The launch of most of this year's F1 cars last week showed there is a lot of development still to come before Melbourne — but where are the key areas of interest and what can we expect next?
The new crop of F1 cars look eye-catchingly different this year, with ugly stepped noses on all but the McLaren and unpleasant-looking bulges on the sidepods on several of the top contenders.
The new regulations, which had been played down as evolutionary, seem far from it, with the two main areas of development in the nose and the rear of the sidepods — and it's exciting to see a range of different concepts developed on the nine different cars launched so far.
Most teams have admitted their launch cars are very much a first draft and over the next month we can expect to see them evolving rapidly as each evaluates the solutions of their rivals.
There have been two approaches to nose design in recent years.
The most popular solution is to raise it high to allow as much air as possible to flow beneath and feed the floor with clean air. Most teams have taken this route, but McLaren has pursued a lower nose design with a splitter underneath that feeds clean air down to the floor. This is a little less effective aerodynamically but lowers the centre of gravity and also allows them to mount their preferred suspension set-up.
When the first new car was unveiled, by Caterham, it was immediately clear that teams who had taken the high-nose route would be forced into a compromise by the FIA's new low nose rule, which states the nose can be up to 55cm high from its tip to the bulkhead, while from there back to the cockpit the chassis can be up to 62.5cm.
McLaren's already-low nose has helpedThat has forced the high nose teams into creating an ugly step in the transition area — while McLaren's low nose means their chassis height at the bulkhead is actually lower than the maximum height of the nose section, allowing them to have a smooth top to their chassis.
For the high-nose teams, there appears to be three schools of thought on the treatment of the compromise required.
The first is to create a simple ramp across the full width of the nose — the treatment used most dramatically by Ferrari. The next is to have two legalisation ramps on the outer edges of the nose with a shallower ramp in the middle creating a less aggressive route for the airflow — with the Force India and Toro Rosso designs being the most attractive and neat of these.
The final approach is to use the step to create an open slot gap — as seen notably on the Red Bull and, less so, on the Sauber. This bleeds some air off the nose and enables a smoother flow up the top of the chassis while, Red Bull says, allowing air in for driver cooling.
Is Red Bull's approach an innovative solution?This claim is borne out by the removal of the air inlet previously seen on the nose section — but there are still suggestions it could be an innovative aerodynamic solution. Whatever it is, teams will certainly now be looking into what the gains are from running this concept — although as an integral part of the chassis it could be hard to copy.
SIDEPODS AND EXHAUSTS
The other impressive development this year is the further contraction of the sidepods around the rear end on many cars.
The creation of a good airflow between the rear tyres and the bodywork around the gearbox and engine has taken on even more importance this year because of the ban on blown diffusers.
The rear end of the Red Bull has often been described as being 'shrink-wrapped' in bodywork, and technical director Adrian Newey appears to have pushed his design team for an even more aggressive packaging approach on the RB8.
This has resulted in an incredibly large void in this area, which should allow flow around the undercut sidepods and out over the rear beam wing with limited obstruction. It's an extremely tidy treatment, and something many other teams have worked on but not been able to contract as much.
Ferrari has finally been able to create a tidier rear end after moving to pullrod suspension, which allows for a lower containing structure, and that has allowed the other teams running their engines — Toro Rosso and Sauber — to do the same.
Following the ban on blown diffusers — in which the exhaust was fed out through the underside of the car - there is now a defined section at the upper rear of the car where the exhaust can exit, and once again there are a variety of different approaches to this.
All teams are looking at how the new position of the exhausts can legally create a positive aerodynamic gain — by blowing on to either the beam wing, rear wing or suspension and brake duct area.
So far, most have developed unobtrusive outlets that sit within the normal coke bottle bodywork design, but both McLaren and Ferrari have spoiled this clean treatment by creating some bulky funnelling — Ferrari's coming out high up inboard and pointing down and McLaren's coming out wide and low down and pointing up.
Both solutions look like they create considerable blockage to the airflow in this area, which would obstruct the clean flow through to the diffuser and beam wing. But if they do create a benefit then other cars will no doubt start sprouting these in the coming test sessions.
The thing with F1, however, is what works on one car will not necessarily work on another.
Between now and the next test, all teams will be meticulously analysing the different nose concepts and exhaust layouts using computer simulations and wind tunnel testing — but whether this results in a general optimum design remains to be seen.