The technical gallery of the Belgian Grand Prix

Driving a significantly updated RB18, Max Verstappen took flight at the Belgian Grand Prix. How can that superiority be explained?

MORE EFFICIENT AERODYNAMIC RB18

Remember, that was not long ago. During the first thirteen Grands Prix, Red Bull and Ferrari fought neck and neck. The two teams are only separated by a few tenths of a second, one way or another: the F1-75 is usually faster in qualifying, the RB18 more efficient in the race. Even Mercedes improved, to the point of taking pole position at the Hungaröring.

Not so in Belgium, where the Ferrari lost six tenths of a second to the pure performance of the winged Bull and Mercedes 1.8 seconds. Driving a Red Bull with a revised body and flat bottom (see image below), Max Verstappen was the second fastest driver in the intermediate qualifying sector, and fastest in sector 1 and 3. The next day, in the race, he was faster. than Leclerc and Sainz in three sections of the circuit: in two tenths of sector 1, in three tenths of sector 2 and in one tenth of the last sector.

What can be said, then, of his best lap (completed with medium tires and about 28 kg of fuel on board), six tenths faster than Charles Leclerc’s best lap at the end of the race, when the Monegasque wears soft new ones and that its tank is almost empty? How to explain such a change in fashion?

To put it simply, the incredible superiority of the Red Bulls in Belgium is due to the nature of the Ardennes track. More than any other circuit, Spa-Francorchamps demands aerodynamic efficiency due to its hybrid layout: it needs less downforce to be fast in sectors 1 and 3, but more load in the middle part is made slowly which turns. To these conflicting requirements, the RB18 responds better than any other single-seater because it generates more downforce through its underbody and is therefore able to accommodate less inclined fins – giving it two advantage: great speed in a straight line and better wheel handling (read our detailed explanation here).

F1, technical F1, technical, Belgium, Spa, 2022, Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes, Verstappen

FERRARI AND MERCEDES WORRIED

As we know, the RB18 and the F1-75 perform in very different ways – following a well-known trend since the beginning of the season. The single-seater of Verstappen and Pérez, where a rear wing is placed is usually less loaded than the Ferrari, faster at the end of the straight.

At Spa, the Italian engineers tried to mount a very thin rear wing (the first one in the image above), but the scarlet racing car lost a lot of time in the middle sector. So they chose a heavier wing – the one used in Baku – which is logically less effective on a circuit with long straights (probably reserving the minimum downforce wing for Monza).

“Aero efficiency [soit le rapport appui/traînée] our car is not very good on this track, analysis by Carlos Sainz. From here to Monza, we need to find out why our ‘low downforce’ package is not as good as Red Bull’s. And then, in general, we are more competitive on circuits that require heavy downforce.

F1, technical F1, technical, Belgium, Spa, 2022, Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes, Verstappen

That’s not all. Spa is a unique circuit in terms of ride height due to the compression of Eau Rouge and a bump in the Stavelot corner. To absorb these restrictions, all teams had to raise their car by five to six millimeters, or even a little more this year because of a bump between turns 14 and 15. Mercedes is not good which is done as usual from an aerodynamic point of view.

Unlike Red Bull, can produce downforce even with high ground clearance: “We have shown many times this season that our car can work on relatively long travel lengthsChristian Horner confirmed. Our philosophy is probably a little different from other single-seaters.” This ability to generate a load regardless of the ground clearance is probably due to the experience the team has accumulated in this area. For a dozen years, roughly from 2009 to 2021, the chassis designed in Milton Keynes worked with a raised rear axle (the famous “rake”), and this knowledge remains in the DNA of the RB18.

As we can see, more than the technical directive that aims to limit the phenomenon of pumping, it is the characteristics of the Spa circuit that force the teams to raise their cars this week. As such, it may force teams to raise their ground clearance at Zandvoort or at subsequent circuits. Ferrari engineer Jock Clear actually claimed that no changes had to be made to the F1-75 at Spa due to the entry into force of the directive. But he clarified:

“We will only know in some races when we have to raise our car. We have to wait to race in other circuits to have a more precise idea.

Finally, the increase in temperature from Saturday (22°C) to Sunday (34°C) changed the way the tires were damaged: the “graining” of the front tires on Saturday gave way to a thermal degradation of rear tires. This change did not affect Red Bull much, whose balance of slow corners and fast curves allowed it to manage its tires better on race day.

But still it is necessary to get the quintessence of this machine. Knowing from Friday, the reigning World Champion head and shoulders above all the drivers, including his teammate, unable to adopt the same settings (which makes the car efficient but diabolically oversteering) . This week in Spa, not far from Kerpen, there is Michael Schumacher on Max Verstappen.

F1, technical F1, technical, Belgium, Spa, 2022, Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes, Verstappen

MERCEDES LOST THE LATIN

After the pole position signed by George Russell at the Hungarian Grand Prix at the end of July, Mercedes does not expect to suffer much in the following race. Especially in Belgium, the W13 is equipped with many improvements (see above), which do not give satisfaction:

“You cannot get pole position, even on the same track and in very different conditions, and then find yourself 1.8 seconds behind the reference time in the next race, ranted Toto Wolff on Saturday night. There is something that completely eludes us. This is unacceptable.”

In fact, the list of problems facing the qualification of Lewis Hamilton and his neighbor in the garage is as long as a day without bread: a lot of drag on the Kemmel straight, an unstable on the rear axle, understeer at the Rivage and corner n° 9, finally pumping the strong curves… As is often the case at this time, the engineers at Brackley could not explain the origin of these evils.

“If we know what’s going on, we can correct the situation by playing with the settings, lamented the Austrian boss. But this is not the case. This week I haven’t heard anything positive about the car. It’s time to decide what we’re going to do. “

“Our performances vary greatly from circuit to circuit. Is it the fault of the tires? Or is it aero, mechanical balance? It’s very difficult to isolate.”

In the race, the W13 behaved better, as evidenced by the result of Russell, who could have been on the podium instead of Sainz. On Sunday, the Flèche d’Argent’s inability to warm up its tires quickly wasn’t too punishing, especially since the track was so hot. However: after fourteen Grands Prix, Mercedes still does not understand how his single-seater works.

F1, technical F1, technical, Belgium, Spa, 2022, Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes, Hamilton, pedal

HAMILTON LOST THE PEDALS

Walking outside the Mercedes garage on Friday, we saw the pedals used by Lewis Hamilton (see the “LH” sticker in the picture above) ‒ elements that are rarely seen!

Their transmission is semi-automatic, the F1 has only two pedals. The accelerator pedal (here made of lightly gilded metal) is connected, through a position sensor, to the central control unit (ECU) which is responsible for controlling the speed of the engine according to the position of the pedal, but also for the deployment of electric energy.

If the accelerator is “fly-by-wire” (ie controlled electronically and not mechanically), the right pedal is equipped with a damper that controls the force feedback (yellow arrow), so that the pilot can feel a certain resistance and thus good recovery. measure his pedal effort.

As for the brake pedal (the darkest one in the picture), it’s all Mercedes carbon. Since 2014 the rear brakes are managed electronically, but it is not an ABS system (blocking is possible during heavy braking), as we explain in our description file of “brake- by-wire” .

Both pedals are surrounded by side plates intended to keep Hamilton’s foot in place, while the top is coated with an abrasive material (like sandpaper) to prevent his foot from slipping when turning or riding.

IN THE SAME SERIES

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