AlphaTauri may well be struggling for pace and points this season, but their recent upgrades to try and address the slump have caught the eye in the F1 paddock.
So much so, that even Mercedes have headed in the same direction as them in relation to their rear wing design (more on that design soon).
Let’s delve into the technical details of these updates and see in which direction they are heading.
A significant Silverstone upgrade
At Silverstone, the AT04 received a new floor, floor edges, and bodywork.
The sister team of Red Bull has struggled the most this season in slow corners. In these situations, the lack of downforce becomes evident, which is essential to maintain sufficient speed in corners. Alpha Tauri’s engineers have been working on this issue for months, hoping that things will improve after Silverstone.
The main change was the increased height of the car, specifically the floor. A higher car height allows for increased airflow through the tunnels, creating more downforce.
However, a higher car height doesn’t solve all the problems, as it becomes challenging to direct the airflow effectively without letting it interfere from the sides. This becomes the main objective during the design of the car’s floor: finding the optimal height.
— Scuderia AlphaTauri (@AlphaTauriF1) July 22, 2023
Increased airflow also accelerates the air through the tunnels under the car, creating lower pressure and consequently generating more downforce. However, the lower pressure beneath the car causes the air passing over the car’s sides to want to enter the floor, which is not desirable.
To counter this, Alpha Tauri introduced new floor edges with even more prominent vortex generators, whose main role is to create a “barrier” between the airflow passing under the car and around it.
— Scuderia AlphaTauri (@AlphaTauriF1) July 21, 2023
Despite the updates, the new package didn’t deliver the expected performance at the British GP, as the drivers finished in 16th and 17th position respectively , far from any chance of scoring points which the team desperately needed.
However, new changes came to the race in Hungary, too, where besides the drivers, more changes were visible on the car itself.
Intriguing rear wing design
After the dismal race at Silverstone, Alpha Tauri announced that the second part of the updates would arrive in Hungary and, ahead of first practice, a very unusual and extraordinary design of the rear wing could be seen.
With the new regulations that came into effect in 2022, the whole philosophy of the car’s aerodynamics has changed with the main goal of reducing the “dirty” air formed behind the car. This potentially allows for easier following of the car in front, resulting in better and more exciting racing.
Alpha Tauri has massive updates at #HungarianGP:
Front Wing, Nose Tip, Floor Body, Rear Wing Flap
— F1newsletter.com (@F1_Newsletter) July 21, 2023
This also led to a completely different appearance of the rear wing, which now has much smoother edges, connecting the endplate and the main element into a single unit. The reason for this change is that exposed edges create vortices and thus dirty air.
However, engineers like these vortices created behind the rear wing because they accelerate the air and increase downforce. A larger low-pressure area behind the car better ”connects” the vortices from the diffuser and the rear wing, significantly helping with better performance.
Teams are therefore trying to find loopholes in the regulations to expose the rear wing edges as much as possible, creating these vortices. Alpha Tauri took this idea to the extreme and designed an aggressive rear wing, where the main flap is connected to the endplate at just one short point.
A similar, but not as aggressive design, can also be seen on the Aston Martin and Alfa Romeo cars.
Points were on the table in Hungary
The problem with the lack of downforce that has been troubling AlphaTauri since the beginning of the season is causing the most trouble at the rear end of the car. Rear-end instability is the biggest issue in slow corners, which we mentioned are a significant enemy of the Italian team.
The configuration of the track in Hungary consists mostly of slow corners and only one straight, which seemed like the worst combination for AlphaTauri. Therefore, teams bring similar rear and front wings as they do for Monaco, trying to increase downforce as much as possible in exchange for a higher drag.
Both drivers had access to the new parts, and it seems they are working well, as confirmed by the main engineers. If there hadn’t been an incident in the first corner involving AlphaTauri’s new driver, Daniel Ricciardo, he would likely have been fighting for points at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
The team has reason to hope for better results in the future.
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Other updates needed for perfect harmony
To ensure the entire update makes sense, the team had to change a few more details to ensure the car functions successfully as a whole. This is essential to keep in mind because sometimes when analysing only one aspect of the car, we forget that the most critical aspect is how the new parts will interact with the rest of the car.
One of these minor changes was made to the upper rear bodywork. This improvement includes widening the rear bodywork to form a sophisticated cannon shape. According to Alpha Tauri engineers, this modification aims to reduce the damage to the airflow caused by yaw and steer.
The wider section of bodywork increases the static pressure, making it more resistant to the turbulence introduced to the airflow in that part of the car as it is turned across the oncoming air.
This makes the airflow there more robust and consistent, allowing the floor edge beneath to work more effectively. This, in turn, makes Alpha Tauri’s car more powerful and consistent in both corners and straights.
Additionally, significant changes were made to the tunnels located on the diffuser. They now allow for greater lateral expansion of vortices, which has a positive impact on the airflow behind the rear tires.
More challenges ahead for AlphaTauri
Although it can be noticed that the team is heading in the right direction, a lot of hard work is still needed for AlphaTauri to be in a better position in the standings.
Their main rivals will be the lower-ranked teams like Haas, Williams, and Alfa Romeo, who currently have more points than them. However, a few good races can easily change the situation for this team.
With the next race at Spa, a power-hungry track known for its speed and the maximum precision required from the drivers. This will be another significant test.