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Pre-China analysis - the battle of the F-ducts? 16 Apr 2010

Ferrari F10 rear wing.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 4, Chinese Grand Prix, Preparations, Shanghai, China, Thursday, 15 April 2010 McLaren MP4/25 detail.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Bahrain Grand Prix, Preparations, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Thursday, 11 March 2010 F Duct on the BMW Sauber C29.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 3, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 2 April 2010 Rear wing detail of the BMW Sauber C29 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 3, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race, Sepang, Malaysia, Sunday, 4 April 2010 McLaren MP4/25 rear wing detail.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Bahrain Grand Prix, Preparations, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Thursday, 11 March 2010

At one time it seemed that the Chinese Grand Prix might be the battle of the ride-height adjusters, with McLaren developing a system along lines they believe Red Bull to have been using since the start of the season in Bahrain. But then the FIA issued a clarification that any such device would be deemed illegal, and McLaren dropped the idea. Now, it seems like the race could became the battle of the F-ducts.

McLaren stole a march on their opposition with the elegant system, which comprises a duct on the scuttle of the MP4-25 which runs through the cockpit and can be blocked or opened up by movement of the driver’s body to provide a flow of carefully channelled air to the rear wing which can then be used to stall the wing at high speed in a straight line, thus reducing drag and boosting terminal velocity. The main straight in Shanghai is one of the longest in Formula One racing, with top speeds of more than 300 km/h.

Prior to the weekend, Ferrari’s Felipe Massa voiced the Scuderia’s thoughts on such systems when he said: “It's a nice circuit to drive and the extremely long straight leading into a tight corner means there is a real possibility to overtake. However, we will need to be careful on that straight this year, because we have seen that the McLaren in particular has a very high top speed, so in case of a close battle with them we will have to be careful and ready to defend position."

Lewis Hamilton has already acknowledged that the length of the straight bodes well for McLaren's chances this weekend. "Overtaking is possible at this circuit, particularly at the end of the long back straight, so I'm pretty confident we'll have another competitive weekend," he said.

Now Ferrari have revealed that they will run their own interpretation of the F-duct in practice today, on Fernando Alonso’s F10.

"It will be an advantage, no doubt," Alonso said. "It is one of the longest straights in the championship and we know how efficient the McLaren is on the straights and what their top speed was in the first races.

"We saw McLaren very competitive in Malaysia, especially with Lewis in the dry. But I still think that Red Bull will have a little advantage over everybody again here."

Interestingly, however, the F-duct was no help in getting Hamilton past Adrian Sutil’s similarly Mercedes-powered Force India in the race.

Alonso insisted yesterday that the F-duct is not a major priority for Ferrari, however. "I know that we keep developing the car, but it's not maybe the first priority for us. We keep working on our philosophies. There is an important step here to improve the car, and I know that there is more coming in the next races. I'm not specifically worried only about that system."

Mercedes may also run their own system this weekend, while Williams have one under development.

It’s also interesting that while BMW Sauber have so far been the only other team to use such a system in testing and intend to run it this weekend, thanks to Pedro de la Rosa’s former links with McLaren tipping them off to the development, the Hinwil team have yet to optimise it and the technology can be tricky to perfect.

"The team is improving the system race by race," the Spaniard said. "It's not an easy one, it's very complex, and they're doing a good job making it work reliably, but our plan is to run it from tomorrow until Sunday now it's working, and here is one of the places it's useful."

David Tremayne