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What we learned about the new F1 car designs in the Bahrain GP

The limited time between Formula 1's pre-season test and the Bahrain Grand Prix meant almost no updates were on display at the first race, affording some time to dig deeper into the ideas that were hidden away in early running. Here we analyse some of the most interesting aspects at F1's season-opener.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23

Photo by: Erik Junius

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.

The changes that Red Bull made to its sidepod and engine cover bodywork for 2024 have grabbed a lot of attention, as the team has redefined the design of this region. However, there are other ways the RB20 has evolved when compared to its predecessor too.

That journey begins at the front of the car where among the meaningful changes is a revised nosecone. The tip now sits further forward on the mainplane, rather than on the secondary element (inset, lower right).

Meanwhile, Red Bull has also moved the front wing's flap adjuster from the outboard position that was favoured in 2023 and placed it at the inboard end of the moveable flap section (red arrows).

The location of the adjuster has likely been moved for aerodynamic purposes, with its presence in the outer section of the wing less than ideal in terms of helping to shape the outwash being generated.

Red Bull Racing RB20 front wing flap adjustment and nose tip comparison

Red Bull Racing RB20 front wing flap adjustment and nose tip comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Comparing the bulkhead of the RB20's chassis with its two predecessors, it is evident that the team has continued to carve out additional space on the lower corners of the monocoque to fulfil its aerodynamic desires.

The red arrows on each illustration show how much deeper the V-shaped profile has become throughout the last three seasons. Other packaging alterations have been made too.

Notably, the two lower mounting pins for the nose have been relocated below the steering assembly, whilst the brake reservoir is now more of a conventional cylindrical shape, rather than the flattened tray that preceded it.

Red Bull Racing RB20 chassis section comparison

Red Bull Racing RB20 chassis section comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

As for the RB20's cooling layout, the only comparison that can be drawn with Mercedes' zeropod layout is the vertical inlet beside the chassis. The design was never going to be a zeropod solution either, even if many thought Red Bull might try to shrink the sidepods in that way.

The reason for that is exactly why Mercedes failed to get the performance it wanted from the solution in the first place; the turbulence created by the front wheel assembly needs to be dealt with. This is why most teams deploy wider and more sculpted sidepod bodywork than is needed to house the internal components. Designers no longer have bargeboards, deflectors and other aerodynamic paraphernalia as in the previous regulatory era.

In any case, the RB20 is a triple threat in terms of its cooling layout, with two inlets in the lower portion of the sidepod dealing with the cooling to the V-shaped radiator layout that's now part of the internal architecture. These slender inlets being at the sidepods extremities then also free off more real estate for the undercut, which has also been refined as part of the package.

Those two lower inlets are joined by a novel arrangement that tries to take advantage of the ordinarily lossy region around the trail leg of the halo, with an intake set beside it that feeds cool air to another cooler mounted behind. This also has its own designated outlet panel on the side of the engine cover.

Red Bull Racing RB20 inlet

Red Bull Racing RB20 inlet

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Mercedes has made a slew of changes to its car for 2024, in an attempt to improve handling, driveability and overall performance. However, one item that captured people's attention at the launch and in the days and weeks since is the design of its front wing's upper flap.

Mercedes has opted for a very slender upper element in the non-moveable section beside the nose (red arrow, left upper inset), which then gives way to a more traditional chord height for the moveable section of the element outboard of this.

It is not the first time teams have removed portions of their front wing to help balance downforce and drag levels, with Alpine a prime example of this (inset, right), but it's most certainly a more deliberate design intention that's been built into the DNA of the W15's wing.

Add to this how the tip of the moveable section of the upper flap is not connected to the metal adjustment bracket (blue arrow, inset) and it's clear that there's more at play than a simple reduction in flap chord height.

The slender flap, the metal bracket and the tip of the moveable section will result in the formation of a vortex, which can be used to manipulate the surrounding airflow's trajectory. And, whilst this won't be as strong as the more well-known Y250 front wing vortex from the previous regulations, it will help in the designer's overall goals.

The discontinuity of the moveable section will also result in its tip section being prone to bending at speed, resulting in a change in vorticity that might be beneficial in providing a performance uptick downstream too.

Mercedes W15 flap comparison

Mercedes W15 flap comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Mercedes has also added some modularity into the W15's design so that it has more set-up versatility during the season. This is possible due to a double mounting position on the chassis for the rear leg of the upper wishbone, with the team having used the higher position on the first two days of the pre-season test and the lower position on the final day.

The changeable position offers the team options on more or less anti-dive, whilst also changing the aerodynamic conditions that the leg's position presents to the airflow.

The team may use a different position based on the circuit and/or conditions it is presented with, both of which could be seen in a video of the W15 being painted that the team posted to YouTube (inset, lower right).

Mercedes W15 adaptable front suspension

Mercedes W15 adaptable front suspension

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Another significant difference in the W15's layout for 2024 revolves around the position of the cockpit and therefore the distance between the front axle and the driver. Lewis Hamilton had been critical of this throughout the last two seasons, as it has a bearing on the perceptual behaviour of the car.

Mercedes, therefore, prioritised this as part of a substantial design overhaul, with a new sidepod package and pushrod rear suspension also employed as part of the design shake-up.

2023 Mercedes W14 and 2024 Mercedes W15 driver position comparison

2023 Mercedes W14 and 2024 Mercedes W15 driver position comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Comparing the Ferrari SF-23 that received its sidepod update at the Spanish Grand Prix, with this year's SF-24, it is clear what had to be changed to fully exploit the switch to the downwash ramp-style sidepod solution.

Among the major changes to allow for this transformation is the movement of the lower SIS, which is now mounted lower on the chassis and is covered by a blister in the roof of the floor, rather than forming a blister in the lower portion of the sidepod. This allows for a more generous undercut to form, which, in turn, allowed the designers to focus on the shape of the remaining bodywork.

The SF-24 also features the underbite inlet solution that we had seen on the Red Bull throughout the last two seasons, which allows for a shallower inlet to capture the cool air to be delivered to the internal components and frees up further real estate for better bodywork management around it.

Ferrari remains in a small clutch of teams that are still using pull-rod rear suspension, but that's not to say that the Scuderia has not made changes to try to improve how its layout works in conjunction with the rest of the car.

The overall length of the chassis has been increased in order to compensate for a shortening of the gearbox and crash structure assembly, which in turn alters the position of the rear suspension. This has an impact both mechanically and aerodynamically.

Ferrari SF-23 and SF-24 comparison

Ferrari SF-23 and SF-24 comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Williams has taken a very different route from the rest of the grid when it comes to the design of the diveplane that's fitted to the exterior of the front wing endplate.

Does it offer more performance than the diveplane shape? Williams obviously believes so, which will make it interesting to see if others decide to create similar designs in future.

The diveplane is one of the tools that designers still have at their disposal when it comes to altering flow on the outer surface of the endplate, but their scope is limited by the geometrical constraints of the regulations. Usually, this leads to more benign solutions being adopted, with gradually sloping and s-shaped variants the most common interpretation that are followed by the teams.

There's also some vertical displacement in play, with teams seen moving the diveplane's position vertically depending on the camber and shape they've ascribed to the endplate.

In Williams' case, there's obviously a much thicker profile in play, but the aim is still the same: help in constructively uniting the flow structures and promote the generation of outwash. This in turn draws the turbulence generated by the front wheel assembly away from key downforce-generating surfaces downstream.

Williams FW46 N end plate

Williams FW46 N end plate

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

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