Mercedes are one of three teams testing their young drivers at Magny-Cours in France this week. These few days are valuable for developing and evaluating up-and-coming drivers but, more importantly in this era of limited testing, they present an opportunity to test potential upgrades. Mercedes are using the time wisely and testing a new DDRS system similar to that being developed by Lotus as well as a new exhaust system.
The DDRS system allows the rear wing to be stalled at a specific speeds to reduce drag and increase straight-line speed. The system needs to operate only at speeds higher than that of the fastest corner on the track, to allow for maximum downforce when it is most needed. The configuration therefore requires evaluation and fine-tuning before it can be raced.
The new exhaust layout makes use of the Coanda effect – the tendency of a fluid jet to be attracted to a nearby surface – to divert exhaust flow to the floor around the diffuser, increasing the speed of the air moving through the diffuser and thereby creating extra downforce due to lower pressure under the rear of the car. According to team principal Ross Brawn, the benefits of the new exhaust could be significant for low-speed traction, one of the areas where the car currently suffers.
Mercedes have struggled with tyre management since the beginning of the season, and have therefore put off developing the new exhaust system and instead focused on understanding the tyres. Now that tyre degradation is no longer such a problem on the W03, Mercedes are pushing to develop the car and finish the season on a high note.
No amount of development will put Mercedes back in the championship fight, but the improvements will carry over to the 2013 car as the regulations are to remain fairly constant through to next season. It is therefore crucial for their bid to return to the front of the grid that Mercedes use this time as productively as possible. Any progress made will be revealed in the races, but there has not yet been any indication of when the team expects to run the updated car.
In recent years, Formula One teams have conducted a test in Abu Dhabi at the end of the season for their young stars. It is a rare chance to gain experience in a Formula One car while still climbing the racing ladder. This year, the Young Driver Test is split in two – at Silverstone this week, and then at Abu Dhabi as usual at the end of the year.
This week’s test takes place on Thursday 12 and Friday 13 July at the home of British motorsport, just a few days after the British Grand Prix. Only three teams are taking part – Williams, Marussia and HRT. The other nine teams will test in Abu Dhabi.
This is the only opportunity available to the teams to test on track for the rest of this season, which raises the question of why so few teams have chosen to take part. It’s not only about testing the young drivers. There is valuable data to collect from running the cars, perhaps with new parts that could find their way onto the cars for later races. Yet most of the teams have chosen not to run this week, which makes very little sense from a car development point of view.
Williams are testing their reserve driver, Valtteri Bottas, who has been taking part in some of the Friday practice sessions during the season. Bottas is the reigning GP3 champion, and his experience in the FW34 should make this a productive test both for him and the Williams team.
HRT will be giving Chinese driver Ma Qing Hua his first taste of a Formula 1 car today and tomorrow. The 24-year old from Shanghai won the 2011 Chinese Touring Car Championship and joined HRT’s development programme in April of this year. After failing to qualify for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, the team has made steady progress and is now able to consistently compete with Marussia on the track. This test will be crucial to HRT continuing to move forward.
The Marussia F1 team is still reeling from Maria De Villota’s horrific testing accident last Tuesday. She had been lined up to drive at the Young Driver Test, but the team has had to make other plans after the crash. Marussia will be running their GP2 drivers, Max Chilton and Rio Haryanto, each of whom has tested an F1 car once before. The two drivers will each have one day in the car.