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10 Oct 2013


An interesting image cropped up from onboard Mark Webber's car as FOM provided viewers of the Korean GP with the images captured by the thermal imaging camera looking rearward from the cars nose.

Many people questioned me on twitter as to why the splitter/plank area seemed to contain so much heat, it is of course plausible that what was being seen wasn't heat.  Thermal camera's can be tricked by shiny metallic elements, with Red Bull's leading section of the T-Tray made up of metal it could simply be argued away as a reflection.  Furthermore the thermal imaging used here may not be wholly accurate or representative further afield than the tyre it is trying to capture.

(I must at this point therefore state that the following is a theory based upon the evidence at hand, whilst taking into account some of the differentials Red Bull use over other teams whilst using past examples of how teams have looked to exploit certain design aspects of the car)  I will also point out that their Splitter/T-Tray design is not new and the team have been using it for some time

As we know the plank is actually wood, Jabroc to be precise and is used as a method of discerning if the car is bottoming out. The plank is measured after the race to see if it has excessive wear. This is because the teams will try to run the area as low as possible to generate more rearward downforce.  The proximity of the splitter to the tracks surface gives the potential to utilise 'Ground Effect' which is extremely beneficial when considering the airflow then leads into the Diffuser.

In most instances teams place metal sections into the lower leading edge of the splitter to protect the plank from excessive wear.  Some teams also utilise the splitter to house ballast taking advantage of its central location and low centre of gravity.

Above: A close up the RB9's T-Tray shows the team drilling holes into the upper surface of the device to dissipate the heat generated 
Red Bull have taken their design a step further by encasing the top section of the Splitter in metal too.  This may have a thermodynamic/aerodynamic impact as, as the splitter/plank bottoms out heat is generated and passed to the upper surface.

Running extreme Rake as Red Bull do can cause compromise over a race distance as, as the fuel burns off an already nose dived car will continue to ratchet upward at the rear.

This becomes a problem as the splitter and plank then become embroiled in a game of tag every time the driver enters a braking zone and the car pitches forward. This can have a negative effect aerodynamically as the underfloor becomes starved of airflow, therefore robbing the diffuser and moreover the car of downforce in the critical turning in phase.

So why endanger your race with the chance of the plank bottoming out?  An onward effect of running a Splitter that can contact with the ground with high rake is the Front Wing is placed closer to the track and therefore also operates in more 'Ground Effect'

The FIA have intentionally limited the way in which teams are able to lower the front wing over the last few years to negate this advantage.  They've increased the difficulty and loads required to pass the deflection tests. Then when the teams started devising ways of flexing the outer portions of the Front Wing they further increased the deflection tests on this too.
We therefore have to understand that this is an area that all teams are interested in manipulating as its advantages can be wide reaching.  (If we see the whole car's surface as 1 aerodynamic device that works in unison)

So how could the heating of the T-Tray aid in increasing downforce?

If we accept that when the front edge of the floor impacts with the ground the heat is transferred to the upper side of the Splitter (like a heat sink). We can also conclude that the air around this becomes less dense and therefore lower pressure encouraging airflow to rush into it. This would encourage both the blocked airflow (caused by the splitter being in contact with the ground) and the aforementioned airflow to migrate into the lower pressure zone above the splitter and be fed rearwards around the cars Sidepods. The additional and accelerated flow of low pressure cools the top face of the splitter and returns the airflow to its natural regime as the car continues on its way.

The process involved is so momentary that the lower leading edge of the splitter doesn't stay in contact with the floor long enough to create an airflow blockage to starve the Diffuser and therefore allows the team to run with a Rake exceeding that of the other teams thus also giving them the advantage of the Front Wing dropping in and out of 'Ground Effect' as the car corners (A great piece by Gordon McCabism on this topic is well worth a read http://mccabism.blogspot.co.uk/2011/08/front-wing-ground-effect.html)

Even without the aerodynamic advantage talked about above that could be gleaned from the heating of the top side of the splitter, we must also consider that using it as a heatsink alone has an advantage.  The transfer of the heat via the lower skids to the upper element of course still allows the Skid Block / Splitter to run closer to the ground as heat is transferred away from the plank.  Therefore meaning it can contact the ground a little more often without the fear of it failing the test after the race.  

Lastly we also have to consider the stay (the metal element, in the case of Red Bull's latest iteration of the Splitter) that creates rigidity between the forward top face of the Splitter and the underside of the Chassis.  Although we can't see any heat transference in the images to the stay it is plausible that this too is conducting heat from the lower element and buckling in the process (Either via lateral flexion or via negative thermal expansion).  This too would allow more deflection from the splitter when it comes into contact with the ground further enabling the car's Front Wing to run in closer proximity to the ground.

The effects of such a practice are of course consistent with the teams desire to increase rake enabling a Front Wing that runs closer to the ground, whilst also increasing the potential for expansion of the area available in the Diffuser.
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Is the splitter being heated up and causing an onward effect? I'm not entirely sure and so the theory should be taken with a pinch of salt, however as always I'd rather talk through the possibilities and encourage a debate with you guys.  I'd also say that even IF Red Bull are leveraging an advantage from this method it doesn't mean others aren't too and/or they can't.  What's your thoughts?

5 comments:

  1. Fascinating insight as always. Here's what I think...

    By drilling holes along the top of the splitter, the heat retained within it will obviously be released. This is just my opinion, but if Red Bull wanted to lower the T-Tray by transfer of heat to chassis stay then I think we wouldn't see holes drilled I'm such close proximity to stay attachment to the splitter. Just my thinking though!

    If they are deliberately using the top of the splitter as a heat sink to encourage airflow around the sidepod then that's classic F1 innovation and great thinking. Love the little details such as this. Thanks for explaining what's potentially happening here.

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  2. Though I admire the intricacy of this line of thinking, I have to wonder if the real answer is rather simpler. Would it be possible to use differential thermal expansion to bend the splitter upwards? If it were, the top surface would have to be kept as cool as possible to maximise the effect. Obviously, this would be invisible to the stewards because they can't replicate the effect when doing deflection tests.

    Since this offers a way around the stiffness problem, it should have nearly as much potential as a splitter that flexes under purely mechanical loads. Greater ground clearance = lower ride height = front wing closer to the ground = more downforce. It might be hard to get enough deflection, but it should be possible.

    On further reflection, this probably isn't what Red Bull are doing - the metal stay would prevent flexing, and I don't think the temperatures involved are high enough to weaken it very much. Still, its another avenue to explore.

    ReplyDelete
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Whilst I'm trying to keep atop of the blog you may have noticed of late that there is less content appearing. For those of you that haven't realised, most of my work has now been moved over to Motorsport.com where I'm working with Giorgio Piola.

I'm still doing the technical image gallery for each GP with the continued support of friend of the site Sutton Images. However, as always my time is limited and so this might not be updated as quickly as it once was, so keep checking back.

As some of you may have found out already I'm also working with the Missed Apex crew on their podcast from time-to-time, either doing race reviews or dedicated 'Tech Time' shows.

I've embedded the latest version of the podcast below and will update this a frequently as I appear. However, please head over to Itunes if you want it to appear in your player when episodes are available. The show is great to work on and has a great lineup of 'regulars' but has also enticed some bigger names recently too, with Will Buxton and Bradley Philpot on shows during the summer break.


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