Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis
Topic

Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis

The rear wing rethink defining F1's title battle

The tiny margin between Formula 1's title protagonists Red Bull and Mercedes is forcing both to rethink their aerodynamic set-up at races this year.

The rear wing rethink defining F1's title battle
Listen to this article

With speed gains in any area now being enough to swing form one way or another, the two teams have been locked in a game of cat and mouse about set-up approaches.

Of particular focus has been downforce levels, and especially rear wing configurations, as both balance the right level of downforce needed against the drag and impact this will have on tyres for qualifying and the race.

Obviously the drama surrounding flexi-wings fuelled intrigue about the designs of both teams, but that's not been the only development in a fight that is incredibly tight.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, passes Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes W12

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, passes Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes W12

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

The Portuguese Grand Prix was the first real sign that the teams were so close to each other that they were making concessions in order to one-up their rival.

In that instance, Lewis Hamilton's car was fitted with a lower downforce rear wing, which gave him the straight line speed boost needed to overhaul not only Verstappen but his team mate too.

The wing used by Hamilton utilised the double wing pillar configuration, but you'll also note the smaller mainplane and top flap, with the latter having a much shallower V-groove in the centre too.

Red Bull Racing RB16B rear wing comparison

Red Bull Racing RB16B rear wing comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

It was in Spain where the drama really started to ramp up though, as Red Bull had arrived with a new rear wing that would be traditional fare for what is considered a high downforce circuit.

The wing featured the more traditional shape and deeper profile in order to provide the downforce and balance required by the lower speed corners of the Circuit de Barcelona Catalunya.

However, with an eye on its rival down the pitlane, and not wanting to be susceptible to being overtaken, as it had been in Portugal, Red Bull switched to its spoon shaped rear wing for FP3, qualifying and the race.

This, of course, was the catalyst for the discourse over flexi-wings, as Lewis Hamilton and Toto Wolff made comments that threw the practice under the spotlight once more.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B
Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes W12

The higher downforce wing was obviously on the menu for both Red Bull and Mercedes as the sport returned to Monaco.

But, unlike the other teams, Red Bull opted to run without a T-wing for the extra stability and nominal downforce it can provide.

Meanwhile, over at Mercedes, it opted for its more simplistic but marginally more effective double element T-wing to try to help stabilize the rear end and give its drivers a little more confidence on a circuit that was never going to be a happy hunting ground for the silver arrows.

Red Bull was all set to take centre stage in Azerbaijan, as the threat of protests regarding its rear wing intensified.

But, it arrived at the street track with an entirely new design, one with the express intent of cutting downforce and drag and essentially nullifying the need for a wing that overtly flexed.

Red Bull Racing RB16B rear wing comparison

Red Bull Racing RB16B rear wing comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The new design featured a more gentle curvature to the lower portion of the mainplane, whilst the design features normally added to the endplate, such as the upwash strikes, serrated cutout and sinuous louvres, were all removed.

Meanwhile, Mercedes was struggling to get the best out of the W12 during Friday's free practice sessions in Azerbaijan and so opted to split its drivers once more.

Bottas pressed-on with the double pillar configuration that was also set-up with more downforce in mind, whilst Hamilton switched to the single pillar arrangement with a lower downforce configuration.

And, whilst Bottas continued to struggle, even though the extra downforce should have helped fire temperature into the tyres, Hamilton's W12 came to life and put him back in contention with the front runners.

The new technical directives surrounding the flexi-wings came into force for the French Grand Prix, putting to bed any question marks over the legality of the wings being used by the teams.

However, the game of cat and mouse between Mercedes and Red Bull continued at Paul Ricard, as whilst Red Bull ran the pre-Baku specification rear wing during Friday's sessions, it made the switch to the lower downforce wing for the rest of the weekend.

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes AMG F1 W12 rear wing, Azerbaijan Grand Prix
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W12 rear wing, Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Mercedes went in the opposite direction though, as whilst it tested both versions of its rear wing on Friday, it opted for the higher downforce arrangement on both cars for qualifying and the race, which was once again paired with the single centrally mounted pillar, rather than the double swan-neck pillar arrangement.

The choice between the two configurations not only has a bearing on the performance of the wing under normal conditions though, as the strength of the DRS when it's deployed also has to be factored in.

In the end, Red Bull's low downforce solution won out: as it gave Verstappen the straightline speed advantage that helped him hold off Hamilton after the first stops, and then overtake the Briton late on.

It's been fascinating to see how the battle over wings has played out over the course of the first seven races of the season, as it's a sort of mini tactical battle between the pair that's forcing both to make a choice that ultimately neither is probably comfortable with.

shares
comments

Related video

Supercars names 'drop dead date' for Australian GP
Previous article

Supercars names 'drop dead date' for Australian GP

Next article

Schumacher may need to "get his elbows out" in Mazepin F1 fights

Schumacher may need to "get his elbows out" in Mazepin F1 fights
Why Mercedes believes it can make the step F1 needs to fight Red Bull Prime

Why Mercedes believes it can make the step F1 needs to fight Red Bull

The 2022 Formula 1 season was Mercedes' leanest for a decade, achieving just a solitary pole and grand prix win. Yet the team is confident it has got the tools it needs to cast that disappointment aside and return to the front of the field again next year.

How BRM's one-off F1 double defied its rollercoaster history Prime

How BRM's one-off F1 double defied its rollercoaster history

It’s 60 years since BRM achieved its goal and Graham Hill led the team to a world title double. But that was just part of the remarkable story of a unique team that at times overstretched its resources and had its fair share of disappointments.

Formula 1
Dec 8, 2022
The bold F1 DRS experiment that could end the debate forever Prime

The bold F1 DRS experiment that could end the debate forever

OPINION: The effectiveness of DRS in Formula 1 remains a topic of debate as the winter break gives a chance for reflection on the racing we saw in 2022. For all of its detractors, perhaps an experiment where DRS is cast aside and the impact this has on racing is in order to truly understand its merits in modern F1.

Formula 1
Dec 8, 2022
The sliding doors moment that saved Red Bull and Porsche Prime

The sliding doors moment that saved Red Bull and Porsche

OPINION: Everything looked set for Red Bull and Porsche to join forces for the 2026 season, before the marriage between both parties was called off. While at the time it looked like a major coup for Formula 1 in gaining both VW Group powerhouses Audi and Porsche for 2026, Red Bull and Porsche have really been spared a potentially fractious relationship.

Formula 1
Dec 7, 2022
How Tyrrell’s post-Stewart era descended into a fight to survive Prime

How Tyrrell’s post-Stewart era descended into a fight to survive

Glory days for Tyrrell became increasingly infrequent
 after Jackie Stewart’s retirement. But in the latest instalment of his history of the team for Autosport's sister title GP Racing, 
MAURICE HAMILTON recalls how Ken Tyrrell’s plucky and defiantly small team stayed bold enough to innovate – springing a surprise with F1’s first six-wheeled car

Formula 1
Dec 6, 2022
How departing F1 boss Brawn views F1’s new rules - and the future Prime

How departing F1 boss Brawn views F1’s new rules - and the future

Multiple-title-winning designer and team boss Ross Brawn is finally leaving Formula 1 after nearly 50 years in motorsport. But he still has plenty of insights on what’s working and what comes next, as he revealed to Motorsport.com in a far-reaching exclusive interview in Abu Dhabi.

Formula 1
Dec 2, 2022
The key F1 management call Ferrari must make to avoid more defeat Prime

The key F1 management call Ferrari must make to avoid more defeat

OPINION: Mattia Binotto’s departure from Ferrari will naturally bring a range of changes across the Formula 1 team. But how the changes shape up and the impact they could have is set to be dictated by a key direction Ferrari’s top dogs will need to pick

Formula 1
Nov 30, 2022
The difference between Mercedes’ stumble and the fall of F1 giants Prime

The difference between Mercedes’ stumble and the fall of F1 giants

OPINION: Mercedes endured its worst season of the hybrid Formula 1 era, but was mercifully spared its first winless campaign in over a decade late on. It has owned up to the mistakes it made which led to its troubled W13. And while its task to return to title-challenging contention is not small, its 2022 season seems more like a blip than the beginning of a downward spiral.

Formula 1
Nov 29, 2022