Innovation & Mercedes Double DRS

Innovation & Mercedes Double DRS

F1 is often primed as “the pinnacle of motorsport” but what does that phrase actually mean and is it justified? There are several facets which make Formula One the zenith of competitive racing – having the best drivers, mechanics and personnel in the world; having budgets that would make political parties drool and visiting 19 countries spanning 5 continents. However, to me what makes F1 truly the pinnacle of motor racing is innovation.

There exists an immense artificial selection pressure amongst these teams constituted of the very best engineers in the world to produce the best implementation of a system to give the fastest car on track. Innovation is simply a byproduct of this competitive pressure.

There is an incentive to defy conventional wisdom, take a risk and succeed. Part of the reason why some were glad to see McLaren get 1-2 in Australia qualifying was that their car was different, built around a different philosophy from others. Others who had decided to foil the aesthetic appearance of their car for apparent performance improvement. There isn’t a happy end to this story however, McLaren did revert to a higher nose later at Spain (for good reasons, which I explain why here) but thankfully didn’t make is as visually unappealing as the others.

This is not new to F1. Many of the features of your road car today have been designed and implemented first in the racing cars of earlier eras. The technology buds and develops in the world of racing fuelled by the availability of monetary resources due to the competitive drive to success. Over time, this technology trickles down and become less resource intensive such that it can be incorporated in road cars. Technical breakthroughs such as safety cells and cockpits in the 80s F1 car are directly correlated to the incredible safety cells we have in the modern hatchbacks. Similarly, KERS today serves as an example of technology that can have tangible benefits in the future for all cars.

As a fan, I love seeing a team innovate to gain a competitive advantage. It’s a due reward for hours of work and dedicated put into it. The Mercedes ‘double DRS’ system this year made me smile as it brought back (in my view) one of the most clever systems I’ve ever encountered – the DRS. The idea of using differential pressure to channel air into preferential downforce producing region. Nothing obvious mechanically is going on but the invisible air is being worked and manipulated. It’s an incredibly complex aspect of aerodynamic physics and the looking at the highly advanced systems introduced this year, the teams have cracked it.

What are the benefits of Double DRS?

Although most of the hype has gone away from this brilliant, innovative system I strongly suspect you’ll be hearing about it a lot more soon because it’ll be very effective effect in Canada. 2012 clearly isn’t a season for making predictions but if I were to make one I’d definitely bet for either Micheal or Nico on pole. Mercedes had a huge upgrade ready for Monaco, comprising of a new lighter gearbox and redesigned sidepods that helped tyre wear and crucially, improved low and medium speed corner performance. Canada is essentially made up of slow/medium speed corners following long straights, almost as if made for the Mercedes.

[1] Enhance DRS

The main principle of the system is to reduce drag and downforce and it does this by enhancing the already present DRS, hence the term “double DRS”. It’s a simple concept to get your head around, less drag means less air resistance exerting a negative force on the car. This results in higher maximal top speed (if 7th gear can reach it) and faster acceleration on the straights.

[2] Improve Stability off Corners

The duct that flows through the car directs air from the rear end of the car (at the DRS) and channels it towards to the front, culminating at the bottom of the front wing. Thus this causes a loss of downforce at the front of the air. Formula One cars have more than enough downforce on the straights so reducing it here at the front is actually beneficial. Since the DRS is open, there is a big drop in rear downforce that makes the car unstable upon activation. Adrian Sutil’s spin in the very first qualifying session when it was introduced (Australia 2011) is a good example of what can happen if you deploy DRS quickly and shift this balance.

Because there is a loss of front downforce due to this channeled air, this reduces the delta difference between rear and front of the car upon activation. Reducing this improves stability upon activation and thus allows slightly earlier activation coming out of fast corners (such as the final corner at Catalunya). Even a slightly earlier activation will reap rewards later down the straight.

[3] Ability to run slightly lower ride height

The third benefit is subtle, harder to understand and was not really covered by many when this system was first hyped. Having this Double DRS allows Mercedes to run slightly lower right height than other team on tracks, especially where the ends of long straights are bumpy. China is a prime example of this, where the long back straight has a bumpy braking zone.

At the end of long straights, due to the high speeds attainted, downforce produced by the cars is at it’s maximum. This poses a problem as it pushes the car further and further into the ground, reducing ride height. Teams are thus forced to increase the right height to not wear the wooden plank under the car (which would result in a disqualification).

The Mercedes system reduces this downforce produced and hence pushes the car less onto the ground, giving them a higher room of margin. They don’t have to increase the ride height as much hence can start with a lower ride height. We’re only talking millimeters here but millimeters have a big impact in downforce production around corners.

From a perspective of a fan, it’s great to see innovative ideas come forth and produce results. That’s what F1 is all about, it’s about doing something unique, challenging set norms and succeeding. Red Bull pioneered the new era of cars from 2009; most of the cars on the grid are direct correlates from it. McLaren had the DRS. Mercedes now has the double DRS. F1 is in the good hands of brilliant, innovative engineers.

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