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

Loading ... Loading ...

2009 F1 season

The comments below have been split across multiple pages. If you are having trouble viewing all the comments click here to see them all.

Advert | Go Ad-free

107 comments on Adjustable wings – a change too far?

  1. 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.

  2. 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?

  3. 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 ..)

  4. 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??

  5. 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?

  6. 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.

  7. 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…

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

    …and it’s called GP2!

  9. 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.

  10. 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…

  11. Rob R. said on 28th July 2008, 16:42

    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.

  12. Brar said on 28th July 2008, 17:47

    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?

  13. 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.

  14. Brar said on 28th July 2008, 18:32

    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.

  15. ogami musashi said on 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:

    Grip=Cf*loads.

    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:

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

    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:

    Grip=2*600=1200

    Downforce:
    Grip=(2*600)+(2*1200)=3600

    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).

    @GeorgeK:

    “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??

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments must abide by the comment policy. Comments may be moderated.
Want to post off-topic? Head to the forum.
See the FAQ for more information.