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18 September 2014
Bite Size Tech: Sauber C33 Front Wing - Singapore

Sauber made their last large upgrades at Barcelona, one of which was a change in front wing philosophy that saw the team introduce a new cascade element and a outboard endplate canard.  For the high downforce street circuit of Singapore we see that the team will once again make a change in this area (See image below, inset shows the older configuration).
The team have lengthened the canard which will change the way in which the vortex it sheds is formed but also how that affects the surrounding airflow.  This should have a marked effect on the flow around and over the front tyre, with the canard creating a pressure gradient on the outside of the endplate that encourages flow from both the cascade to flow upward and also pull the airflow through the rearward endplate slot. Of course this has a downstream effect, changing the front tyres wake and the impact this has on the floor.

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17 September 2014
Have we heard enough?

If there is one thing that is certain in Formula One it's that the FIA or FOM do the strangest things.  Unfortunately these usually revolve around them listening to all the wrong people, in an effort to spice up 'the show'.  Formula One is a sport and so obviously needs to be entertaining, but time after time I'm left questioning why certain decisions are made.  The latest of which surrounds team radio, with the FIA curtailing its use from Singapore onwards.

I get the whole driving by numbers comment from beleaguered fans unable to grasp the depth of the technology at the drivers disposal (Not the fans fault, but that of FOM, the FIA, broadcasters etc who have failed to fully explain most of the sports technicality).  What I don't get is the ferocity of the ban itself, encompassing everything from fuel maps, to brake temperatures to tyre temperatures.  Of course it can be argued that these things can be monitored by the drivers, but don't they have enough to do at a constant speed of over 100mph?

As road users (at least in the UK) you can barely fart or sneeze at the wheel without the old bill turning on their blue lights, in fear that our capacity for thinking is over stretched.  Yes F1 drivers are the pinnacle, able to multi task but I fear that the complexity of the 2014 powerunits has been forgotten.  The failure of PU components that are overstressed could lead to further grid penalties as the driver goes over his 5 component allotment. Meaning the title will now most likely be won by the driver that nurses his car over the line to take points, rather than the pretty awesome wheel to wheel battles that have been on display thus far.

As you've gathered I'm not happy with the ban, especially so close to the end of the season.  On one hand it's good that drivers won't be told they're slower than x,y or z in the apex of T6 (other corners are available) but when a driver has to flick through screens of information every other corner to check the cars parameters I think it's gone too far!  (Anyone remember the problems our friend Pastor Maldonado got into in Bahrain earlier in the season, trying to make changes whilst cornering...) 

It's also emerged that coded messages and pit board use will be monitored too, and so the cheeky HAMmertime message (seen above) that myself and Mercedes shared a joke in the other day wouldn't be viable either.

Like the FIA, my ramblings may be a knee jerk reaction to a problem that only half exists but nevertheless they are my thoughts and I wait to see how failures play into one drivers hands.

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14 September 2014
Formula-E: Is the future here?

So, Beijing provided the backdrop for the first all electric single seater race, was it all it was cracked up to be? What was it cracked up to be? No, they're the wrong questions, the question should be: What will it be?

Formula-E is a brave step forward, one that arguably needs to be made in order to retain not only the future of Motorsport, but also pave the way for our own electric transport revolution.  It's far from perfect but it's here and it's making a statement!

For those of you that have been following this blog since the early days, you may have already read my initial piece on F-E 2 years ago.  The piece centered around the release of the original regulations looking more at the technicality of what was applicable at the time.  From a commercial perspective though, it was pretty obvious that for the first year at least, it needed to be a spec series.  With Alejandro Agag at the helm they swiftly went about organising just that, and we find each of the 40 Formula-E cars supplied by a plethora of well known Motorsport entities.

Known as the Spark SRT-01E the car has a thoroughly Formula One DNA, that's because we have names like Renault, McLaren and Williams associated.  Dallara were tasked with providing the chassis' as their vast experience speaks for itself, providing chassis to the likes of Indycar, GP2/3,WSR, Formula 3, Super Formula and many many more.  The problem faced by Dallara was that the design needs to be efficient, producing the least amount of drag is critical to overcoming one of Formula E's biggest issues: battery life.
The battery pack onboard each of the SRT-01E's is supplied by Williams Racing's advanced engineering arm, positioned ahead of the MGU(s) in the fuel cell's nomal locale it must provide enough power for at least half the race distance.  Unlike F1 teams that are allowed a maximum of 5 ES (energy stores) per season before penalties, the batteries placed in each chassis must last all season (10 rounds).  Furthermore their weight is just 200kg's and they need to provide a maximum of 200kw (Free Practice & Qualifying), which can propel them toward the maximum top speed of 140mph.  Williams Advanced Engineerings initial task was made even more difficult, as they had to work within the parameters already set out for the battery pack.  It's size and cooling prescribed by the layout left by the Dallara design.
McLaren were bought onboard to provide both the electronics and the MGUs (Motor Generator Units), the latter a product of their work from their roadcar, the P1.  The MGU not only provides the method of propulsion but just as we are used to in F1 can be used for harvesting energy under braking to be stored and then used later in the race.  Coupled to this we find a Hewland 5 speed sequential gearbox, used to increase efficiency (meaning the motor can be geared beyond 1:1).

18" OZ wheels are shod in Michelin tyres, designed to provide performance in both dry and wet conditions.  Meanwhile Renault will provide support at the races passing on years of racing experience.

The SRT-01E is a good benchmark, it takes technology from different companies and transforms it into a product that will produce decent racing.  What comes next though is what excites me, this will require the big automakers to get onboard and drive the technology forward.  What is being learnt in this first year is merely a stepping stone to what can be achieved but it will require the bravery and out of the box thinking we have already seen to get the series this far.

To truly drive forward change and inspire people to drive EV's the series must be at the forefront of the technologies evolution.  Battery life is the biggest challenge to the adoption of electric vehicles and thus we must find better ways to harness it.  Electricity afterall is currently generated (mostly) be fossil fuels, the enemy at the gate we are trying to hide from.  Furthermore we have the issue of electrical conversion (AC/DC) which not only generates heat but expends energy as a consequence.  This is on of the issues of harvesting and then storing energy, with a power converter placed between the MGU and battery literally giving up energy.  Formula One has met this challenge quite well with their new Powerunit, utilsing both the MGU-H and MGU-K and allowing each to symbiotically power the other, without first storing the energy (a negligible power loss).  Another method that may have worked quite well is one that Williams looked at when KERS first arrived in 2009: Flybrid.  Williams have recently sold that arm of their business to BAE systems with the technology now being applied in buses etc around the UK.  The crux of the tech is to store the energy mechanically in a flywheel (friction isn't such an obstacle as you'd first think as a carbon flywheel is spun within a vacuum) for re-use afterward.

There are of course other ways to extend battery life, one of which Formula E can have an impact on: moveable aero.  Aero has already become more important than most people realise in modern car design, increasing performance and fuel efficiency.  The original regulations permitted moveable aero and I think it would be shrewd to allow it's introduction in future car builds, not only as it can be used to increase downforce and reduce drag (increasing performance/efficiency), but because it could also have a positive impact as it drip feeds down to the road car industry.

Frank Montagny had perhaps the stand out performance of the grid in Beijing and many of you will have noted he applied a slightly different technique to some of his collegues.  It's something I have been doing in road cars for years: Coasting.  Yes I know it's frowned upon, but you wouldn't believe the uptake in MPG I get by applying the technique (Coasting for the uninitated is taking the car out of drive, either by depressing the clutch or having the car in neutral, on declines).  Frank's approach is quite clever on several levels but mainly because it allowed him to settle the car pre harvest/re-gen whilst saving power too (an electric motor doesn't use rpm at all when the throttle isn't depressed, unlike an internal combustion engine.  Meaning you aren't using electricity).

Moving onto the sporting aspect I've often remarked on twitter that one of the downsides to Formula-E is their adoption of a mid race car switch.  As I've said before this could come across as highlighting the main issue of EV's: battery life.  However if promoted correctly it could be done as a way of re-educating people or indeed used as a way of initiating a new thought processes.  Most car journeys are done solo in cars capable of carrying 4/5 people, purely owing to peoples thought processes when purchasing vehicles and the possibilities that may entail a car journey throughout its lifespan.  Gordon Murray's thinking with his T25 is a prime example of out the box thinking but requires mass acceptance of a new way of moving.  Most of us only need a very small car to complete our day to day tasks and even then it sits unused for most of its lifespan.  To fully embrace a world where electric cars work for everyone, we need to stop owning cars and own a membership; connecting us like customers to a fleet of vehicles.  You might say that sounds like public transport, and in a way you're correct but this would allow for autonomy with a cost reflected by use.  Such a model/concept has many pitfalls/problems none more so than insurance but I believe it is the way forward, especially in the inner city; the exact place Formula-E is targeting with its races.

So is the future here? No, just like the hoverboard that Robert Zemeckis promised me would be here next year in 1989 it isn't quite here yet.  However, we must not be too quick to label Formula-E, put the petrolhead inside of you to one side and accept it is very different to what we have seen before, provides a much needed stepping stone in public acceptance of alternative motorsport/transport; and above all it actually provided some decent racing. 

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10 September 2014
GEOX #WindChallenge

Geox have been working with Red Bull Racing since 2011, developing technologies that are transferable to consumer footwear.  The racing boots used by Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo are the first breathable racing boots, whilst remaining lightweight, fire proof and FIA approved.  The sole has extra large peforations, a special protective layer and a membrane that coats the entire surface.  These pioneering ultra breathable and lightweight tecnologies used on the F1 race track are now incorporated into Geox's everyday footwear collections.

To see what sort of processes are involved in designing and manufacturing cutting edge footwear, take a moment to watch the following:

As part of their ongoing partnership it's always good to see both companies get involved, and with the success of last years "Scream Challenge" they decided to pit this years contestants against the wind tunnel!

The aim of the game? Collect as many pairs of Geox shoes as you can whilst navigating the treacherous obstacle course, whilst Sebastian and Daniel ramp up the tunnel speed...

But first, let's make the contestants try and do some inane tasks in the "Everyday challenge" (straight out of the Celebrity Juice script)

Like mama used to make
The Newsstand: read all about it
A close shave
The gelato gamble

So to the Pièce de résistance: 8 competition winners go head to head with a wind tunnel (check out the drivers faces too, good to see even a 300 k/mh wind doesn't stop Daniel from smiling)...

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07 September 2014
Bite Size Tech: Red Bull RB10 lose their beam wing slice - Monza

Since the start of the season Red Bull have approached the loss of the beam wing differently to the rest of the field.  As we can see below the team have continued to place a slice of beam wing in the Y100 position that the old beam wing used to occupy.
It's used in order to unify the airflow structures in the region, connecting the diffuser with the exhaust plume and that with the rear wing.  For Monza (below) the team have done away with the slice, in order to reduce drag.  Connecting these airflow structures of course increases downforce and although we often tend to agree that the diffuser creates less drag for the amount of downforce it can generate, (when compared with a wing) creating upwash structures (of which the Y100 beam wing slice assists in) inherently lends itself to an overall increase in drag.

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Bite Size Tech: Ferrari F14T Diffuser - Monza

Ferrari's on/off approach means that we often see the team try things that either get thrown into the parts bin never to see the light of day again, or flip flop between configurations until it's finally decided one is marginally quicker than the other.  That's the thing with Formula One, we are dealing with tenths or hundredths of a second, the margin between one component offering performance sometimes isn't as tangible as simulations predict.  Ferrari have been living this hellish situation for several seasons now and thought they'd turned the corner at the start of the season when they re-opened their wind tunnel at Maranello.  I'm yet to be convinced though, the rate at which parts are placed on the car to have their performance to be ratified yet the old part still raced is staggering.  They clearly have an offset somewhere between their CAD/CFD models, scale wind tunnel models and the full blown parts, until they find this they will continue to languish behind their bitter rivals.

Looking more outwardly though we must also consider that perhaps the steps just aren't large or fast enough when compared with their rivals.  Currently when Mercedes or Red Bull bring new components, more often than not they test it, the results correlate and they race the components.  The one foot through the door approach from Ferrari leaves them several paces adrift but also means their rivals edge a little further away as they dilly dally.  I often wonder why they don't have the conviction to proceed with parts even if they don't seem to give the performance gain they should show.  This probably lies within the offset between qualifying and race setup, with the team playing devils advocate as they try to either retain grid position or think of their race pace.

In Monza the team deliberated over a new diffuser design, which featured a change to the central portion an area that has seen revision earlier in the season.
Above: The F14T's central portion of the diffuser featured a lowered section that allowed the floor to interact with diffuser earlier on in the season.
Above: The diffuser that has been in use since features a more aggressive central angle of attack (steeper) with the uppermost section running inline with the rest of the diffusers upper surface.  The upshot of which will be more of a peak downforce bubble and a more aggressive interaction with the airflow structures above.
Above: The diffuser tried in Monza was more of a halfway house, retaining most of the AoA in the central section, with the curvature along the top edge allowing the floors flow structure to interact differently.  I'd suggest that the team were trying to soften the connection of airflow structures, in an attempt to reduce drag at the compromise of some downforce/balance.

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