Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis
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Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis

The Red Bull design that avoided a flexi-wing protest

Formula 1 had arrived at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix braced for a showdown over the flexi-wing saga.

The Red Bull design that avoided a flexi-wing protest

With new tougher FIA pull-back tests not due to come into force until the French GP, the race in Baku was the last chance for outfits to get away with their more bendy rear wings.

That prospect annoyed teams like Mercedes and McLaren, and the threat of a protest remained if outfits went too far in what they did in Baku.

It was perhaps the threat of a formal complaint, and the inherent risk of a disqualification if the FIA stewards sided with a protester, that perhaps meant the issue never raised its head.

For while Red Bull had been centre of attention after the Spanish Grand Prix with its flexi-wing antics, it elected to run in Baku with a new interim spoon-shaped wing that acted in a much more normal manner and helped steer clear of any controversy.

This Red Bull design features a mainplane with a deeper central section to create the necessary downforce, while the outer channels are shallower in order that the resultant tip vortex created by the airflow’s collision with the endplate is lessened.

To feed into this, Red Bull also made changes to its endplate design, returning to a plainer design in order that it would be less aggressive on the airflow.

 

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The stepped cut-out in the upper corner gave way to a more conventional design, whilst the upwash strikes and louvres hanging strakes were also removed and simplified (see Monaco inset for the usual 2021 design).

The wing, shown in the illustration, also has a section cut away on the trailing edge of the upper flap.

However, while that version of the wing made an appearance, it didn’t actually find its way onto the car in a competitive session in Baku but will likely return at the Belgian GP.

The team opted to run without a Gurney flap on the trailing edge of the wing though, sacrificing some balance for straightline speed (see Spa 2020 inset for comparison with a Gurney attached).

Driver split tactics

It’s always fascinating to see how team-mates respond to the prevailing challenges too, with each driver making set-up and aero changes that suit their own requirements.

In the case of Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen, there was an almost imperceptible difference between their rear wings, as the Dutchman opted for the trailing edge of the wing to be trimmed slightly to reduce drag further still.

Mercedes also opted for different rear wing configurations on its cars at Baku, albeit a totally different concept rather than the subtle difference seen at championship rivals, Red Bull.

The two different wing specifications used by Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas

The two different wing specifications used by Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

After trawling through the data from Friday’s free practice sessions, where the team had struggled for pace, Lewis Hamilton opted for the lower downforce arrangement, with just a single support pillar connected to the DRS actuator pod. Across the garage, Valtteri Bottas’ W12 was fitted with the higher downforce twin pillar arrangement.

This is not unusual behaviour by Mercedes this season either, as the team opted for different solutions as recently as the Portuguese Grand Prix, in order to boost its chances of beating Red Bull.

The lower downforce wing clearly gave Hamilton the straightline boost required, but conversely it should have put him at a disadvantage to Bottas through the middle sector.

However, the Finn continued to struggle with his W12, finding it unresponsive in terms of generating the right type of tyre temperatures.

The battle of the rear wing specs was also going on over at Ferrari too, as it started off its weekend with a spoon-shaped medium downforce wing on the car, before switching to the more traditional shaped mainplane design for FP3, qualifying and the race.

 

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Ferrari’s change of heart allowed Charles Leclerc to grab another pole position, but the Monegasque driver slipped down the order come race day as the pack shuffled back into a more familiar pattern.

Unlike Red Bull, the switch to a lower downforce arrangement didn’t result in the deletion of the serrated upper rear cut-out, the upwash strikes or any changes to the hanging strakes. This means it is still keen to rework the vortex created at the wing tip.

Aston Martin had a couple of small detail changes available at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix which once again made their way on to Lance Stroll’s car ahead of Vettel’s.

These changes concern the area around the cockpit, with the halo fairing’s boomerang replaced by a pair of fins on either side of the safety structure that hope to position the airflow more effectively.

 

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Meanwhile, in a similar fashion to what we’ve already seen from Mercedes, the wing mirror mounts had a serrated finish added to their surface in order to create a series of smaller vortices that also improved flow downstream.

Williams introduced a new bargeboard cluster in Azerbaijan. But with only enough parts to furnish one driver with the update, it was George Russell’s FW43B that carried them throughout the weekend.

The main design change is reminiscent of one that was made by McLaren toward the end of last season, with two C-shaped wings framing the main vertical bargeboard element and the upper boomerang.

Williams FW43B bargeboard detail

Williams FW43B bargeboard detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

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