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

How Mercedes has taken F1 brake design to the next level

Mercedes has made no secret of the fact that every element of its 2020 Formula 1 car has been improved for this year.

How Mercedes has taken F1 brake design to the next level

And while most of the attention has been dominated by its DAS system and a bold revamp of its sidepod concept, a deep dig into less obvious areas – like its brakes – highlights the attention to detail the team has put in.

The front brake disc bell is a component that usually divides teams into two camps: those looking for maximum stiffness (such as Ferrari) and those that focus their attention on maximum lightness, (such as Red Bull).

However, in the case of Mercedes, it has looked to F1's past for inspiration as its bell has a truncated cone shape that's full of holes. This not only offers the required stiffness with a reduction in weight, but also brings aero benefit too.

Since 2012, when Adrian Newey introduced a contentious solution on the RB8, teams have skewed their designs to take into account a secondary function: aerodynamics.

The blown axle devised by Red Bull, which took air from the brake inlet and ejected it through holes in the side of the stub axle, was discovered by Giorgio Piola at the second grand prix of the season.

Red Bull RB8 blown axle wheel detail

Red Bull RB8 blown axle wheel detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

But, it wasn't until the Monaco GP, which Mark Webber went on to win, that the FIA decided to act.

Charlie Whiting considered the combination of the holes in the wheel and axle, allied to the rotation of the cone-shaped stub axle, to constitute a 'moveable aerodynamic device' and declared this and another borderline solution on the RB8 illegal, requiring the team to be compliant for the Canadian GP.

Williams FW35 front brake duct, captioned

Williams FW35 front brake duct, captioned

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Teams were not content with filing this idea away in a drawer though, with Williams the first to find a legal way of emulating the concept the following season.

The FW35 featured a hollow and open ended stub axle with a fixed nozzle housed within. Fed airflow in a similar way to the banned Red Bull solution, but no longer rotating around the axle's axis, this version may not have had the same potency but still helped to clean up some of the turbulence created by the wheel and tyre.

Over the course of the next few seasons, many of the teams developed this solution to the point that when the FIA was devising the new regulations for 2019 it decided to outlaw them.

Interestingly, Mercedes never pursued the blown axle concept, instead using the tools available to it on the front wing to help manage this turbulence.

However, the regulation changes for 2019 also took away the majority of these tools, stripping away the aerodynamic furniture from the front wings and with it, Mercedes' reliance on them.

Mercedes, like its counterparts, has in the last few years found subtle ways of funnelling airflow through the brake duct in ways that are still considered a form of brake cooling, although they clearly err on the side of being aerodynamic devices.

Mercedes AMG F1 W11 brake flow

Mercedes AMG F1 W11 brake flow

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The inner crossover pipe, seen here on the W11 (left) but also present on the W10, certainly constitutes as one of these devices, as its sole purpose is to spill airflow out of the wheel face. The pipework is also contorted in such a way that the nozzle falls close to the border created in the regulations to outlaw the blown axle.

The Technical Regulations state: (11.4.3) No air flow may pass through a circular section 105mm in diameter with its centre lying along the axis and its plane coinciding with the inboard face of the wheel fastener described in Article 12.8.2.

Of course this isn't the only duct that serves an aerodynamic purpose, with two others fashioned into the drum itself (right), one of which sits at the base of the drum, whilst the other is interwoven with the trench formed in the drum's surface.

Mercedes AMG F1 W11 brake disc comparsion

Mercedes AMG F1 W11 brake disc comparsion

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Blown away

Having had great success with this solution in 2019 and having looked at ways it can enhance this further, we must also pay attention to the W11's brake bell, which has been modified extensively by the team for 2020.

The RB8's design could be considered a forefather here, with numerous holes cut very precisely into the bell's surface to create a robust aerodynamic effect that intensifies the flow of air through the assembly and out of the wheel face to influence the wake turbulence created by the wheel and tyre.

It's not yet clear whether the FIA has scrutinised this, considering the precedent set by the Red Bull solution but, suffice to say that Mercedes will justify the inclusion of these holes for weight saving purposes and that any aerodynamic function is simply a by-product of that.

Once again, this is an example of how consumed F1 teams become in the search of performance, as a component that might seem benign to most, is transformed into a clever aerodynamic solution. It also speaks volumes about Mercedes design methodologies too, as just with many other facets of the car it has left no stone unturned in its pursuit of perfection.

Photo gallery

Ferrari F2007 (658) 2007 wheel cover airflow
Ferrari F2007 (658) 2007 wheel cover airflow
1/17

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

In 2007, Ferrari introduced a wheel cover design that it convinced the FIA was being used to improve brake cooling. Now, whilst this was the case, it could be argued this was a secondary function, as the design actually had a wider reaching aerodynamic appeal - tidying up the turbulence created by the wheel and tyre. Ferrari's latest solution fashioned a nozzle for that airstream to escape out of, not only creating a more defined pathway but also improving the extraction rate. Other teams swiftly jumped on this bandwagon, realizing the benefits that the simple solution offered.
McLaren MP4-23 front wheel spinner
McLaren MP4-23 front wheel spinner
2/17

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The allowance of these wheel covers resulted in an explosion of fresh designs arriving for 2008. McLaren introduced its duckbill-style extension which not only transmitted airflow through the brake assembly but also physically altered the flow around the outer face of the tyre.
Honda RA108 2008 front wheel cover
Honda RA108 2008 front wheel cover
3/17

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Other teams, such as Honda, seen here, had similar solutions, that extended the surface of the wheel cover beyond the wheel rim to better influence the oncoming flow structures.
McLaren MP4-23 2008 wheel cover variants
McLaren MP4-23 2008 wheel cover variants
4/17

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The various wheel cover solutions used by McLaren during 2008.
Brawn BGP 001 2009 front wheel rim cover
Brawn BGP 001 2009 front wheel rim cover
5/17

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

New regulations arrived in 2009 but wheel covers were still allowed, so teams altered their designs to suit how the airflow they emitted interacted with the new front wings. The wheel cover deployed on the BrawnGP BGP001 saw the nozzle moved to the front quarter of the lower half of the cover, rather than the rear, altering the airflow's interaction with the flow coming off the wider front wing.
Force India VJM02 front rim cover
Force India VJM02 front rim cover
6/17

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Force India adopted a similar style to McLaren when it came to its wheel covers, as the VJM02 latterly featured a wedge-shaped profile to better guide the airflow
Ferrari F10 wheel changes
Ferrari F10 wheel changes
7/17

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The wheel covers were banned from 2010 onwards as they flew in the face of the recent regulations that were supposed to improve overtaking. The covers helped to create outwash and in doing so expanded the overall wake profile of the car, creating more turbulence for a trailing car to overcome. Ferrari looked to make up some of their losses with a new wheel fairing design that better controlled some of the aerodynamic instabilities created by the wheel itself.
McLaren MP4-27 wheel
McLaren MP4-27 wheel
8/17

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

It's something that all of the teams looked at and they all came up with their own solutions, such as this design from McLaren in 2012, which featured large holes on the outer edge of the wheel rim.
Red Bull RB8 blown axle, red shows airflow ejected as axle rotates (blue arrow)
Red Bull RB8 blown axle, red shows airflow ejected as axle rotates (blue arrow)
9/17

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The solution introduced by Red Bull, in 2012, was the game changer though and whilst deemed illegal it became the forefather in the designs that came thereafter.
Williams FW35 front brake duct, captioned
Williams FW35 front brake duct, captioned
10/17

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Williams was the first to create a legal version of the Red Bull design in 2013, utilising a hollow axle that allowed airflow captured by the brake duct inlet to be funnelled out of the axle's open end. The team even supplemented this with a shaped nozzle within the axle that would better direct the airflow as it mixed with the turbulence created by the front wheel and tyre.
Red Bull RB9 front brake and brake duct, captioned
Red Bull RB9 front brake and brake duct, captioned
11/17

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Other similar designs swiftly followed, with Red Bull equipping the RB9 with a similar solution to the one seen at Williams.
Ferrari F14 T front brake duct and blown axle
Ferrari F14 T front brake duct and blown axle
12/17

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Ferrari joined the camp in 2014, when it ran a blown axle solution on the F14-T.
Ferrari SF15-T front caliper
Ferrari SF15-T front caliper
13/17

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

This was followed up in 2015 with a revised design for their SF15-T.
Haas VF-16 blown axle which was closed for Baku
Haas VF-16 blown axle which was closed for Baku
14/17

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Haas, using the same components as Ferrari, also utilised a blown axle on their 2016 challenger but from time-to-time opted to close the outlet, as seen here in Baku.
Renault R.S.18 front brake duct
Renault R.S.18 front brake duct
15/17

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The Renault RS18 utilised a blown axle, taking advantage of the aerodynamic influence it could have on the turbulence created by the front tyre and wheel.
Red Bull Racing RB13 blown front axle detail
Red Bull Racing RB13 blown front axle detail
16/17

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

This image captured of the Red Bull RB13, as one of the mechanics uses a blower to cool the brakes, shows how the airflow is ejected from the axle.
2021 F1 rules model
2021 F1 rules model
17/17

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Wheel covers will return in 2022, as part of the sports push to help improve the aerodynamic envelope of the car in order that cars can race in much closer proximity.
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