Will Gray

Technical Talk: Finely balanced

Will Gray

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Tyre
wear has been a big talking point at every race so far this season - and this
weekend will see Red Bull hoping to learn more about a new lay-out design
that aims to get to grips with it.

The temperature has had a significant effect on the way
each different design works its tyres this year and so far, with most races
run in warmer temperatures, much of Brawn's
success has been down to their car's
ability to protect its tyres from going off in the heat.

At Silverstone, the cool temperatures helped Red Bull take
control, but so far warm temperatures have put Brawn out in front as the Red
Bull cars tended to damage their rubber more quickly in races, sometimes
suffering problematic wear at the rear and other times seeing the front tyres
lose their grip too quickly.

One of the biggest factors in determining tyre wear,
though, is in the weight distribution of the car - and at Silverstone, as
part of a major upgrade which was most notable for its aerodynamic parts, Red
Bull quietly introduced a fundamental change to their wheelbase that could
prove a vital factor in this year's
battle for the championship.

The static weight distribution (ignore aerodynamics for
now, this is just the standing weight of the car) affects the balance of the
car and how the car handles when it is in motion, and at the start of the
season Red Bull designer Adrian Newey pointed to weight distribution being
one of the most vital design aspects for 2009 because the re-introduction of
slick tyres meant there would be more strain on the rears and the designs had
to be developed to cope with this.

Weight distribution is the culmination of all the weights
of the different parts of the car and is effectively the car's balance point - the position along the
centreline of the car where a pivot would have to be located to put the car
in perfect balance. On a Formula One car weight can typically be moved
forwards and backwards by ballast, while the reduction of fuel during a race
will also alter the balance point.

The weight distribution is crucial for many reasons, one
being the fact that it determines how the lateral loads created during
cornering are passed through the tyres - for instance a 55:45 rear-to-front
means 55 percent of the load goes through the rear tyres and 45 percent
through the front.

Newey said at the launch of his RB5 that it had been
designed with a more forward-biased weight distribution than its predecessor
right from the conceptual stage - but it appears that his design team were
still too cautious as the recent update saw both sets of wheels moved further
rearwards to further increase the forward bias on the car's weight distribution.

To make a change to the wheelbase is significant - which
on top of the requirement to introduce the double diffuser aerodynamics
across the car is one of the reasons there were so many alterations to the
Red Bull in its new package.

And while this weekend in Germany has the potential to go
either way in terms of weather, with Formula One moving towards warmer
climates in the coming weeks and months it will be interesting to see how influential
Red Bull's new wheelbase move
turns out to be...

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