How the F1 rules changes for 2009 are meant to improve racing (part 1/3)

Christian Klien tests BMW's 2009 F1 prototype

Christian Klien tests BMW's 2009 F1 prototype

Over the last three years the rules that govern F1 have remained remarkably stable. In recent times the slowest car on the track (usually a Force India) has often been within 1.5s of the fastest. Ten years ago such a slim margin was unheard of.

However, that will all change as the FIA has overhauled the technical regulations for 2009, which promises to cause havoc in F1 design studios across the globe. Some teams are salivating at the prospect of using the revised technical baseline to leap up the grid. Who knows what will happen. Perhaps the only certainty is that the spread in lap times will increase.

In this series of three articles we will explore why F1 has decided to revamp its technical rules and what will change for 2009.

Why the change?

Despite an often dramatic 2008 season, it is widely acknowledged that F1 as a spectacle is often quite dull. Overtaking is tricky at the best of times and non-existent at the worst – winning from pole is common. Watch the breathless overtaking in GP2 or MotoGP and the challenge F1 faces is apparent.

The problem is that over time F1 cars have become finely tuned aerodynamic locomotives. With the homologation of power plants and imposition of control tyres, the majority of performance gain in recent times is from aerodynamic innovation. Teams can quite comfortably employ 200 people to man a couple of wind tunnels or a bank of supercomputers, just to shave that last hundredth of a second from a lap.

Unsurprisingly if an F1 car operates outside of its optimal aerodynamic band (e.g., when following another car) performance severely drops off. To understand why this is we must explore how air interacts between two cars close together. Two phenomena mostly explain why it is difficult for one car to follow another: upwash and turbulence.

Upwash is more pernicious and is mostly generated by the rear wing and diffuser. The diffuser is designed to help pressure recovery of the floor and as such is angled upwards. In modern F1 the rear aerofoil is coupled with the diffuser and acts as pump by creating a low pressure zone above the diffuser. The diffuser/wing combination creates a sizeable updraft. In addition, the rear wing endplates produce two, large, counter-rotating vortices that usually combine to enhance the upwash (depending on the design of the wing). A wing travelling in upwash faces a lower angle of attack, which reduces pressure on the skyward side and hence downforce.

Whereas upwash causes the airflow to change direction, turbulence is characterised by chaotic, stochastic property changes in a fluid. Typically, turbulence in an F1 car is generated by either a slipstream or a vortex burst. In both instances the outcome is the same: lower total pressure and flow velocity, which reduces the effective camber of a wing and makes it less efficient.

It isn?t only aerofoils that suffer; flow conditioners are badly affected too. These devices are designed to work in stable air so upwash and turbulence disturbs the geometry of the free air flow and the efficacy of the conditioner (usually translating to a loss of grip at the rear).

The 2009 regulations have two objectives in mind. First, is to curtail the car?s wake and control upwash; and second, is to reduce the aerodynamic sensitivity of the car (particularly for the benefit of flow conditioners) so it suffers less in turbulence.

With that in mind let?s take a tour around an F1 car and look at the aerodynamic differences we can expect in 2009.

Front wing

Felipe Massa in the 2009 Ferrari F60

Felipe Massa in the 2009 Ferrari F60

Changes: The front wing is widened from 1,400mm to 1,800mm and now spans the width of the car. After being raised in 2005 to cut downforce, the wing is lowered from 150mm above the reference plane to 75mm above it. Also its leading edge is brought forward by 100mm.

Interestingly the central 500mm section is an FIA specified single-element profile and the shape and size of the non-specified section is partly restricted. At a point 750mm from the centre line to the edge of the wing various area requirements must be met. Also the zone 840mm to the edge must only consist of a single section when viewed from beneath, which allows flicks and channels on the endplate to manage airflow to the front wheels. However, the section spanning 400mm to 750mm from the car centre line is relatively free from restriction although must be less than 550mm long and 200mm deep.

Perhaps the most significant change is the presence of driver adjustable flaps in the zone 250mm to 750mm from the car centre line. These flaps must form a single closed section and can be adjusted by the driver twice a lap up to an angle of six degrees. Finally bodywork over and on top of the nose (i.e., dumbo ears or bridge wings) are banned, although Renault-style cascade flaps are allowed.

Performance implications: All things being equal, by widening the wing plan area is made greater and so is downforce. In addition, lowering the device induces a ground effect, which works better in turbulence, is less susceptible to upwash and also supplements downforce.

Moving the front wing forward improves its efficiency and shifts the aerodynamic balance of the car forward to the benefit of front grip. Although the imposition of a standard central section sparks worries about the sport becoming a spec series it should see the wing operate across a wider tolerance band.

The driver adjustable flaps are the first moveable aerodynamic devices allowed in F1 for over 40 years. The idea is that the driver of a car in dirty air can raise his flaps to increase the angle of attack of the front wing and generate more downforce. When passing the driver lowers the flaps to cut drag to increase the odds of a successful manoeuvre. However the drivers may only alter the positions of these flaps twice per lap.

Marks 7/10: The push to make the front wing less sensitive and increase the ground effective is welcome and will up the aerodynamic efficiency of a car in dirty air. As a result, cars will be able to travel closer together, which makes overtaking easier.

The driver adjustable section is a wild card. It adds a lot of cost and complexity to the wing and the performance benefits are uncertain ?ǣ teams could waste a lot of cash for little gain. It also feels a little arbitrary and archaic ?ǣ what?s wrong with adjusting it automatically and why only six degrees? There is a good argument for the reintroduction of movable devices into F1 as they could be tuned to the amount of turbulence, although the cost implications are significant. The FIA?s manual solution sacrifices efficiency and probably won?t improve racing.

The logic for widening the front wing is to add downforce but it may turn out to be folly. The interaction between the endplates and the front wheel is complicated and reducing drag in this region sucks up a lot of resource. Managing this interaction will continue to be subject to heavy (and costly) development, especially as the reintroduction of slicks alters the aerodynamic characteristics of the tyres. A wider front wing also increases the odds of bodywork flying around the track after prangs ?ǣ at least it will keep pit crews busy.

This series continues tomorrow with a look at the rear wing and barge boards. 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.

How the F1 rules changes for 2009 are meant to improve racing

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23 comments on How the F1 rules changes for 2009 are meant to improve racing (part 1/3)

  1. Jonesracing82 said on 16th January 2009, 8:30

    leaving the central part of the front wing dead flat is a great adea as that part is most affected by turbulance! having tyat part not producing any downforce, following another car ur not losing anything!
    the movable wngs part could well backfire as the driver in front could do it also to make it harder to overtake!
    they could also use it in other ways to improve thier performance, maybe to rid some understeer? time will tell…………

  2. Nice article Keith, waiting for the other two parts!!

  3. Kester said on 16th January 2009, 9:35

    Jonesracing82, if you are following another car, in it’s dirty air and you increase your wing angle, you’ll recuperate some of the lost downforce caused from the dirty air, with minimal increase in drag.

    If you are the lead car and increase your wing angle, you’ll increase downforce, but also a significant increase drag, slowing your car down. This is why teams always run with as little wing as they can get away with.

    KERS is much more of a worry in this area, where the following car will hit the KERS button, and the lead car will do the same, meaning not a lot will happen in terms of race position.

    • bernification said on 16th January 2009, 10:59

      If both cars hit the Kers button at the same time, that is true, but surely the whole lottery of one Kers burst a lap, and two adjustments of wing are to bring some strategy into the drivers use.
      Is a bit of a lottery, but quite sure we’ll see some good strategic use and bluffs as well.

      I’m hopeful that these implementations could make better racing.

  4. The driver adjustable section is a wild card. It adds a lot of cost and complexity to the wing and the performance benefits are uncertain – teams could waste a lot of cash for little gain. It also feels a little arbitrary and archaic – what’s wrong with adjusting it automatically and why only six degrees? There is a good argument for the reintroduction of movable devices into F1 as they could be tuned to the amount of turbulence, although the cost implications are significant. The FIA’s manual solution sacrifices efficiency and probably won’t improve racing.

    I agree that 6 degrees seems paltry, it almost seems like there’s no point. I would’ve thought 15-30 degrees would have been more exciting, but then again I don’t drive the car to know what any angle would make a difference. I guess at high speeds, and the sensitivity of these cars, any slight change can have a large effect.

    How do they monitor the changes, is the adjuster linked to the telemetry, and in turn monitored by the FIA? I wonder what the penalties are for using it over 2 times per lap. You can see this being used as per the KERS examples – the last corner of the lap and first corner into the lap.

    • ajokay said on 16th January 2009, 12:19

      Maybe they just can’t use it more than 2 times per lap. They could have it so that once it’s used twice, it no longer works. Then possibly it is reset by the start/finish lap timing trigger, maybe.

    • Seedy001 said on 16th January 2009, 15:12

      I agree that 6 degrees seems paltry, it almost seems like there’s no point. I would’ve thought 15-30 degrees would have been more exciting, but then again I don’t drive the car to know what any angle would make a difference. I guess at high speeds, and the sensitivity of these cars, any slight change can have a large effect.

      @ Loki, well even a change of 1 degree in angle of attack for an aerofoil can make a huge difference. For example the average aircraft wing stalls (becomes turbulent) at around 15-16 degrees and suddenly loses lifting ability and creates vast amounts of drag. So it’d be similar if you altered an f1 wing by 15-30 degrees – loads of drag and loss of downforce. So even 6 degrees is a lot but the problem is that its so vague for different situations and a bit more choice would help create the intended effect of more passing. Hope that helps a bit.

      @John, I read that the central, FIA-mandated section should actually create lift, has this had any sort of effect on the way the teams have sculpted the underside of the monocoque etc?

    • I agree that 6 degrees seems paltry, it almost seems like there’s no point. I would’ve thought 15-30 degrees would have been more exciting,

      you must remember that its 6 degrees from the original angle of attack for the wing, considering its already at 25% then allowing the driver to add another 15 to 30 % of angle onto it would make the car very slow when he presses the wrong button, or worst case, at top speed rip off and cause an accident.

    • Cheers Seedy and Sush, that helps.

      Perhaps 15% would be too exciting, then! ;)

  5. I have sort of a question here. What about the nose tunnel that Ferrari used in 2008 season? Is it still legal?

  6. Patrickl said on 16th January 2009, 12:33

    Extra broken front wings will probably attribute most to overtaking maneuvers.

    First the guy who brakes his wing gets overtaken by several (probably slower) cars. After the nose is fixed he’s in a faster car behind slower ones which will allow overtaking again.

    Clever thinking of the FIA guys :)

  7. Has anyone ever deliberately made a car for following, eg. making it designed for flow of updrafted or low-pressure air…

    • beneboy said on 18th January 2009, 14:41

      The Brabham BT46B Fan car and Lotus Type 79’s both use systems that are much better suited to chasing and following another car than the current wing/spoiler aerodynamic systems used in F1 these days.

      There’s a decent wiki article about them here.

      The Fan car was banned after one race and I think the current regulations regarding the underside of the cars prevents the teams from using decent sized venturis.

      Keith has done some good articles about these but I can’t find them now, maybe if someone else knows where the “banned” articles are they’ll post the link.

  8. What a great article!

    Not too technical, not dumbed-down. Pitched perfectly.

    More of this! :)

  9. Pingguest said on 17th January 2009, 11:37

    About the standardized central section of the front wing, the OWG could had choosen for banning high nose cones. That would have reduced underbody performances even further too.

  10. Great article. Very informative…

  11. WOULD IT BE BETTER TO RACE THE OPPOSITIE WAY AROUND THE RACE TRACKS THAT YOU HAVE NOW INSTEAD OF BUILDING NEW TRACKS I THINK THAT IT WOULD BE GOOD FOR F1 RACE

  12. Thank god F1 season starts in a week. If i see one more Nascar, Nastruck, Busch series, dirt track roundy round race i’m gonna puke coathangers. That go straight , turn left crap is boring. It’s the margerine of racing. The diet coke of racing. And, they don’t even race in the rain!

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