Atlas F1   Technical Focus:
Design trends for 2000

  by Will Gray, England

Overview of the technical and design changes the teams
have done to their cars for the 2000 season.

The year 2000 will be a year of evolution, catch-up, and chase. With the regulations pretty unchanged from 1999, what could we expect the design teams in one of the world's most technologically advanced design houses to come up with? The answer is simple - a McLaren!

Well, O.K., it's not quite that simple, as McLaren themselves will have significantly developed their car - and let's not forget that the spoils in the manufacturer's championship last year actually went to the red corner. Overall, most trends on this year's crop of Formula One cars have developed from the Silver Arrows and the Prancing Horses of 1999. But there are, as always, a few technical surprises in store.

When design development is not forced by change, revolution cannot be expected, and the principles of elementary design become more critical to gain that all-important advance. These principle design cues are simple:

1) Reduce the Weight of the Car
2) Lower the Centre of Gravity of the Car
3) Reduce the frontal area of the car
4) Concentrate on details

Looking at the new cars, this is exactly how the 1999 contenders have morphed into the pretenders to the 2000 crown.

Reducing the weight is generally a matter of cutting designs down to finer margins - trimming the fat off you might say. Some teams, however, were flabbier than others last year, and it is these who should make larger strides to close up the field. For instance, Sauber claim to have reduced their overall weight by up to 30kg - a huge amount considering the cars weigh in at around a mere 600kg. The anorexic leaders, meanwhile, have to find new technology to reduce their weight, as these parts are already close to the limits of failure. Ferrari claims to have developed new materials for engine and transmission, which, presumably, will offer the required stiffness and strength whilst reducing weight.

Although cars are limited to a lower weight limit, designers strive to get the weight to an absolute minimum. If the weight is reduced below the limit, the car has to carry to ballast to make up the weight advantage, and this means that in the end, most teams hit the lower limit, but all carry different amounts of ballast. It is the teams with the most ballast that are at an advantage, because this ballast can be positioned as low as possible on the car. This is the main way to reduce the centre of gravity. Unballasted weight, however, is a secret closely guarded by all teams...suffice to say those going quickest will be carrying most ballast.

The overall weight reduction is not the only essential ingredient in reducing centre of gravity. Every component must be carefully positioned to lower its height in the car - and also to bring it closer to the centre of gravity to reduce polar moment of inertia. The engine is crucial in this area, and a number of teams claim to have lowered the engine in the chassis to achieve a centre of gravity reduction. Engines are big movers this year, with BMW and Honda entering in 2000, new engines for Mercedes and Peugeot, and a revised and improved version of Stewart's '99 powerplant for Jaguar. All can be assured of being lower and lighter than their predecessors.

The driving position is another area where centre of gravity is important, and there are a number of clues in the latest cars, which show this has been an area of concentration. The high noses of recent trends are drooping. The raised nose contains the raised feet of the driver, creating a higher centre of gravity, but offers the best flow under the car. Teams appear to be coming to an accepted compromise between this and the improved flow a high nose appears to achieve - except Ferrari, of course, who are in fact turning their noses up to the opposition!

To reduce drag, the frontal area must be reduced in any manner possible! The key to achieving this is by interpreting the rules to their limits, using 'legality fins'. This is not new, but has been taken to further extremes this year, with cars developing fins like a rash. Many teams have gone for the McLaren-style square front chassis, with fins leading up to the cockpit. This is actually less of a copy than first is apparent. The rules stipulate bodywork limits in certain areas, and have a square 'rule box' restricting the chassis development in this area - it just so happens that designing to those limits offers the best solution in many cases. The cockpit sides are another area where teams have trimmed off the excess. Ferrari, Jordan, and Arrows have gone for some controversial (but legal!) bodywork fins - which allows extremely low cockpit sides, others have a full height padding, with lowered channels closer to the centre of the car - most pronounced on the Minardi.

The final area of detail consideration is where the most gains will come from, as this is an area where innovation may appear. The main area of interest before the first race is the exhaust exits. Whilst many teams have stuck with the conventional 'through suspension' route, Ferrari's periscope design (where the exhaust exits at the top rear of the sidepods) has been copied on several cars. Meanwhile, one team has come up with an innovative new solution - guess who! McLaren's exhausts exit through the central diffuser. This was deemed a 'no-no' around five years ago, when teams concluded the exhaust gases offered increased but fluctuating downforce. When on the throttle, the high-speed air exiting through the diffuser gave a low pressure in this area, and so more downforce. However, if the driver lifted off the power, the downforce reduced. McLaren appear to have found the solution to this, and you can be assured, there will be a number of teams beavering away in their design offices testing the new theory.

Even with the rules remaining fairly static, the cars have still developed, and even a little innovation has managed to creap in. The cars should be closer, but engines could be the key factor in the championship this year.

So what will the grid look like?

All teams have made evolutionary steps in weight and frontal area reduction, with the teams at the lower end of the grid making the biggest strides to close up the field. But as with any year, when the field closes up, someone will always find a way to run away. Small changes here and there can make a significant difference in times where rules change little. So what sets each team apart from the rest? Let's first have a look at the two leading constructors:


The McLaren MP4-15

With what was widely renowned as the best car last season, McLaren must have found it tough to improve. They have done so by exploring the rule limits further than other teams playing catch-up have been able to do. Whilst the nose has shortened, it remains the same height, and the much-copied front chassis legality fins are more pronounced as the top of the front chassis has been lowered further. In another trimming exercise, the car has fairly high cockpit sides, with channels between them and the engine cover, to reduce frontal area, whilst the sidepods have also been lowered.

Details are where the new McLaren excels in innovation. The much-talked-about exhaust design, going against the trend of periscopes and returning to exits in the diffuser, should give more downforce. In positioning the two exhausts close together in the central diffuser, McLaren may have found a way of making this more stable than in the past, and neither driver has complained of problems with rear end stability so it must have worked!

Whilst the trend-setting large bargeboards remain, and the team have stuck with the flick-ups at the rear of the sidepods, another innovation is the exits for the cooling system. The position of the exit is critical to obtain the best flow through the cooling system, and McLaren have gone for an exit through the top of the sidepod, rather than the old position directly in front of the flick-up. Oh, and they've got a new lighter and more powerful engine from Mercedes. What more could they want!


The Ferrari F1 2000

The Ferrari team has not been relaxing either. The front chassis retains one of the highest noses in F1, but has trimmed down - the underside sweep is steeper and more pronounced, and the top has flattened and gained some legality fins. The team has also gone for the opposite route to McLaren on the cockpit sides - using legality fins to ensure they are low to provide a smaller frontal area whilst allowing maximum flow to the rear wing. The sidepod inlets now start high and drop down, giving the appearance of a larger inlet area (a possible sign of an increased cooling requirement), which would increase drag. In a similar style to McLaren, however, the airbox intake above the drivers' head is set back from the cockpit, and a shaped headrest guides the air from the driver's helmet. The Ferrari design appears neater than McLaren's, and the airbox intake is positioned in cleaner air. The legality 'ears' just below the airbox intake are present once again.

The team has developed the engine to give a reduced centre of gravity. They have used new materials in the transmission and engine, to create smaller and lighter cylinder heads, and have increased the Vee angle from 80 to 90, which has the effect of lowering the engine overall. They also claim to be using a slightly different principle on the front suspension, although have disclosed nothing further.

The periscope exhausts have been retained, as have the bargeboards, which are smaller but more intricate than McLaren's. The team is also continuing with the V-shaped front wing, which aims to put the wing section head-on to the angle of the oncoming air. In details, there appears little in the way of the levels of innovation on the McLaren, and the car, ironically, appears to aim to do the opposite to McLaren in many areas. This proves that there is not just one single way to a good F1 car.

Next week, we shall be investigating the efforts of the other teams.

Will Gray© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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