Aston Martin’s F1 form dip: an upgrade side effect or flexi-wing fallout?
Aston Martin has been one of the big talking points this year, thanks to both its stunning start to the Formula 1 campaign but also a recent dip in pace.
With Fernando Alonso having helped breathe some excitement into the early races, as he emerged as the shock main challenger to Red Bull, the squad even came close to victory in the Monaco Grand Prix.
But after an impressive six podium finishes out of the first eight races, including seconds in Monaco and Canada, things became a bit more difficult.
The change in form has prompted a great deal of intrigue, with Alonso himself hinting that it could have been linked to the change of tyre construction that Pirelli introduced from the British GP.
Aston Martin’s senior management dismissed this theory though, and instead suggested that it was more related to an upgrade package it introduced at the Canadian Grand Prix triggering some characteristic changes that the team did not get on top of immediately.
These ‘side effects’, as team principal Mike Krack referred to recently, were not noticeable in Montreal because of the low downforce/drag nature of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve – but did become more exposed when extra load was required at the subsequent races.
As performance director, Tom McCullough explained: “You always try to add base performance, but you very rarely can add it without any characteristic change. So, there's always that that you're trying to understand.”
A more encouraging performance in Belgium, as Alonso came home in fifth place, left the team feeling that it had turned the corner in its understanding of the car, and could now look forward to a better second half of the season.
“The data looks positive from what we have seen so far,” said Krack. “We looked to be more competitive than recently.”
The Aston Martin team cheer Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23, 3rd position, over the line
Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
A flexi-wing explanation?
But rivals in the paddock have suggested that there is another more intriguing answer as to why Aston Martin’s form changed – and it relates to a bit of a flexi-wing clampdown from the FIA.
Autosport has learned that the governing body has been paying particularly close attention to the construction of front wings this year to ensure that teams are not using clever solutions to benefit from flexible components.
The FIA and teams have long been aware that if a team can design a front wing that is strong enough when stationary to pass the pull-down tests conducted in the garage, but can flex down in a controlled manner at speed out on track, then a decent chunk of performance can be unleashed.
This has been a constant battleground between teams and the FIA, and an issue that is unlikely to ever go away as it is impossible to make wings that are 100% rigid.
It is understood earlier this season the FIA ramped up its analysis of various designs and expressed some unease about the construction of several front wings which it suspected could be flexing more than it felt was necessary.
Although the wings passed the pull-down tests that check on flexibility, and there was never any suggestions that teams were running illegal cars, any design that allowed the wings to flex at speed could have been deemed to be in breach of Article 3.2.2 of the Technical Regulations.
This rule states: “All aerodynamic components or bodywork influencing the car’s aerodynamic performance must be rigidly secured and immobile with respect to their frame of reference defined in Article 3.3. Furthermore, these components must produce a uniform, solid, hard, continuous, impervious surface under all circumstances.”
A flexible front wing would bring notable benefits to teams in it being able to run in a higher downforce configuration for corners but then flexing down at speed on the straights to reduce drag.
Onboard footage from Fernando Alonso’s car in the early races definitely seemed to point to Aston Martin being able to run very high wing angles and there being a notable flex in the wing as it hit top speed on the straights.
It is understood that the FIA took action around the time of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix and informally advised a number of teams about its desire to see changes to avoid any potential trouble at subsequent races.
It is unclear exactly when such modifications were expected to be made, however, as teams are often given some leeway to change designs in such circumstances.
What is clear though is that by the time of the Spanish GP, Aston Martin’s performance characteristics seemed to change, with its low-speed and medium-speed performance slipping back in particular.
The team has neither confirmed nor denied that it was one of several teams that had to make modifications to its front wing, but sources with good knowledge of the situation have revealed that Aston Martin was one of the teams that had to make changes.
Aston Martin AMR23 front wing - third flat pivot
Photo by: Uncredited
Front wing concept shift
The exact changes that Aston Martin had to make are not known, but a close examination of its front wing points to a different direction around the time of the FIA clampdown.
As seen in the above image, the current generation of wings produce two vortex structures generated from the metal flap adjustment strakes (blue arrows).
The inboard one of these creates a similar but probably nowhere near as powerful vortex from the previous generation of wings.
Some teams have employed a third bracket with a pivot employed, and this was something noticeable on the front wing Aston Martin used in Bahrain and Australia (red arrow), and was on and off the car in Saudi Arabia.
However, it disappeared in Baku and Miami, returned for Monaco, and hasn’t been raced since.
The area where this component was previously fitted can be clearly seen in the wing it currently uses (see inset image).
This third bracket itself is not illegal, as Alpine, Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren have all used their own variants.
Its absence from the Aston Martin right now could be a total coincidence, but equally, it could be that Aston Martin was using it in assisting the behaviour of the front wing when both loaded and unloaded.
The angle of this pivot is also interesting, as it slopes outwards – and could potentially have helped in directing the angle of any high-speed deflection.
The removal of this pivot (whether forced on it or a deliberate choice) would certainly have triggered a change of characteristics with the airflow of the front wing – and may well include some of the side effects that the team has talked about.
Whatever the reality of its front wing development choices, and it is something that only Aston Martin knows, it is clear the team is not wasting time dwelling on it – as the focus is very much on ending this year as strong as it started.
As McCullough said: “We've been targeting quite strong development throughout the year.
“We have the budget to keep developing the car and that's our aim. So, we will be bringing some steps all the way to the end of the championship, as much as we can do.”
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