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Formula 1 Chinese GP

From tweaked headrests to new floors: China’s F1 updates in full

The intensity of Formula 1 sprint weekends means teams are reluctant to bring major upgrades because there is a lack of time to properly test them.

Haas VF-24 engine cover

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis

Giorgio Piola is the preeminent Formula 1 technical journalist. Born in Genoa, Italy, Giorgio has covered the F1 World Championship since 1969, producing thousands of illustrations that have been reproduced in the world’s most prestigious motor racing publications.

However, with the fight in the F1 pack so intense this year, everyone equally knows that small gains can make a big difference in the pecking order.

That is why several outfits did take some new parts to Shanghai, with Alpine and Haas bringing pretty extensive updates, while Mercedes, Williams and RB all made smaller tweaks to their cars.

With just one free practice session at the teams' disposal, all of the changes seen in China needed to work practically out of the box, even if new parc ferme rules did allow for some tweaking of settings between the sprint and qualifying.

Cockpit area tweaks

The Mercedes, Williams and RB trio all made changes to a similar area on their cars, as they either adjusted or added to their halo fairings, or in RB’s case, adjusted the shape of the headrest.

These alterations won’t yield a significant performance benefit but do help tidy up any inefficiencies that might have been present previously.

RB VCARB01 cockpit surround comparison

RB VCARB01 cockpit surround comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Of the changes, the ones made to the VCARB 01 are by far the most interesting, as the team has raised and reshaped the portion of the headrest behind the driver’s helmet.

The headrest is now much taller than before, as it sits more in line with the back of the driver’s helmet, rather than a few inches below it (see inset).

As a consequence, the section of bodywork behind the headrest and below the airbox and rollover has also been revised, so that everything smoothly transitions rearward.

Furthermore, where a single spar was previously mounted between the two sections, there’s now a pair of shorter spars in its place.

Haas goes all in on update

Haas opted to introduce a raft of new parts at the Chinese Grand Prix in an effort to capitalise on its good start to the season and with the intent of climbing clear of those nipping at its heels.

It is clear that the VF-24 is a more rounded challenger than its predecessor, and so it’s unsurprising that the updates that have arrived aren’t completely new in concept but simply build upon the foundations that had already been laid.

Haas VF-24 technical detail

Haas VF-24 technical detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Haas VF-24 technical detail

Haas VF-24 technical detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

This starts with the floor fences, as they are realigned to improve the airflow’s behaviour locally and to tie in the improvement with changes made to the front corner of the floor.

The alterations made to the fences are therefore not isolated to just how they are connected to the floor’s leading edge but also how they snake rearwards and their culmination at the floor’s edge.

From here, the changes have allowed the floor’s edge and edge wing to be modified too, with a more generous pitch now present on the scrolled section of the edge wing, which has also resulted in the team optimising the strakes that are connected to its surface.

Haas VF-24 mirror comparison

Haas VF-24 mirror comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

A new mirror assembly was also part of the update package, with the main body reprofiled in order to improve its aerodynamic efficiency.

The overall shape of the new mirror body isn’t drastically different to its predecessor (inset), but rather it has been elongated to reduce its height. It is a minimal change but one which will reduce the turbulence created by the mirror body and improve flow to the sidepod and engine cover bodywork downstream.

On the topic of the engine cover, Haas has made two changes here, both of which are coupled to how the heat is rejected by the power unit and its ancillaries and how that impinges on the car’s aerodynamic efficiency. 

The first is a change in the height of the louvres in the panel on the side of the engine cover, as they’re now taller, which results in the team being able to use fewer of them now (main image). 

Meanwhile, at the rear of the car, the main engine cover outlet has been reduced in size, which also has a bearing on how the airflow moves over the engine cover’s shoulder and down into the coke bottle region.

Haas VF-24 rear cooling outlet comparison

Haas VF-24 rear cooling outlet comparison

Photo by: Uncredited

Alpine fast-tracks its changes

In terms of updates, Alpine was only able to furnish one driver with its new components, as the updates had been fast-tracked ahead of their original arrival date and there were not enough spares to go around. 

In this respect, Esteban Ocon had the first taste of how the car would perform with the new floor, floor fences, edge wing and modified diffuser sidewall, as his A524 was fitted with the new parts.

The changes are designed to leverage one another, with each modification a link in a larger chain that the team hopes adds up to not only more load but also better balance as a consequence.

Alpine A524 floor fence comparison

Alpine A524 floor fence comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The first link in that chain is the floor fences, with the inboard one of the four fences given the most priority in terms of modification on this occasion.

Now, rather than sitting between the chassis and the second fence, the most inboard fence sits under the chassis line, altering how it behaves in relation to the chassis and the leading edge of the floor.

Whilst this modifies the airflow’s interaction with the fence at the forward section of the floor, it will also result in a change in behaviour downstream too, as the fence will have undoubtedly undergone significant surgery along its entire length.

There are also clear signs of the floor and chassis interface having been modified to accommodate these alterations, meaning it wouldn’t have been a case of just taking the old floor off and mounting the new one either, which is likely another reason why the team opted to apply the updates to only one car in China.

Alpine A524 floor comparison

Alpine A524 floor comparison

Photo by: Uncredited

The forward portion of the edge wing appears largely unchanged at this point, but the camber of the floor’s edge and the edge wing have been adjusted around the twisted central section.

The tail section of the edge wing is no longer simply tapered to match the floor’s geometry though, as it doglegs around the corner and forms a horizontal winglet in the gap formed by a new cutout.

This is somewhat of a reversion for Alpine, as the A523 featured a similar cutout (inset), with a winglet jutting out from a fixation point under the floor, although the team has now found a way to combine the two elements, with one fewer metal bracket deployed along the edge wing’s length.

This layout results in a higher tyre spat deck ahead of the rear tyre, with these surfaces used to help mitigate some of the ill aerodynamic effects created in the region between the diffuser’s sidewall and the rear tyre.

Alpine A524 Front Wing Comparison (changes highlighted)

Alpine A524 Front Wing Comparison (changes highlighted)

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The arrival of a new floor for Alpine follows from the introduction of a new front wing in Japan, as the team looks to take advantage of the change in flow field downstream.

The new front wing features a solution we’ve seen others enjoy throughout the course of this regulation set, with a semi-detached flap and endplate arrangement employed.

In this configuration, the flaps are pushed away from the endplate’s surface, which presents a separate vertical edge to the airflow in order to create a more intense vortical structure that will aid in generating outwash across and around the front tyre.

Meanwhile, the shape of the flaps has also been modified across their span in order to better manage the downforce-to-flow conditioning ratio.

This is most visible on the uppermost flap, with a very different trailing edge shape utilised (see dotted lines), whilst a change in the frequency and placement of the metal support brackets between each element shows how the loads have changed across and between the elements.

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