Saturday, 31 January 2015

Toro Rosso STR10 Sticks Its Tongue Out at Jerez

2015 Scuderia Toro Rosso STR10
With Lotus switching to Mercedes power and Caterham seemingly down and out, there are only two Renault-powered teams on the Formula 1 grid in 2015. One is the Red Bull, essentially Renault's factory team, the other is their junior team, Faenza-based Scuderia Toro Rosso, who have just unveiled the initial iteration of their new STR10 ahead of the first pre-season test tomorrow. For those who just misread the name for their new car, I regret to inform you that this is in fact not a Chrysler product and doesn't have a Dodge Viper's V10 engine in it. Sorry.

As the name suggests, this is their 10th car, built in the team's 10th year of existence after Red Bull bought out Minardi and turned them into their "B-team" for the purposes of getting young drivers in Red Bull's driver development program into F1 and ready to ascend to the main Red Bull team. Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and now Daniil Kvyat have all made it to the top team via Toro Rosso, so it does work. Sometimes.

Last year saw the team switch from Ferrari power (they live literally just down the autostrada from Maranello) to Renault power, to reflect the Red Bull car more closely. Having had a year to acclimatise to French power, they have given themselves plenty of time to make it all work better for 2015, with much more efficient cooling and overall packaging, and a generally more complex design than last year in order to make sure they don't slip behind Sauber to the back of the grid. Recently they've been saved from such a fate by Marussia and Caterham. Not any more...

In fact, the other Scuderia are targeting 5th in the constructor's championship this year, according to team boss Franz Tost. "We are ready to do our best to achieve it. Our engine partner Renault has also worked very hard to come up with new modifications and I'm sure that our joint effort will give us a package which will certainly be very competitive. All in all, we have a much stronger team as well as a very competitive STR10 and fast drivers; it's a great combination." Piloting this new machine will be the much-publicised 17-year-old Max Verstappen, who has gone from karting straight into one season of Formula 3 and then straight into Formula 1. This has sparked such outrage and concern that new rules regarding eligibility for the requisite Super Licence have been made tougher, to stop anyone else getting to the peak of motorsport quite so quickly. In fact, the minimum age is no 18, so Verstappen - son of former Benetton driver Jos "the boss" - could forever hold the record for the youngest F1 driver to enter a race. With Jean-Eric Vergne getting snubbed yet again by Toro Rosso and making do with a minor role at Ferrari this year, Maximum Verstappen's team mate will be 20-year-old Carlos Sainz Jr., son of double World Rally Champion, er, Carlos Sainz.

It's a weird world when the lineup of one F1 team (McLaren) are old enough that they could have fathered the lineup of another F1 team. In fact, the STR lineup's combined age of 37 is only two years older than just Jenson Button. Or Kimi Räikkönen, for that matter. Hell, Mark Webber's 38. Maybe youth and confidence can hack it in F1 these days? Daniil Kvyat put in some impressive performances in his rookie season last year. Maybe these two rookies can as well.

As well as looking approximately 100% less phallic than last year's STR9, the STR10's new nose is similar to that of the new Ferrari or McLaren... for now. Technical director James Key says that the team have taken a very developmental approach, with work already beginning on an aero package for the Australian Grand Prix in March. Even the new nose could be different by then. "I expect it will change. The plan for us - particularly for our new drivers - is to put mileage on. So we're not looking for peak performance or whatever in the first two tests, we want to get all the basics done as best as we can. Then in Test 3 we'll see the real STR10." For now the car will even run "last year's front and rear wings" and a slightly oversized heat vent at the back, just to ensure they can get the miles under their belt.

They will be hoping it all goes to plan. They used to be Minardi, and they wouldn't want to become this generation's equivalent...

Friday, 30 January 2015

Sauber C34 - A Flash Flood of Colour

2015 Sauber-Ferrari C34
COLOURS!! On an F1 car! In 2015! I didn't think it would happen outside of the new Ferrari S-Fist and the two Red Bull teams. However, Sauber have replaced the dolphin grey of the last two seasons with this eye-catching yellow-on-blue livery brought about by major sponsorship from Banco do Brasil. There's no confusing this Ferrari-powered C34 for anyone else on the grid!

Hopefully though, there's a lot more to this car than some new sponsorship money. Sauber had the most disappointing season of anyone last year, as they failed to score a single point all year for the first time in their 20-year history. Zilch. Plus they were beaten by Marussia... or would've been had they survived to the end of the season. The only way is up for the financially challenged Swiss team.

Much like Ferrari, there has been some musical chairs going on. Both drivers from last year, Esteban Gutierrez and Adrian Sutil, have been booted (initially without knowing it, which was awkward), replaced by Caterham refugee Marcus Ericsson and Brazilian driver Felipe Nasr, the latter of whom brings with him the blue and yellow sponsorship of his national bank. To avoid confusion with Brazilian driver Felipe Massa, his surname is to be pronounced "Nass-ear," as if an 'i' has been inserted after the 's'. The F1 rookie came 3rd in GP2 last year, so he's reasonably qualified beyond his huge sponsorship budget, unlike some on the grid. Meanwhile, the actual champion from last year, Britain's Jolyon Palmer, could only get a seat as a third driver at Lotus (the man that came 8th in GP2, Raffaele Marciello, is Sauber's third driver). Damn financial politics...

Anyway, the new Sauber unfortunately sports a slightly goofy nose, with a protrusion much wider than that of the new Williams. But if it helps the overall aerodynamics work better, then so be it. Without Caterham and Marussia to provide buffering at the back, Sauber risk finishing last if they don't pull their socks up. Their three main areas for development have been reducing weight, improving braking performance and making it handle better at low speeds, a key issue last year (if the drivers can't drive it, how is it going to win anything?). As well as that, the Ferrari power unit apparently requires better cooling, so Sauber have managed to do that as well, narrowing the rear body with more efficient radiator packaging.

I really hope they don't finish last, even though it has to be an inevitability for someone. Sauber have been one of the cooler teams recently and deserve regular points finishes like they were having at the end of the V8 era. Let's see some colour near the front!!

BONUS IMAGE: This isn't the first time we've seen a blue Sauber, of course...

2004 Sauber-Petronas-Ferrari C23

Ferrari SF15-T Packs An S-PUNCH

When Scuderia Ferrari aren't winning, they're losing. This may seem like a very simple fact, but the simple fact is that in some Italians' eyes, 2nd place is a failure. So how about coming 9th and 10th in Bahrain? Or going an entire season with just two podium finishes, thus having a win-less season for the first time in 11 years? Or being beaten in the constructor's championship by Williams, a team with half the budget of Italy's de-facto national racing team? The Ferrari F14-T was ugly, heavy, slow and visibly difficult to drive quickly. If anything, in relative terms, Ferrari's season was as bad as Lotus's season last year. So of all the top teams, it's the oldest and most successful that needs to pull its finger out... and they know it.

The first thing they did was fire nearly everyone in a commanding position, including long-time president Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, and brought new(er) people in. The second thing they did was fill the void left by a thoroughly fed-up Fernando Alonso with the man who denied him two more world titles, four-time champ Sebastian Vettel. The third thing they've done is build a prettier car. This one isn't named by the public, but uses a similar system, as Scuderia Ferrari's 2015 Turbo F1 car is called the SF15-T.

Yes, moving the dash across would make it look like "S-FIST." Maybe Seb packs a punch?

The new nose is much smoother, cleaner and longer than before, protruding well past the front wing, perhaps so that the area above the front wing is marginally higher in order to get more air around the underside of the car and to the diffuser. The "pullrod" front suspension they've been using since 2012 remains (essentially the "pushrod" spring actuation system upside down, giving a lower centre of gravity), but the double wishbones are updated to cleave the air better. More significantly, the rear half of the bodywork is much tighter, signifying improved packaging of the hybrid power unit. Technical director James Alison says "That’s been done through a lot of work not just in the wind tunnel but also in the design heart of the company to try and find radiator designs that were fundamentally more efficient. So for every square centimetre of radiator we’re able to extract more cooling this year than last and therefore able to close the car down at the back significantly." Hopefully greater efficiency also means it's also more powerful. Manufacturers don't officially disclose performance figures, but the deficit to the Mercedes engine last year was clear.

Esteban Gutierrez, Kimi Räikkönen and Sebastian Vettel
So major changes have been made for what was seemingly going to be an evolutionary year. That's perhaps normal at the beginning of a new era; they've now had a year to get their heads around the new technical regulations and work out what the best solutions for their designs are. The time and money the saved on suspension has gone into the areas where the F14-T was really lacking, but is it enough to get them back at the front? Like him or not, Fernando Alonso has regularly been the only reason that Ferrari won races before last year, and the relentless warrior with a knack for developing a car through the season is no longer at the team. Kimi Räikkönen remains after a difficult return last year, having recently become a father, and now we finally get to see what Vettel's really made of. Can he fill the shoes of the man widely regarded as the fastest and best driver on the grid? With twice as many titles, he ought to, especially given that he's a successful German entering Ferrari at a difficult time. The Tifosi will very much want history to repeat itself on that front...

Oh, and Esteban Gutierrez is their new third driver having been kicked out of Sauber, so he'll get to do some Friday practice sessions and brings with hem sponsorship form Telcel. Jean-Eric Vergne is also in Ferrari's stable, but it seems he'll just be doing work in the simulator this year. Shame. I would've put those two in each other's roles myself.

By the way, anyone else notice the Alfa Romeo badge on the back? That seems strange. Are we going to see some desperately contrived marketing campaign from them soon?

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Mercedes-AMG W06 Hybrid - Silver Arrow Meets White Weather

Mercedes-AMG W06 Hybrid
With Lotus, Williams and Force India out of the bag, so to speak, the last Mercedes-powered car left to see before the 2015 season starts is the works car itself. Well, while Twitter was bickering about McLaren-Honda liveries, Mercedes were busy getting on with the first shakedown test of their new W06 Hybrid at Silverstone, with both Nico Rosberg and reigning world driver's champion Lewis Hamilton present to put in a total of 18 laps, before wet snow put an end to proceedings. This is both the first and last time this car will ever be anywhere near snow in its entire lifetime.

The new car is merely an evolution of the all-dominant W05 from 2014, a car which smashed all the F1 records a car can smash. Most wins, most 1-2 finishes, probably most pole positions, it just went on. So, if it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? Well, past form is no guarantee of future success, so there are subtle evolutions in each area of the car, most noticeably a tapering nose replacing the uniform-width nose which is no longer up to the regulations. Last year's nose was arguably the cleanest on the grid, so their Lotus-style solution is a welcome sight after seeing the Williams and Force India's "thumb tip" noses. With 2015 being very much an evolutionary year in terms of the regulations, the fastest teams ought to stay at the sharp end, so expect to see a lot more of this car when the five red lights go out in Melbourne and beyond.

Images from F1Fanatic.

All hail the new Mercedes! Oh, er, I didn't mean like that:

Nico Rosberg even has a fly-past video on his YouTube channel:

UPDATE (1/2) - New pictures (also via F1F) and an official video!

McLaren-Honda MP4/30 - Back To The Past


First, you must watch this video:

OK, now you've had the same... "experience" as me. You're allowed to see the new McLaren F1 car now:

Monday, 26 January 2015

Lotus-Mercedes E23 Hybrid Nose What's Best

Lotus-Mercedes E23 Hybrid unveil render (3D model)
Things can only really get better for Lotus (well, I suppose they could always go bust, but that's another blog post). Last year's E22 was slow, unreliable, hard to drive and sported a somewhat hideous "twin tusk" nose design. After scoring podium finishes and even a win or two in 2012 and 2013, the 2014 season yielded nothing but bad news and disappointment for the Enstone-based team, who under two previous names - Renault and Benetton - have been a championship-winning outfit in the past. Granted, they now have to contend with Pastor Maldonado's uncanny knack for spinning and/or crashing into things, but typically cheery Frenchman Romain Grosjean was seriously underrepresented in the Renault-powered E22 and had nothing but bad words for it, even live on the pit radio during a race weekend. "Bloody engine!"

This year is already shaping up to be a marked improvement. First of all, the "bloody" Renault engine has been ditched for the lighter, more powerful, better-packaged, more heat-efficient, more driver-friendly and more reliable Mercedes-Benz engine. With this Lotus has now completely cut its ties with the French manufacturer, although if we're splitting hairs, Lotus has almost completely cut its ties with this very car, their name appearing only as a favour on the part of the people who actually own and run the team, investors from Luxembourg-based financial advisory firm Genii Capital.

So that's step one for making Lotus competitive again sorted: get the best engine. Now at the very least they should be level pegging with the likes of Force India, regularly scoring points. Unless Maldonado crashes. Step two would be to make the car easier to get around a corner without it fishtailing around... or Maldonado crashing it. In recent years F1 cars have used a "Front-to-Rear Interconnected Suspension System (FRIC)," essentially a passive version of the McLaren 12C's self-balancing suspension that kept cars riding level over bumps and improved tyre life, which Lotus pioneered and relied upon heavily... until it was banned halfway through 2014. Technical director Nick Chester says of the heavily-revised 2015 set-up "The E23’s suspension design is specific to the updated regulations, so we’re not trying to update a system originally intended to work a different way." This should make the car behave itself a little better... in Grosjean's hands, at least.

However, the most noticeable change on the car is the new nose. We saw Lotus testing something similar at COTA during a free practice session for the US Grand Prix, and the new nose design is exactly what everyone wants to see: a single tapering nose with no strange protrusions. It could almost be a 2015 interpretation of a 1990s F1 car. We've already seen "thumb-tip" noses from Williams and Force India, so whether this is the right direction in terms of aerodynamic efficiency, we are all yet to find out. But hey, even if they're only in the mid-field this year, at least it's not ugly! Well, not until Maldonado bends it out of shape...

Lotus are highly confident in their new car. It's got the ingredients to be a much nicer car to work with than last year's E22. The question (other than how long Maldonado can last without hitting anything) is whether it's actually enough to move them far enough up the grid. Improving on last year is easy, especially for the Enstone team, but improving overall performance relative to everyone else is another challenge, especially as there are now four fewer cars at the back of the grid to hide any poor showings. Roll on Australia!!

Oh, and here's hoping that SOMEBODY can find some cans of coloured paint for this year's F1 grid. There's less red on this Lotus than last year (and smaller gold accents), fewer colours on the Force India, the possibility of a white McLaren and chrome-silver Mercedes, a white Williams, no green Caterham or red Marussia... soon the only two teams on the grid that are going to have any significant colour to them will be Scuderia Ferrari and Red Bull Racing. That's not good enough! I want more colours, dammit!

Images from F1 Fanatic

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Force India Previews Its New Nose and Livery

Sergio Perez & Nico Hülkenberg adopting the traditional "new F1 car" pose
While Williams Martini Racing has only shown us digital images of its new car, Force India have just unveiled a real one at its (tedious) reveal event in Mexico City, a city in Mexico which will host the Mexican Grand Prix this year. Mexican driver Sergio "Checo" Perez and not-Mexican Nico Hülkenberg were there to take the cover off and ramble on about pretty colours and Mexico being nice and stuff, in-between business ramblings from team boss and hair fashion rebel Vijay Mallya.

However, this is not actually the 2015 VJM08. It's last year's car with a 2015-spec nose and Sahara Force India's new livery, which reduces the number of different colours on it from five to three, ditching yellow and green (unless it has Soft or Intermediate tyres on). Also, white has been replaced with silver, and plenty of it... presumably because if it looks a bit more like a Mercedes, it will go around corners faster. The new livery also sports many Mexican sponsors, including Jose Cuervo (alcoholic beverages), Telcel and Claro (telecomms), the latter two moving away from Sauber who no longer have a Mexican driver.

How long will it be before they have to rename it Force Mexico? Maybe they'd need Esteban Gutierrez - who was moved from a Sauber race seat to a Ferrari reserve role - to move there and be competitive.

But as we must always do these days with newly-revealed Formula 1 cars, let's focus on the new nose. Last year's Force India had one of the biggest nose dildos of any team, rivaled only by Scuderia Toro Rosso. This year's "thumb tip" nose is designed as much by regulations as by aerodynamic principles, as discussed in the Williams post below this one, but this car's nose has a solution more in line with what Red Bull did last year, with a U-shaped top section growing out from the stubby little nose tip to make the nose wide while still allowing air underneath it at the crucial point. It's also been painted to draw the eye away from the protrusion. Black is slimming, don't you know. It could also be argued that it looks a bit like a Marussia nose from last year.

The team's technical director, Andrew Green, says the new regs demanding a lower nose "caused a loss in terms of downforce," and that "we’ve been working to claw back all that performance." This is almost definitely going to be true for all the teams, as there is less freedom to manipulate the air around the bottom of the car.

The new nose - and the rest of the 2015 car, which we shall see in February - is to be honed and developed at Toyota's aerodynamics test centre in Cologne, Germany, a world-class facility which the Brackley-based team will use from this year onwards for aero research, having previously hired out the facility for its very highly-regarded wind tunnel. This will allow them to use a half-scale model as well. Meanwhile their own aero facilities will be available to external customers who ask nicely (read: pay a lot).

Less encouraging news is that the team will miss the first of the three four-day pre-season tests next month, for undisclosed reasons. Lotus had to skip the first four days last year because their car basically wasn't finished yet, and they had, by all accounts, a terrible season. Hopefully this year Checo and The Hülk won't be held back by a poorly-developed car like Pastor and Romain were in last year's pathetic and hideous Lotus. In fact, Lotus have switched to Mercedes engines this year, so they'll be giving Force India a run for their money in the race not to be the slowest of the teams using the fastest engine.

We will see how the Force India VJM08 is different behind the new nose at the start of the second pre-season test on 19th-22nd February at Cataluña. The rest of the teams will appear for test week one on the 2st-4th of Feb, at Jerez.

For now, more official livery pictures (from F1 Fanatic) and a screenshot from the reveal live stream.

Williams FW37 Previews Flaccid 2015 Grid

Images from F1 Fanatic/Williams
The Williams F1 team had a hell of a season last year. After years of scrapping for points yielded just one surprise race win (from Pastor Maldonado of all people), the new rules in 2014 coupled with getting partial factory support from master engine builder Mercedes-Benz saw the privately-owned British outfit score podium finishes in 8 of the 19 races, thanks mostly to flying Finn Valtteri Bottas but also to Ferrari refugee Felipe Massa. Although, perhaps it was all down to the newly-acquired Martini Racing go-faster stripes. After all, the relatively low-drag FW36 did regularly have the best straight-line speed, making it a hard car to overtake even in DRS zones.

However, like almost all of the cars last year, the FW36 had a phallic nose. Not the worst, but not ideal in any case. The rule-makers noticed the ridicule and have attempted to fix the problem with a new set of nose regulations that state:
  • The nose tip cross section is limited to 9,000mm², the same as 2014
  • The nose must sit 135mm-220mm above the floor, lower than last season
  • The tip must be no wider than 140mm
  • The nose must widen to a second cross section 150mm behind the tip, which itself must be no less than 20,000mm²
  • The maximum width is 330mm at this second cross-section
  • Both cross sections have to be symmetrical about the centre line (unlike last year's Lotus forklift)
  • The remaining length of the nose going back towards the chassis must have a tapering cross section (it must get wider from tip to chassis)
  • The nose tip will have to start about halfway along the front wing (unlike last year's Mercedes, where it started slightly behind the front wing)

The 2015 Williams-Mercedes FW37 (right of image) shows us the result.

Don't laugh, it's cold in January
Er, I hate to break it to you, FIA, but you've made it worse. We've gone from "finger" to "thumb," or if you're older than 11 years old, "erect" to "flaccid." They were hoping for Ferrari-style noses, but the teams have generally decided after last year that making the lowest section as narrow as possible is the best solution for getting air under and through the car to the diffuser. So they've made the same solution fit the new regulations (or at least Williams have).

Maybe when reserve driver Susie Wolff is nearby, it transforms into a 2014-spec nose? Wouldn't that count as active aero?

No, your car is not as cool as this. Even other F1 cars aren't as cool as this. Deal with it.
As for the rest of the car, the FW37 is essentially an evolution of last year, building on a car that - with a bit more luck - could've won a race against the works Mercedes cars. However, the new nose rules had a big effect on the overall aerodynamic performance of the car, according to technical head Pat Symonds. "The new front bulkhead and nose geometry had much more of an impact than we had initially anticipated and the effect on the aero was profound. The team have worked hard on pulling back the deficit these regulations have made for us," he recently said to the press. What's more, he says the team's desire to secure 3rd in the Constructor's Championship against Ferrari (a team with about double the budget and staff) lead to them putting more effort into the 2014 car in the latter phase of the season than they would have. While this could potentially compromise the 2015 car, Symonds assures us that the team had become big enough to work on both cars in parallel. Hopefully this means they can stick it to Lewis and Nico this year. Martini stripes are the coolest and deserve to be showered in victory champagne, as do nine-time constructors' champions Williams Racing.

Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas will pilot the coolest car on the grid, with Susie Wolff getting a chance to show us that she's more than just a novelty who's married her way into F1 despite never winning a single high-end motor race ever. In DTM she only managed a couple of 7th place finishes in seven years. How is she more worthy of that seat than GP2 champions and runners up, regardless of gender? You have to wonder. Still, if she can match the other two in terms of speed and consistency, there will be slightly less grounds to complain. Slightly.

Stay tuned for Force India's reveal!

UPDATE (1/2) - Images of the real car have been released:

Written for Small Blog V8. Do not copy without permission. Images from F1 Fanatic.