How F1 teams decided over critical downforce choices in Saudi

How F1 teams decided over critical downforce choices in Saudi

by Kennethdem
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This is where teams and drivers operate in the smallest of margins when it comes to chasing performance. Trying to find the balance required to be quick in qualifying but also have a car that performs well during the race.

The offset in laptime between a lap taken with the DRS open in all three zones versus a tour without is quite noticeable and might edge a driver towards a higher downforce setup to have the extra confidence through the tighter, twistier and lower speed first sector. This decision would also aid them come race day in terms of keeping the tyres in a more stable operating window.

However, in doing so that would compromise the car’s performance when DRS is not available, as you’re adding unwanted drag through the fastest sections of the track. So, let’s take a look at how some of the teams managed these challenges…

Red Bull Racing Rb16B Rear Wing Detail

Red Bull Racing RB16B rear wing detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Red Bull has suffered its fair share of dramas when it comes to rear wings over the course of the last few races, with numerous fixes needed to the medium and high-downforce offerings in order it didn’t suffer a failure.

In the buildup to the action getting underway it was noted that the medium-downforce wings had once again been patched around the slot gap separator, top flap snubber and DRS linkage point in an attempt to prevent the kind of oscillations we’d seen in recent events when DRS was deployed.

However, having started its race preparations on the medium-downforce wing in FP1, it made the switch to the lower-downforce version for FP2 onwards. Both have the signature spoon-like shaping – which is designed to reduce the drag created in the outboard section of the wing – but the lower downforce of the two has a number of distinguishing features that make it easy to tell it apart.

Red Bull Racing Rb16B Rear Wing Comparison

Red Bull Racing RB16B rear wing comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The most obvious of these is the more abrupt spoon shape of the mainplane, with the outer sections raised higher on the endplate, a feature which is easier to spot if you use the blue part of the endplate livery as a reference point.

On the endplate, it’s here where the team dispenses with a lot of the aerodynamic furniture that’s employed on the high and medium-downforce wings to help disrupt the tip vortex. The contouring required to create the serrated rear cutout is lessened, while the upwash strikes are deleted and louvered overhang is exchanged for a flat surface.

Moving into qualifying, Verstappen opted for less downforce and therefore less drag than Perez, as can be seen by the removal of the Gurney flap in the outer section (small inset). 

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Mercedes W12 Rear Wing Comparison

Mercedes W12 rear wing comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Mercedes opted to use its low-downforce rear wing with a single, centrally-mounted rear wing support pillar and the taller DRS pod connected to it. However, it’s worth noting that when we talk about high, medium and low downforce rear wings there are still some subtle variations within that selection too.

This can take several forms, but in the case of Mercedes it has two main specifications of low-downforce wing, one which was used at Silverstone and Spa (right) and one that was used in Baku and at Jeddah (left).

The main difference between the two arrangements is the relative size of the mainplane and top flap and the cutouts in the trailing edge of the top flap, which are used to help reduce drag. The yellow highlight in the illustration helps to distinguish the size difference in the central V cutout.

Mercedes W12 Rear Wing Detail, Saudi Arabia Gp

Mercedes W12 rear wing detail, Saudi Arabia GP

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

To help improve balance at the expense of a small drag penalty, teams also have Gurney flaps at their disposal that can be applied to the trailing edge of the upper flap.

Mercedes ran without the Gurney at Silverstone but added one owing to the impending wet weather conditions at Spa as it went into qualifying. As part of its cautionary exploration of the Jeddah circuit the team ran with a Gurney flap on the trailing edge of the top flap during FP1 and FP2 (red arrow) but, having accustomed themselves to the grip levels, both drivers continued without it during the rest of the event.

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Daniel Ricciardo, Mclaren Mcl35M

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL35M

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Lando Norris, Mclaren Mcl35M

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Most teams started a little tentatively and fitted a higher-downforce configuration in FP1 before moving to something more befitting the speeds that the track served up for the rest of the event but, there were some outliers…

McLaren opted to split its drivers, as Lando Norris’ MCL35M was outfitted with their spoon-shaped rear wing, whereas Daniel Ricciardo chose a slightly lower-downforce option, with the conventional horizontal mainplane design. This wasn’t the only choice made by McLaren though, as it also evaluated two different front wing options during FP1, in an effort to find the right balance at this tricky new circuit.

George Russell, Williams Fw43B, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

George Russell, Williams FW43B, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

Williams Fw43B Rear Wing Detail

Williams FW43B rear wing detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Similarly, the Williams duo had slightly different configurations, albeit not in rear wing choice but in the decision to run a T-Wing or not, as Latifi opted to use the double element T-Wing, while Russell chose not to run one at all.

Alpine A521 Comparison

ALPINE A521 comparison

Photo by: Uncredited

Alpine also started out its weekend a little more cautiously, as it opted for the conventionally-shaped wing (top) as it evaluated the track layout, before switching to the lower-downforce, spoon-shaped option (bottom).

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