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F1 2012 – First Launches and thoughts…

So as of me writing this, we’ve seen 2 of the cars that will be competing in the 2012 F1 season launched, each from teams looking to make a step up in the competitive order from last season, though they are of different ambitions. The first car we saw was the Caterham (neĆ© Team Lotus) CT-01, ‘launched’ via the pages of F1 Racing magazine on the 26th January. The car is meant to be the final step up to points-scoring contention that the ambitious Caterham team have been looking for the last two seasons. It’s development has been aided by lots of appointments to the team, notably some from Force India including Mark Smith the new Technical Director.

The uncompromising looks of the new Caterham F1 challenger.

Now as we can see in the picture above, the new car has taken the amendments to the regulations quite literally, in that they have lowered the nose of the car to it’s 550mm limit, but kept the bulkhead of the chassis at 625mm, incorporating a large step in the nose with some sculpted ‘horns’ (seen before on previous Red Bull cars, but not with the step in the chassis/nose join). The intention of this is to retain the maximum amount of space under the nose, to allow as much airflow as possible to flow underneath and to the splitter where it then gets forced under and around the rest of the car. What the step will or won’t do for over-body aero though is not sure, though it has been commented by many that the solution looks a more CFD-based idea than a traditionally drawn-out one. Having said that this step in the nose is expected to be seen on most of the 2012 cars, as that space under the nose is highly prized by all but a few design heads within the teams. It may look disjointed at first, but I personally don’t find the renders that flattering anyway, so it may look better ‘in the flesh’.

The side profile of the new CT-01

The side profile of the car also shows the other main feature of the Regulation tweaks for the new season, which is to try and eliminate the exhaust-blown diffusers that were becoming a budget-dependent element of the car design. The new regulations mandate certain horizontal and vertical angles for the exhausts, and Caterham have chosen what could be described as a conventional approach to this. We can also see that the car ‘seems’ longer in relation to it’s predecessor the Lotus T128, but of course that’s merely conjecture. Also note how steep the step in the nose actually is, the Caterham car giving a very good example of the literal implications of the FIA’s tweaks. The aesthetes do not approve, and it’s likely to be an issue that gets further amendment in line for 2013 (most likely will be mandating a lower chassis to the same height as the nose). Everything else on the car is just what is needed for this team, further development, but along conventional F1 lines. They can’t afford to take a big risk and create a radical design when they know what works on the other cars.

One point I’d like to make though about this car (and others who follow the similar trend ) is the steep angle of the front suspension. I’m not an engineer by any stretch of the imagination, but to me this set-up leads to an aerodynamically and mechanically understeery car (hear me out….). My thinking is that both the aim of the high chassis (to steer air under the car and to the rear) and the steep suspension make this a car that is naturally going to have more grip at the back. The suspension itself is incredibly steeply angled, and that can mean having to run a softer/compromised spring/damper setup to avoid slippage when riding bumps etc. as the suspension arms have a very narrow (even for F1 cars) range of travel before the tyre is then being pushed outwards by the suspension moving up. It’s a point I’ll come back to when looking at the next car to launch, as it follows a very different design path to this one…

Otherwise I’m quietly confident about this car. I’ve got the general feeling that this is a proper contemporary F1 car built by the wonderful people at Hingham, and scoring not just one but several points should be on the agenda for this year.

The second car I’ll be looking at is the always much-anticipated new McLaren. The MP4-27 is aiming to be the car to break the Red Bull stranglehold on the F1 titles, and to bring it’s drivers Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton up to the top step of the podium a lot more than the 6 times they achieved this last year.

The new McLaren is revealed

We can see already that this is a tightly packaged and aggressive looking car, as has been the case with the last two McLaren cars also. Notably there is no step in the chassis/nose join as seen on the Caterham and expected on many other cars, as McLaren have followed their own concept and stuck with a lower chassis, enabling them to utilise a much cleaner over-body aero shape. McLaren have bucked the trend for maximum under-nose airflow, instead pursuing a concept that uses the ‘snowplough’ turning vane at the front of the nose, along with some other vanes and bits underneath, that pushes the air where they want it to go, also producing a few points of downforce itself along with it. This also ties in with what I was referring to with the suspension geometry of the Caterham compared to this car. The McLaren features visibly lower and flatter suspension arms, which allow for much more useable travel, but also allow the team to run the car a lot stiffer overall to the benefit of mechanical grip at the front. Many times over the last two seasons we’ve seen the McLaren skipping over bumps and kerbs, but the car simply doesn’t need to run as soft as the others in order to hold the road. It also creates a much more stable platform for the aerodynamics to work with, rather than having a car that rises and falls considerably depending on what corner they’re in.

Another visible feature of the MP4-27 is the return to conventional sidepods, coming from last year’s ‘U-pods’ on the -26. This was expected as the return to ‘periscope’ exhausts rather than running them along the floor of the car means that the U-shape was not as feasible as last year. This will be mainly for internal packaging reasons to do with relocating the exhausts, coupled with revised aero concepts.

Of course with every McLaren there’s inevitably some ‘out-there’ feature that generates a lot of interest. Last year it was the U-pods and the invisible exhausts (the infamous Octopus design…), this year it’s the rather bulbous exhaust outlet.

The 'interesting' exhaust outlets on the new McLaren

As we can see it’s a rather ungainly appendage, that at first glance almost looks like an afterthough that was grafted on (you never know with McLaren, of course this could be a dummy as per last years launch). It’s seated quite low on the sidepod, but is angled towards the rear wing with the presumable intention of creating a blowing effect on the rear wing similar to the effect of the exhausts on the diffuser in the last two seasons. McLaren did say in the launch Q&A that they would be testing a number of different options, so we will look with great interest as to what they will roll out with at Jerez next week!

Of course, like 2011 I will be attending the tests in Jerez next week, and will be attempting to take many pictures and videos of the action, and hope to give a daily update of goings-on, with perhaps a few surprises thrown in as well!


Credit for the photos should go to http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk, they always have the best high-res photos for us geeks to look at in the tiniest of detail!

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