Adjustable wings – a change too far?

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

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?”

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  1. If this is really an effective method of increasing overtaking, shouldn’t this be something the teams can work into the car, i.e. an automated feature? That seems more in keeping with F1’s technological reputation – instead of some guy flicking a switch on the dashboard every 2 minutes like someone with OCD trying to get the “right” amount of air-con.

  2. Its not easy to make predictions. I would like to know what will happens with that wings. If there was an airplane “neural” system, imagine, how fantastic was to see the better driver with less wing in the corners.

    For instance, in a quite diferent problem: It´s easy to outlaw, a variable speed box, for obvious reasons. The same thing for traction control.
    But what would happens with these 2 things together?

  3. I’m not sure what Brar just said but the idea of watching two drivers each push themselves to run on lower wing levels to outdo each other might be both exciting, and potentially dangerous.

    Of course, twice a lap wouldn’t come close.

  4. It´s quite the oposite Andrew!. In the “neural” system, the system understand what you want to do. If you lost rudder, the airplane´s turbines (or the diferential in a car) will help you find your way.

    A system like that would understand what the driver wants: like going faster wearing less tyres, energy etc. And will act on the wings like a bird.

  5. ogami musashi
    28th July 2008, 18:37

    @sean newman:

    “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.”

    Okay first of all, don’t mess the cases: we are talking about your proposed solution of “low downforce or no downforce” aren’t we? We’re not talking about next year, since next year regulations doesn’t follow your proposition (it lowers the ratio of downforce/tyres grip but only after taking care of the design of the cars).

    So first of all let me tell you than a GP2 car is certainly not a low downforce car; they produce about 1 ton of downforce at 240km/h in high downforce trims.

    So to simplify and be more precise let’s take a “no downforce car”.

    Tyre grip is measured via the tyre friction coeficient.
    This coefficient is not real quantity, it is rather an indicator of how could a tyre can translate the loads on it to the ground.

    This means that a tyre that would have no loads at all (including its weight) would not grip at all.

    Thus the grip is defined as the tyre friction coefficient times the loads on it which in equations means:


    In the case of a current F1 car that is:

    Grip=Cf(Weight+downforce)= (Cf*weight)+(cf*downforce)

    So as we speak about a car without downforce this translates into Grip=Cf*weight.

    “Grip” here is just the same than “G’s” or “times the weight of the car”.

    If a car weights 600 kg and have a grip of 1200kg, it can corners at 2g’s, if the grip is 1800, 3g’s etc..

    This is actually an interesting result. Since the weight of the car (the mass) timed with speed indicated the amount of grip necessary (the heavier your car is, the more grip you need to achieve the same cornering speed) that means the Grip in the case of a non downforce car is only dependant on the tyre grip coefficient.

    A tyre grip coefficient of 1 will give 1g max acceleration, 1.7, 1.7g’s, 2, 2g’s etc..

    Now what you want to know is what are the values of a modern slick tyre friction coefficient?

    from 1.8 to 2.5…there you have it at best a tyre alone would give you 2.5g’s.

    And unfortunately as speed grows the tyre grip coefficient decreases and it can vary a lot, dropping from 2 to 1 for instance.

    So you compare your car with a max cornering acceleration of 2.5g and a F1 car where the average cornering acceleration is 3.5g’s topping at 5g’s (and it has been higher some years ago).

    Now let me go back to the downforce case to show you one thing:


    A modern F1 car produces in corner (not at the end of a straight line) under dynamic conditions about 1200kg of downforce max.

    The downforce has something superb: it is a virtual weight, that means it does not increases themass of the car and the astonishing result of that is that the grip needed to turn your car will still be based on his weight so the downforce will come as a extra grip with no penalty at all.

    Look at the number itself: 1200kg…the downforce itself produces already 2G’s of acceleration!
    Now look again at the equation, the downforce amount is timed by the friction coefficient and even more it is added to the same friction coefficient times the weight..

    In numbers, two cars with the same weight same tyres, one case no downforce, the other downforce
    (friction coefficient assumed to be 2)

    No downforce:



    In the first case you simply have 2G’s..the other one 6g’s…

    So to sum up in no way a no downforce car can be as fast as a downforce (especially high downforce) one.

    Also the cars will be quicker on the straights. So it may not be by a large margin.”

    Don’t be fooled by the popular belief cars with downforce are slower in straight line, They of course drag more (thus require powerful engines) but the downforce gives them incredible acceleration (up to 2,4g’s in a F1 car) which translates at the end of the straight by a higher top speed/longer time at top speed..

    And if you want to know what can be the effect on lap time of a quicker car in straight line this is very simple:

    Take the total length of straights on a track, then total length of the corners, compare the difference in speeds.

    With a no downforce car you could even not reach the same top speed.
    It may seems incredible but dragster are actually very high downforce cars. But let’s be very optimistic and say it could; you would have what?? 20km/h advantage on 200meters?

    With 6g’s cornering opposed to 2g’s you just have 100km/h or so on a distance that would be about 3 or 4 times the distance the straight line help you with.

    Besides close racing is surely what we all want? So what if it’s slower?”

    Now that’s a good question. You have all rights to love 60’s style racing; i believe there’s no one unique form of good racing.

    The problem is that high speed racing is a type of racing form.
    F1 car are driven specifically because they can accelerate (which includes cornering braking and accelerating away) so fast.

    What actually makes the difference and variety of racing is that hopefully, no cars are driven the same, no series involves not only the same driving but also the same race craft.

    So there’s no scientific answer to tell you we should not get slower; only the fact that by doing that you would make the F1 come back to a level every other low budget series is able of today.

    You would normalize racing to a vision you think is THE good racing while actually you have many series with different styles.

    There’s an argument however in favour of F1 being the fastest.
    When you do race driving, you choose a style (rallying, stock car, single seaters, GT etc..) and when you’re in there’s always one thing: you start with smaller lower car to the most powerful and powerful means also the cars that brake better and corner better.

    Why is that so? simply because driving at higher speed makes things difficult and that the goal of a driver, being more and more potent (this is actually fun too).

    You have to replace in the context the F1 you seem to love: in the 60’s driving those F1 was hell of a challenge, with all dangers coming with.

    Today it would be another formula ford.

    finally to speak about downforce, downforce has one benefit drivers love: it increases with speed (and it even increases with the square of speed) so it actually make some corners very interesting to take because you have to exit the previous corner with enough speed to take the next one (since downforce increase with speed, some corners can be taken at 200km/h but not at 150km/h…crazy isn’t it?)..

    This makes driving so much more subtle..

    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.”

    That’s wrong and i explained you why (see the equations).


    “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?”

    Hopefully physics are not so demanding on the cars that if you take away a little balance your car just go right into the wall.

    Already now loads balance vary a lot and among the things that set appart ferrari and mclaren from the rest is that they sorted out a number of balance related problems.

    Now back on a simpler logic: your car is on balance, you follow someone, you loss downforce on the front wing, so this NOW that you have a problem with balance, you increase the camber,the downforce is again here…where’s the problem??

  6. Playing Devils Advocate for a minute – Sometimes I wish the car designers and technicians were given a relatively free reign, just to see how far (in design and technical terms) and how fast they could get the cars to go.

    Having said that I know I’m probably one of few who think this years cars are just as good looking as previous years. What can I say, I’m a fan of evolution in almost all its forms and am constantly amazed how they dream up ways to squeeze more out the cars.

  7. *head explodes*

  8. Lets think about this a different way. What about active airfoil positioning (think active suspension if you’re old enough. Air flow sensors will tell the CPU to trim the front wings to maximize downforce when following another car closely. This enables (maybe) the following car to stay close and draft past after a fast corner. It might make overtaking a little easier than at present.

  9. ogami musashi
    28th July 2008, 19:52

    GaryC: That’s proposed for 2011 rules for the ride height and wings adjustments as well.

  10. My question is where are they going to fit this onto the steering wheel?
    With all the current switches and buttons there is very little room for more without a gloved finger activating another button that may be bad for their car. Then you have the new Mclaren invention of manual traction control. So the drivers are going to have to know and react correctly with all these new switches and leavers.

    So from there we ask – Are the drivers looking too much at the steering wheel?

    What was the result of the FIA risk analysis onto increasing the level of complexity and the number of changes that are necessary for a drive to completed for each lap?
    Each time the driver needs to make a change it is a distraction from watching what is happening in front and what is behind.
    The FIA are making too many changes. In management classes they talk about trying to turn the Titanic around. You need to do this in small increments otherwise you may capsize the boat. By making so many changes they are going to cause arguements and KAOS. Let alone the ingenuity of the teams. They will be able to push every limit of the rules. I hope that the FIA has good procedures in trying to maintain fair racing with all these new rules.

  11. David G – hang on a minute, perhaps the solution to ease the problem of all those buttons is to bring back that stick thing that used to be on the right-hand side – what was it called again? Oh yes, a gear-lever!
    Its a wonder if you think about it that no team has managed to introduce fighter-plane style head-up displays into the helmets, to help the driver concentrate on the race and still control the car….

  12. Sean Newman
    29th July 2008, 8:29


    Why are GP2 cars, particularly the old design, able to run more closely and overtake more than F1 cars even though they don’t have a moveable front wing?

    Also I’m not talking about taking us back to the 1960’s and not against technology in sport so long as the sport remains entertaining. The whole point is we all turn on our TV to watch and be entertained. Low downforce cars are more interesting to watch even when they are not overtaking!

    The fact is we legislate excessively in F1 already to slow the cars down for safety. So the whole idea of F1 being the fastest and a pinnacle of technogoly are severely compromised anyway. What show never be allowed to happen is for the interests of technologists, programers, engineers, designers, drivers, team owners, race promoters etc to come before the enjoyment of spectator.

    Inevitably more complexity of design (such as a moveable front wing) will bring a wider spread of car performance from the front of the grid to the back. This is exactly the OPPOSITE of what we need.

  13. Honestly, going back to a stick shift would be a shame (to the technology minded F1). And I’ve heard Ralf Schumacher in his Williams days used a Schuberth that had a display in the line of vision of his visor.

  14. Question to OGAMI: what does a turning vane do different from a barge board?

  15. @ogami musashi:
    “so it actually make some corners very interesting to take because you have to exit the previous corner with enough speed to take the next one (since downforce increase with speed, some corners can be taken at 200km/h but not at 150km/h…crazy isn’t it?)..”

    How sure are you about this? Do you have an example of such a corner or you just speculate?

    What about the other forces which act on the car during cornering? Some are also proportional to the square of the speed, some also depend on the position of the center of masses, etc.

  16. Sean Newman
    29th July 2008, 8:53

    Ogami I’ve been looking at some of your equations. Now I’m a driver not an mathematician but when I plot on a graph of your equation…

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

    .. I get a straight line. Does that mean any reduction in aerodynamic grip has a proportional reduction in grip?

    I’m just trying to understand your view point!

  17. ogami musashi
    29th July 2008, 11:20

    @Sean newman:

    “Why are GP2 cars, particularly the old design, able to run more closely and overtake more than F1 cars even though they don’t have a moveable front wing?”

    Because they use venturi channels, because they use slick tyres that allow for more low speed grip.

    Low downforce cars are more interesting to watch even when they are not overtaking!”

    That’s your opinion, not the everyone’s one.

    The equation was not correct:

    % of total grip lost= (aerodynamic grip/total grip)/(aerodynamic sensitivity*turbulence factor)

    total grip is Cf*(weight+downforce)
    Aerodynamic grip is the downforce
    aerodynamic sensitivity is an averaged value (under the form of a coefficient) that relates to the effects on the wing the turbulence will have.
    For example, for a given turbulence, a higher placed front wing will have a greater sensitivity.
    Turbulence factor is also an adimensionnal coefficient relating to the severity of the turbulence.

    Thus it means, the grip lost will depends on the ratio of downforce over total grip and the how much this ratio will be affected by a given turbulence (this varies according to the design of the car).


    “How sure are you about this? Do you have an example of such a corner or you just speculate?”

    Turn 7 at istanbul, Turn 8 at the same track (but turn 7 is more important).

    The reason is that your mechanical grip basically drops with speed while your downforce grip increases with speed.

    Thus some corners can’t be taken until you have enough downforce to take them. Since it increases with the square of speed (while mechanical grip drops linearly) you can take some corners at one speed but not below (of course if you slow down a lot you’ll take them, we’re talking about a hole in the speed range).

    By the way, that’s a pretty much known fact.

    “Question to OGAMI: what does a turning vane do different from a barge board?”

    Turning vane does the same job than bargeboard’s first part that is deflect some air.

    But just like today bargeboards it also creates some vortex to manage to flows over some parts of the car.

    It is impossible to say the precise use of a part because it depends on the philosophy of the car.

  18. Surely a curved underbody, producing a bit of Ground Effect (but not as much as the skirted Lotus 78 and cars of that era) would produce grip that is undisturbed by the leading car’s turbulence? Not being au fait with the finer points of fluid dynamics, I might be missing something, but the problem with relying on exterior wings to produce downforce is that the resistance of the air flowing over the wings is reduced when that air is turbulent (like trying to row a boat in frothy water). One would think that a curved underbody, which basically turns the entire car into a wing, would suffer less from the effects of the car it is following and therefore have grip when trying to overtake?

    Of course, all the cars would have the same amount of grip…AND STILL NOT BE ABLE TO PASS THANKS TO THE REV LIMIT!!!!!

  19. Sean Newman
    29th July 2008, 12:12

    @Ogami thanks,

    I knew that equation wasn’t right. I know you won’t agree but I think the old GP2 car should be the aerodynamic model for the future F1, because it looks good and allows good racing. Simple as that.

    Thanks for your technical insight I’ve enjoyed hearing your thoughts and theories on a sport that we obviously both enjoy enormously.

  20. Ogami: I should’ve phrased my question like this: “where is the turning vane located in an F1 car?”

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