Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis

Tech analysis: The details shaping the Mercedes/Ferrari battle

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Development within Formula 1 is always fierce but when a rule change as significant as the one we've gone through for 2017 comes along, things step up another notch.

Such was the magnitude of the technical change that teams had to carefully manage their development plans, in order that they apportion enough effort on last year's challengers while focusing heavily on this year's.

In terms of development, we are entering a crucial phase in the season, as the balancing act between this and and next year's projects really begin. But the larger teams have the staff and infrastructure to cope better with this period of flux and thus can continue to introduce new concepts and parts throughout the rest of the campaign.

For the most recent race in Austria, F1's current flagship teams Ferrari and Mercedes had numerous new and optimised parts available to them, as they continue their push towards this year's championship titles. So let's delve a little deeper and find out just what they were up to.

Ferrari

Ferrari SF70H new vs old front wing comparison
Ferrari SF70H new vs old front wing comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Ferrari's last large-scale front wing update arrived in Bahrain, when the team re-profiled the outer flapped section in order to create a sort of funnel, shaping the airflow in a particular way in order that it manipulates the shape and direction of the wake shed by the front tyre.

The updated wing being used in Austria accentuates this further, with the arc on the leading edge of the wing revised (blue arrow). A new slotted canard (green arrow) has also sprouted from the inner surface of the endplate, as the team looks to further fortify how and where air is distributed across and around the front face of the tyre.

The other, perhaps more interesting aspect of the update is how the designers have approached the way the neutral section and mainplane converge. It's of particular interest as it has a bearing on what is known as the Y250 vortex - an energetic swirl of airflow created by the pressure differentials colliding, which in this case happen 250mm from the car's centreline, hence the name 'Y250'.

The Y250 vortex is an influential flow structure, such is the energy it is able to create, and one untouched by other surfaces as it begins on the leading edge of the front wing. Each team has its own way of using and manipulating this vortex, so that flow structures and downforce generation downstream are improved.

This update is an aggressive sea change in that regard, with the shape of the mainplane's leading edge notably different, as it now features a significant upturn (red arrow), allowing airflow to migrate under the wing more freely, altering the vorticity of this critical airflow structure.

Ferrari SF70H and Mercedes W08 front wings comparison
Ferrari SF70H and Mercedes W08 front wings comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Of note are the similarities between Ferrari's new front wing and that of its closest adversary Mercedes. They are converging on similar concepts, with Mercedes having utilised the outer funnel since China 2015 and having utilised a more sinuous mainplane joint in one fashion or another for several years.

Notably, as the upturned leading edge has made its entrance, the spanwise slot, introduced with the Bahrain update, has been rescinded (highlighted in yellow on top image).

This video provides an overview of the changes made to the SF70's front wing for Austria.

Ferrari SF70H cut in the floor, captioned
Ferrari SF70H cut in the floor, captioned

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Ferrari's changes didn't stop there though, with the much-maligned 'scythe' floor slot altered, too. The slot, which used to be fully detached at the side of the floor (see inset), was seen to be fluttering while under load out on track and was brought to the attention of the FIA.

Some teams suggested that, although fluttering components are usually inefficient, given its locale there may be some benefits to gain in transient conditions. Efforts were made by Ferrari to stiffen the front section of the slot (circled, inset) but the fluttering continued and while it's unclear if the FIA put pressure on them to make the change or whether it's just a planned development, a metal insert has been added (arrowed) and the rearward section closed.

Ferrari SF70H, t-wing
Ferrari SF70H, t-wing

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The double T-wing introduced by Ferrari in Spain (inset) also saw some light revision in Austria, as the shape and chord of the upper and lower elements were altered to suit the Red Bull Ring's characteristics (blue arrows).

Mercedes

The W08 has been described as somewhat of a diva by Toto Wolff as the team had struggled to maximise the car's potential in the opening few rounds. Mercedes' struggles centre around the use of this year's Pirelli tyres, which feature an all new construction owing to their increased width and the loads expected to be generated.

Furthermore, the high-degradation model that was built into their predecessors, to help spice up the racing, has been ditched. But, that doesn't mean temperature isn't an important factor, as building and maintaining heat in the tyre becomes a significant factor in outright and race stint performance.

Car balance and behaviour is critical in maintaining this optimal temperature window and is something that Mercedes would undoubtedly agree has been one of their Achilles' heels so far this season.

A serious effort has been made in recent races to counter some of these issues, especially from an aerodynamic point of view. This continued in Austria as several new parts found their way onto Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas' cars.

Mercedes AMG F1 W08, wing mirros
Mercedes AMG F1 W08, wing mirrors

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

This may seem like an outwardly trivial change but it's not. The wing mirror stalks were revised on the W08 for Austria in an effort to improve flow conditioning in that region of the car and perhaps expose the forward fin to its own airflow, rather than working directly in tandem with the mirror stalk.

The mirror stalk is now mounted atop the cockpit rather than being mounted to it (red arrow), with an elegant swan-neck style curvature used to mount it to the mirror.

Mercedes introduced its 'cape' solution in Spain and has already committed to optimising the surface with a change made in Austria.

The imposing surface that runs almost the entire length of the nose is unlike anything we've ever seen on the grid before and so it's of no surprise that there are still gains to be made from adjusting its shape.

A small slot and upturn can now be found toward the end of the cape, altering the shape, velocity and direction of airflow passing around it.

Mercedes W08 diffuser
Mercedes W08 diffuser

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

At the rear of the car we find further changes, as the team looks to improve flow over and around the rear of the car. Much like the ones used by other teams (and, in fact, like the ones used by Mercedes in 2015 albeit in a lower position) some winglets can now be found either side of the crash structure (yellow arrow).

Meanwhile, just beneath the lower rear suspension wishbone another winglet has appeared (red arrow) redefining how and where the airflow moves.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Event Austrian GP
Track Red Bull Ring
Teams Mercedes , Ferrari
Article type Analysis
Topic Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis