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

Why F1 teams can’t agree on the best sidepod solution

Formula 1’s recent efforts to make the racing better have included a deliberate push to restrict the areas where teams can develop their cars unhindered.

Why F1 teams can’t agree on the best sidepod solution

Many feared these limits could lead to a batch of identikit machines, with only liveries and negligible design differences being the means to tell them apart.

However, as F1 teams unleashed their 2022 machines at the start of the new era, it became apparent that these worries had been misguided as there were clear areas of wriggle room for designers to express themselves and make a difference.

These elements proved to be a driving force in the tech battle last year, and that means they will equally be important considerations for teams as they hone their 2023 challengers.

Looking at the design aspects that could make the difference in the forthcoming campaign, the obvious starting point is sidepods – all teams have had a rethink from a solution that Ferrari pioneered in 2017 and the rest of the grid had followed suit by the close of 2021.

The Scuderia had struck upon the idea of positioning the upper side-impact spars (SIS) lower. Housed within the bodywork, this would improve local flow conditions, while also allowing for a shallower sidepod inlet.

However, changes made by the FIA to the height range of the upper SIS resulted in the low-slung option being all but ruled out for 2022.

SIS do represent both an encumbrance and an opportunity though, as finding the perfect compromise for a specific design concept can help unlock more performance, something that’s especially important when we consider that they can’t be moved during the course of the season.

This also means that any change of concept during the season is always going to lead to headaches, something that the likes of Aston Martin, Williams and McLaren all had to consider when they made their conceptual changes during last season.

Mercedes had the most obvious upper SIS placement of all the teams, as it enclosed it within its own fairing, while the rest of its ‘zeropod’ clung more tightly to the car’s centreline.

While this was one of the factors in Mercedes being able to deliver a very narrow-bodied challenger, the main contribution comes courtesy of a design feature it had been championing for several years now, and has been appropriated by others over the course of the last couple of seasons too.

Mercedes W13 Sidepod (W10 Internal, Inset)

Mercedes W13 Sidepod (W10 Internal, Inset)

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

It revolves around taking volume out of the rear section of the chassis, in order that the radiators can be inserted into the void created (see W10, inset).

Obviously this poses some challenges in terms of the chassis’s design, given the crash tests that must be overcome for its homologation. However, there’s clearly an aerodynamic advantage that overrides any weight or structural compromises that must be made to achieve it, given the number of teams now pursuing the concept.

Although there were around five different sidepod solutions at the start of the 2022 season, it became apparent that the teams were set to converge on a smaller number by the end of the season.

Red Bull Racing RB18 sidepods detail

Red Bull Racing RB18 sidepods detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Downwash favourite

The Red Bull-style downwash ramp solution emerged as the one that most favoured, as a number of teams made the switch, likely because it offered the broadest performance window for the smallest development cost.

This is critical when we factor in both the cost cap and the restrictions on wind tunnel and CFD resources. Also, given the championship winner had opted for this solution, it made sense for those lower in the pecking order to gravitate in that direction.

AlphaTauri AT03 rear detail

AlphaTauri AT03 rear detail

Photo by: AlphaTauri

Alpine A522 sidepods detail

Alpine A522 sidepods detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Interestingly, Red Bull’s sister team AlphaTauri had also started its campaign with a similar sidepod solution, albeit not as detail-oriented, which shows that it is just one contributing factor in the car’s overall performance.

Alpine, which also began with a downwash ramp design, continued to optimise its solution, with the Anglo-French outfit incorporating hints of Ferrari’s bathtub-style design into the mix.

Meanwhile, Aston Martin, Williams and McLaren (below) all moved toward downwash ramp sidepod solutions throughout the course of their campaigns, with some more closely aligned to the Red Bull design than others.

Aston Martin AMR22 new layout

Aston Martin AMR22 new layout

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Williams FW44 side view comparison2

Williams FW44 side view comparison2

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

McLaren MCL36 comparison

McLaren MCL36 comparison

One interesting and unique feature of the Red Bull sidepod was its use of a scoop-like inlet, with the open top providing more room for airflow to make its way to a smaller inlet, set back from the initial runway being created.

This also created a lip to divide the airflow’s passage toward the now more generous undercut, before finding safe passage along the sidepod’s flank.

It’s something that McLaren couldn’t fully adopt but it headed in that direction with an update that was introduced at the Singapore Grand Prix.

Red Bull Racing RB18 new floor

Red Bull Racing RB18 new floor

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

McLaren sidepods details

McLaren sidepods details

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Ferrari’s aforementioned bathtub-style sidepod solution took advantage of the reintroduction of cooling gills in the bodywork like no other.

The gills were cut into the bodywork in order that the heat rejected from within worked alongside the external flow stream to improve the passage of both to the rear of the car. The team saw fit to make minor geometric alterations throughout the course of the season.

But, with only Haas making the clamour to align itself with a similar design, it suggests that finding performance from the overall concept might have been resource intensive, especially as Haas’ original design had already shown to be on that trajectory.

This resource factor could well be an important element in explaining why no consensus has yet emerged about whether downwash or inwash is the best solution.

Haas VF-22 new sidepods, Hungarian GP

Haas VF-22 new sidepods, Hungarian GP

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

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