The future of F1 aerodynamics part 2

Posted on | Author John Beamer

Are the 2009 aerodynamics F1\'s equivalent of NASCAR\'s Car of Tomorrow?
Are the 2009 aerodynamics F1's equivalent of NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow?

In the final part of his look at the future of aerodynamics in motor racing, John Beamer looks at how F1 is following NASCAR in using aerodynamics restrictions in a bid to improve racing – although NASCAR’s efforts have not been entirely successful.

Kurt Romberg, Hedrick Motorsports (NASCAR)

NASCAR\'s Car of Tomorrow has proved very difficult to set up
NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow has proved very difficult to set up

With Sky broadcasting NASCAR live 2008 was an opportunity for British F1 fans to try to understand the hoo-ha behind America?s favourite motorsport. Hands up those who thought the racing was disappointing? Me too.

Romberg tackled the issue head on acknowledging the show had worsened this year. The reason is an overhaul of the technical regulations to legislate for more exciting, cheaper and safer racing, which has resulted in what is called the Car of Tomorrow (CoT). Despite the good intention it turned out that the regulations led to more expensive cars and created processional racing ?ǣ F1 beware.

Romberg told the audience that the way downforce is generated in NASCAR changed. The rear spoiler was replaced with a wing which leads to higher base pressure, lower under body downforce, and more rear downforce. To rebalance the car NASCAR allowed teams to run a front splitter. As a result the CoT generates front downforce close to the car centreline whereas under the old rules front downforce was created towards the car?s extremities. These seemingly innocuous changes radically affect the racing. The CoT has to move sideways a lot further to accumulate downforce that did its elder brother ?ǣ no wonder overtaking is much harder under the new regime.

I managed to steal a few words with Romberg during lunch and he noted an additional complication was that the CoT was incredibly difficult to drive. The car has an extraordinarily narrow set-up window which means that performance tends to skew to better drivers and teams. Even the very best find the machine twitchy even in the best conditions.

So what?s the solution?

Romberg suggested that NASCAR opens up innovation, even if only a little. By doing this teams will start to solve some of the issues plaguing the series and over the course of the season there should be more variability in results. Is it going to happen? Romberg believes that while NASCAR is willing to tinker at the edges to improve racing its ultimate goal is to move towards a spec series.

Panel discussion

To close with Iley chaired a panel discussion asking whether the role of the aerodynamicist had peaked as teams face tighter regulations and a torrid economic climate. Predictably, given all the panellists are aerodynamicists, the unanimous verdict was that aerodynamics would remain an essential discipline.

Romberg opined that despite NASCAR moving towards spec aero there would always be opportunities to tweak performance even if it was moving a few internal parts around to help cooling and thereby cut drag. His fellow panellists concurred and felt that irrespective of the formula aerodynamicists would always be in demand.

Interestingly Iley thought the outlook bleaker and seemed genuinely concerned for his species. Given the cold economic winds F1 faces, Iley speculated that the FIA could be quick to slap on CFD and wind tunnel restrictions, which would affect staffing levels. After all if the FIA restricts computing or wind tunnel time there is no need to employ an army of aero boffins. A decision on whether this will be imposed is expected at some point in December.

The panel also ended up discussing how the closed nature of F1 could ultimately harm the sport. The panel drew contrast to NASCAR where fan participation in expected ?ǣ for instance drivers are required to sign autographs and crews are encouraged to interact with the fans ?ǣ whereas in F1 Bernie Ecclestone tries to run a closed, exclusive shop. Surely F1 will benefit if it follows a similar path?

The panel concluded that F1 must absolutely become more accessible technically. Apparently the TV coverage in Japan shows CFD videos to demonstrate how different elements of an F1 car work. By embracing and explaining innovations to fans F1 reminds the audience that it is a constructor formula and that technical development is a cornerstone of the sport. Moreover, my experience suggests that even the most causal armchair fans have some technical interests. Getting fans to ask more questions will likely make them more loyal and, importantly, bring in more money.

Closing thoughts

The overall theme of the day was to rile against how the FIA continues to push motor sport down the spec route with a plea to continue to allow innovation. Iley, for instance, called for regulations to define outcomes and let teams innovate to that. For aerodynamic load Iley suggested that the FIA should set a maximum downforce limit that is testable by specifying a force for which the floor must touch the ground ?ǣ the objective then becomes how a designer can work with that downforce limit more efficiently. The same concept also applies to engine power and fuel consumption. However, there was an acknowledgement by all that canny F1 designers would no doubt find legal work-arounds!

That resonated with me. Top level motor sport should be a constructor formula that is encouraged to develop road relevant technology. Anything that furthers that goal is most welcome.

Having the opportunity to spend a day in the company of some of the people at the forefront of technical development in motor sport was inspiring. Not only was the day thoroughly enjoyable but it was also brilliantly organised by the Race Tech crew.

Those of you with a technical inkling could do a lot worse than spending a couple of cold, autumnal days wrapped up warm listening to the doyens of motor sport impart their infinite wisdom.

A big thank you to the Race Tech team, and especially William Kimberley, for making me feel welcome and running a superb event. Bring on 2009. Details of the 2009 event will be posted on thier website when they become available.

Read the first instalment in this post: The future of F1 aerodynamics part 1

This is a guest article by John Beamer. If you want to write a guest article for F1 Fanatic you can find all the information you need here.

NASCAR image (C) The Freewheeling Daredevil via Flickr

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