Lotus' James Allison (right) at the launch of the Lotus E20
With an “interesting” new development recently introduced by the Lotus team, part 3 in the series looks at what effect the new system may have in the second half of the season.
In first practice of the German grand prix in Hockenheim, Kimi Räikkönen’s car emerged from the pits with a scoop on either side of the roll-hoop, a tube running down the middle of the car to the beam wing, and an outlet hole underneath the so-called “monkey seat.”
Lotus’ technical director James Allison had described the updates for that weekend as “interesting,” and it seems the Englishman is a master of understatement as well as aerodynamics, because the paddock has been abuzz about it ever since.
Further intrigue was added in practice two of the Hungarian grand prix. Having been lapping around slowly for a while, Lotus’ team radio confirmed to Räikkönen that the “rear wing is good" and "is working." He was then told to begin lapping as normal.
But what does this intriguingly visual new development actually do? Opinion seems to be divided on the subject.
Some commentators have referred to the device as another “Double Drag Reduction System” or “DDRS,” much like that pioneered by Mercedes at the start of the season.
Others have referred to it as a kind of “passive F-Duct” in reference to the technology McLaren introduced in 2010, where the driver would cover a whole in the cockpit with some part of his body (knee or glove), diverting air through the car and reducing drag.
The logic for both is sound—the F-Ducts of 2010 were quickly banned as the driver movement involved raised concerns over safety, as well as bordering on a banned concept of “moveable aerodynamic devices.”
But the Mercedes DDRS system uses an exception in the rules for the DRS system—the speed boost brought about by a lack of drag that was introduced to increase overtaking—where the act of engaging the DRS allows tubes attached to the rear wing to channel air through the car to “stall” the front wing. Theoretically, this should provide an increase in speed, particularly for qualifying when DRS can be used at the drivers’ discretion, possibly reducing lap time by as much as 0.3 seconds.
But more importantly, what the FIA’s ruling on DRS provided was a loophole through which teams could use the primary act of switching on the DRS to produce some secondary function as well.
It is this ruling that Lotus have said prompted the development of their system, so the idea that it is a purely passive F-Duct system therefore seems flawed. Likewise, it does not seem to include any tubes directed towards the front of the car, so it is clearly not the same as the Mercedes system either.
More likely, the answer is something between the two. As the illustration shows, when the DRS is closed, the air is channeled down through the engine cover, and blows over the top of the car’s diffuser (illustrated with the red arrows). Rather than provide any speed boost, this is more likely to be aimed at increasing downforce, in much the same way as the “cold-blowing exhausts” of 2011.
However, when the DRS is activated (illustrated with green arrows), the air will then be channeled at a higher angle and out over the beam wing. This would then further increase the drag reduction from the DRS and thus improve top speed on the straights.
This is, perhaps, an oversimplification of the system and only one possible way in which it could function, but from the limited data we have so far it seems the most plausible.
Lotus have not yet used the system in either qualifying or the race, but if any top speed is to be gained from the development we are sure to see it for the high speed circuits of Spa and, in particular, Monza—the next two grand prix on the calendar.
If it functions to the team’s expectations, the already competitive Lotus team could become the class of the field and, with Räikkönen still within striking distance of the world championship, it could be a decisive innovation.
Unfortunately for them, much like many innovative ideas in Formula One, it’s also banned for next season.