After an extended break since the British GP, Formula 1 returned to action at the Nurburgring, just a stones throw from the classic Nordschleife track - but a million miles away in layout. Although the circuit challenges with gradients and a few fast turns, the slow complexes and hairpin leave it characterless.
Performance at the Nurburgring is closely tied to the local weather, which can be very changeable. This year's race was unseasonably cool and the track's natural tendency to invoke understeer was exacerbated by cold front tyres.
Teams that ran well here are clearly those with a well-loaded front end, both through downforce and weight distribution. For those without the near 48 per cent forward weight bias, the weekend was all about gaining tyre temperature and avoiding graining of the fronts.
With just eight races now remaining, teams will be slowing the development of their current cars and beginning to put more weight behind their 2010 programmes.
The coming races follow a simple pattern, high downforce for Hungary and Valencia, and low for Spa and Monza. The final four will be fairly standard medium/high downforce. Teams will probably only focus on an update to their Monaco-spec for the next two rounds, a unique Spa/Monza spec and reverting to the previous for the final events.
Generally, teams have spent several months with a small team dedicated to the 2010 car, working particularly on layouts to suit the revised tyre widths (narrower fronts) and larger fuel tanks to assess the resulting weight distribution issues they will present. Attention will also be paid to rivals' current cars and the best-proven solutions for this year's aerodynamic regulations.
At this stage, most teams will be concentrating on the larger elements and those with longer manufacturing lead times, such as the monocoque and gearbox, rather than the finer details.
With KERS still potentially included next year, the weight distribution will need to be balanced slightly front to rear to offset its weight, as well as the necessity to have less weight over the narrower front tyres.
A normal nose measures a 275x300mm rectangle. Right: Red Bull's sunken nose still meets the dimensions, but sits higher for Turkey © AUTOSPORT
The diffuser will receive a stronger airflow the smaller the cross section of the raised nose and the more air that can pass under it. Red Bull worked this out and created a dramatic interpretation of the rules.
Since the mid 1990s, the nose of the monocoque, or footwell, has been required to meet several dimensional regulations to ensure it wasn't shortened or narrowed. A set of outside dimensions dictate that the minimum height and width ahead of the pedals must applied, but in the late 1990s teams added horns to get around these dimensions and create a narrower aerodynamic cross-section.
The FIA clarified the rules to prevent this, but it has been stretched once more by Red Bull, which has made the nose meet each dimension, but not relative to each other - effectively dropping the bottom out of the rectangular shape described in the rules. This makes the nose narrower between the front wheels but still keeps the cross-section as small as possible, while at the same time creating a convenient location for the lower wishbone mounting - almost like a single-keel set-up.
Toyota added this false monocoque top to test whether a Red Bull-style raised nose would hinder the drivers' view © AUTOSPORT
In recent races, Brawn, Ferrari and Toyota have tested an add-on to the top of their monocoques which replicate the arched shoulders. These are unlikely to be aerodynamic parts intended solely for 2009 performance, but instead being used to assess the affect of a higher nose for drivers' visibility. As in-season testing has been banned, teams have to run these parts in practice sessions to help them prepare their 2010 designs. Brawn tried the parts at Silverstone and the Nurburgring, while Ferrari and Toyota sampled a pair each at the Nurburgring.
Ferrari and Brawn's solutions were neat, while Toyota's set-up was temporary and made no attempt to merge with the nosecone itself, suggesting that they are only testing these parts, though we can expect to see many teams running extremely high, sunken noses in 2010.
Having used the Friday practice session to trial a fairing over the nose in preparation for 2010, Ferrari also had a revised diffuser for the race. The revised diffuser still maintains the recent double format, it sports revised internal geometry and new fences within the side channels.
Now starting to consolidate a place as a team consistently leading the chase behind Brawn/Red Bull, Stefano Domenicali has commented that the team will soon switch its full focus to the 2010 car.
Although its pre-race comments suggested it was taking a slower, more methodical approach to development - even Hamilton stated there were no significant updates for Germany - the MP4/24 was still distinctly different.
A raft of changes probably led to Hamilton's turn of speed in practice and qualifying. The car sported a revised front wing, brake ducts, top body and floor - even the driving position was changed for Hamilton, although it caused him some problems seeing the track.
Taking cues from Toyota, McLaren raced this vented front wing endplate © AUTOSPORT
McLaren has been slow to evolve its front wing endplates, which are seen as a critical part of the design of the 2009 car, sitting directly ahead of the front wheels. It has now evolved a new design, doing away with the simple endplate and veniting it, like Toyota, with two inlets along the footplate. This directs air flow around the front tyre, reducing drag and improving flow to the rear of the car.
In an apparently retrograde step, the front wheel fairings are much simpler, no longer extending forwards to pick up the flow of the front wing endplate. The new endplates are aimed at producing the same effect without the complex wheel fairings.
Along the car's mid-section, the team's third top body evolution brought new exhaust/cooling outlets and a shorter spine over the top of the cover. The exhaust now exits through a larger hole, which also forms the outlet for hot air from the radiators.
But perhaps the biggest update is the revised diffuser. As with many of McLaren's diffuser updates, it again takes elements of the old design. But it has now added a very aggressive double diffuser section.
The upper deck of the diffuser is much taller, creating a higher expansion ratio. The revised upper section is noticeable with its distinctive arched roof and the diffuser is mated to the revised floor, which no longer uses the cut out in the coke bottle area. It also now uses a fence along its outer edge to maintain the pressure difference above and below the diffuser.
BMW's updated Diffuser (left) squares of the outer channel for volume over the old diffuser (right) © AUTOSPORT
This greater expansion ratio creates more potential for downforce, while at the front the team introduced a wing endplate with a curled footplate. The horizontal fences running along the bottom of the endplate now see the upward curved venturi used on most other cars. This should aid sealing of the wing and flow around the front wheel.
Further updates to the front of the Renault include a slotted fence on the wing endplate and an extended front wheel fairing © AUTOSPORT
Then the wheel fairing extends forward in style similar to McLaren's, to pick up the flow off the front wing. Allied to these developments were revised cascades on the front wing, a revised engine cover and some mechanical changes, which according to Pat Symonds were worth 0.5s in total.
Small changes were made to the Williams, with a revised engine cover that used a modified shape around the coke bottle area and exhaust outlets.
It also included a mechanical change to the front hubs to improve wheel changes during pitstops. To do this the team altered the retention mechanism that locked the wheel in place: the usual smooth plunger was knurled to provide better grip for the gloved hand of the mechanic during pitstops.
Toyota added this vortex generator below the mirror to aid flow to the sidepods © AUTOSPORT
A double toothed vortex generator was added below the mirrors: this would send two powerful trails or air around the sidepod front, possibly improving cooling or more likely influencing the general airflow in a downward direction towards the rear of the car. Other teams use the mirror supports themselves to fulfil a similar function.
Now racing the Brawn-like front wing from Silverstone, the team has altered the floor area in front of the rear tyres. The long low fence that inside the rear tyre has been deleted, while the floor just in front of the tyre sees a small cut out akin to that used by Red Bull earlier this season.