Adjustable wings – a change too far?

F1 wings will be movable in 2009

F1 wings will be movable in 2009

The 2009 F1 rules are a source of great interest with several radical changes aimed at improving overtaking.

Along with bring back slick tyres and reducing wing sizes, teams are expected to be allowed to use adjustable wings.

I’m not a fan of the idea. What do you think of it? Cast your vote below…

The planned rules for 2009 will allow teams to create elements in their front wings that can be adjusted by the drivers while the car is moving.

This was experimented with when wings were first used by F1 teams in the late 1960s and the benefits are clear: a flatter wing profile will give less drag and more speed down a straight, a deeper wing will give more downforce and better cornering speed in the bends. They were originally banned on safety grounds, but the thinking now is that F1 teams should be able to make them safe enough.

However the FIA has also stipulated a maximum number of times the wings can be changed: a driver may make no more than two adjustments per lap with a different of up to six degrees.

Why limit the number of changes per lap? It seems to be completley arbitrary. In fact the whole ‘adjustable wings’ idea seems to me to be a variation on the ‘push to pass button’ idea, where a driver gets a limited number of horsepower boosts to use per lap to aid overtaking.

And I expect it will have the same kind of effect: in series that have ‘push to pass’ (such as A1 Grand Prix and, formerly, Champ Car) the driver in front is just as likely to use their power boost as the driver behind, cancelling out any advantage the chasing driver will have.

So what will adjustable wings achieve except add yet more artificial complexity to F1? I’m not sure.

My concern is that, with so many changes planned for next year, it might be hard to tell which are having the desired effect and which aren’t. The FIA has, rightly, identified the difficulty experienced by one car when following another closely as being a problem.

Finally they have chosen to attack the problem by bringing back slick tyres and reducing wing sizes (which is exactly what the FIA Advisory Experts Group told them to do almost a decade ago). But with the added complexity of these adjustable wings, to say nothing of KERS and other changes, it might be hard to see which rules have the desired effect and which don’t.

Should F1 cars have adjustable wings in 2009?

  • Yes (30%)
  • No (59%)
  • Don't know (11%)

Total Voters: 274

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2009 F1 season

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107 comments on Adjustable wings – a change too far?

  1. Noel said on 28th July 2008, 12:08

    I understand comments that say this will help drivers dial-out over/understeer, and I know track and air conditions conspire to alter the balance of the cars, but being able to ‘actively’ adjust balance smacks of babysitting the driver to me.

    Of course drivers will want a tweak of wing here and there to get the balance right, as we see during
    pits stops now. But it seems to me, if drivers can’t get their cars set up properly during a few hours of practice etc, something’s not right. Understeer and oversteer are a part of racing, and how the drivers handle them makes the spectacle more exciting, for me at least. I don’t really want to see beautifully balanced cars parading around when I can watch drivers hanging it out and mastering an untame beast.

    Just my random thoughts. I may just be blabbering and full of rubbish :)

  2. Kester said on 28th July 2008, 12:13

    I think this rule will actually be quite interesting, and is more designed for tracks like Hockenheim. With the first 2 sectors being high speed, low downforce, the cars currently run the entire race at that setting, effectivily compromising themselves in the final sector with is a high downforce sector.

    With this new moveable aerodynamics we’ll still see the speed on the first 2 sectors, but the downforce in the last giving the drivers more confidence to try a move around the outside of one of the turns.

    We could then also see drivers taking a risk by changing earlier or later than the track demands, giving them more grip in a corner to try and jump by someone, but then compromise them up until the more usual high downforce areas.

    I think for that very reason it’s not so much a push-to-overtake system, and is why it’s limited to 2 times a lap; once to go to high downforce, and once back. Not every corner high downforce, back to straight low downforce.

  3. ogami musashi said on 28th July 2008, 12:23

    @Noel:

    The balance problems are not related to set up of the car.

    When you follow someone your car lose some downforce (even if you had 3kg of downforce), but the loss is never uniform, that is, some parts of the car lose more downforce than some others.

    For instance you can lose more on the front wing than on the rear wing.

    If you lose on the front wing, you car will exhibit understeer behavior which, in a corner, is a “crime” as you can’t simply turn enough anymore.

    Thus by allowing the driver following someone to increases the wing camber you can increase your downforce and thus re-claw your balance.

    As said above, that system is limited to two adjustements per lap, that is one increase then back to normal (or possibly, lowering it for one long straight then going back to normal for the corners).

    Thus this system is meant to help correct the effects of wake on the balance of the car.

  4. Robert McKay said on 28th July 2008, 12:28

    It’s a stupid idea. It’s an over-complicated solution to a problem that could be addressed in a much easier way, which is exactly the sort of thing Formula 1 does these days. It’s a bit like the (untrue) allegations of NASA spending millions of dollars in designing a special pen to work in zero-gravity when the Russians just used a pencil.

  5. Brar said on 28th July 2008, 12:39

    F1 vmax without wings could reach almost 500Km/h. The cars and drivers remain stucked by that aerodinamic.

    The old F1 carisma was that you thing that everything in the car was conceived to make it faster. Performance and ecology have the same path. Why not?

  6. ukk said on 28th July 2008, 12:39

    I voted Yes and my reason is this will enable the drivers to use more of their skills. Now rather than seeking the holly ballance between the slow and fast parts of the circuit the car will be tuned optimally for both. Then it is up to the driver to really extract the maximum out of it and not risk being stuck for the whole race with some stupid compromise configuration. I’d even go further and drop the 2-times-per-lap limitation :-)

  7. Noel said on 28th July 2008, 12:53

    @ogami, I hear you buddy. I did say I might be talking rubbish :)

    But I thought that was what next year’s aero regulations were designed to sort out? Clean-up the airflow from the leading car to allow the car following more grip and balance, hopefully leading to closer racing and more overtaking.

    I’m not disagreeing with you, but this new idea sounds like overkill to me. Do any other series allow this kind of thing?

  8. ogami musashi said on 28th July 2008, 13:16

    @noel:
    without entering too much details, the 2009 regulations aim at reducing the effect of the wake.

    You can’t suppress the loss. Even if the leading car had no downforce at all (no wings, no ground effects), the following one(with wing and/or ground effects) would still lose downforce and balance because the air is disturbed.

    So it is only possible to reduce the effects.

    The next thing is that the problem is very complex.

    You have the problem of knowing how much total downforce you’ll lose, and then how this will be shared by aerodynamic devices (I.E: how much each wing/diffuser will lose).

    There’s a complex correlation between quantity (how much downforce you lose/total grip) and design (how the tyre will react to that loss) which is very difficult to assess.

    It will vary according to conditions so the idea of having adjustable wings is pretty simple yet efficient.

    The OWG has thus worked on the two main areas: Diminishing the total loss and allowing to retain the balance (they also did some works to ensure the balance loss would be less than this year without the front wing adjustment).

  9. Sean Newman said on 28th July 2008, 13:53

    Ogami can you explain?

    To quote you

    “Even if the leading car had no downforce at all (no wings, no ground effects), the following one(with wing and/or ground effects) would still lose downforce and balance because the air is disturbed.”

    So just so I understand you, even if the cars have no downforce they can still lose it when following another car?

    The cars of the 1950’s had no downforce so could follow each other through corners. Why not now? If todays cars had little or no downforce the problem would be solved.
    Anybody out there gonna deny it? It’s undeniable!

  10. Steven Roy said on 28th July 2008, 14:07

    I haven’t had time to read the comments yet but I will later so if I am repeating what everyone else has said I apologise.

    The whole concept is idiotic. How are the FIA going to know how many changes someone made and for that matter what constitutes a lap. Is it a lap only at the start finish line or for example if someone makes two changes on the second half of a lap can they make another two changes at the start of next lap so that in effect they have made four changes in less than a lap. If someone makes a change at a corner and the following lap they make the same change 10 metres earlier is that the same lap or another lap?

    This is yet another false way of creating position changes which it will not do. The drivers have way to many toys to play with as it is and this combined with push to pass means they are going to spend even less time concentrating on the job.

    Max has clearly learned nothing from this season. Despite howls of protests from people who think that F1 should be open to any technology the ECUs were simplified and traction control was banned. The electronics were dumbed down a bit and the racing improved massively so now we are going to add complexity which will make the racing worse. The logic is stupid beyond belief.

    It is the easiest thing in the world to write a set of regulations that allow cars to overtake and follow each other through corners. Numerous championships of all levels in every country in the world manage it every year. The reason overtaking is difficult in F1 is because the aerodynamics are so complex and in addition they generate way too much downforce. Personally I would like to see the wings ripped off but they could be simplified enough to give great racing.

    The standard spoon section all teams must use next season is another idiotic idea that is way to complex. All that the regulation had to say was that only single element wings were allowed and the section must be the same along its width. That leaves the teams scope to use different wings for different tracks but reduces the effectiveness of them and reduces their sensitivity.

    It is a well established fact that F1 wants to keep sizeable wings on the car because sponsors like them. It is perfectly possible to have large wings that produce little downforce. You simply ban endplates. Single element wings would be more popular with sponsors because their names or logos would be much clearer than at present when they are spread over a number of elements.

    Max and co need to analyse what they are trying to achieve and work to that end rather than introducing constant knee jerk reaction changes that often contradict the previous season’s knee jerk changes.

    They should now be planning to introduce a completely new set of regulations for 2012 with the plan of allowing cars to follow others through corners and encourage racing. If the wheel to wheel racing is good enough no-one gives a damn about the technology or anything else. Despite the complaints at the end of last season that F1 wouldn’t be F1 any more because they were dumbing down the electronics I have not heard a single complaint all season that the cars are too simple to be proper F1 cars or that someone would be as well watching A1GP because it is just the same. Those were the arguments used when those changes were announced and I have no doubt someone will write the same in response to my comments here. F1 is about the best teams and the best drivers racing each other. F1 does not die if some of its current features are banned. We have seen turbos, ground effects, twin chassis, 6 wheelers etc all banned and no-one has expressed an opinion that F1 is no good now because they have been banned and I certainly haven’t heard anyone say that this season would be better if the Ferrari had six wheels and the McLaren had two chassis. Don’t be afraid of restricting the excesses of F1 engineers. Sometimes as with the electronics the racing gets better.

  11. michael counsell said on 28th July 2008, 14:10

    You’re all Luddites…

    Drivrs can change their differential, engine mapping etc during a race so changing the front wing angle isn’t that big a deal.

    The point of changing the front wing angle is not to reduce drag but to reduce understeer when following another car which is the main problem when any car follows another.

    No would deny that cars without wings would follow each other through corners but they are also much slower like Formula Ford cars.

  12. William Wilgus said on 28th July 2008, 14:20

    Adding a device to increase the angle of attack or camber of a wing, or `extend’ a flap on a wing doesn’t mean that the lift (down-force in this case) will increase. Increase it too much—even in clean air—and the wing will stall; i.e., lose all lift (down-force). There’s no telling what would happen in the dirty air behind another car: each team’s cars produce different disturbed air patterns behind them, and those patterns change with changes in the car’s attitude. Any change in the leading car’s front wing camber or flaps would result in a sudden change in the following car’s handling. Not exactly what you want if you’re the following driver.

    What happened to keeping the costs down?

    Whether you flex the wing or add flaps, you’re increasing the possibility of a failure of the part(s) involved. Coupling that thought with those of my first paragraph, what happened to safety?

  13. ogami musashi said on 28th July 2008, 14:31

    @Sean Newman:

    ““Even if the leading car had no downforce at all (no wings, no ground effects), the following one(with wing and/or ground effects) would still lose downforce and balance because the air is disturbed.”

    So just so I understand you, even if the cars have no downforce they can still lose it when following another car?”

    Read again my sentance:

    “Even if the LEADING car had no downforce at all (no wings, no ground effects), the FOLLOWING one(WITH wing and/or ground effects) would still lose downforce and balance because the air is disturbed”

    As long as you have aerodynamics dependent (and that includes even streamlined bodies) bodywork, what ever you follow, you’ll still alter your aerodynamic balance and lose whatever the aerodynamic force is.

    If you have wings to create downforce, then following someone, even if this car don’t have any wing/diffuser to create downforce, you’ll lose some simply because of the slipstream.

    If you have a car designed for high speed created to have a balance (so have aerodynamic loads repartition studied for that) you’ll lose balance.

    After that all is matter of how severely the leading car is creating turbulence (this depends on design) vs how much you rely on aerodynamics.

    Put into a mathematical equation that would be:

    % of Grip loss due to aerodynamics= (Aerodynamics sensitivity*(aerodynamic grip/mechanical grip))/turbulence factor

    Balance loss= Integral (Grip loss due to aerodynamics* X axis)

    That is only for aerodynamics; Tyres do also experience loss of grip under certain conditions like going onto the marbles and it is again a quesiton of knowing how severe are the marbles vs how the tyres will behave onto them.

    To make it clear, your solution of low downforce would only work if:

    -you accept the cars will be slower (by a large margin)
    -you can guarantee that the following car will create at max the same turbulence AND the following car will lose at max the same proportion of downforce.

    Only in those cases the mathematical approach of lowering the downforce/tyre grip work.

    If you can’t guarantee it then you can end up with as much problems as before; See nascar Cot, designed to be less dependant on downforce that still has the same understeer problems than before and even worse in some cases…

    The same happened to CART when the handford device was used.

    To the opposite, the Indycars running on oval have a lot of downforce and no problem at all because they have a high downforce/loss of downforce ratio which means they lose not so much compared to what they have so end up having spare grip anyway.
    (That’s not what i call a sound racing situation because that means they drive flat out often but that’s to illustrate the physical problem).

    Ones need a good balance between all of this and….And then nothing is guaranteed…to many people focus on aerodynamics and believe without them it would be perfect racing…Actually what makes the grip are the TIRES.

    (there’s long to say onto them ..)

  14. ogami musashi said on 28th July 2008, 14:56

    @William Wilgus:

    “Adding a device to increase the angle of attack or camber of a wing, or `extend’ a flap on a wing doesn’t mean that the lift (down-force in this case) will increase. Increase it too much—even in clean air—and the wing will stall; i.e., lose all lift (down-force).”

    That’s why the wing is lowered to 7,5cm to the ground and widened to 180cm, to precisely run below it’s max Cl angle of attack so that you can increase the camber without stalling it.

    And that’s precisely why increasing it in front air would result in overtseer.


    There’s no telling what would happen in the dirty air behind another car: each team’s cars produce different disturbed air patterns behind them, and those patterns change with changes in the car’s attitude. Any change in the leading car’s front wing camber or flaps would result in a sudden change in the following car’s handling. Not exactly what you want if you’re the following driver.”

    The wake pattern’s changes that are of primary importance are vorticity rotation and gradient of pressure.

    The pathlines may effect the car but that’s not a problem since the effect will be linear.

    Today they’re not, because you have a lot of vorticity and a lot of coupling from the diffuser and rear wing.

    Next year the coupling is reduced, the diffuser is made cleaner and lower to the ground, the central part is ment to prevent vortex lift to be used underfloor and finally the rear wing is narrowed to decrease the spread of turbulences.


    What happened to keeping the costs down?”

    What do you mean??? this is just a simple flap actuators pair that’s all..


    Whether you flex the wing or add flaps, you’re increasing the possibility of a failure of the part(s) involved. Coupling that thought with those of my first paragraph, what happened to safety?”

    I think you’re over-reacting from a simple device that enables to change the angle of attack of the flap by 6°..

    This doesn’t bother you for planes isn’t it? so why for cars??

  15. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 28th July 2008, 15:20

    I bow to Ogami’s technical knowledge of these areas which, as usual, is far superior to mine.

    At the moment those who are oppose the wings outnumber those in favour by about two to one. I wonder how many of us think the wings will work as intended but don’t want them, and how many think they won’t work as intended and don’t want them?

    I’m not totally convinced they’ll work and, as I explained above, I’m not sure we’ll be able to tell if they do. Perhaps Ogami could shed some light on that?

  16. Sean Newman said on 28th July 2008, 15:21

    Sorry Ogami I did misunderstand you a little but you are still wrong.

    You say “the cars will be slower (by a large margin)”.
    Are you sure? Don’t forget slicks will offset some of the speed lost in the corners. Also the cars will be quicker on the straights. So it may not be by a large margin. Besides close racing is surely what we all want? So what if it’s slower?

    And yes the following car will always be affected aerodynamically but if it is less reliant on aerodynamics it will be affected less and be able to follow more closely than now.

    So back to the original question the answer still has to be NO because although it is a solution it is not the best solution.

  17. Noel said on 28th July 2008, 16:11

    OK, this conversation has gone WAY over my head now. I’m not really interested in aerodynamic equations and whatnot. I just want close racing, overtaking and exciting Sunday afternoons. If movable wings achieve that, yay! I voted ‘no’ because this just sounds like a rule change too far.

    Soon will come the days when rule changes won’t be discusses because the FIA will have sorted their bloody act out and created a standardised set of rules which create good racing and close championships…

    Wait… we’ve already got that…

  18. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 28th July 2008, 16:18

    …and it’s called GP2!

  19. Wiley E. Coyote will now be able to call up the Acme F1 Company and order custom cars with:

    1. Movable wings for grip and incidental braking.
    2. Expanding wheel base widths to block passing.
    3. KERS devices to power up these mechanisms
    4. Rocket assist for additional passing.

    And he STILL won’t catch the road running Ferrari’s and McLaren’s!

    Seriously, how can movable wings work when the cars are set up for specific levels of down force. Tire pressures, camber settings, dampers, bushings, fuel loads, etc. are all effected by down force levels. Change the down force and what happens to all the rest? Just to find out the answers to those questions would take up an extraordinary amount of computer time, wind tunnel and track testing, no?

    There are seriously knowledgeable people who have responded to the issue, I’d like to know their takes on how changing the down force would effect the other variables.

  20. Brar said on 28th July 2008, 16:38

    I think if allows creativity and you have the garagist making good. Like Mclaren was and Lotus, Brabham, March,Tyrrel.

    If you take out liberty, you will have in the grid only the ones backed by lots of money, Mercedes, Honda, Toyota, Renault, Bmw, and that unspeacheable horse cigarettes biggest company . I hardly believe that Willians is still dear. The only creative that managed to do it until now was Red Bull.

    In those carismatic romantic days,liberty and anarchic days you could be surprised by Lotus, Le Mans Jaguar, Chaparral, Fangio, Piquet father.

    The big money problem was only to have the engine. Ferrari and Ford managed that. Know the money problem is every were and will get worse.

    In the last 10 or more years you had to be a little sado-masoquist to see f1. Now for the first time there will be a real slight move in the natural direction…

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