Are Z-shaped floors the way to go in F1 2021?

Formula 1 teams appear divided over the best floor solution for the 2021 rules, as a new set of regulations once again resulted in two opposing design trends appearing.

Are Z-shaped floors the way to go in F1 2021?

But, have we seen enough evidence from just the first race to judge who's on the right track and who'll have to think again?

On one side, we have the conventional thinkers who have taken the new rules at complete face value when it comes to dealing with the lost floor section.

Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Haas, McLaren and Williams all have floors that taper at the rear as the regulations intended. They have largely steered away from having too much aerodynamic furniture on the floor's edge to redirect the airflow too.

Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Haas, McLaren, Williams floor comparison

Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Haas, McLaren, Williams floor comparison

Photo by: Uncredited

Meanwhile, Mercedes, Aston Martin, Red Bull and AlphaTauri all have a very different solution that's been on their cars since testing, while Alpine joined their ranks at the first race of the season.

The five teams employing this floor design have created a Z-shaped edge to their floor, with a section cutout around 200mm back from where the floor starts to taper. This has resulted in the teams giving up some of the total floor space that's available, but affording them more flexibility in terms of the floor shape.

The yellow highlight area (below) shows where the floor would have previously extended to in 2020, while the dotted line represents where the edge of the floor would be, had the teams followed the intent of the regulations.

Red Bull and Mercedes floor comparison

Red Bull and Mercedes floor comparison

Photo by: Uncredited

The teams that have opted for this Z-shaped cutout have essentially returned to a floor edge that's parallel to the car's centreline, as it was in previous years. This suggests they were unhappy with how the tapered edge affected the flow to the rear of the car.

That's not to say they've all followed the same path though, with this image making it abundantly clear just how much individuality there can be with this design.

In particular, Red Bull has opted to design the edge of its floor to have a much longer section so that it is parallel to the car's centreline compared to what Mercedes has opted for.

The Z-shaped edge also helps these teams to create flow structures/vortices at a point on the floor where other flow structures might otherwise be breaking down or deviating from their intended path.

They're accentuating this further with contouring to the floor and the fins mounted alongside it, with Aston Martin perhaps the most aggressive in this regard.

The fins (two rows in Aston Martin's case - see lead image) are placed at a point on the floor where it will have an impact on how the airflow as it moves around the sidepod. However, its role in regards to the floor will be to realign the flow structures with the straight floor edge in mind.

This area of the car is set to be a hotbed of development this season, as each team finds incremental gains from the interacting flow structures and fine-tunes them accordingly.

Alpine, for example, has already made a serious effort in this regard (see image below), as while it not only joined the four other teams already using the Z-Shaped floor cutout in Bahrain, but it also had a number of parts to try in combination with it.

Alpine A521 Floor comparison

Alpine A521 Floor comparison

Photo by: Uncredited

Alpine's test programme highlights where the team's interests lie at this early stage of the season, with two key areas seemingly the most ripe for development - the area around where the floor begins to taper and the area ahead of the rear tyre.

In Alpine's case, the floor tested during pre-season didn't have the Z-shaped cutout or fins (V1 Blue). But, having installed a floor with the cutout, the team tested two other solutions, one of them (V2 Blue) not only had the two silver coloured fins mounted side-by-side and offset from one another, but also had two shorter triangular shaped fins mounted further downstream (red arrows).

It decided to race a slightly less aggressive solution though, with just a single fin mounted on the edge of the floor cutout (V3 Blue).

A batch of solutions was also tested just ahead of the rear tyre too, with the single element strake used during the pre-season test cast aside (V1 White), firstly in favour of the trio of strakes used during the later stages of the pre-season test (V2 White) and then in a combination test with two other solutions (V3 White and V4 White).

V3 and V4 both have four sections to them, albeit in a slightly different way, with V3 only having slots a portion of the way down the surface, whilst V4 is made of four individual strakes.

Not a one dimensional problem

As we've seen from the restructuring of the pecking order in the opening races, it's not a one-size-fits-all equation though, with each of the teams at a different stage in the development cycle, having used resources in different ways.

There's also a tug-of-war for resources too, as while the floor is by far the largest change to the regulations, there's other changes that could have an impact on them and on overall car performance too.

Mercedes W12 and Mercedes W11 diffuser comparison
Red Bull RB16B Vs RB16 rear detail

The reduction in the height of the strakes, for example, could play a role in the difference between the low- and high-rake runners, as their proximity to the ground plane is extended further still.

In the case of the low-rake runners, teams have likely exploited the vorticity that's created by the strakes ground proximity in the past, which in-turn generally helped with flow through the diffuser.

PLUS: How the 'Great F1 Rake-Off' delivered a Bahrain GP showdown

The overall design of the Mercedes diffuser is almost identical to 2020, at this stage, bar the design of the strakes, which have been reduced in height by 50mm to comply with the new rules.

McLaren is the real outlier in this respect, so far, having used a clever interpretation of the regulations to maintain taller strakes in the mid-section of the diffuser.

Connecting its strakes in the central 500mm of the car to the transition wall has allowed the team to keep the taller strakes. But it does come at a cost, as it must maintain a single section in that region.

This means that if you were to take a slice through that section you'd have no breaks in the slice. This does compromise the overall shape of the boat tail, and means there can be no slots in the strakes to optimize the flow around them.

It'll therefore be interesting to see if there's any changes in this area throughout the course of the season, as the designers search for ways to improve the aerodynamic hand off of flow structures from one area of the car to the other.

shares
comments

Related video

Seidl is best team principal in F1, says Brown

Previous article

Seidl is best team principal in F1, says Brown

Next article

Wolff doubts Bottas came close to F1 retirement after team orders

Wolff doubts Bottas came close to F1 retirement after team orders
Load comments

About this article

Series Formula 1
Author Matt Somerfield
Why Bottas feels the time has come to be “more selfish” Plus

Why Bottas feels the time has come to be “more selfish”

We’ve seen five distinct versions of Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes as he’s tried to fulfil his own ambitions while being a consummate team player – two difficult, competing missions which have been challenging to reconcile. Speaking exclusively to STUART CODLING, Bottas explains his highs and lows… and why he still believes he can be world champion

Does Aston have a case in F1 2021’s big technical row? Plus

Does Aston have a case in F1 2021’s big technical row?

Aston Martin claims Formula 1’s latest technical tweaks have cost it competitiveness – and that it’s the innocent victim of a regulatory stitch-up aimed at pegging back Mercedes. But is any of this actually true? It depends on who you ask, says STUART CODLING

Formula 1
May 14, 2021
How long can F1 2021's brewing title battle stay clean? Plus

How long can F1 2021's brewing title battle stay clean?

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen have been evenly matched so far in the 2021 Formula 1 title race. Neither has been afraid to get aggressive against each other on track, teeing up an enthralling contest as the year unwinds. But is their rivalry destined to end in broken shards of carbon fibre?

Formula 1
May 13, 2021
What the Spain result tells F1 about the next phase of the Mercedes/Red Bull title fight Plus

What the Spain result tells F1 about the next phase of the Mercedes/Red Bull title fight

OPINION: Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes have recovered from their pre-season woes to take three wins from the opening four races of 2021. But each time Red Bull and Max Verstappen have pushed them hard. So, what clues did the latest round of that battle – the Spanish Grand Prix – tease about the next stage of the season?

Formula 1
May 12, 2021
How Brabham’s one-hit wonder was boxed into a corner Plus

How Brabham’s one-hit wonder was boxed into a corner

The Brabham BT46B raced once, won once, then vanished – or did it? STUART CODLING reveals the story of the car which was never actually banned…

Formula 1
May 11, 2021
The changes Barcelona needs to provide a modern-day F1 spectacle Plus

The changes Barcelona needs to provide a modern-day F1 spectacle

Formula 1’s visits to Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya over recent years have been met with familiar criticisms despite tweaks here and there to the track to improve racing. With the 2021 Spanish Grand Prix largely going the same way, proper solutions need to be followed to achieve F1’s wider targets

Formula 1
May 10, 2021
Spanish Grand Prix Driver Ratings Plus

Spanish Grand Prix Driver Ratings

Often described as Formula 1's laboratory, the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona gave the clearest demonstration yet of the pecking order in 2021. And it's the key discrepancies from that order which illuminate who is excelling, and who needs to hit the reset button

Formula 1
May 10, 2021
How Red Bull’s deja vu set Hamilton on the winning path in Spain Plus

How Red Bull’s deja vu set Hamilton on the winning path in Spain

An aggressive first corner move from Max Verstappen appeared to have set the Red Bull driver on course for victory in the Spanish Grand Prix. But canny strategy from Mercedes - combined with the absence of Red Bull's number two from the lead group - allowed Lewis Hamilton to pull off a demoralising reversal

Formula 1
May 10, 2021