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So What’s With Honda?

Aerodynamics is an arcane science. In fact, to call it a science is probably giving it more credit than it is due – it remains an area where things can seem perfect in theory and the wind tunnel, but go hopelessly wrong when the car actually gets out on the track. That seems to be what has happened at Honda this year; according to all their calculations, this should have been the car to take them to the top, but in practice it has proved a huge step backwards. Super Aguri reap the benefits of development of last year’s chassis while the factory team scratch their heads in puzzlement as to what to do next.


Weight of the world on its shoulders…

It reminds me of the Arrows A2, the “Buzz Bomb” of 1979. On paper it should have been the best of the ground effect cars, with its extensive areas intended to suck the car to the ground like a leech; in reality, it was almost undriveable, porpoising down the straights as the low pressure area wandered around under the car as it pleased. The engineers slaved away with it all year, trying to make it work, but gave up in disgust and reverted to standard practice in 1980.

Not that the Honda is as obviously as bold an experiment as was the A2, but it may well be that the designers have made a similar mistake in pushing the theory further than it is ready to go. Aerodynamics has come a long way since the early days of ground effect but it is still a discipline in which there are few rules and practical experience remains the arbiter of what is right or wrong.

The change to Bridgestone tires has not helped either. Only McLaren and BMW of last year’s Michelin runners seem to have progressed in their understanding of how to make the Bridgestones work properly; the rest are struggling. And poor Honda has to work out how much of their car’s handling problems are due to the tires and how much to some undiscovered design flaw.

So is the Honda a bad car? It is far too early to say – there may be a tweak or modification that is all that is required to get the engineers moving in the right direction. But, even if that happens, there will be a mountain to climb to catch up to the front runners. Honda may not be down and out for this year’s championship but they have certainly made things very difficult for themselves.

8 Responses to “So What’s With Honda?”

  1. One of the “colour commentators” during the race said something that made lightbulbs go off in my head. He said: “All those fins and bits all over the car are fine for whipping along in clean air, but when one gets into the draft of the car ahead, all the benefits go out the window.” That made me think: take off ALL those doo-dads and just drive, like in the good old days of Moss and Brabham. However, my personal favourite answer would be to have the “fins” and “wings” retractable at the touch of a button. Maybe four settings, to have zero; med 1; med 2 and total effects. After all, the F1 cars are not really cars, but specialized speed machines, so why not help them maximize their potential with gimmicks and technology. Maybe some day, common road cars like little Suzuki Sprints will have retractable front, top, and rear wings for civilian drivers.

  2. Movable aerodynamic devices, Barry – at present banned under the F1 regulations. I think the commentator was exaggerating anyway; the fins and wings do not lose all effectiveness when running behind another car, they become a little less efficient rather. However, some of the more exotic cars on sale to the rich already have retracting spoilers and fins so it’s entirely possible that this development might filter down to more affordable production cars.

    I think it would be interesting to ban wings altogether and let the designers struggle to keep their ground effect by using the body only. But it isn’t going to happen because that big rear wing is too useful as an advertising hoarding…

  3. What if there was a regulated nose and wing height. Make it mandatory that the nose has to be so high off the ground so it relies less of over the car down force and would allow them to run closer together and really screw with the technicians heads. Also lower the rear wing to lessen the dirty air effect. Grip would be compromised but we can always fix that by going back to gloveless tires(2009). I’m all for major changes that will give the smaller teams a fighting chance. Then again, like you mentioned before with the red walled medium tires, FIA will go out of there way to avoid being like CHAMP car.

  4. Wing heights and sizes are regulated already, Dan – the FIA has made them progressively smaller and lower over the years in a bid to lessen their effectiveness but the designers just claw back the downforce somewhere else. It is now apparent that the aerodynamic advances of the last twenty years have made the cars too “sticky” in the corners and there is a move to get back to mechanical grip instead. The quickest way to do that would be to ban wings altogether but, as I said, that has unfortunate knock-on effects for a primary source of F1 funding – advertising. So we’re stuck with wings for the foreseeable future and that means the teams will have to continue their research into aerodynamics. And the FIA will keep tightening the regulations in their attempt to lessen the effects of downforce…

  5. Will Ferrari be using any sponsors on there wing this year? It seems like they are almost completely self-funded compared to all the sponsors on the other cars (with Honda being the exception).

    I had somewhat an understanding that the wings are regulated, but compared to other single seat series, they are still very high on the car. It seems like that they could still lessen the effectiveness of the wing without sacrificing the overall surface area.

    I am not biased to any one team, and as great as Hamilton seems to be(possibly the best first turn driver in the sport), I don’t believe he would have been able to hold of Massa had the cars been more group friendly. There are 200+ turns in the race, it seems like only the first one counts at the moment.

  6. Most of Ferrari’s funding comes from FIAT but they are the last F1 team to retain at least some sponsorship from a tobacco company. Amazingly, Marlboro continue to pay although I’m not sure what they get in return. The fact that Ferrari have altered the Italian red of their cars to (slightly) resemble the more orangey Marlboro red seems hardly worth the money. But the rear wing is a part of the plan, no doubt – perhaps the white stripes are supposed to resemble the bar code on a pack of cigarettes but it’s stretching things a bit, I think. I suppose anything will do as long as they don’t actually announce the name of the product…

    Yes, they could lower the rear wing, Dan, and it would alter the car’s aerodynamics quite a bit. But the teams hate doing it because they know it will mean yet more work in the wind tunnel, trying to get back the downforce somehow. And you can bet that they’d succeed, just as they do every time the FIA changes the rules.

    As for the Hamilton/Massa contest, it’s very much a matter of personal opinion. My own is that we witnessed a fascinating meeting of GP2-learned racecraft from Hamilton and sheer desperation from Massa. Basically, Massa expected the superior Ferrari performance to enable him to breeze past the McLaren and he became frustrated when it proved a little more difficult than that – the result was the mistake that put the Brazilian back in fifth spot (where he proved unable to pass Heidfeld either).

    Had it been Raikkonen in the same position (with a new engine that didn’t need nursing, in other words), I think Hamilton would have been passed sooner or later. Massa has improved, thanks to his year with Michael, but he is out of his depth when attempting to compete with Raikkonen.

    That’s my opinion but the race itself gives good reasons to think so. I keep hearing that there was no overtaking but that is not true – how else did Alex Wurz get from 20th on the grid to finish 9th? In fact, Wurz had a tremendous race and passed all sorts of respected drivers, showing that it is quite possible to overtake these days. Sure, he was in a very good car but so was Massa. The difference was that Massa failed to wait for the right moment to pass.

  7. About advertising on F1 cars: the “billboard” rear wing is not the only exposure available to teams. In Budapest, I was amazed to see on some Shell stations, huge posters that depicted a life-sized Shumi in his Ferrari driving suit, gassing up a common civilian car.

    Occasionally I “accidentally” stumble upon a NASCAR race for a few minutes (Montoya’s doin’ okay). Sometimes an on-screen electronically rendered “pointer” indicates one car or another in the mass of 40-odd juggernauts that all look more or less the same. Perhaps F1 could occasionally do the same thing, with the sponsor’s logo on a “balloon” at the top of the pointer. Maybe they’d trade that for wing banishment.

  8. Shell are doing a big campaign at the moment using their F1 involvement with Ferrari as the focal point. Have a look at this ad for television – I think you’ll agree, it’s great! So maybe they are showing the way to get more out of sponsorship and the wings won’t be so necessary in the future. I hope so.

    The pointer is a good idea but F1 doesn’t like to admit learning anything from other forms of racing – doubt we’ll ever see it unless someone can come up with a variation that enables F1 to claim originality.

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