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Wind tunnel woes // Have the tyres played a part in messing up team's calibration?

Published by Mr. C

Top commentors Brendan and Clive, raised some good questions last week about how a team like Honda could make such a hash or their wind tunnel setups. It's an involved subject so I figure it best to do a whole post rather than try and squeeze everything into the comments section.

This year, teams appear to be experiencing more wind tunnel issues than ever before. The highest profile of these was the failure of the rolling road at Ferrari's HQ in Maranello. Apparently the faulty parts are regularly replaced, so this appears to have been a one-off freak situation (but you'd have to question if it would've happened had Ross Brawn still been in Italy).

Ferrari aren't the only ones suffering though. Most notably the Renault team have this year experienced a considerable drop in aero performance. Red Bull have been making noises about decommissioning their Bedford tunnel, and most recently Honda have admitted that their brand new 100% scale facility isn't living up to its supposed hype either.

So what's gone wrong? Without any additional information beyond what's already been said, it's very hard to be sure. What is interesting is that the last three teams mentioned, are all switching to Bridgestone tyres this year. One of the biggest advantages Michelin runners had over their Japanese-shod counterparts in previous years, was the French manufacturer making sets of rubber available for wind tunnel testing. Prior to that all teams would use rounded steel rims. The advantage this offered Michelin teams was clear during the 2005 one-tyre-per-race season. Bridgestone quickly made a selection of rubber available for aero testing.

The question I ask is, what have teams received from Bridgestone this year, and have they adjusted their calibration to account for the new tyres? What kind of service are they getting from their new supplier and are they accounting for that with tunnel adjustments?

It's unfair to lay the blame completely at Bridgestone's door though, as both McLaren and BMW seem to be managing just fine. Although during the last couple of years, BMW have put significantly more resources into CFD solutions (that rely less on tunnel data) than other teams.

Tunnel testing isn't an exact science. Calibration is complex and doesn't transfer from one to another. It takes talented engineers a lot of time to get right. Added to that, it would also appear regulation changes mean frequent adjustments are required. You'd therefore have to assume that teams with two tunnels - stand up Red Bull, Williams and Honda - have a bigger task each year than teams with a single facility.