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Wheels Within Wheels

It looks as if Ferrari-style wheel inserts are indeed going to be used by other teams in 2007, if this photo of the Renault in testing is anything to go by.

Inserts

Although a protest was never mounted against the inserts, it can hardly be denied that they serve an aerodynamic function, whether or not they assist in brake cooling. This is the official F1 site’s view on the matter:

Ferrari 248 F1 – brake cooling drums

This interesting feature used in Malaysia is an evolution of similar devices seen on cars last year, but Ferrari have taken it to its extreme. The cooling drum not only covers the brake disc and calliper, preventing heat being transferred to the wheel rim, it also creates a seal of sorts with the wheel itself. It completely fills the space inside the wheel rim, not only improving brake cooling, but also dramatically reducing the vortices generated by the rotation of the wheels, hence making this area more aerodynamically efficient.

At least that is an admission that the inserts do have an aerodynamic effect. I suppose the argument is that this is not their primary purpose; they are there to keep the wheel rim cool and any aerodynamic effect is purely incidental. Which is fine until you notice that the inserts are used only on the rear wheels.

Something seems wrong there – the front brakes do most of the work as all the weight of the car is thrown forward as soon as it begins to decelerate. And that means they get hot, considerably hotter than the rear brakes. Surely any heat protection for the wheel rims should appear on the front wheels first; and, if the system is that effective, why not put it on all the wheels?

Of course, the wheel wells on the rears are much deeper than on the fronts and so they produce stronger vortices and drag and this would argue for putting the inserts at the back before bothering with the front. But would not that call into question the primary intent of the inserts? It is all very mysterious.

Not that it matters, of course. If everyone is going to use them, the playing field is level and we can forget the whole business. But it does make me wonder what the next dubious brush with the regulations will be. That’s part of the fun of F1 after all – watching the engineers and designers slip their tweaks past the FIA.

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Technology Wins Again

Formula One is the pinnacle of motor sport and determined to remain that way, despite the FIA’s attempts to keep it in a cage. Already the engineers have found a way to get around the engine freeze, trumpeted as a way to keep down costs. If we can’t touch the hardware, let’s have a look at what else is possible, goes the reasoning.

R27

Renault R27

Renault and their fuel supplier, Elf, have been talking about how they will extract more power from their engine this season. The idea is to increase the efficiency of their oil and other ancilliaries, thereby reducing friction and making the most of the power the engine produces. They have already solved problems with the fuel resulting from high temperatures in engines running at 20,000 rpm, now they can concentrate on expanding that technology to cover the lower speed ranges.

Which goes to show that you cannot halt F1′s drive to increase performance – someone will always find a way to circumvent any restriction you might impose. That is the engineer’s job, after all, to gain some form of advantage over the competition. And it makes a nonsense of the FIA’s attempt to put a brake on expenditure – those with money will work out how to spend it anyway.

Now that Renault and Elf are working so hard to maximize efficiency of their frozen engine, you can bet that the other teams will want their fuel suppliers to do the same. So we see the end of the tire wars only to head into a new era of fuel and lubricant wars. F1 remains the pinnacle because it will always seek out a way to go faster.

Speaking of tweaks in search of an advantage, whatever happened about Ferrari’s wheel inserts? I see they have been using them in testing and there is no doubt that they give an aerodynamic advantage, whatever the stated reason for their existence. Why haven’t the other teams started to use them too?

It seems a bit strange that they ignore the possibility of performance increase through the insertion of some flat pieces of plastic into the wheels but are prepared to spend whatever it takes to gain a few extra bhp through fuel technology. Obviously, they must know something I don’t.

Could it be that they know that, if they use the inserts and then go faster than Ferrari, the darn things will be banned? Or maybe they do have them and are just waiting to see whether Ferrari will use them in a race, in which case they shove them on too and the playing field is level again.

Ah, the complications of F1 – all part of the glorious show.

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Ferrari’s Wheel Inserts

After the mass dampers, along come the wheel inserts. Ferrari have been running inserts to the rear wheels that fill the deep central well of the wheel. This is a bit dubious in terms of a couple of the technical regulations; is their purpose aerodynamic, in which case they would be contravening the rules in that area, or are they intended to aid brake cooling, as claimed by Ferrari?

Brake cooling

Yes, they need cooling…

For some reason, this reminds me of Brabham’s approach to the fuss over their fan car in 1978. Everyone could see that the fan had been built into a boxlike structure covering the engine and rear suspension and so was designed to create huge suction at the rear of the car. But Gordon Murray, Brabham’s designer, disagreed and insisted that its purpose was engine cooling (admittedly, he said this with a big grin on his face). And it was certainly true that the fan did draw air through the radiators.

In the end, the FIA acted quite sensibly and allowed the car’s one victory to stand (Swedish GP) but banned it from then on. Brabham’s real purpose had always been to focus attention on the questionable legality of the skirts that gave the Lotus 79 complete dominance in that season, so they happily accepted the decision, point made.

This is where the wheel insert controversy differs; Ferrari are not trying to make a point but are seeking performance increases to maintain a lead over the competition (this is the business of F1 after all). There is no doubt that the inserts help aerodynamic performance – they fill in the gap that creates vortices, and drag therefore, in the air flow around the rear wheels. There is nothing new in this and wheel inserts have been used for decades at Le Mans to lower drag and so maximize speed potential along the Mulsanne straight.

The onus would appear to be on Ferrari to prove that the primary intent of the inserts is brake cooling. But there is one tiny problem even if they succeed in this. As Ron Dennis has pointed out, if they are brake cooling measures, then every time Ferrari change the wheels and tires, they are changing the brake cooling apparatus too. And that, of course, is illegal…

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