May 11, 2012
So after 3 weeks break, engines roared back into life and FP1 (Report for both FP1 and FP2 coming soon) eventually kicked off for the Spanish Gp Weekend. As our attention was drawn back on to Formula 1 once again, many interesting revelations happened in the mini break we experienced. This was mostly down to the newly reformed in season test that was held at Mugello last week. Many team's decided to test new parts, to further gain an edge in this ever close season with 4 winners from the first 4 races. Although Lotus and Sauber both brought new parts, including a new floor on the E20 that allowed Grosjean to dominate 2 of the 3 days, the biggest news was from McLaren where they infact tested a brand new raised nosecone.
Now is this McLaren realising that perhaps a more conventional nosecone, was infact not the most effective way of interpreting the regulations?
Well earlier this week McLaren Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh confirmed that both Lewis and Jenson will be running the new and improved nose cones at this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix, and we saw this morning that both cars were running the configuration in FP1. So what exactly does this new nose configuration give McLaren, and is the team slightly admitting the more conventional nose cone was the wrong way to go?
Due to McLaren running a much lower monocoque, at the start of the season they took the decision to run with a conventional nosecone, due to the lower chassis allowing them not to have the step inbetween the nosecone and the monocoque to comply with new regualtions. Although this restricted the amount of airflow going under the front of the car, McLaren have always got around the problem by running a snow plow effect underneath the nose cone. This is where vanes are positioned underneath the front of the car and channel the air around the side of the car towards the rear.
However after such a promising start to the season in Melbourne, where both McLarens dominated, they have seriously faded over the past 3 race weekends. The main problem they have faced is a much weaker race pace, compared to their qualifying performances, with driver's complaning about balance problems, particularly in Bahrain. With RedBull and Lotus both showing very strong race pace running the step nose configuration, Mclaren decided to run the new nose in Mugello with Oliver Turvey at the wheel.
So with them now sitcking to the new nosecone, have they realised it is the best compromise for this year's regulations?
Well it is very similar to the set up RedBull utilise on the RB8 with less of a "step" due to the lower chassis, but the advantages are clear to see. Allowing the front nose to be raised significantly, allows for much higher air flow to pass underneath the car naturally. By pushing the front wing as close as possible with long front wing struts, it allows air to pass freely under the nosecone. This gives much greater flelixibility for the engineers, that can now tune the car to maximise the airflow that is passing under the nose and around the side of the car towards the diffuser. The more airflow you get to play with, the easier it is gets.
But that was not the only innovation McLaren are currently applying to their car. It was recently discovered by Scarbs F1 this week, that in fact the MP4-27 is infact running adjustable brake ducts on the rear of the car. Depending on the position of the duct it can either be used to further heat the rear tyres through drill holes in the Enkei rims the McLaren is running, or if the duct is closed can be used to heat the brakes. Now this can allow for a great advantage in certain situations, but can it also be rather detremental?
We have seen McLaren be the dominant force in qualifying along with Mercedes, and can part of the reason be the adjustable brake ducts? Qualifying, especially in Q3 is all about 1 lap raw pace, could it be McLaren are exploiting the rear brake ducts to heat the rear tyres on the warm up lap, allowing them the maximum advantage over a flying lap? The duct can then be closed on the flying lap to ensure the brakes operate at their optimum temperature. This could possibly explain why the raw pace of the McLaren is so significant in Qualifying sessions?
However there is a flipside to the coin as always, in very hot conditions as seen in Bahrain, where juggling both tyre temperatures and brake temps are a balancing act, could we see the system having a negative effect on the race pace? If brake temperatures were getting hot during the race in Bahrain, of course the duct can be moved to allow air flow to be released through the tyre. However through the extra airflow, is this then having a much greater negative effect on the tyres and therefore meaning they overheat prematurely in the extra hot conditions?
The upside to this however, is the ability to run much higher brake bias to charge the KERS sytems much more efficiently, without the worry of overheating the rear brakes during the race. But is this advantage not strong enough to warrant the increased tyre wear perhaps?
All will depend on the race pace of McLaren this weekend in Cataluyna, with the new improved nosecone could we see the driver's finding a much better balance with the car? Only time will tell.
I urge everyone to have a look at Scarbs blog about the adjustable brake ducts to understand more about the system McLaren are running. You can also follow him on Twitter.
Scarbs Blog: http://scarbsf1.wordpress.com/2012/05/10/mclaren-adjustable-rear-brake-ducts/
Image of the Brake Duct courtesy of F1 Technical