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How Aston Martin are Developing the AMR21

At the time of this writing in (June 2021) Aston Martin had only been back as a pseudo-works team for Formula 1 for a handful of races. The showing thus far has been less than spectacular. Yet with the possible exception of Red Bull, Aston Martin has been responsible for the most heavily and continuously updated car since the first race of the 2021 season. So they would appear to be heavily invested in doing something about that relative stagnation.

It is well-known that the Racing Point FI Team has been officially rebranded for 2021 as Aston Martin. However, Aston Martin still uses Mercedes power units and so their technical developments have been constricted to the AMR21 chassis, which is itself an evolution of the RP20 car previously used by Racing Point. This throws up the question as to whether Aston Martin can really now be considered a fully-fledged Formula 1 works team. But whatever the answer to that thorny question, there is no doubt that there has been much exciting development going on.

Already, Aston Martin has developed new sidepods and an engine cover. This in combination with a new floor, diffuser, and vane is believed to have shaved off 0.5 seconds per lap in recent races. This has not been enough to see any marked improvement relative to the main competitors, whose own developments have kept Aston Martin’s overall standing relatively stagnant.

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Aston Martin have come up several times against regulation changes that have affected the flow to that same recently developed diffuser. The regulation changes in question have seen winglet width clipped and the permitted length of outer diffuser strakes halved. In light of these changes, Aston Martin have been faced with finding a way to keep airflow inboard of the rear wheel from being sucked beneath the floor and disrupting the local flow. This in turn has had an effect on downforce. All of this is exacerbated by the disproportionate effect these changes have had on low-rake cars like the AMR21.

Yet the challenge has been met head-on and – in the spirit of a true works team – Aston Martin has been entertaining all manner of potential solutions to this problem.

The Problem

As mentioned, regulation length reductions in the winglets and the outer diffuser strakes have caused an airflow disharmony for the AMR21. This has had the ultimate effect of reducing downflow. This is an issue that could have all sorts of adverse effects, from losing seconds because of poor track grip all the way up to sending a car careening towards the high-risk hazard signage.

Before regulation changes, it was immensely helpful for preventing a sidewards suck for the flow to be joined up from the brake duct winglets to the diffuser strakes. The essence of the problem can be traced to the newly clipped winglets, which have simply made it less easy to join up that flow. On low rake cars like the AMR21, the floor (and thus the diffuser) does not rise up enough to meet the brake duct.

This is the problem into which Aston Martin have been pouring all available expertise and resources and, although we haven’t seen any results yet, there have been some very innovative solutions proposed to deal with the issue.

The Solution

Aston Martin have developed a two-pronged approach to getting around these official restrictions and solving the airflow issue. The goal has been to recreate that joined-up flow that was possible before the winglets were clipped.

Firstly, airflow convergence at the hindmost quarter of the car has been altered by means of a revamped engine cover and sidepod. Specifically, the sidepod ramp has been given a much less severe inclination and extended further backwards towards the point where it meets the floor. This has had the effect of aligning the flow towards the inner face of the rear wheel and the brake duct.

With the angle of the flow towards that most important section of the car altered in this way, the outer diffuser strakes have been reworked as well. This has compounded the effect of the flow to this section, regaining some of the lost downforce.

The second element of the approach has involved sealing the floor of the car to prevent the flow from being sucked beneath. There has been much time and energy spent on a range of improvements in precisely this area. It was Aston Martin (and Mercedes) after all who launched the Z-floor, which has now become almost a universal standard across all Formula 1 cars.

A Z-floor is a chassis floor that has edges formed of a Z-shape around a central cut-out in order to create a vortex, which helps seal the floor and increase downforce. This allows much of the length of those edges to remain straight and parallel to the central section of the car. This in turn makes the floor easier to seal.

It is precisely in the development of this Z-floor that Aston Martin have shown continuous innovation. Recent months have seen near-constant new versions with additional cut-outs at the edge forward of the Z-shape. These cut-outs are designed to prepare the airflow on its way towards the Z-shape and ultimately increase the power of the vortex.

Keeping the floor sealed is in fact all to do with the vortex, which must be of sufficient strength to meet the negative pressure created in the underfloor. The greater this pressure, the stronger the vortex needs to be in order to keep the floor sealed.

Future Developments

One thing is for sure, and that is Aston Martin’s new position as the sort of “works team” that can only work with the chassis will ensure as many resources and manpower as possible will be funnelled into precisely this area. With many races to come, there will be no shortage of data that can evaluate the success of these tactics – though it remains to be seen whether this will be able to shave off the seconds necessary for Aston Martin to get out of their rut.

Whether or not Aston Martin can be considered a works team is of course a thorny debate best left for another day. However, if chassis innovation on this scale is the result of their new position, it would be fair to predict that they will make their engineering mark on Formula 1 before too long. In a way, they already have.

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