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

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
Load comments
How getting sacked from Benetton made Mercedes' Allison Prime

How getting sacked from Benetton made Mercedes' Allison

He’s had a hand in world championship-winning Formula 1 cars for Benetton, Renault and Mercedes, and was also a cog in the Schumacher-Ferrari axis. Having recently ‘moved upstairs’ as Mercedes chief technical officer, James Allison tells Stuart Codling about his career path and why being axed by Benetton was one of the best things that ever happened to him.

Formula 1
Nov 28, 2021
The remarkable qualities that propelled Kubica’s F1 comeback Prime

The remarkable qualities that propelled Kubica’s F1 comeback

It’s easy to look at Robert Kubica’s second Formula 1 career and feel a sense of sadness that he didn’t reach the heights for which he seemed destined. But as Ben Anderson discovered, performance and results are almost meaningless in this context – something more fundamental and incredible happened…

Formula 1
Nov 27, 2021
The humbling changes Ricciardo made to deliver for McLaren Prime

The humbling changes Ricciardo made to deliver for McLaren

From being lapped by his own teammate in Monaco to winning at Monza, it’s been a tumultuous first season at McLaren for Daniel Ricciardo. But, as he tells STUART CODLING, there’s more to the story of his turnaround than having a lovely summer holiday during Formula 1's summer break...

Formula 1
Nov 26, 2021
The potential benefits of losing the F1 constructors' title Prime

The potential benefits of losing the F1 constructors' title

As the battle continues to rage over the F1 2021 drivers' championship, teams up and down the grid are turning their attentions to the prize money attributed to each position in the constructors' standings. But F1's sliding scale rules governing wind tunnel and CFD use will soften the blow for those who miss out on the top places

Formula 1
Nov 25, 2021
The invisible enemy that's made Hamilton's title charge tougher Prime

The invisible enemy that's made Hamilton's title charge tougher

After winning his past few Formula 1 titles as a canter, Lewis Hamilton currently trails Max Verstappen by eight points heading into the final double-header of 2021. Although Red Bull has been his biggest on-track challenge, Hamilton feels that he has just as much to grapple with away from the circuit

Formula 1
Nov 24, 2021
Why F1's inconvenient penalties have to stay Prime

Why F1's inconvenient penalties have to stay

OPINION: Quibbles over the length of time taken by Formula 1's stewards over decisions are entirely valid. But however inconvenient it is, there can be no questioning the importance of having clearly defined rules that everyone understands and can stick to. Recent events have shown that ambiguity could have big consequences

Formula 1
Nov 23, 2021
The mistakes Red Bull cannot afford to repeat in F1 2021's title fight climax Prime

The mistakes Red Bull cannot afford to repeat in F1 2021's title fight climax

OPINION: Red Bull has had Formula 1’s fastest package for most of 2021, but in several of the title run-in events it has wasted the RB16B’s potential. It cannot afford to do so again with Lewis Hamilton motoring back towards Max Verstappen in the drivers’ standings with two rounds remaining

Formula 1
Nov 23, 2021
Qatar Grand Prix driver ratings Prime

Qatar Grand Prix driver ratings

Qatar was a virtual unknown for most as Formula 1 made its inaugural visit to the Gulf state, and tyre management quickly emerged as an even more critical factor than normal. Perhaps then it should come as no surprise that two of the championship's elder statesmen produced standout drives

Formula 1
Nov 22, 2021