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31 August 2014
A Red Bull renaissance?

The dominance shown by Red Bull over the last 5 years appeared to be coming to an end with the rise of a new force: Mercedes.  However I'm not sure the boys from Milton Keynes have read the 2014 script, or they've decided it's time to rip it up and write another.

Spa may well be earmarked as the turning point in the 2014 drivers championship not only for the warring Mercedes drivers but the emergence of Daniel Ricciardo as a real contender.  Don't get me wrong he is still a real outside shot, but the battle between both Silver Arrows drivers could continue to open the door to the Australian.

It's fair to say that Red Bull still have by far the best chassis on the grid and that their performance has been offset by the mistakes made by Renault.  That's also not to say that Mercedes haven't taken advantage of their 'works' scenario, making full use of the partnership to integrate the powerunit with the chassis.  Both teams still remain at the top of their respective trees when we look at who the relative powerunit manufacturers supply and I'd suggest both were compromised by the loss of FRIC.  Mercedes perhaps known to have the most mature version of the system but I'd suggest Red Bull were not all that far behind.

It was clear for everyone to see that a philosophy change had occurred at Red Bull in Spa with the team mixing it up, utilising the very skinny (low dowforce, low drag) rear wing.  I've often remarked that the RB10 seems outwardly less complex than many of it's rivals, a trait shared by Williams this year.  Now that's not to say they are not complex designs but that they are sparse when compared to their rivals, free of unnecessary components that look to create vortices or airflow structures to fix, mask or create other problems.

What also stood out to me was the teams marked improvement in terms of power availability, Spa should have been a track where Red Bull were 'found out', with a drop off in power along Kemmel straight being the most obvious sign of the power offset between the Mercedes and Renault powerunits.  This is a clear sign to me that the hard work, re-structuring and investment done at Renault is starting to pay dividends.  This should not simply been seen as an improvement from Renaults side however, with Red Bull doing their lions share to increase performance too, spending their own time and money investing in the changes.  On top of this both have tasked Total (fuel and oils) with bringing their own expertise to the table, with fuel providing a crucial performance advantage, not only in terms of outright power but also due to the requirements of the fuel flow limit and race weight limit.

The most intriguing element in their renewed pace is that the team played their gear ratio joker in Spa, adjusting some of the 8 ratios the drivers can utilise this season.  For those of you that aren't aware, from 2014 onwards the teams/drivers nominate their gear ratios at the start of the season.  They are allowed to change this once, which must then be retained for the rest of the season.  This shows (to me at least) that Red Bull, Renault and Total have found something, something that has required a change in their approach, with 1st, 2nd, 7th and 8th gear ratios being amended for longer ones to account for the performance being shifted. 

We must also remember that generating more power from the ICE (through virtue of the R&D done by Total & Renault) you will change how energy is recovered and used with the MGU-H & K.  I'd continue to suggest that the teams and manufacturers will continue to evolve in their approach to ERS as time goes by with circuit characteristics also playing a large role in how the energy is made available for the driver.

So why were Red Bull so far off in qualifying? I hear you say, well that's simple, they chose to lose downforce with the use of the skinny rear wing.  This made them slower in the corners, which also lost them time on the straights, traction being a key issue with the Mercedes powerunit able to fill in the blanks that the Renault can not.  Renault may well have made up ground but Mercedes have performance in reserve and I still find it interesting that they are the only team on the grid that chose not to use 8th gear.  Don't get me wrong they have 8th gear (they've used it on the very odd occasion) but it is so tall that the performance drop off is vast when selected.  This of course helps to spread the torque load and assists in the driveability of the car.

When all said and done the drivers championship is Nico Rosberg or Lewis Hamilton's to lose, however if they continue to squabble this only opens the door for a resurgent Red Bull and the ever consistent Daniel Ricciardo (Just imagine if he hadn't had those points took off him in Australia, or both Nico and Lewis had retired in Spa).  The fight is well and truly still on....
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28 August 2014
Bite Size Tech: Lotus E22 Asymmetric Cooling Outlet - Spa

As we know the E22 sports several asymmetric components already but in Spa the team decided they would also change their approach to cooling the car in this way too.  As we can see the left hand side of the car, which houses the chargecooler setup had a significantly larger cooling outlet when compared with the right hand side.  With the size of the cooling system inside the sidepod seemingly increased for Spa the team decided that this shouldn't affect the other side of the car and ran a much smaller cover on the right.  I'm still not wholly convinced by the teams asymmetric philosophy especially owing to its aerodynamic impact, but on a circuit dominated by long straights, perhaps it was simply a case of their drivers being aware of the balance issues in sector 2.
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27 August 2014
Bite Size Tech: Caterham CT05 - Rear Wing Endplate Strakes - Spa

As part of their raft of upgrades introduced in Belgium the team made changes to their rear wing endplate strakes.
The new strakes (lower of the two images) are certainly more complex and will not only assist the diffuser in managing the effects of tyre squirt, but also assist in creating upwash.  Although fairly innocuous the role of the diffuser strakes shouldn't be taken likely, as if designed in sync with other components they can have a marked performance advantage.

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25 August 2014
Time for reflection... The Rosberg/Hamilton incident

The Belgian GP has proven to be the tipping point in what had already become a fractious relationship between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.  The problems are many but a feud on this level only heightens when both drivers, drive for the same team.  Mercedes dominance has been clear to see all year, with us having to go back to 2004 (Ferrari) and 1988 (McLaren) to see one team with such a clear advantage over their rivals.  Ferrari had their drivers (or should I say Rubens) under control in 2004 but like Mercedes, McLaren saw the egotistical scales tilting in 1988.

I don't need to write about the tumultuous relationship between Senna and Prost as the story has been told over and over, from different perspectives.  However what I will say on that matter is that Prost was always villainized, something that irks me and perhaps always will.  Prost was a thinker, a planner, a strategist but came across as more outwardly reserved, whilst Senna cut from a similar cloth had a fierce personality.  Senna's never die attitude is what endeared him to his followers and even made those that cheered for others, respect what seemed like an ability to out drive the machinery he was in.

Does any of that sound familiar? I see echoes of the Senna/Prost rivalry emerging in Hamilton/Rosberg as both vigorously tries to best the other as the Championship comes to a climax.  The media (especially the British) has not made things any easier creating a hyperbole around the pair as they both look to take the drivers championship, creating friction that Mercedes management seem ill equipped to deal with.  Like Ron Dennis and McLaren in 88, Toto Wolff & Niki Lauda have emphasized throughout that both drivers are on equal footing and are allowed to race.  Unlikely to lose the constructors title to Red Bull now, with an almost unassailable lead they could just let the pair have at it.  However I'm sure the Daimler board of directors won't be impressed with their drivers feuding, all the time leaving the door open for Daniel Ricciardo to ghost in behind and take the drivers title.

So what of the incident in Spa?  Post race, like many others I took to twitter and as always I tried to see the argument from both sides of the fence, afterall this was a racing incident, not investigated by the race stewards.
Of course this came across as a defence of Rosberg, much to the annoyance of the Hamilton fans, although this was not my intention.  The move was never on for Rosberg, I simply believed at the time that Rosberg was showing Hamilton "I'm here and you're going to have a battle on your hands".  Toto Wolff's reaction in an interview with the BBC post race was that the move was "absolutely unacceptable, absolutely unacceptable, lap number 2 of a long race, a crash between two team mates"

The problem with the incident, is what ensued for Hamilton, the instant deflation of the tyre handing Rosberg the lead of the race, with Hamiltons stricken WO5 taking what would usually take just over a minute to get back to the pitlane, taking double that and of course all the time the delaminating tyre causing irrecoverable damage to his cars floor.  This more than anything is what people are unhappy with as even with a damaged front wing Rosberg was able to continue at a relatively decent race pace, whilst Hamilton's race was destroyed and his championship chances once again eroded.

If we were to rewind to lap one and look as Hamilton and Vettel diced for position in a similar way, Vettel (although he was actually further alongside Hamilton coming toward Les Combes, along Kemmel straight) abandoned his attempt to overtake, taking to the run off instead).
So does that make Rosberg's move wrong? Well lets also cast our mind back to Germany, when Hamilton was trying to get back through the pack and came up against Jenson Button at the hairpin.  Hamilton conducted an overtake in the same vein as Rosberg, where a collision ensued.  The result was a similar Front Wing breakage on Lewis' car but as the speed was much lower in this incident Button wasn't penalised with a puncture.  Yes I realise these are different incidents but in terms of racing incidents they both carry the same merits.  Just like the Rosberg / Hamilton scenario initially both blamed one another, Jenson later said he understood why Hamilton thought I was giving him the space to pass, but came short of actually admitting fault in any way (A racing incident.

Moving onto the post race debrief which has now sparked the insinuation that Rosberg intentionally drove into Hamilton.  As always this started out as a one sided argument with Hamilton telling the media that Rosberg had admitted driving into him.  As always though context is important, with Toto Wolff coming to Rosbergs defence:

"Nico felt he needed to hold his line,", "He needed to make a point. He didn't give in. He thought it was for Lewis to leave him space and that Lewis didn't leave him space. "For Lewis, it was clearly not him who needed to be aware of Nico.
"So they agreed to disagree in a very heated discussion among ourselves, but it wasn't deliberately crashing. That is nonsense."

Rosberg is clearly towing the line that he rolled the car into the gap, hoping that Hamilton would allow him the room to retain his momentum, which in his eyes would have allowed both of them to continue their fight.  Hamilton however didn't have to leave him that space, he had the position and was entitled to put his car in that position.  Thus making it six of one, half a dozen of the other: Racing incident.

Did Rosberg intentionally crash into Hamilton? Only 1 person truly knows the answer to that...  What is clear is that the incident is the tipping point in the Championship and more importantly a major issue for Mercedes to deal with going forward.  As we have seen in the case of Red Bull / Vettel / Webber / Horner / Marko, team orders are not always a resolution to such incidents, with a toxic relationship between all the parties created, with each beginning to believe the other is 'taking sides'.  Turkey 2010 created much the same ripples for Red Bull as we are going to see going forward at Mercedes if things aren't controlled.
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24 August 2014
Bite Size Tech: Ferrari powered teams exhaust covering - Spa

It's no secret that both Ferrari and Renault have failed to live upto the benchmark set by Mercedes with the 2014 poweruint.  As always that doesn't stop manufacturers trying to make up ground though, with both Ferrari and Renault making strides since the start of the season.  Fuel has provided the platform for large performance gains in both cases, with new blends being used to facilitate better power and performance as the teams look to extract more from their race allocation of fuel.  This is an area that Mercedes and Petronas bested their adversaries with before the season commenced and so perhaps have less to gain as the season continues.
Marussia tested (at the post Silverstone test) with their exhaust primaries wrapped, to see what sort of performance gains could be made.  It's something that the other teams have been doing since the start of the season and so it has been one of those head scratchers as to why Ferrari hadn't adopted it before now.  Questions were raised after the Marussia test as to the legality of the Ferrari teams deciding to wrap their exhausts mid season, owing to the homologation regulations.  I've been stead fast in my opinion since then that this practice is legal as they're not changing the specification of exhaust simply heat wrapping it.  Of course there are compound effects of heat wrapping an exhaust, as it will increase the exhaust gasses potential velocity.  This increase in exhaust gas velocity increases the turbochargers potential which in turn increase the MGU-H's potential to harvest energy, passing it either directly to the MGU-K for instantaneous power or to the ES (Energy Store) for later deployment.

The increased temperature and velocity of the exhaust gases driving the turbine will of course change the requirements of the fuel being injected into the cylinders, producing more power.  This development will undoubtedly have implications for Shell, as temperature (especially EGT, Exhaust Gas Temperature) will play a crucial role in their fuels development, giving them another opportunity to make incremental gains.

As we can see from the images above, Ferrari have 'bagged' their manifolds rather than using exhaust wrap, this will have a slightly different effect and of course comes with a slightly higher cost.  It's difficult to proportion a power figure to this heat enclosure method as I've seen 20bhp banded around on other sites.  I'd be weary of giving actual figures and ask that people not only look at the additional top end performance that it achieves but the compound effects we see with fuel, ERS etc.

Images in this article originate from AMuS
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23 August 2014
Bite Size Tech: Caterham CT05 Engine Cover - Spa

Caterham arrived after the summer break looking to chase down their closest advisory: Marussia.  With this in mind the new owners had given a raft of new performance parts the green light as they chase their rivals for the all important 10th place.  (Although Marussia are currently in 9th, owing to a bad season for Sauber)

Part of the upgrade package was a new engine cover/cooling outlet, which looks to make better use of the region,  not only by dispatching of the un-wanted latent powerunit heat but also by improving airflow, especially in the coke bottle region.
Smaller, shorter and wider channels on the outside of the cover (terminating ahead of the suspension) allow for a tighter inner cooling outlet which of course creates more room for the airflow to migrate around the coke bottle, increasing the performance of the floor and diffuser.

Also worth noting is the new paint scheme on the Caterham, dropping the mixture of Green, White and Black down to just Black might not seem like a huge weight saving but every little matters.  Furthermore this is a recognized Colin Kolles tactic (weight reduction) in order to gain competitiveness.
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