Why pontoons aren’t consensus in the paddock

Formula 1 wanted to improve the performance on the track by introducing new rules, and for this it was decided to limit the development zones in the cars in 2022.

Many feared that the aerodynamic restrictions of F1’s new technical regulations would result in identical cars, differing only in livery. But those fears disappeared during the 2022 F1 presentations: designers still had some freedom to express themselves and stand out.

This freedom in design proved to be a driving force in last year’s technology battle and continues to be an important issue for teams fine-tuning the new cars that will hit the track in a few weeks.

If we look at the elements that could make a difference in the next campaign, the obvious starting point is the pontoons, as all the teams have had to rethink the solution that Ferrari inaugurated in 2017 and which the rest of the grid adopted until the end. 2021 year.

Detailed side view of the Ferrari SF70H.

A few years ago, the Scuderia had the idea of ​​placing the upper side impact structures (SIS) lower on the body, placed at the level of the side legs. By doing this, it improved the local flow, allowing the air intake to be reduced in size. However, changes made by the FIA ​​in the new regulations to accommodate the best SISs have had the effect of excluding the ‘Ferrari philosophy’ for 2022.

SISs are both a limitation and an opportunity: finding the perfect compromise on a specific concept can help achieve performance, which is especially important when you know that TBSs cannot be moved during the season.

It also means any mid-year concept change always brings headaches, which Aston Martin, Williams and McLaren are experiencing in 2022.

It was the least of the secrets in the paddock as the area where Mercedes’ best SIS was placed last year was closed at its fairgrounds, with the remaining “zero” side leg closer to the center of the car. Although this is one of the factors that allows Mercedes to build such a beautiful car, the main contribution comes from a feature that the team has championed for several years and others have adopted in the last two seasons. .

Side leg of Mercedes W13 compared to W10.

This is the fact that the volume in the rear part has been removed to place the radiators there (see the design of the Mercedes W10 above). Obviously, this requires meeting some challenges in terms of design, taking into account the crash tests that must be passed for homologation. However, the aerodynamic advantage outweighs any compromises in weight or structure given the number of teams that have followed the concept since then.

At the start of 2022, around five different pontoon solutions were identified, but it soon became clear that teams were moving towards a reduced number.

Red Bull Racing RB18 side pods.

Landing with wind in their sails

The drop-down solution envisioned by Red Bull was the most favored solution by the paddock in 2022, as a number of teams adopted it. To explain this, this design probably offered the largest performance window for the lowest development cost.

This is a key point considering both budget constraints and time constraints in wind tunnel and CFD. Moreover, given that the team that led Max Verstappen to the title last year opted for this solution, it made sense for teams lower down the pecking order to follow suit.

The back of the AlphaTauri AT03 in the drawing

Pontoon of Alpine A522

Interestingly, sister team AlphaTauri started the 2022 campaign with a similar but less detailed tweak, showing it was just one of the factors contributing to the car’s overall performance.

Alpine also started the year with a lowered landing design, which the team then optimized in the following weeks, taking inspiration from Ferrari’s “bathtub”. As for Aston Martin, Williams and McLaren, they all teamed up on the lows for 2022, some closer to the Red Bull design than others.

New Aston Martin AMR22 sidepod

Williams FW44 side view comparison

Comparison of the McLaren MCL36

One of the interesting and unique features of Red Bull’s pontoons is the use of a shovel-shaped air intake for the cake. The upper uncovered section initially monopolized the flow that did not pass through this corridor, allowing a greater amount of air to flow to the intake side. This solution also created a lip that divides the air flow, one part entering the pontoon, and the other going to the lower, more rod-shaped part of the element and moving along its side. McLaren also took this direction with the evolution presented at the Singapore Grand Prix, but did not completely master the design.

Red Bull Racing RB18 new floor

Photo: Giorgio Piola

McLaren sidepods details

Photo: Giorgio Piola

Ferrari benefited from the re-introduction of the cooling grilles like no other, with the barrel-like solution mentioned above. The grilles of the F1-75 are cut into the bodywork so that the rejected heat interacts best with the external airflow to improve their passage towards the rear of the car.

The Italian team considered it appropriate to make small changes during the season. But with Haas being the only team to stick with this design in 2022, it means it’s expensive to develop, especially since the original Haas design is already similar.

The delicate subject of resources may well explain why there is still no consensus on the best possible design for the side legs of the new F1 cars.

Ferrari F1-75 side struts

Photo: Giorgio Piola

Haas VF-22 new sidepods, Hungarian GP

Photo: Giorgio Piola

Also read:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *