Tech: Why indecision dogged F1 teams in attacking the Sakhir GP

The Sakhir Grand Prix was not the first time that Formula 1 teams have experienced back-to-back races at the same venue, but it was the first time that they had run on a different track layout.

The switch to the short outer loop delivered a multitude of challenges, as the removal of the inner section of the traditional grand prix layout meant fewer high speed corners and more straightline action.

This had a significant bearing on the aerodynamic solutions used by each team, with a trade-off sought for the high speed first and third sectors over the more downforce dependent second sector that was characterised by the chicane.

But there was no clear answer as to whether the track would require more focus on the straightline speed aspect, or it was worth piling on a bit of downforce for the middle sector.

Teams and drivers took to the circuit with different aerodynamic configurations during free practice as they evaluated the challenges of each sector and resolved that against the performance of the tyres.

The bumpier, twistier second sector offered some respite from what would otherwise be considered a low downforce circuit, and made mechanical and aerodynamic set-up changes pivotal in terms of performance.

As seen in the main image above, Racing Point initially opted for its spoon-shaped rear wing during FP1 and FP2, as it hoped that the configuration, last seen at the 70th Anniversary race at Silverstone, would offer the best compromise between downforce and drag.

However, having seen some of its close rivals try lower downforce arrangements on Friday, the Silverstone team experimented in FP3 with its own low downforce offering, akin to the one used at Monza.

Racing Point

Lance Stroll, Racing Point RP20

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

But after the experiments in the final practice session, it felt that the spoon-shaped rear wing was a much better solution and it shifted back to it for qualifying and the race.

Racing Point also paired the spoon-shaped rear wing elements with the updated endplate design raced since the Tuscan GP. This design follows the same design lineage of the Mercedes it was originally inspired by. (The old specification, as ran at the 70th Anniversary GP, is inset in main image).

Racing Point was not the only one looking at its downforce options for this race though, with most of the midfield runners paying particular attention to the difference of a medium downforce set-up compared with that of a low downforce set-up.


Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF1000

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Ferrari did back-to-back tests with both drivers trialling different downforce levels. Here it has a low downforce rear wing paired with a double element T-Wing, whilst the front wing is a specification that’s not been used on the SF1000 for several races.

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF1000

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Both drivers switched to the front wing specification that’s been used for the last few races with the upper flap cut down and a spoon-shaped rear wing, albeit without the T-wing.


Carlos Sainz Jr., McLaren MCL35

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

McLaren trialled a more conventional lower downforce rear wing during free practice before switching to the spoon-shaped rear wing.

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

McLaren’s spoon-shaped rear wing features a more abrupt curvature between the two heights of the mainplane than some of its counterparts.

Alfa Romeo

Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo Racing C39

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Alfa Romeo was also toying with the level of downforce it should run around the outer loop circuit configuration. Kimi Raikkonen stuck to his guns early-on, though, opting for this more conventional layout, albeit with much taller rear wing pillars.

Alfa Romeo Racing C39 rear wing pillar detail comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

It’s a solution that we’ve seen at various times during the season with the pillars offering a different DRS effect.

Sparks kick up from Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo Racing C39

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

The spoon-shaped rear wing that Antonio Giovinazzi trialled during free practice, but later abandoned, produces more downforce in the deeper central section. However, the shallower outer section results in the strength of the tip vortex being reduced and so too the drag created.


Daniel Ricciardo, Renault F1 Team R.S.20

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Meanwhile, over at Renault, a team that has constantly run less downforce than its rivals this season, Ricciardo spent time during free practice assessing whether he could get away with using a wing level akin to what we’d usually see at Monza. Note also, that in this configuration, the endplates are much more simplified too.

Esteban Ocon, Renault F1 Team R.S.20

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

The other option for Renault was still pretty low downforce when compared with some of its rivals but did feature their regular endplate design.

Cool runnings

Another important aspect of the team’s set-up at any track is the amount of cooling capacity they have on the car, as not only does this have an impact on the power unit’s performance it can also influence the car’s aerodynamics.

During free practice, Mercedes ran its car with different cooling configurations, as it tasked Valtteri Bottas with collecting some important information ahead of 2021, whilst also getting Russell comfortable in the car.

It’s understood that the team will use its development tokens on this area of the car for next season, with the team anticipating an improvement from its new power unit that will result in it being able to use smaller radiators and tighten the bodywork even more than it has this year.

Being able to run the power unit with less cooling capacity is a big win from an aerodynamic point of view too, as it can result in less drag and as a consequence other aspects of the car can be optimised.

The tests conducted by Bottas were with the higher waisted configuration that both cars were eventually fitted with for the race, just as they were for the Bahrain GP.

Meanwhile, the rear wing with a double central mounting pillar that Bottas tested was cast aside for the single pillar arrangement seen on George Russell’s car. This also meant that the team paired the single pillar rear wing with its gull-like T-Wing design ahead of it for the first time too.

It’s also worth noting that just like it did at Portimao, Mercedes ran Bottas’ car during FP1 without DAS in preparation for 2021 when it won’t be able to use the system at all.

Red Bull continue to put resources into the end of its 2020 campaign too, although the tests it did during free practice at the Sakhir Grand Prix likely had more to do with 2021 than this year.

Both drivers trialled a new rear wing configuration during free practice that featured just a single mounting pillar, rather than the two pillars that it has run so far this season.

This change comes off the back of the team’s movement of its wastegates from a more elevated position, to what’s considered a more conventional placement just above the crash structure.

Both Max Verstappen and Alex Albon reverted to the double pillar configuration for qualifying and the race.

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