After five straight titles for Michael Schumacher and Ferrari from 2000 to 2004 it was Renault who took the fight to the Prancing Horse. A fight helped in no small part by their Mass Damper system. The dampers, a sprung weight located in the nose section helped the R25 and R26 achieve greater front end stability over the bumps and curbs. A similar system was fitted to the rear of the car for the start of the 2006 season.
The legality of the system was first put to the test at the 2006 German Grand Prix where Renault submitted one of their cars to the stewards for scrutineering. The stewards passed the car as legal but the FIA wasn’t satisfied with the ruling, they took it to the court of appeal who upheld the appeal citing it as a moveable aero device. The court didn’t manage to explain how the system could be an aero device if it was enclosed by body work?!
In 2008/09 teams up and down the pit lane started adding ‘shark fin’ engine covers to the cars to improve the air flow over the rear wing. McLaren took this a step further in 2010 developing the F-Duct. An innocuous little air intake situated on the front of the car (next to the ‘F’ on the sponsors Vodafone logo giving it its name) channelled air through to the cockpit. On the straights, the drivers could cover this vent with their left leg/knee to redirect the air flow through the ‘shark fin’ to be released in front of the rear wing, distorting the airflow over it making the car more drag efficient along the straights. Sadly, after just one year this great innovation was shelved in favour of DRS for this year (which involves a flap opening….that’s it!)
This week it was confirmed that exhaust blown diffusers will be banned at the end of the year with periscope exhaust systems becoming compulsory from 2012. The immediate bad news for Renault is the ban on qualifying spec engine mapping from this weekends European Grand Prix in Valencia. This one lap setting pushed the maximum amount of gas out of the exhaust and through the diffuser giving Red Bull in particular increased downforce. The teams now have to run the same mapping for both the qualifying and the race. With further mapping restrictions to be in place by Silverstone there will be little advantage for the teams to find in this area for the rest of the year.
So what will we see on the grid next year? Could we see exhaust gases being used like the F-Duct out of the periscope exhaust?