Technical F1 Unlocked
TECH TUESDAY: 0.3s per lap and a sign of things to come – AlphaTauri's latest floor upgrades analysed
AlphaTauri are the centre of attention in this week's Tech Tuesday after the midfield team brought floor upgrades to Australia. But there's far more to the updates than meets the eye, as Mark Hughes explains and Giorgio Piola illustrates.
AlphaTauri introduced a new floor at the Australian Grand Prix: an innocuous-sounding update but one which, when looked at in detail, gives a great insight into how teams go about identifying areas of potential lap time improvement under the ground effect regulations introduced last year. It also underlines the immense amount of work and research which just one update requires.
AlphaTauri’s technical director Jody Egginton talked us through the changes made. “It’s a series of small updates,” he said, “and they form the new baseline from which the car will be improved further. Because what these do is allow you to develop your beam wing, bodywork and other updates, safe in the knowledge that the flow structures of the floor are healthier.
“The new floor – as well as bringing a couple of tenths’ worth of extra load – also improves the robustness of some of the vortices which are being created by the fences and floor edges.
“Our big focus for improvement at the moment is the car’s performance at high rear ride heights – so slow-speed corners. That’s where we feel there is the most lap time to be found with the car as it is at the moment. If we can improve rear stability, then the driver can commit early to the corner and start it earlier, with less of a 'V-style' entry.
“Then when we get to the apex, there are mechanical tools we can use to manipulate the balance there. This should give us higher mid-corner minimum speeds. These floor changes and the development direction we are following are with the aim of providing that greater stability at greater ride heights.”
The floor changes in Melbourne comprised:
New tunnel inlet fences. The spacing between the four fences has been changed, as have their profiles. These fences determine not only which airflow is out-washed and which directed to the tunnels, but they also create vortices which help both to power the airflow down the tunnels and to seal the edges of the floor (because any physical sealing with skirts is banned). “We’re trying to reduce the energy losses to better control the strength of the vortices,” says Egginton.
New top floor edges. The shaping of the outer edge of the floor (including the permitted cut-out section and floor edge wing) also propagate the floor-sealing vortices. With the tunnel sealed off by the vortices on the edge, there will be a greater air pressure difference between the underbody and the upper body, effectively sucking the car down harder. Changing the fences will usually require accompanying changes to the floor edge geometry to make full use of the new flow from the fences. “We’ve made these changes in the forward part of the floor,” says Egginton, “and we have these floor edge winglets which are not massively different to the previous floor. Behind them, we’ve made some changes which you can’t see on the underside in how we’re dealing with these vortices. The next step of floor coming through will likely have a different floor edge wing.” The next floor is due to appear in Imola.
- New ‘canoe’ section between the tunnels. This refers to the section of flat floor between the two tunnels. When these regulations were introduced last year, everyone except Red Bull made this section a simple teardrop (or canoe) shape. But Red Bull led the way in introducing discontinuities in the shape, with the aim of manipulating the volume of the tunnels in a way which gives more consistent downforce through a variety of ride heights and attitudes. Other teams have followed this direction in 2022, including AlphaTauri. “The canoe shape is a big player in terms of expansion,” says Egginton, in reference to how the air pressure drops at a set point when there is an expanding space behind it. This can be used to accelerate the airflow and the faster it flows, the more downforce is created. “So you’ve got the width of the thing – even without putting any discontinuities in it – and you’re playing with that profile change and changing the rate of expansion and contraction. But on top of that, if you’ve got certain vortices coming off the floor fences at the front which are not doing quite what you want – maybe merging too early, or not merging at all – you can usually use the shaping of the canoe to add discontinuities there to try and power up those vortices.”
- New diffuser. Egginton: “It has a new top surface and a new lower surface, just changing some of the lateral surfaces there to reduce the losses from the messy flow off the tyres, trying to reduce how much that gets in the way of diffuser performance.”
These changes are believed to be worth around 0.3s of lap time in themselves – but as Egginton has emphasised, they are just the building blocks for developments to come.