The first grand prix of the season is always a fascinating time for looking at car developments - because the teams run their most recent creation for real with all the latest development parts fitted.
The Bahrain Grand Prix was no exception. Teams had to cope with extreme temperatures as well as new regulations at the start of what still looks like being a fantastic season - despite much criticism about what we saw on Sunday.
All four pre-season Formula 1 tests took place in the relative cool of the European winter - meaning the warm temperatures experienced in Bahrain were the first time the cars had run in anything like the heat they will experience during the rest of the year.
The basic premise for an F1 car's cooling package is to have a radiator in the middle of an inlet and exit tunnel. As a basic rule of thumb, the size of the inlet should be about 20 per cent of the radiator and the exit should be about 30 per cent. You can scale these two sizes up or down - but the more you go down the bigger the risk of overheating, and the more you go up the less downforce you will be able to generate.
The idea is to skimp on cooling as much as possible, but leave yourself some room for manoeuvre if required.
When things get hot you have to start making bigger or extra holes in the car to help you - and you start in places that bring about the least compromise in aero performance.
McLaren was clearly well prepared with the holes it featured on the side of its car (see above), and teams are always positioning these extra outlets in low pressure areas so they help the cooling but don't compromise the downforce of the car too much. The modern F1 regulations are so well defined that they don't allow you to put holes in the main section of the sidepod, so you have to find these low pressure areas elsewhere.
Force India airbox inlet, Bahrain 2010 © AUTOSPORT
It looks like Mercedes GP had to conduct a bit more of an emergency operation on its car - with the makeshift holes that featured on the side of its car. It probably had staff working back at the factory, either in the windtunnel or on CFD, to find the low pressure areas where these holes could be cut.
But cooling is not just about random holes in the side of the car. This picture of the Force India airbox inlet shows how integral cooling of all the car systems are - with it having something similar to McLaren's idea of ducting air in from around the roll over bar, passing it through the hydraulic cooler and blowing it out onto the trail edge of the rear beam.
I've spoken many times about the importance of the front wing in F1 car design. Because it is the first component to "use" the air that the car is passing through, it has a major effect on how the rest of the car works. Ultimately you want maximum front wing performance for minimum air disturbance to the under floor.
Because of the importance of the front wings, the development that goes on in this area is endless - so it was no surprise in Bahrain to see so many updates.
The front wing on an F1 car is a horrendous piece of kit as far as development costs are concerned, and I think it is absurd that teams are getting through a minimum of three or four different design iterations over the course of the season when everyone is trying to cut costs.
Renault's new and old front wings, Bahrain 2010 © AUTOSPORT
Renault ran its new front wing in public for the first time. The version that was fitted to its car in testing was pretty basic, but the new one is right up there in terms of design concept.
There is good use of three-dimensional flow across the whole span and the team is obviously trying to minimise the disturbance to the airflow which in turn will improve the performance of the other downforce producing devices coming along behind. This is a very logical development and much needed. The three-element wing is more 'swoopy' than the previous version, and I think the endplate design and integration with all the flaps is excellent.
Everyone is working on their endplates in a similar manner, trying to get the airflow turned around the outside of the front tyres to minimise the effect they have on the airflow, especially taking steering lock in to consideration. If you look at the Renault wing, it has a 3D slot gap where the main plane and the first flap meet the endplate -this will help keep the flow remain attached and stop it separating because of the endplate turning outwards at the end.
Mercedes front wing, Bahrain 2010 © AUTOSPORT
Mercedes GP was another team running a new front wing in Bahrain - although it actually ran two different versions over the weekend. I was never a great fan of Brawn GP's front wing concept from the middle of last year. It went in a strange direction by opting for a two-piece concept. Although you can produce more front downforce by doing it that way, you don't get as good characteristics in terms of airflow separation - especially under braking and at high speed when the front wing is at its lowest to the ground. Also, in traffic, it's not so robust and the losses because of separation are greater.
The new Mercedes GP wing features a bigger S-shape with the trailing edge of the nose mounts. This will help alter the direction of the airflow going under the nose section. Getting the air turned outwards as early as possible means the airflow is arriving at the leading edge of the sidepods in a better condition, thereby allowing the sidepods, diffuser and underfloor to produce more downforce.
I think it's safe to say that double diffuser designs have gone well and truly out of control. I think the concept should have been stamped out at the beginning of last season.
The teams are really exploiting this area now - especially by using the beam wing as an extra element to help scavenge the airflow out of the double deck part of the diffuser. Renault has really taken things to a new level with its triple-decker design, it has managed to get a third element above the beam wing by cleverly getting around the wishbone legs.
There was inevitably going to be some controversy about diffuser designs though, and in Bahrain this surfaced with the FIA having a close look at the external starter motor access holes in the cars - and subsequently outlawing the more outlandish designs in the days after the race.
The regulations state that you are allowed a hole in the diffuser for the starter motor external shaft, but this hole has to be as small as possible. McLaren and Mercedes GP were two teams that had exploited this 'hole' size to create proper slot gaps, much larger than the so-called 'minimum' stipulated.
These gaps serve best to reinstate the airflow after you have had a stall. Normally when the car is coming down the ride height range, close to about 20mm, the central section of the diffuser will start to stall. As the car gets even closer to the ground on the straight this effect becomes worse, and then when the driver hits the brakes at the end of the straight the air struggles to reattach itself.
The slot will help this process by allowing airflow through it, therefore helping with rear downforce which in turn will give better braking stability. It also ensures more consistent downforce performance in fast corners.
It amazes me the amount of development being put into double and triple diffusers. This concept is being outlawed for next season but teams are still going to have to keep developing this year - that is the daft thing about it.
This is one of those typical technical controversies that so often arise in F1. In the regulations there is nothing to ban the idea of a driver controlling airflow to the rear wing - but there is also nothing to allow it either. The crux of the matter is how you read the rules - it's like is the glass half empty or half full?
If I was the FIA, I would have said no to it, because you don't really want everybody going off and copying it. For rival teams, it means a whole new family of wings will have to be created - ones that with a cleverly positioned slot-gap in the upper element of the wing are better suited to being stalled at high speed when the airflow to this area is closed off by the driver.
What is of bigger concern is exactly where this ruling takes the teams in the future. In theory you could have a driver having to open or close various holes in the cockpit that help alter the airflow over various parts of the car.
You could do as McLaren does and either close off the airflow to the rear wing, stalling it on the straights, or allow airflow through the duct to the rear wing, effectively reducing the performance of the rear wing, both of which will reduce drag and increase top speed. You might also want to open or close a vent to do the same thing to the front wing, this would allow you to set the car up with more front wing angle to help reduce the understeer in medium and low speed corners without the car being too 'pointy' in high speed corners. This would also help when following another car because it would allow the driver to decide if he required that bit of extra downforce available to him by not changing the airflow.
Then there is the opportunity to open another duct which feeds airflow to the inlet holes of the double diffuser to reduce the risk of it stalling at high speed. There really are endless permutations, but we need to be careful, we don't want the qualifications of an F1 driver to require being able to play a church organ.
Yet in Bahrain, despite the straight-line speed advantage that the F-Duct concept brings, was Lewis Hamilton able to overtake Michael Schumacher with the same Mercedes-Benz engine? No! So where does it take you? Just to an engineering minefield!
There has been a lot of talk since the Bahrain Grand Prix about the lack of overtaking in the race - but I think the situation was entirely predictable.
If you go back in time a little bit, when the Overtaking Working Group came up with the aerodynamic reductions planned for 2009, they were doing their research work on a model that a first year student would play with.
So a reduction of 45 per cent downforce on that model, would ultimately only lose between 15-20 per cent once the F1 aerodynamicists had worked hard at it. The switch to slicks was also going to recover as much ground as had been lost - so grip levels were the same. It meant that other than lowering the front wing, nothing really was done to improve overtaking.
Last year the racing was a bit better though because of the re-introduction of slick tyres. These produce grip even when you are following another car and they are not affected by turbulence.
Fast forward to the winter, however, and Bridgestone made some smaller front tyres to better mechanically balance the car, as the rears were going off. The FIA also put the minimum weight limit up to 620kg to allow the teams to get better weight distribution - so the cars can look after their tyres better. Would these two factors make the racing better? No.
Then you add to that the fact that we've banned refuelling and now have low fuel qualifying.
So you now have the fastest car at the front of the grid with the same weight as the car next to it - and we expect overtaking! Come on. Is there something the people who make these decisions know that the millions of people who watch Formula 1 don't?
We're unfortunately going to have to reinvent the wheel again - with the same bunch of people who framed the regulations that we have now. I really don't know what to say.
I found the Bahrain GP technically quite exciting, but I think for the casual viewer it must have driven them to distraction - or the pub - which would have been my port of call! Ferrari was sitting there the whole race about two seconds behind Vettel, protecting its tyres and biding its time - which isn't what fans want to see. They want to see people diving up the inside with smoke coming from all four wheels under braking and hopefully taking positions.
Nico Rosberg leads Lewis Hamilton in Bahrain © Sutton
There have been a lot of ideas put forward to improve the race, but maybe we are now into the realm of making it artificial. If I was looking at a quick fix, what about going for a mandatory two-stop strategy but with a random number generator to decide which lap each car has to pit on?
So from 10 per cent or 40 per cent distance you have to do one pitstop and from 50 per cent to 80 per cent distance you have to do another. During those windows, the computer will randomly select a car as it goes across the start finish line, send a message to that team on the pit wall prat perch saying 'car number five pit at the end of this lap'. This would give plenty of time for the team to react, it would not cause any safety problems with running too far on the tyres, and you wouldn't be able to just follow the leader through the pitlane. It would also mean you wouldn't know when to protect your tyres, and force you to race.
If you had to do an early stop because of accident damage before the 10 per cent distance then as long as you were stationery for more than 20s it would not be compulsory to do a first stop.
Or, what about starting the grid in reverse championship order? You can have Saturday qualifying for points for a qualifying championship. For Sunday you start the race in championship order backwards with the championship leader at the back of the grid, this would give you a true champion, someone who not only has speed but discipline and racecraft. Some of the best races I have watched have been when a Schumacher or a Raikkonen have started at the back because of a grid penalty and fought their way to the front.
As far as overtaking is concerned I would be very surprised if it will be much better in Australia, but the race will be different that's for sure. Tyre strategy will be more dominant, but the problem really lies in that smaller front tyre and the weight distribution - it's made the car balancing so good that the tyres don't go off.
I personally think Bahrain produced the real picture of racing in 2010. If we see a good race in Australia, I think that will be the exception, not the norm. And that's a shame.
Read more of Gary's thoughts and see Giorgio Piola's technical drawings in AUTOSPORT'S team technical debrief in this week's digital edition of the magazine.
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