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At-a-glance analysis of the new F1 cars as testing starts in Barcelona - Part 1

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At-a-glance analysis of the new F1 cars as testing starts in Barcelona - Part 1
Feb 22, 2016, 3:21 PM

The 2016 F1 season started today in earnest with a flurry of new car launches and the first tests with them in Barcelona.

The 2016 F1 season started today in earnest with a flurry of new car launches and the first tests with them in Barcelona.

This is an unusual test situation for several reasons: first the new car roll outs are much later than in previous years, where January 31 for a February 1 test start was the norm. So they have had an extra three weeks to develop their designs.

And with just eight days testing, much fewer than in previous seasons and a short turnaround time afterwards before Melbourne, it means that the cars are far closer to definitive specification for the opening races than they normally would be at the first test.

The richer teams will have an intensive development programme for the opening rounds, with new parts being flow across the world for the early races, but these new cars are worth close scrutiny today.

Another thing that makes this week unusual is that the rules are relatively stable from last season, whereas there is a huge change coming for 2017. So there is little point in bringing out a revolutionary design for this season, which would only get a year's running. Better to save the money, update the 2015 car and then start early on the 2017 design. This certainly looks to be the way that a number of teams have gone, like Renault, Williams and Force India. One would expect Sauber to do the same, but their new car isn't running yet.

A few general themes are evident: everyone has worked hard on closing up the bodywork at the rear of the car, the Coke bottle shape, as it is known, below the rear crash structure. A lot of the monocoques are very similar to last year's, with updates to cockpit sides to comply with tighter 2016 regulations in that area.

Roughly half of the field now has a blown front axle, which is a device to channel the air passing around the front wheels, which helps the front wing to work better. The downside of this idea is it does create more drag, which is possibly why Mercedes and Force India are among the teams not using it.

Mercedes have updated their title winner with some 'small revolutions' in technical boss Paddy Lowe's words, like the striking rear wing, which is clearly aimed at better rear end stability. They hit the ground running and had done laps equivalent to a race distance by 2pm on the first day!

Ferrari have had to throw more at it than the others in order to close the gap and try to compete this year. With enormous resources at their disposal and the sport desperately in need of them finding performance to make a competition of it with Mercedes, they had no alternative but to go for it. The aerodynamics around the floor, the bottom of the rear wing, the diffuser and the turning vanes are all incredibly detailed.

McLaren front wing

McLaren's problem last year wasn't the chassis, it was the engine, but they seem to have done a very detailed job on the aerodynamics with this new car (front wing detail above). It is quite ambitious is several areas and appears to be a nice concept, well executed.

Manoris another team that needed to build a new car, around the new Mercedes power plant and they expect big progress for their efforts. Close up, the detail on the aerodynamic work is still lacking compared to the leading F1 teams, but they have finessed the front wing and sidepods. Most of the gain will come from the Mercedes engine upgrade.

Here, with the help of our JA on F1 technical adviser Dominic Harlow, is our take on the new cars running in Spain.

Force India 2016

Force India Mercedes

Force India has confirmed that the VJM09 is an evolution of the B-spec VJM08 the team introduced halfway through 2015.

Andrew Green, Force India’s technical director, explained that with the technical regulations remaining stable heading into 2016, the team did not want to spend a lot of resources on development that would have no impact in 2017, when the rules are expected to change.

He said: “We were in a situation in which the performance on track was very good, and in which the data we were getting correlated well to what we were expecting, so we knew we could continue to develop on a solid platform.

“With the regulations likely to change for 2017, it didn’t really seem like an efficient use of our resources to start from scratch on a project that would have such a limited lifetime.”

The new car, which retains the silver, black and orange livery introduced on the VJM08, will be driven by Alfonso Celis Jr, Force India’s development driver, today.

Our View : "After their best ever season in 2015, Force India has a good baseline to work from, but they need to be careful because teams like Toro Rosso and McLaren that had reliability issues last year will be quicker and more reliable this year.

Red Bull F1 car 2016

Red Bull-TAG Heuer

Red Bull believes the RB12 can become a race winner in 2016 as it hopes Renault’s expected engine upgrades from can be allied to the team’s strong chassis, which was established in last year’s RB11, to boost performance.

The team’s chief engineering officer, Rob Marshall, reckons any power unit upgrades could allow Red Bull to catch up to Mercedes and Ferrari.

He said: “I hope we can win some races. That might sound farfetched after last year, where we struggled at the beginning of the year, but I hope this year we can make a bit of a step power-wise and that will level the playing field a bit.”

Adrian Newey, who remains Red Bull’s chief technical officer, explained that the RB12 would refine the strong chassis used last season.

He said: “We’ve really tried to concentrate on with this car is getting a cohesive package for all the parts – the suspension, the chassis dynamics, aerodynamics – that they all work together in harmony.”

Our View : Sources say that when Lotus gave up their Mercedes engines and became Renault, they saw a drop of 60 horsepower, which equates to roughly one second per lap. If you look at the lap times at the end of 2015, Red Bull was often a little less than a second behind Mercedes, backing up their claim that they had the best chassis last year. This new one looks to have continued the development path and so it's down to the Renault power unit development path once again to dictate how competitive this team will be.

Manor F1 car 2016

Manor Mercedes

Manor Racing has, not surprisingly, described the MRTO5 has the “best car” it has ever launched.

The team’s technical director, ex Jordan designer John McQuilliam explained that the new design, which incorporates a 2016 Mercedes engine and a complete gearbox and rear end package from Williams, was a major improvement on the six F1 cars the squad has previously produced.

He said: “We can easily say this is the best car we’ve ever launched. Certainly the most developed, the most ambitious and the most aggressive. The overall package is a very significant step forward, not just from last year, but from any of the cars from our stable. So yes, we have a long way to go from here in terms of developing the MRT05, but it’s already a dream package

Dave Ryan, Manor’s racing director and former McLaren sporting director, explained that the team was no longer expecting to make up the numbers on the F1 grid in 2016.

He said: “[We can expect] respectability and competitiveness. We are done with just turning up just to make everyone else look good.”

Our View : A lap time improvement of 2-3 seconds should be possible, given how basic the 2015 car was and the fact that this one has a new Mercedes engine in it. The car is still probably 20% off the level of the leading teams in aerodynamic terms, but there is still a a lot to come and if they have some budget they will continue to find gains with this car.

More analysis of the new cars and testing will follow. Leave your comments on the new cars and what you have made of testing in the section below
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Series Formula 1
Tags innovation