Formula One 2019 car designs puts the three major teams head to head, in 2018 season the top three teams have continued to plough their own furrow when it comes to the design of their machinery. The question is, will the pecking order remain the same as it was at the end of 2018? What makes it so interesting is that each of the trio is confident of having made gains – but who will have made the most? And of course it’s not just about who hits the ground running in Barcelona or Melbourne – this is a technical development race that will run and run all season.
World champions Mercedes have retained the same long wheelbase of the last two years, the Red Bull remains the shortest of the ‘big three’ (along with the related Toro Rosso), with Ferrari somewhere in between their two rivals, but nudging more towards the Silver Arrows than the Bull in this respect.
Red Bull, meanwhile, continue with their high-rake concept, an area where Ferrari errs more towards the Milton Keynes team than Mercedes.
What has allowed these teams to continue to develop their heavily-worked concepts, benefitting from all the knowledge accumulated in the last few years, is the fact that it has still proved feasible under the new regulations to create an ‘outwash’ aerodynamic format (the air coming off the ends of the front wing around the tyre rather than going inwards towards the floor) and therefore no fundamental re-assessment has been necessary.
The Mercedes retains an identical wheelbase to its two predecessors and can be expected to follow the team’s familiar low-rake approach. Aside from the component changes enforced by the new regulations (wider, simpler front wing, reduced height but further forwards barge boards, restriction of under-wing vanes to two, simplified front brake ducts, a ban on blown axles, bigger, higher rear wing), the most significant visual change to the Mercedes is its significantly narrower sidepods.
Generically on any current-generation F1 car, the airflow coming off the front wing inboard of the tyre is split between that heading for the underfloor and that further outboard which is guided along the body side surfaces, past the sidepods, along the inwards-swooping ‘coke bottle’ section and onwards through the gap between the rear tyre and the diffuser wall. The vanes and barge boards determine the direction of this flow, with various vortices accelerating its speed. The sidepod undercut and the coke bottle profile determine both direction and speed of the flow.
There is then a third major flow regime – that going around the outside of the front tyre. It is crucially important to keep this flow – after it has been outwashed around the front tyre – separate from that travelling down the body sides. Various vortices are used to do this, ensuring that flow remains well outboard of the car. The reason why this is so crucial is so that the ‘middle’ flow (i.e. that along the body sides) is not slowed or even stalled. The faster this particular flow is, the greater the downforce produced, as it exits the back of the car and exerts a pull on the airflow coming through the diffuser, thereby increasing the speed of that flow and creating more underbody downforce. This is the essence of the outwash aerodynamic philosophy.
The SF90 is, in the words of new team principal and former technical boss Mattia Binotto, “an evolution of the 2018 car, not a revolution.” The technical path initiated by the 2017 SF70 has proved extremely productive for the Scuderia, and the new car looks quite familiar despite the new aerodynamic regulations.
Long in wheelbase by recent standards but still significantly shorter than Mercedes, Ferrari’s 2017 innovation around the sidepod, widely copied elsewhere, gives a very distinctive-looking high and boxy radiator inlet opening. In its launch stance, at least, the car appears to be following the high-rake path pursued for the last two seasons. The nose shape is much as before, much wider than Merc’s. So far, so familiar.
The differences from last year – aside from the regulation ones – suggest that there’s been a reworking of the cooling packaging at Maranello. Just as at Brixworth/Brackley with Mercedes. The airbox inlet is way smaller than before, triangular rather than oval, and the way the rear bodywork is gathered together, with its upper surface tumbling into a deep undercut down the sides (similar to last year’s Sauber), suggests a powerful aerodynamic performance.
Red Bull RB15
Red Bull’s first Honda-powered car, after years of Renault motors, is very clearly related to last year’s machine, with a similarly short wheelbase and aggressively raked stance. But there are some very distinct differences too.
Red Bull was early onto the narrowed sidepod direction last year and has retained that with the RB15, but those sidepods are quite different in shape, actually more conventional than the RB14s which didn’t have a significant undercut and instead relied on their heavily descending ramp to accelerate the airflow along the body sides. The RB15 has brought the undercut back, but in combination with tiny radiator inlets. This, together with the increase in size of the engine cover inlet, suggests there has been a re-designed arrangement of the cooling.