By Mohammad Ali
Prior to introducing the teams’ new sidepod designs and improvements, it is important to touch upon the concept of a sidepod and the benefits it brings to F1 cars.
Sidepods bring numerous advantages to a F1 racer. Firstly, it acts as a safety measure, housing major crash structures to protect the drivers in the case of a side impact. Secondly, sidepods can provide aerodynamic advantages by channeling the air onto the floor to produce more downforce, an example of this was on Ferrari’s 2017 iteration the SF-70H, when its bizarre sidepod design caused much discussion in the paddock; it was thought that their design optimised the aerodynamic efficiency of the car. Lastly, and perhaps the most obvious reason is the cooling capacity which accompany the sidepods themselves. Inside the sidepods are radiators to provide cooling for the engine, and more recently intercoolers have been positioned there as well to provide cooling for the turbochargers. In recent years, the size of sidepods has grown significantly. This has been due to the introduction of turbocharged F1 engines, that need intercoolers to keep them cool, which are housed within the sidepods. In recent years, there has a been a greater concentration by the teams on the cars’ aerodynamic ability, rather than only creating the fastest engine. The heightened attention to aerodynamic efficiency could also explain the increased size of the sidepod.
For the new 2018 season, Formula 1 teams have focused their energy on improving the sidepod design. More lenient regulations on bodywork design and structure has lead to very innovative concepts; this was highlighted on the SF-70H in the 2017 season. This time round, the other F1 teams have followed suit. At its core, only two concepts exist, Red Bull, Haas, Sauber, Williams, and Renault all took a leaf out of Ferrari’s book, separating the side impact structure, and the sidepod, positioning the impact structure ahead of the sidepod. This design, allows for the disrupted air flowing from the front wheels a greater distance to re-laminate onto the side of the car’s body for greater aerodynamic performance. This concept was exhibited by Ferrari in the 2017 season and is now being used by most of the paddock. However, there is another approach to achieve similar results, which has been displayed by Mercedes, and for the 2018 season, McLaren have also adopted this concept. Both Mercedes and McLaren have moved the position of the front axle away from the sidepod, essentially increasing the racers’ wheelbase. In the end though, these two philosophies bring the same results for the same reason, greater aerodynamic efficiency by giving the turbulent air more time to laminate itself, by increasing the distance it has to travel to sidepod.
Amongst the teams, there are great variations between the radiator inlets: their position, shape, and size. The positioning of the radiator inlets is the most important. If the inlets have a high position, this allows for a steeper undercut to the lower section of the sidepod. A car with this setup creates a low pressure at the bottom which the air races to fill, hence increasing the air speed at the bottom of the sidepods, and down the side of the car, towards the aerodynamic components at the back of the car, thus generating more downforce. However, there are downsides to this system. Positioning the radiator inlets so high means that the car’s bodywork is also raised, and this increases the car’s centre of gravity, placing extra load on the tyres when cornering. Yet, all F1 teams have opted for this system this season, with Mercedes switching from the low radiator inlet mounting position from the 2017 season in favor of this one for the 2018 season, so the positives must outweigh the negatives. With the first race of the season just around the corner, we will find out soon.
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