martin AMR21 detail

Aston Martin AMR21 detail

Photo by: Aston Martin Racing

Aston Martin has also been able to get a token-free upgrade to the gearbox and rear suspension arrangement that Mercedes was particularly proud of last season (below). This essentially flips the wishbone over, with the rear leg mounted as high and far back as is possible, while the trackrod is placed ahead of the driveshaft instead.

Mercedes AMG F1 W11 rear suspension

Mercedes AMG F1 W11 rear suspension

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

This improves the airway passage over the rear of the car, especially the diffuser ramp which since the introduction of the new rules in 2017 has become more of an encumbrance (below).

Diffuser rules

Diffuser rules

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Independent thinking

A new design cue on the rear wing endplate again shows Aston Martin stepping out of Mercedes’ shadow and delineating from its design framework. Not seen on the Mercedes before, or anywhere else in fact, the front corner of the endplate has seen its thickness reduced in order that another upwash strike may be installed in the recess.

Aston Martin AMR21 detail

Aston Martin AMR21 detail

Photo by: Aston Martin Racing

This will undoubtedly have an impact on the airflow in that region and inherently alter the makeup of the tip vortex that’s shed behind it. This development comes as a result of teams continuously looking for ways to recoup some of the losses associated with the banning of slots and louvres in the endplate that the FIA introduced in 2019 and led to an increase in drag.

Using a year-old design clearly gave Racing Point an edge when it came to gaining ground on the midfield but taking the design of a car from a previous year, even the one that won a championship, was always going to place you behind the leaders, such is the rate of progress over the course of the season.

Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin Racing

Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin Racing

Photo by: Aston Martin Racing

The success of the strategy in catapulting Racing Point to the front of the midfield pack perhaps led to the conclusion that Aston Martin would take the same approach for 2021, resulting in a car that looked identical to last year’s Mercedes but with a touch of green paint.

However, with a year to learn and develop a concept that wasn’t technically its own, it is clear Aston Martin has broken that barrier – it’s essentially leapt forward a year, missing a generation in the gene pool and created a car that resembles the 2021 W12 more so than it does last year’s W11. 

It will be interesting to see how Aston Martin fares in the early stages of 2021, and where it will focus its development. Of course, weighing 2021’s ambitions with designing an all-new car for new regulations that will be introduced in 2022 will be a difficult balancing act for everyone.

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