Technical F1 Unlocked
TECH TUESDAY: Did Ferrari’s qualifying gamble on rear wing levels cost them a win in Las Vegas?
Wing levels played a crucial part in the Las Vegas battle between Red Bull and Ferrari last weekend – and both teams made several adjustments to their chosen downforce level as they tried to unlock the puzzle of how to beat the other.
Ferrari turned up with a low-downforce version of their spoon wing (with the cut-out in flap area behind the DRS mechanism to reduce drag), similar to that used in Spa. This wing carries significant surface area on its underside in the way it is contoured. The more surface area the underside has relative to the upper surface of the wing, the greater the downforce and drag.
Red Bull began with a much bigger wing than Ferrari on the car of Max Verstappen but an initially lower downforce version of the same wing (with significantly cut-away flap area) for Sergio Perez. Both wings had a more aggressive angle of incidence for their flaps than the Ferrari wing and both carried significant underside surface area. But the flap on the wing Perez used in FP2 was much smaller than that of Verstappen in that session.
For qualifying and the race, all four cars ran different wings to those used in FP2. Verstappen and Perez had swapped around, with Verstappen now on the lower downforce of the two Red Bull wings, Perez on the higher.
Ferrari had switched to a different wing altogether for both their cars. They were now running the even lower downforce Monza wing, albeit with a gurney flap trim on the trailing edge of the flap to make it work slightly harder. The Monza-style wing has very little surface area on its underside and consequently gives less drag and less downforce.
We can see how these various wings compared on the straights by looking at the speeds of each in FP2 and qualifying.
Comparing the initial Ferrari spoon wing with Red Bull’s low downforce wing, we can see the performance is quite similar. Down the long back straight of the Vegas strip before the DRS zone begins, Leclerc reaches 329km/h, Perez 327km/h. But at low downforce levels such as this, the Red Bull has a more effective DRS system, as we have seen all season.
With DRS deployed, Leclerc picks up only another 16km/h by the end of the straight compared to an extra 20km/h for Perez. Verstappen, with his higher downforce FP2 wing, is significantly slower than either, as expected.
Ferrari’s Monza-style wing used in qualifying is only slightly faster through the air than the spoon wing of the day before. But that still leaves it comfortably the fastest at the point on the straight just before DRS is deployed.
But the Red Bull’s superior DRS again tells, and is even more beneficial in qualifying with the power unit in a higher mode than the day before. At the end of the straight, with DRS deployed, the low-downforce version of the Red Bull wing now being used by Verstappen is 2km/h quicker than the Ferrari, having been 3km/h slower before DRS. Even Perez, now carrying the higher downforce Red Bull wing, matches the Ferrari’s terminal speed, having been 6km/h down before DRS.
FP2 (figures in km/h)
|Driver||Pre DRS||With DRS||DRS gain|
|Driver||Pre DRS||With DRS||DRS gain|
So why was there so much mixing and matching going on at both teams? The higher downforce wing used by Verstappen in FP2 and Perez in qualifying and the race was actually quicker over a lap, giving more lap time gain in the twists of Sector 2 than it lost on the straights elsewhere.
But Red Bull, seeing the lap times Ferrari were able to run on a circuit layout and conditions (long straights, slow corners, cool surface) configured perfectly for their car effectively surrendered trying for pole.
Knowing that Carlos Sainz was taking a 10-place grid penalty for his replacement battery, Red Bull felt confident that even with the lower downforce wing, Verstappen would be on the front row after Sainz’s penalty. In that way, Verstappen would have a car fast enough down the straights that he could race Leclerc and potentially pass him.
Ferrari, realising they had a useful margin over one lap, also surrendered some lap time with the choice of the Monza-style wing in order to give themselves greater defence against Verstappen.
Perez preferred to attempt to maximise his qualifying performance and so went with the higher of the two Red Bull wings – but the timing of his Q2 run was too early, and as the track grip improved with him in the garage, he fell back to 12th.
With some help from conveniently-timed Safety Cars, Perez got himself into the lead but was passed three times at the end of the straight – twice by Leclerc and once by Verstappen.