What’s behind Alpine's jumbo airbox

Alpine caused a stir on the opening day of Formula 1 testing when it emerged with a rather exaggerated mega airbox and engine cover.

What’s behind Alpine's jumbo airbox
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With the modern trend being for teams to try to shrink wrap the bodywork around the powerunit components, Alpine’s solution is unique and something we were more used to seeing in the 1970’s.

But the first thing to say is that the airbox and roll over structure of the A521 has not changed if we compare it with the RS19 or RS20. Instead, it’s the bodywork behind that’s been significantly increased in size.

Alpine A521 cover

Alpine A521 cover

Photo by: Alpine

Renault R.S.20

Renault R.S.20

Photo by: Renault

The reasoning for this, although it might sound odd at first, is predominantly to mitigate the incoming regulation changes that narrow the floor and rear brake ducts and see the lower portion of the diffuser strakes lopped off.

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Whereas the rest of the grid have pushed-on and developed the downwash style sidepod arrangement which generally results in the airflow running over the top of the sidepod and meeting with the floor as quickly as possible, the A521 has an arrangement more akin to what teams used in the pre-hybrid era.

This is for a more heavily undercut frontal section and higher waisted sidepod along the entire length.

Esteban Ocon, Alpine A521

Esteban Ocon, Alpine A521

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

This creates more space between the sidepod and the floor in order that the team deals with the issues created by the new regulations in its own unique way.

However, to achieve its aerodynamic goals, the team had to rethink the cooling architecture of the car, resulting in the radiators and other hardware housed within the sidepods having to be repositioned.

The arrangement that Renault has run in previous years has already seen a great deal of that hardware packed in around the powerunit due to the makeup of its cooling package. But with even more hardware to deal with, the region has increased quite dramatically in size.

Renault F1 Team R.S.19 powerunit install

Renault F1 Team R.S.19 powerunit install

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

So, in essence, the changes are driven by the regulation changes and are simply Alpine’s way of dealing with these issues, whilst trying to recover as much performance as possible, without damaging the car’s overall performance envelope.

Irrespective of the genuine technical reasoning behind the changes, it’s easy to draw comparisons with a variety of different airbox and engine cover solutions in Formula 1’s past...

Jacques Laffite, Ligier JS5 Matra
Jacques Laffite, Ligier JS5 Matra
1/5
When you think of jumbo airboxes in Formula One you can’t really think past the Ligier JS5 to be honest.

Photo by: Sutton Images

Jacques Laffite, Ligier JS5 Matra
Jacques Laffite, Ligier JS5 Matra
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Here it is from the side...

Photo by: Ercole Colombo

Emerson Fittipaldi, McLaren M23
Emerson Fittipaldi, McLaren M23
3/5
McLaren’s M23 with a high airbox solution which was latterly banned.

Photo by: Ercole Colombo

Lotus 72D 1972 airbox detail
Lotus 72D 1972 airbox detail
4/5
The Lotus 72 with the bullet shaped airbox.

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Mercedes W01 airbox comparison, full blade design used at this race, rather than compromises inset
Mercedes W01 airbox comparison, full blade design used at this race, rather than compromises inset
5/5
The other end of the spectrum - Mercedes used a blade roll over structure and very small inlets beside it on its W01.

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

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