Red Bull Racing using Thermoplastic Floors?
The Dutch Formula 1 magazine recently discussed thermoplastic floors being used on the RB9 of Red Bull Racing. For me this raises the question whether or not Red Bull Racing are using an illegal flexible floor.
Thermoplastics are plastics that are tough, but above a certain temperature get weak and then distort. By adding carbon fibre wires to strengthen in the distortion you would be able to integrate programming without anyone touching it.
Philip Palmer, then a student at the TU Delft, conceived in 2006 one way you can do this. Suppose you have an airplane wing with wire heating wires, consisting of pre-programmed memory material. When you send an electric current through that heating wires, the memory material is activated, so you get the wing in a form. Palmer figured this out for an aircraft, but why would you not also apply it in F1?
Meanwhile, at Red Bull. Technical Director Adrian Newey and his friends have fixed years of dubbing how they could apply thermoplastics in their car. Then all of a sudden there is an eureka moment, the realization that you don’t need electricity at all for the deformation of the material because you have the heat of exhaust gases. And the good thing is: there is no human hand, so there are no rules broken. That is the reason that in Germany a part of the floor of the Red Bull was not made of carbon fibre, but made from a thermoplastic material.
Highly accidental that particular floor area gets covered with glowing hot exhaust gases, on its way backwards to the diffuser to seal the sides, aided by aerodynamic winglets and other aids. Those flows must not make too sharp curves, because only then they will continue to stick to the bodywork surface, they will flow laminar and won’t cause air swirls. The warmer the thermoplastic material of the floor area, the weaker it gets and the more the floor bends down. This creates a cavity, which makes smooth curves for the exhaust gases.
There could be a permanent cavity in the cars floor, but that is excluded by the rules and is therefore not an option. The technical regulations state that the car floor on the sides (the step plane) must be exactly 50 millimeter higher than the reference plane in the middle of the car. If the vehicle floor is 48 or 49 millimeter higher than the reference plane, then its lower than allowed. But this clever cavity of Red Bull is only present if there are hot exhaust gases flowing over it, so only when the car is driving. And if a car is driving you can’t measure it. This cavity disappears again when the car is parked at the technical inspection. Actually it is so an illegal flexible floor, which cannot be proofed illegal, because it is not detectable as the car is stopped.
So the FIA have to watch out. On a certain point there will be more cars with a body work that deform when it get’s warm. Maybe this happens already: the riddles around the flexible front wings and car floors are never quite resolved.
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