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. Chaz said on 28th July 2008, 19:03

    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.

  2. Noel said on 28th July 2008, 19:13

    *head explodes*

  3. Garyc said on 28th July 2008, 19:39

    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.

  4. ogami musashi said on 28th July 2008, 19:52

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

  5. David G said on 29th July 2008, 2:17

    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.

  6. 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….

  7. Sean Newman said on 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.

  8. 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.

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

  10. ukk said on 29th July 2008, 8:53

    @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.

  11. Sean Newman said on 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!

  12. ogami musashi said on 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.

  13. Alastair said on 29th July 2008, 11:35

    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!!!!!

  14. Sean Newman said on 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.

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

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