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13 Jan 2014

Cast your mind back to to mid 2008, I know it seems like a long time ago, but for me it was the start of something much bigger. In the years leading up to that I had been interested in the technical intricacies of the sport but with 2009 looming it offered an incentive. A clean piece of paper where the teams would have to design what many considered 'beige' cars when placed alongside the extremely detailed and complex aero cars that had proceeded them. Reading the regulations it was clear that the the cars would outwardly look less complex but on the face of it the teams don't like to relinquish performance. Therefore there would be a period of 'catching up' where the teams adjusted to the new regulations and sought efficiency over 'dirty' downforce.

Fast forward a few months and the world is gripped in a financial crisis that has since meant the loss of companies that many of us would never have believed. On the precipice of this financial crisis stood Honda, unable to satisfy their board their involvement in Formula One was paying for itself and without any customers for their engine, they announced they were looking for a buyer.  The company had invested hugely in what was BAR until 2006, when the company purchased the remaining shares (55%) and renamed them Honda Racing F1. They even ran a pseudo B team in the shape of Super Aguri between 2006-2008. 

The problem for Honda in general had been the engine freeze, where their rivals less peaky engines were more suited to the restricted revs the engines were expected to perform under. Allied to the fact that they weren't supplying engines to other teams (unlike Ferrari, Renault and Toyota) they weren't gaining any additional income from being involved in the sport. Unable to be talked off the ledge by the team, whom knew their car would be competitive in 2009 the Honda board decided to sell up.

After listening to many offers tabled by potential investors it became clear to Honda that they wanted the team to continue to operate in a format it had become accustomed to. Behind the scenes Ross Brawn, Nick Fry and many of the top level brass in Brackley had been trying to create a deal in which they took control of the team. However, with Honda unwilling to supply engines an engine supply deal became a significant factor to deal with, as the 2009 season was rapidly approaching. Preliminary investigations led the team to contact Ferrari, largely due to Ross' previous role with the team. However having looked at the dimensional / packaging specifications it was a partnership with Mercedes that would actually flourish.

On March 6th, 2009, Honda announced to the media that it's F1 team would race under the BrawnGP moniker as Ross led the buyout of the team. Behind the scenes deals had to be done that secured the future of the team, the FIA & FOM had to be consulted as a change in the teams name also required Honda to repay any funds that had been released to them for the previous seasons results. Furthermore the land, facilities and equipment used by the team required signing over to the new owners. 

The problem for BrawnGP now however lay in becoming sustainable without the backing of a major car giant. The bills had been paid, as such, by Honda, keeping the electric on for the first few months but, a major scaling back of their operation would now be required for the team to have a sustainable future. This of course meant that many staff who'd been with the team through their Honda phase would be relinquished. I'm not talking about tea maids or people sweeping the floors here either, I'm talking about skilled personnel. It must have been a bitter sweet moment, as on one hand it looked great, the team had been saved but what was was the overall loss?

The Stillborn RA109 / BGP001

Honda's decision to abandon their 2008 challenger extremely early into that campaign meant that the design approach for the 2009 car could be highly refined. The team had absorbed many of the engineers out of work following the collapse of the Super Aguri team (more about this later) and benefited from the use of 2 full scale wind tunnels (1 in Brackley and 1 in Japan).  Talking about wind tunnels, this had been one of Honda's major investment points and with the new regulations only permitting a maximum 60% scale model their full scale tunnel was now requiring more money to fall in line with the new regulations.

Honda seemingly broke cover early on with the RA109 utilising a Front Wing on the RA108 to see how the car behaved with a the wider appendage.

We now all know this was smoke and mirrors from the team as when the BGP001 finally broke cover its Front Wing was perhaps the most complex of the front running teams.

As we know the Front Wing is a critical element as not only does it generate downforce and therefore overall car balance it also sets up the airflow for the rest of the car.

A key feature in the 2009 technical regulations was the ability for the driver to adjust the top flap by 60 twice per lap. It was introduced in order to alleviate the problem of following another car and grant the trailing driver the opportunity to get closer for an overtake. It was a massive failure mostly due to the Double Decked Diffusers of that year creating more 'Wake' than the FIA/TWG had bargained for. It was unceremoniously scrapped for 2010 but the way in which Honda/BrawnGP had implemented their version didn't go unnoticed.

Whilst other teams had clunky arrangements hidden away in their endplates moving the whole of the flap, Brawn had settled for an inbound solution that simply moved the inner triangular section. This actually led to a graduated bleed of the drag from both the upper flaps rather than just a singular flap the other teams were controlling. The team however decided to go for a singular flap arrangement later in the season (as seen in the images I got from the studio shoot below) but retained the better packaged inbound adjuster.

The Endplate on the BGP001 was another feature that appeared to be in contrast to the other designs up and down the grid and is perhaps the best relative to the designs we have seen since then. The team had realised that controlling the airflow around the front tyre was crucial not only when thinking of the car in a forward motion but also in yaw. The 2 stage Endplate was much thinner than it's rivals who'd decided to house their flap activation within it and so allowed the designers a little more scope in which to work the airflow.

The team had also gone against the grain in terms of their nose with the BGP001 featuring what one might refer to as a classically single seater design.

The low drooping nose gently climbed toward the car's bulkhead under which resided perhaps one of the most aero complex splitters on the grid.

The Splitter features the usual wedge shaped bottom that encloses the plank but, above it, we find another higher more forward reaching platform used to condition/vorticise the airflow over and under the floor. 

Inside the splitter we also find compartments for which ballast can be placed, an ideal way of placing weight low down in the car. Note where the engineer has his hand, small apertures are carved into the metal, giving the ballast a place to reside (See also the inset). What's also apparent from the close up pictures of the splitter area is that it appears to be hinged at the rear with a rig inside the stay allowing the splitter to move horizontally.

BrawnGP didn't run with KERS during it's maiden year in the sport, of which I remain convinced the team hadn't already made a decision to run it had Honda remained.  Having had perhaps the longest gestation period to design their 2009 challenger than anyone else, Honda had invested some time looking at the placement of the battery pack.  The batteries til today represent a challenge in terms of packaging due to both their weight and need for cooling, whereas most teams took the option of locating the batteries underneath the driver / under the fuel cell it seems Honda looked at mounting them under the front section of the chassis (above). (Source)

The team realised that to continue to be competitive in 2010 they must look at the option of raising the chassis. Red Bull had done this with the RB5, utilising shoulders on top of the chassis, to both raise the suspension geometry and allow more airflow space beneath the bulkhead by virtue of them. The team conducted several tests during Free Practice sessions to assess the visual impact this had on the driver, with temporary shoulders affixed to the car.

The BGP001 featured aggressively undercut sidepods, allowing the airflow filtering around the frontal region a better passage to the rear of the car. A fairly rudimentary bargeboard preceded the the floors frontal edge and sidepod inlet although a bladed top section worked in unison with the blade style mirror. This is one area of the car that saw revision throughout the season with the team applying another airflow controlling blade to the side of the chassis at Monaco. 

Outboard of this the team added a sidepod airflow conditioner at round 10 in Hungary (below), placed on the leading outside edge of the floor it's designed to shield the airflow travelling around/over the sidepod from the airflow dispatched by the front tyre. Airflow conditioners had been used in the previous regulation set and were retained by the likes of Red Bull and Renault when the 09 season commenced.

At the penultimate race in Brazil the team arrived with a new serrated top edged Bargeboard

The exhausts were positioned in the tail up / periscope position that F1 had become accustomed to during the last regulation set. This left the maximum amount of space for the tailpipe to be tuned in length to give maximum engine performance. Meanwhile cooling was taken care of by apertures opened up at the tail end of the sidepods.

Rather than opening up into a large cooling exit the rear of the engine cover was shaped like a fin, converging the airflow passing along the engine cover and dispatched by the exhausts along the centreline.

At Spa the team briefly ran / tested a much higher engine cover and readjustment of the exhaust orientation very much keyed at the 'Shark Fin' covers we saw other teams running late in 09 and throughout 2010.

The BGP001's rear wing was a conventional design in terms of the Endplates and wing elements, efforts to enhance the flow structure from both the diffuser below it and wing planes above were made when designing the beam wing however.   As the season progressed the team refined the bodywork above the crash structure used to mount the beam wing, reducing the large wedge of carbon fibre for a slim central support.

As we can see from the shot I took from above, the beam wing's central portion has a much deeper Angle of Attack mimicking the airflow structure created below by the enlarged diffuser area below (DDD).  In this shot we can also see the louvres that were added in the endplates and focused underneath the outer portion of the beam wing.

The new regulations sought to cut the level of downforce and the wake induced by F1 cars in order to close the field and increase overtaking. 3 teams arrived at pre season testing with a concept that looked to circumnavigate the height rules developed for the diffuser (Brawn GP, Williams and Toyota). The maximum height of the diffuser was regulated at 175mm, however, by creating a hole in the surfaces between the reference and step plane it opened up the opportunity to create a tunnel and expand the diffusers height. The idea is believed to have originated at Super Aguri, when that team folded in 2008 the engineers working on their 2009 challenger were absorbed mainly by Honda (Brawn GP) but, obviously some went on to work with other teams (That's where Williams and Toyota come in).

Now I've seen plenty of pictures of the underside of cars that have had Double Decked Diffusers but because the BGP001 was almost bullet proof in 2009 we didn't get the opportunity to see how Brawn had gone about their design. The only opportunity was when Jenson was punted off the circuit at Spa but, the chance was missed. So, when I got the opportunity at the shoot I attended I wanted to put this right....

As we can see from my basic illustration below, airflow that travels along the 2 surfaces of the floor (Reference Plane and Step Plane) is funnelled into aperture opened up between them. All the teams did their best to emulate the design but, Brawn's initital integration meant the effect couldn't be mimicked completely. This is because the bell shaped central portion of the diffuser offered up a much vaster area for which the airflow could spill out of. This was chiefly enabled by the design of the gearbox (carbon fibre cased) and crash structure for which Brawn and his cohorts had to persuade Honda into letting them utilise. The area marked off in green is the additional expansion area the team gained above the 175mm diffuser.

In the image below we can see that even though Toyota and Williams had adopted the DDD for the start of the season they hadn't fully committed to the expansion of the central section of the Diffuser. Meanwhile, for reference, the RB5 is shown on the right to highlight the direction that team took in order to facilitate the DDD.

The picture above also gives a quick reference point across the field to look at another area in which the BGP001 was developed: Rear brake ducts fins. As we have come to realise over the last few seasons the proliferation of fins on the rear brake ducts not only serve the purpose of adding a small proportion of their own downforce at the hub. They mainly look to condition the airflow in the region and re-purpose it for use by the diffuser. As we can see above the TF109 featured a similar array of fins to that used on the BGP001 but the FW31 & RB5 did not.

I must say thanks to Paddy Lowe and Bradley from Mercedes for getting me access to the car for the first time since Brazil where it has been in storage. The car is reportedly Ross Brawn's own piece and so I feel fortunate to have been allowed access to it on James Mann's shoot. If there is one thing I regret though it's not squeezing into Jensons seat for a photograph, even if it had have been extremely frowned upon...

As a bonus, here is a few extra pictures I took at the shoot...



  1. Warning: this post contains excessively high levels of awesomeness. Thank you for giving us a look at this.

  2. That was an awesome write up. Great in-depth look at this very cool car. It would have been so cool to be in the Brawn GP team that year, they did something special.

  3. Treasured momories and a great article.

  4. Fantastic article for a fantastic car. It was a stunning looking car- the brawn GP story got me hooked back into F1. Thank you for a great story ( do you know anyone does similar tech articles for motogp?)

  5. Great post !

    regarding car, if this is chassis 001 it's JB property, I think the 002 and 003 were used by RB

    1. just clearing my post
      chassi 02 is still owned by JB, the same he used every single session of the season, while RB used the 03 until Singapore and the another chassi was used

  6. Hi, great article! If you could answer a few questions please.

    1-You said JB still owns one, I assume it is in the white BGP livery, what about the engine? Original and running?

    1. I don't have that information unfortunatley, however they don't usually have the engine.

  7. Con't

    2-You said this is RB's car, is this the one that was painted silver and repainted back to white? Or is that car still silver and this is the other chassis?

    3-Does the car in this artie have a original functioning drivetrain? I know the one they painted silver does as it ran at Goodwood not long ago.

    Any info would be great!

    1. Hi Bryan

      I was told this car had been dry stored at the factory straight after the win in Brazil and hadn't seen the light of day until its restore and then the shoot I went on. (Boy was I lucky)

      Everything appeared to be there apart from the engine block, the one that got painted up for show runs was Rubens chassis (the original one) as he recieved a new one for Monza and promptly won with it.

      They only actually had 3 chassis that season, with RB using the one JB ran all season at the pre-season shakedown. RB ran the other two. Several other chassis were made for the project but with different configurations owing to the differences that the stillborn RA109 would have had...

      Here's a fascinating article by Sam from Race Car Engineering on the RA109 project... (Click the numbers at the bottom of the article for the next section 1-4)

    2. You sure about no engine? I seem to see exhaust pipes in one of your images?

  8. Thanks for the replies. I found this video, says it is Ross' car. This one has an engine and is being started. Not sure if this was after your shoot or not though?

  9. Do you know if Honda engineers are doing any aero/chassis work for the McLaren Honda team or is it very seperate McLaren-chassis, Honda-engine?


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