Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis

Tech analysis: How Vettel's gearbox survived for Japan

Ferrari breathed a huge sigh of relief when it was confirmed that Sebastian Vettel would not need to take a gearbox penalty in Japan, following his cool-down lap collision with Lance Stroll in Malaysia.

Ferrari SF15-T gearbox
Ferrari SF15-T gearbox

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Coming to Vettel's rescue was a design decision that the Scuderia took some time ago, when it started to use a two-part gearbox assembly - something that its counterparts Mercedes brought back to the fore just before the start of the hybrid era.

Aldo Costa, now working at Mercedes and who worked on the original composite gearbox for Ferrari's F2004, is considered key in the design's revival, albeit for differing reasons.

Ferrari F2004 and Mercedes W04 gearboxes
Ferrari F2004 and Mercedes W04 gearboxes

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The original Ferrari design used a carbon skin over the titanium gear casing to improve stiffness, whereas today's gearboxes are made up of several elements in order that external changes can be made to the case, such as suspension pickup points or for aerodynamic gains.

In that respect, it's worth noting that this style of gearbox is also run by the power unit manufacturer's customers - Force India for Mercedes and Haas and Sauber for Ferrari.

Had Ferrari not been running this cassette-style gearbox, the outcome may have been much more bleak, as the loads transferred during the collision would have gone straight into the gearbox.

 Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari SF70H
Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari SF70H

Photo by: Steven Tee / LAT Images

Ferrari didn't have a new box of tricks lined up for the Japanese GP, but what it did want to do was do back-to-back tests on several parts in order to establish which gave the best overall performance.

Having opted to run the lower downforce 'spoon' style rear wing for qualifying and the race, it was not the only option it tried during the race weekend, having run the higher downforce more conventionally-shaped rear wing element during FP2.

Ferrari SF70H front suspension detail
Ferrari SF70H front suspension detail

Photo by: Sutton Images

The team also lined up a comparative test for both drivers between a front suspension layout that Kimi Raikkonen has been utilising and one with the standard configuration, in order to assess the difference in performance and feel between the two.

Raikkonen, who demands a different feel from the front suspension, has been using a set-up more tailored to his demands, featuring a different upper wishbone and pushrod position.

However, the back-to-back comparison and data collated from test driver Antonio Giovinazzi's stint in the simulator was enough to convince him to switch back to the standard layout along with Vettel for qualifying and the race.

Ferrari SF70-H front brake duct and wheel hub
Ferrari SF70-H front brake duct and wheel hub

Photo by: Sutton Images

Along with the mounting position of these elements on the front suspension upright, the team has also been investigating changes to the front brake ducts end fence and inlet.

Not for the first time, it opted to utilise a much shorter fence above the inlet, changing the airflow's characteristics as it peels off around the tyre.

Ferrari mechanics work on the car of Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF70H
Ferrari mechanics work on the car of Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF70H

Photo by: Sutton Images

Another race and another mad scramble to try and resolve an issue that had been discovered on the the way to the grid.

This time it was Vettel's car, with a spark plug failing. Unable to rectify the problem before the start of the race, the only chance was to try and find a workaround, with the German asked to perform various duties on the steering wheel as they attempted to fail sensors.

It was not to be though, with the misfire leading to a drop-off in performance that left the Ferrari driver a sitting duck.

Ironically, Mercedes had noted a similar issue on Hamilton's car; the spark plug in cylinder 6 and the left-hand bank's coil pack were changed between qualifying and the start of the race.

This goes to show that even with the complexity of these power units, failures can even occur on the most rudimentary of parts.

Force India

Force India VJM10 monkey seat comparison
Force India VJM10 monkey seat comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Force India seems set to lock in fourth place in the constructors' championship once more after another solid result in Japan. The team has had some nice development touches in the last few races, with its 'Stegosaurus' engine cover raising more than a few eyebrows in Singapore.

However, development is relentless in F1, and so the team opted to introduce a new set of crash structure fins and monkey seat for Suzuka, increasing performance and rear end stability.

The last time the team felt the need to run a monkey seat winglet was back in Monaco (inset), when it used a very simple hooped element to help encourage airflow to upwash and improve performance of the rear wing at lower speeds.

The winglet used in Japan was much more complex than that, with a much deeper structure that featured a slot in the hooped upper surface, improving the aerodynamic performance of the rear wing across a wider speed threshold.

Mounted just in front of the winglet atop the crash structure, a pair of fins could be found too (arrowed), each likely shedding a vortex that helps to tie in all the aero structures in close proximity.

Toro Rosso

Toro Rosso STR12 new nose
Toro Rosso STR12 new nose

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The Italian squad had a raft of updates available in Malaysia, including a new front wing, nose pillars, bargeboards, sidepod deflectors and T-wing.

The entire suite of updates were carried forward for Japan but the focus here will be on the new nose and front wing pillars (above).

In order to accept the new pillars, changes had to be made to the nose tip, which have increased its bulk as the pillars are set outboard a little further than their predecessors.

Their length has been increased significantly too when compared with the old configuration (below).

These changes have a significant impact on the aerodynamic interaction between the front wing's neutral section and the underside of the nose, while the Y250 vortex, shed from the front wing, will also be repositioned downstream.

Toro Rosso STR12 old nose
Toro Rosso STR12 old nose

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

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Series Formula 1
Article type Analysis
Topic Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis