Evolution of directed flow of charged particles produced in relativistic heavy-ion collisions at energies 4 ≤ s ≤ 19.6 GeV is considered within two microscopic transport models, ultra-relativistic quantum molecular dynamics (UrQMD) and quark-gluon string model (QGSM). In both models, the directed flow of protons changes its sign at midrapidity from antiflow to normal flow with decreasing energy of collisions, whereas the flows of mesons and antiprotons remain antiflow-oriented. For lighter colliding systems, such as Cu+Cu or S+S, changing of the proton directed flow occurs at lower bombarding energies and for more central topologies compared to a heavy Au+Au system. The differences can be explained by dissimilar production zones of different hadrons and by the influence of spectators. Directed flows of most abundant hadronic species at midrapidity are found to be formed within t = 10–12 fm/c after the beginning of nuclear collision. The influence of hard and soft mean-field potentials on the directed flow is also studied.
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