It was another Formula 1 campaign packed full of intriguing technical developments in 2023, with some teams leaping up the order, others making huge mid-season steps and one area standing out above the rest in terms of innovation. F1 Technical Expert Mark Hughes is here – aided by Giorgio Piola’s detailed drawings – to run you through it all…

    Best innovation

    Brake caliper technology

    Brake caliper technology continues to advance, as one of the few areas where extensive design freedom still exists within the regulations. Ever-more detailed study of the temperature flows around the front brakes in CFD (computational flow dynamics) has paved the way for incredibly intricate forming of the aluminium-lithium alloy calipers, which are machined from solid.

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    There is a conflict between the stiffness of the caliper and the weight. Reducing the mass brings benefits in mechanical grip and ride, but can also compromise the rigidity of the caliper as the pistons within it clamp onto the carbon fibre discs to create immense downforce-aided braking forces of over 5g.

    Aston martin Red Bull Brake compjpg.jpg
    Aston Martin and Red Bull have led the way with ever-more intricate front brake caliper designs

    The mass also has an important implication on the temperature of the calipers, which typically need to run at no higher than 200-deg C (the discs can reach 1,000-deg C). With less material to dissipate the heat they reach critical temperature more quickly. But they also cool more quickly.

    Optimising the combination of adequate stiffness while reducing the mass and having the required temperature characteristics is a complex equation which CFD has helped brake designers with.

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    What has resulted are extravagantly shaped calipers with slim ribs to provide structural strength despite the paring away of the material around them. To compensate for the reduction in mass, lots of tiny, exposed pins on the surfaces increase the surface area and thereby the cooling capacity.

    Williams brakes.jpg
    By the third race of the season, Williams had followed suit

    Aston Martin and Red Bull were the first to really start to exploit this area in 2022, but the others were quick to catch on. In 2023, Williams became the third team to use these super-intricate components, introducing them at Melbourne. They save around 200 grammes per wheel, giving a total saving of 0.8kg of un-sprung weight.

    Biggest gain 2022-23

    Aston Martin

    Aston Martin were the most improved team of the season, as measured by both its points haul and its qualifying performance. The AMR23 was a big advance over the ’22 car, with a much more sophisticated concept of floor and sidepod architecture.

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    While almost every team reduced their average qualifying lap time deficit to the front in ’23 compared to the year before, those gains were typically between 0.1-0.5%. Aston Martin reduced their deficit by a whopping 1.3% (with Williams the next best at 1.1%). Although this still left it at just over 0.7s adrift of Red Bull as an average, that compares to a 1.8s deficit to the front the year before.

    Aston Martin enjoyed a huge step forward with their AMR23 package

    Biggest in-season development

    McLaren MCL60

    With their hugely effective Austria upgrade, McLaren went from mid-grid to being Red Bull’s closest challengers at several subsequent races. Austria was actually the second phase of an upgrade package, the first having been introduced at Baku a few weeks earlier. That comprised a new floor geometry, with a more deeply ramped inlet for the underfloor tunnel.

    The Austria changes were to exploit that new floor more fully and involved a totally re-engineered cooling/sidepod arrangement. Its geometry was much more Red Bull-like, albeit with a wide ‘waterslide’ atop the sidepods keeping the cooling and floor edge airflows separated. A new front wing at Silverstone and a further new floor at Singapore kept the performance coming.

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    In the first four races, the car averaged just under 0.7s off the qualifying pace. Between Austin and Brazil it was just 0.14s off. That represented the biggest in-season gain of competitiveness of any car, better even than that of the AlphaTauri AT04 which began the year as the slowest car but ended up the fifth-quickest.

    McLaren started 2023 on the back foot but made strides mid-season

    Biggest performance advantage

    Red Bull / Max Verstappen

    There were many dominant Max Verstappen victories to choose from. He was particularly untouchable at Barcelona, Spa and Suzuka, all circuits which heavily rewarded the Red Bull’s great combination of low and high-speed downforce.

    At the Spanish Grand Prix, he left the field far behind, finishing 24s ahead of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes. At Spa, despite starting from a penalised sixth on the grid, he was 32s ahead of Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari as the leading non-Red Bull. In Suzuka, bouncing back hard after the difficulties of Singapore, he was unopposed and had 19s over Lando Norris’ McLaren at the flag.

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    Statistically, therefore, the Belgian Grand Prix was the most dominant performance by anyone during the season, mirroring the same feat at the same venue in 2022.

    Formula 1 2023 Season Montage
    Formula 1 2023 Season Montage

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