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Formula 1

Will this upgrade rescue a team's terrible F1 season?

by Edd Straw, Gary Anderson
5 min read

Alpine produced its strongest weekend of the 2024 Formula 1 season at the recent Chinese Grand Prix following the introduction of its first major upgrade.

'Best', of course, is a relative term and given its dismal start to the year this amounted only to 11th place for Esteban Ocon.

But it at least proved the beleaguered team is capable of making some progress.

Only Ocon ran the update package because the team had pushed through production to bring its arrival forward from the Miami Grand Prix in early May.

Alpine introduced a new chassis that Ocon used once modifications had been made in order to fit the new floor, which included changes to the diffuser, floor edges and a modification to the inboard front floor fence.

The introduction of the new chassis and floor also meant the next step in the weight reduction of the overweight car. According to Pierre Gasly, this meant “a couple of kilos lighter and a couple more points of downforce”.

It’s expected that Alpine will be down to its target weight - so not just the 798kg minimum regulated but below that to allow it to use ballast to fettle the weight distribution within the permitted window - soon, perhaps for the Canadian Grand Prix in June. 

Alpine was the closest to the pace that it had ever been this season in China, with Ocon leading the way. However, Gasly was also relatively competitive in the old-specification car and backed his team-mate up with 13th in the race – as well as outqualifying him in the sprint.

Ocon described the upgrade as “a small step, but not a negligible one”. However, speaking after the race he did suggest that while the weight reduction brought a clear benefit there were still question marks about the aerodynamic performance. And it’s those aero gains that are the acid test of Alpine’s hopes of recovering.

“We need to dig into exactly what has been better,” said Ocon. “For sure, the weight has been an improvement. On the rest we need further analysis to exactly see if it has brought a clear performance advantage. Both cars were in good shape in that weekend, [so] we need to see.”

The upgrade was described by performance technical director Ciaron Pilbeam as “part of our routine aero development” rather than the result of changes made after the dismal start.

Despite not yet having scored a point, Alpine is targeting salvaging sixth place in the championship this year. While that’s still below what would be expected of a works team, considering its starting point that would be an acceptable recovery.

Gasly feels that the team can now at least compete in the midfield, based on what he saw from the upgraded sister car and his own performance.

“It does feel that way, whereas the first few races we felt on the back foot and we couldn’t really attack,” said Gasly in China when asked by The Race if he felt Alpine was now at least going racing.

“It just brings us a couple of tenths which means we can be slightly closer and a bit more in the mix.

“On days like today, we're not that far from the points finish. It's a big gap to top five and it seems like, at least for the next couple of months, we'll be fighting for small points.”

Gary Anderson’s verdict on the changes

Alpine came to China with a sorely needed first update of 2024. It might have only been on one car, but really it was sort of invisible anyway.

Both Ocon, with the upgrade and Gasly, without the upgrade, were in close competition over the weekend, so there’s clearly no magic bullet for Alpine’s woes this year.

What we can see was mainly on the outer edge of the floor. We never see underneath these cars so it’s difficult to know if there was much change under there.

The orange arrow on the old style shows that Alpine has reduced the camber in the longitudinal side wing section as it goes rearward.

It has also redistributed the mounting hangers shown with the red ellipse, reducing them from four to three. It’s very easy for these mountings to disrupt the actual airflow and reduce the potential of any flow structure developments.

The red arrows show the flow on the upper surface of the floor and how it works in conjunction with that small turned-up section of the floor, highlighted with the yellow arrows.

These work together to scavenge as much flow as possible out from underneath the front corner of the floor, leaving the diffuser to increase the speed of the flow that goes into the floor's leading edge nearer the middle of the car.

As this flow goes rearwards it is pulled through this longitudinal slot gap which helps seal the floor by setting up a vortex that scavenges the flow, highlighted with the blue arrows out from the underfloor. It has also added a small duct to allow this flow to be pulled inside the rear tyre.

This connects to what is called the tyre squirt - basically the flow that is displaced inside the tyre as it rotates onto the track surface.

In turn that flow will pull more of the airflow highlighted with the green arrows, over the section of the floor just in front of the rear tyre. This again reduces the amount of airflow that is being pulled into the underfloor.

There is also a small profile change to the splitter on the front cutout of the floor edge, highlighted with a magenta arrow. 

This change will probably set up a more intense initial vortex to get the whole flow structure set-up working as early on the floor edge a possible.

As for the rest of the floor, Alpine has also altered the flow distribution going in under the leading edge by altering the profile of the inner splitter.

 I have highlighted the old and new inner splitter with a red line to improve its visibility, given it's obscured by the wishbone legs. 

In reality the splitter is behind those components. This will again reduce the mass flow into that central section of the floor so with the same diffuser detail the flow from front to back will travel faster. Increasing its velocity will in turn increase the downforce created by the underfloor.

It’s probably too early to assess if this is a step forward so you have to give Alpine a couple of races to optimise it, then we can see if its development route is heading in the right direction or whether it’s going to have to be a bit more adventurous.

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