Technical analysis: 2009 so far

Posted on | Author John Beamer

Front wing designs have become much more sophisticated through 2009
Front wing designs have become much more sophisticated through 2009

Why hasn’t overtaking improved in 2009 as planned? And have double diffusers really made that much of a difference? John Beamer looks at the major technical developments this year.

First of all a short apology – these columns were supposed to be a regular feature at F1 Fanatic but I ended up doing some contract work which forbade me from writing. That gig has now finished so I’m back.

Rather than bore you senseless with a technical rundown for each team let me frame some of the issues and innovations in five themes.

Overtaking is only marginally easier than it was

This was supposed to be the year overtaking returned in Formula 1. The first few races delivered but not thanks to the much-vaunted aerodynamic changes. At Melbourne it was largely because of the option tyre losing performance after a few laps, and at Malaysia and China rain mixed up the field.

Recently it is only the KERS cars that have done much overtaking – think of all the races where Vettel got stuck behind, unable to pass (although I suspect Vettel isn’t what we might call a natural born overtaker).

The truth is that the new aero regulations have had limited influence. This is for two reasons.

First, double diffusers allow better aero coupling between the floor and the rear wing. This ‘pumps’ the diffuser resulting in more downforce and a larger wing-diffuser wake. It is this wake which causes a trailing car to lose downforce, particularly in higher speed corners.

Second, teams have found other gaps in the regulations that allow flow conditioning devices – specifically pod wings and bargeboards. Flow conditioners are reasonably sensitive so any disruption to the airflow hampers performance.

However, even without double diffusers its doubtful we’d see much more overtaking. The fundamental issue is that F1 is an aero-dominated formula. At the start of the season the Overtaking Working Group’s objective was to cut downforce by 50%. Unsurprisingly, teams have clawed this back to the 80-85% level. You’d probably need close to a further two-thirds reduction to deliver significantly more overtaking.

Double diffusers are a damp squib

At the start of the year much air time was taken up with the benefits of double and triple-decker diffusers. Since Spain, when most teams rolled out a version the brouhaha has quietened somewhat.

Did it make a difference? Not really – McLaren, BMW and Ferrari didn’t immediately shoot to the top of the time sheets. Part of the issue is that an effective diffuser requires integrated design. It’s not as simple as cutting a hole in the floor. Airflow over the car is important to create low pressure above the hole to ensure the device is working properly.

The BGP001 was designed around the double diffuser concept whereas the RBR05 wasn’t – the pullrod suspension lessens the effectiveness of the double diffuser. Simply put, Brawn deploys the diffuser more effectively than almost every other team.

Conversely, the double diffuser is only worth 0.3s per lap. On many tracks KERS is worth at least that – and as we’ve seen with Brawn ‘switching on’ tyres is a critical to race pace. In 2009 it isn’t too difficult to find 0.3s from somewhere.

It’s all about the front wing

Aside from the double diffuser, the majority of aero development has been on the extremities of the front wing – notably the footplate and endplate. Two factors are driving this.

First, the outer part of the front wing has less regulatory constraint than many other parts of the car. Second, the wider front wing means that managing the wheel-wing interaction is more important than it has been in past year.

Last year the endplates were turned in to divert air inside the wheel. To clean up airflow around the tyres teams deployed horizontal vanes to control the air around the tyre.

This year the goalposts have moved somewhat. The central section of the front wing is flat which leaves the outer part to generate downforce. As such the endplates play a critical role both in downforce generation and in reducing drag from the tyre.

Take a look at the BGP001’s endplate, which is intricately designed (especially compared to the boxy BMW Sauber endplate pre-Singapore). The endplate is fulfiling three objectives:

  • Diverting air outside the tyres – look at the plan view of a 2009 F1 car and you’ll see the endplates tail outwards
  • The vanes set up many micro-vortices between the wing and tyre which keeps higher pressure air away from the wheel (so reducing drag)
  • Sealing the underside of the wing by creating a vortex under the footplate (the semi-circular duct is designed to capture and control this vortex).

  • Endplate and footplate design is the most aerodynamically exciting area of an F1 car – look for an off-season feature on the issue.

    Is the tyre war back?

    The advent of the control tyre from 2007 was supposed to eliminate rubber as significant racing variable. The move to slicks along with the wider spead between compounds ensured that tyres remained an important talking point for the first half of the season.

    On reflection it perhaps isn’t a surpise. It’s been over ten years since F1 donned slicks in anger and unsurprisingly the cars needed a little recalibration.

    Slicks have more surface area in contact with the tarmac so are more grippy. This means that front weight distribution was even more important than it has been in previous years. (Incidentally this is one reason why KERS cars struggled at the start of the year – KERS sits back in the chassis and makes forward weight bias harder to achieve.)

    The move to slicks was only a minor factor in this performance discrepancy, it was the wider compounds that had a larger effect. In short the target operating temperature between the two compounds didn’t overlap, which meant that drivers could only get one tyre to work properly (be it the prime or option depending on the day). Now that Bridgestone has narrowed the difference in compounds this issue has subsided – the operating windows of the option and prime do overlap which means that teams can make both tyres work.

    However the gap between the compounds will be widened once again at Suzuka (where they will use hard and soft) and Interlagos (medium and super soft).

    McLaren and Ferrari got it wrong

    Before the season began many observers expected McLaren and Ferrari to dominate proceedings. Although both cars are now reasonably competitive neither is the fastest on the grid.

    Many pundits speculated that the the intensity of last year’s title battle took the edge off 2009 development efforts. I think that is only part of the reason.

    McLaren was caught short by the radical aerodynamics of the Brawn in particular. In January the MP4/24 beat its Australia downforce targets so the guys at Woking relaxed a little. Unfortunately for them no one told Brawn. The impressive rate of development of the new car is a testament to the talent in the team.

    I’m a little more worried about Ferrari – it’s not the Schumacher years any more. The aerodynamic talent at the Scuderia isn’t as deep as it was in the days of Rory Byrne. John Iley was extremely capable, has a phenomenal track record but has been fired. Ferrari lacks the systematic approach that McLaren has or the divine inspiration of, say, an Adrian Newey to spur the team onwards.

    I’m sure they’ll be OK but that 0.6s from signing Alonso will come in handy…

    Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the technical developments from the Singapore Grand Prix.

    Aerodynamic changes have not created closer racing this year
    Aerodynamic changes have not created closer racing this year

106 comments on “Technical analysis: 2009 so far”

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  1. good post very interesting

  2. Mussolini's Pet Cat
    29th September 2009, 10:13

    My fear for next year is that with no refuelling, coupled with the old chesnut of not be able to get close enough to overtake, we are going to some real dull processional races. If you thought Singapore ’09 was boring, then I’d suggest mowing the lawn for Singapore ’10!! Please FIA, cut Aero down more please!!!!!!!!!

    1. The prospect scares me as well… What also may happen is that a slower car has a great start which might result in the first couple of drivers flogging off into the sunset followed by a huge train (the rest of the field) stuck behind the one guy and losing seconds per lap.

      1. Flogging off?!?! I meant flying off! Damn you iphone autocorrection!

        1. Auto correction drove me mad too but i learnt how to take it off =). Go to Settings> General> Keyboard> and turn auto correction off!

          Unless you want to keep it but it drove me round the bend…was so happy when i learnt it could be turned off.

      2. I have so many bad puns about flogging off while watching a F1 race ready to go….. :)

    2. They’ll still have to pit a bit for tyres, but I can see it being a bit dull. I think FOTA should stop lobbying KERS, it may be the only way cars can overtake – tactical use of KERS and a bit of bravery!

      1. Mussolini's Pet Cat
        29th September 2009, 11:14

        Yes, but the different fuel levels in each car has been the key to when to pit.

        1. Not really, in some races (Brawn in Monaco comes to mind) tire wear has been the reason they pit.

          1. Mussolini's Pet Cat
            29th September 2009, 15:35

            1 race?? hmm, you’ve convinced me….not.

        2. Is it so hard to extrapolate from what I wrote that next year tire wear will be the key to entering the pits, just like fuel levels are now? Someone who will be more gentle to the tires might be able to have longer stints etc.

          Strategy will still exist, but it will be based purely on tire wear and management, instead of fuel and tires together.

    3. Remember though no refuelling means managing your fuel level – if you want to make up places then turn to a richer fuel mix and go faster – but make sure you don’t run out of the flammable stuff.

  3. IMO the Diffusers killed the racing,once they were on each car “bahrain”, well they were legal then tho BMW didnt have one till spain, anyway, since that race on there’s has been no passing again aside from KERS cars, also, they were meant to be able to “race” a car that was a second sloer as opposed to 2 seconds, trouble is, this year the field has been covered by about 1.5 seconds, which 4-5 yrs ago was the top 10 seperated by that much, also, the added “flip up’s” we see on the edge of the sidepods and the front wing have contributed to the problem, have a limit on 2 planes per rear wing, yet there has never been a limit for front wings, and thats the most disturbed part of the car when following another, and most relied upon part of the car for downforce……..give them front wings the size on the cars of the “indy500” in it’s heyday and watch them overtake…….. leave them as wide as they are now but have standard/flat ones

  4. If they removed the rear wing, vastly reduced the amount of “upper” body aerodynamics and relaxed the rules around on the floor of the car could they keep a similar level of aero and follow closer? I do appreciate the cars would probably be even uglier.

    1. And they’d be slower than a GP2 car.

      1. HounslowBusGarage
        29th September 2009, 15:19

        So unlimit the engines!
        Let’s have monstrously powerful beasts with as little aero as possible so that they can get close to and then pass each other.
        Actually, if the floor rules were relaxed as Berties suggested, they would still be faster than GP2’s. Bit like the ground effects days.

        1. Frenzied passing is not going to erupt until all the cars are exactly the same and most drivers are error-prone hacks, a la, GP2. But that is not F1. Cars are different and drivers competent—the best car or two will qualify up front and usually run away with little chance that the drivers will stuff it or break down.

          Anyway, if you really want to limit turbulence, and allow more passing, put in massive tunnels and chop the wings to one element. It works for Indycars, it worked in Group C/GTP, its not a new concept. And require steel brakes–you can’t outbrake someone who can brake from 200 to 50 in a couple seconds. Its like catching a fly with your hand–most driver dont bother and those who do often end up with penalties for “avoidable accidents.”

          1. Frenzied passing is not going to erupt until all the cars are exactly the same and most drivers are error-prone hacks, a la, GP2.

            So you’re saying that all cars built before the early 90s were all the same and all of their drivers were error-prone hacks ?

            That’s not how I remember it.

            The last twenty years have seen aerodynamics playing a more important role with each new season, and with each passing season the entertainment has been reduced.
            If things carry on as they are in a few years time you wont have to watch the race as, barring failures, the cars will all finish in the same order as they qualified.

        2. Beneboy, do you really believe that the 80s or 90s were some golden age of passing? You had 4-6 seconds spreading the field, minimum, among those that made the time cut-off. The overall quality of the field—cars and drivers—was pathetic compared to today. Frequently, pole position was won by over a second, not a couple tenths. Competition was not that close, especially not at the front. And yes, the grid was packed with no-talent hacks funded by rich dads.

          1. I sort of agree DMW. But there were some gems in there too!

            As ever, a few classic overtakes and you’re in the F1 hall of fame. Because they are difficult and hard to achieve and so it should stay.

          2. I definitely agree with DMW.

            The other day I was feeling a bit sentimental and watched the 92 season review. I have to say I was shocked by just how big the gaps between the teams were. The slower teams were 3-4 seconds off the pace at every track, and “Our Nige’ took pole regularly by at least a second.

            I don’t necessarily think passing was any easier back then, you just had a situation back then were one quick car came up behind a much slower one, and drove right round it. If the driver in the slower car had a bit of skill, he put up a bit of a fight and the pass may have been labeled as a “great overtake” that we all remember now. If the driver of the slower car was Paul Belmondo or Pierluigi Martini, no one took notice of the pass. I think we all look back to the late 80’s and early 90’s with rose tinted glasses on because it is what we all grew up on, and when our love for F1 was born. I certainly do.

            These days the quality of the teams on the grid is far higher than it has ever been, and watching this video made me take my hat off to the FIA. The rules they have in place in respect of the entry of new teams is clearly ensuring that only quality outfits get into F1.

    2. eactly the ground effects gave them downfoce without the the negative effects thet the upperbody and rear wing do to the air for the guy following. Hell some of the cars in the last years of ground effects didnt even run a front wing as it had so little effect.
      Bear in mind though that whatever the rule makers come up with the engineers find way and loophole to get back what the car had and then they find is just the nature of the human spirit.

  5. Two things I’d like to know more about. First, the moveable front wings. We’ve heard very little about them, and have no idea where or when they are being deployed. Cant the FIA create a graphic like KERS so we know?

    Secondly, the new aero rules were supposed to get rid of all the apendages such as barge boards. The early ’09 Brawn shows this very well – smooth lines and the cars look great. now, the Brawn has various winglets and barge boards – some teams seem to have integrated this into their wing mirrors, but the Brawns seem to be stand alone barge boards. Keith, how is this allowed in the rules when the cars are meant to be smooth?

    1. AA – if you examine the 2009 regs basically what they do is place restriction as to where you can and cannot place bodywork. Problem is they used a 2008 car as a base. Teams have shortened the sidepods and then placed bodywork (smaller bargeboards and various flicks etc) in this region. Even without the shortening it is possible to place vanes in and around the sidepod area. You’ll notice that bodywork on top of the sidepods e.g., flip-ups etc. have been eliminated. It’s just a way the FIA wrote the regs — if you go back to my post about the 2009 regs you’ll get a feel for what the regs say. Not sure what the link is but am sure Keith will post it

  6. Through the first half of the season the aero changes did work. Cars were able to follow closes and there wer overtaking moves. Notably Button overtaking KERS cars on several occassions.

    Seems that the teams have now indeed developed the cars again and now they rely on clean airflow too much to really allow closely following cars.

    I doubt this is something that can be fixed. Isn’t this something that will always happen when the cars are developed to their fullest?

    Most importantly though. Overtaking depends on faster cars being behind slower cars. That is not the natural order of things during a race so lack of overtaking is almost a given.

    1. Not sure I agree 100% with that. The reason why overtaking was easier at the start was because cars were at vastly different stages of development (the KERS guys compromised too heavily on aero) and the wide spread in tyre compounds meant there were some wierd things going on with tyre temps.

      There is a fix and that is to radically reduce downfoce. Look at the pre-dforce days in the 70s … flatten the wings etc. and you’ll see a lot more overtaking

      1. The increasing difficulty of overtaking through the season can be at least partially explained by the increasing complexity of the front wings, as pointed out by John. We talk a lot about disruption to the airflow by the diffusers but ignore the fact that the tyres are what cause most of it. And that will always be true.

        The more sophisticated the front wing, the more sensitivity to airflow it will have. The only way to solve this problem once and for all is to outlaw wings completely and so, at a stroke, prevent F1 cars ever again being so dependent on aero-generated downforce. It might take us a while to get used to the look of the cars without wings but they would be able to run nose to tail again.

        And isn’t that what we say we want…?

  7. 0.6 from alonso? LOL! Is he super human or something?

    1. Is that 0.6 seconds ahead of Massa or does that only apply to Piquet?

      1. When Alonso was leaving Maclaren he said that he has help the development of the car and gained 0,6sec/lap. I think that John Beamer was pointing on that but i still think that is ridiculous and must be a team effort.

  8. Overtaking will always be hard!
    I always said it’s down to the braking aswell.. they brake so late and corner so quick, it’s really hard.
    Some track layouts will help with this tough.

    Another thing is the driver, not to many are great at overtaking. A few years back we had Montoya who I loved for atleast trying (and sometimes do a brilliant move).
    Now (hate it or love it) we have Hamilton, who’s the best at it imo.

    1. Hamilton is the only one that dares to overtake now. He will pull off fantastic moves. Need more drivers like him.

      Its hard to promote overtaking though because you get some kind of penalty if you slightly touch wheels or run off wide.

      1. oh then sutil’s daring overtake wasn’t daring at all? just optimistic at best?

        if drivers can get close enough they will overtake. its just a matter of getting there.

    2. KERS was supposed to be the overtaking solution, so in a way, it’s a pity that it’s being kicked into touch. But then again, if everyone had KERS, overtaking with a car with KERS wouldn’t be that easy.

      eh, never mind then…

      1. If everyone had KERS there would be more overtaking, say if you can pressure the guy in front to use his at the beginning of the lap then use yours later on.
        I’ve said it before but KERS has to be on every car or on none of them imo.

        1. it how they restrict KERS 6second boost for 1 lap better if it can be use freely. At the start of the car KERS battery is empty then the energy obtain from braking is use freely through out the race and the power can be varied by the driver. It will be a better race with drivers having different way using KERS.

          P.S. sorry for my broken english

  9. Mussolini's Pet Cat
    29th September 2009, 11:19

    Those enormous front wings cant help overtaking either. I dont necessarily mean from an aero point of veiw, the drivers must worry about them getting knocked off if they make a banzai move into a corner.

  10. I’m slightly apprenhensive about Ferrari too, take many teams and they have some ‘start’ behind the scenes who immediately pops out but Ferrari seem to be lacking slightly. That said they will have the best drivers, but so will Mclaren so they are going to need a good car. However, they have been developing it for quite a while now.
    I feel the best change is back to slicks but that tyres have been ruined by the two compound rule, it can even influence the championship. Why can’t the teams just pick?

    1. Mussolini's Pet Cat
      29th September 2009, 11:30

      It’s always seemed a silly, contrived rule. How about have 2 or 3 (dry weather) compounds, and let the teams decide on what they use whenever they want during the race weekend. It could give some interesting results on race-day!

  11. I’m curious. Would it make any difference to the quality of the racing if the FIA proposed that all the teams to designed their cars to, say the 1990 technical regulations, banned all aero flip ups, barge boards etc of any nature, and allowed teams to used KERS if they so wished?

    I’m inclined to say no because the early 90’s technical regulations probably didn’t envisage the sort of dependance on aerodynamics we have at the moment, and we saw some wierd and wonderful solutions in the past, which suggests that teams had a lot of room for development.

    It seems to me that the FIA, and a lot of us, want to see the cars looking the way they did in the late 80’s and early 90’s, but I have no idea how we can get back to these days.

    I’m pretty sure that I’m going to get slated for this post, but what the heck! ;-)

    1. So I think you’ll find that the 1990 regs don’t prevent flip ups and all the paraphenalia

  12. GeeMac I like your post, though I am no technical expert. That said about the ‘good old days’ I’m not sure overtaking really was that good just maybe there was some spectacular moves we rememeber and that sticks in our minds.

    1. Agreed. I suspect some younger folk get an idea of the passing situation of yesteryear from YouTube clips of Senna at Donnington and the like. I woke up at 6am to see a lot of 105 minute processions in the early nineties and beyond. Those 14 and 15-win seasons for McLaren and Williams did not feature much passing at the sharp end and those cars looked like cough drops with wings compared to today.

      I suspect a big driver in agitation for passing has to do with who is up front. When Schumacher was putting 30 seconds on the field by midway, and the only action in the race was a Prost crashing into a Minardi, it was not a thrilling spectacle. But since most fans liked that outcome, it was all good. When red, and silver, are back in the pack—when people see their team—bottled up behind Force India, they got religion about passing.

  13. lol did Alonso write this? He couldnt squeeze .6 nore seconds out of that car then Kimi has.

    1. …and you base this opinion on what, exactly?

      1. Is there any proof to suggest that he can squeeze more than 0.6 secs out of that car as compared to Kimi?

        1. that was a sarcastic remark I think.

        2. The question is, what will happen next year with no refueling? We might see even more processional races, Monaco GP will be over after qualifying.

          Or maybe teams will have to design cars that are less sensitive to turbulent air when they no longer have “we can pass them by pitstops” option. Giving up a little efficiency for more robustness, that is the classic engineering problem.

          People suggest make cars less dependent on aero grip, I dont think it is doable any more. F1 cant unlearn everything they knew about aero after years of research.

  14. Actually I’ve had a think and I’ve decided I like aero and downforce should go so they can at least try 2 use a gap in air to slipstream. Either that or bring back the 80s as it was beautiful :P.
    Also I think track changes might help more than just cars and also if the cars front wings were maybe narrower.

  15. The cars have closed up but still can’t get close enough which is even more frustrating.

    1. I agree with this – I think we’ve seen an improvement, but not enough. And certainly not enough to justify a new generation of grotesque F1 cars.

  16. Has the idea of using metal brake disks ever been seriously on the table?

    (increased braking distances makes getting alongside into a corner easier to judge)

    They’d still be pulling several G’s of retardation.

  17. F1 is a victim of its own development. These cars have become too smooth to drive – look at older in-car footage and it’s amazing how much these guys used to get shaken around. What does this have to do with overtaking? Combined with stick shifts, and fatigue, driver errors were inevitable – not big crashes, just a missed gear here and there. Plus all the electronics now – oy! I would severely limit the electronic components, make shifting more difficult one way or another, and even limit the amount of information that teams relay to their drivers. I don’t know if any of this is coherent – but I think that the main reason we have not nearly enough overtaking is that the driver has become only one of many components in the car.

    Anyhoo – the ban on refuelling, I think, will indeed bring more overtaking. Neither the drivers nor the teams will have a choice now – and driving styles will become more important as tyre wear will be crucial.

    1. i’m skeptical on the even ‘the ban on refuelling, I think, will indeed bring more overtaking’

      if you look at some of the racing going on now, there’s plenty of cars stuck in a train behind another car with a heavy fuel load.

      the cars behind the heavy car have less fuel, so more speed to make the overtake but they still cant get close enough most of the time.

      if the cars behind are just as slow and heavy as the car in front, i think the overtaking situation will just be worse.

      1. Well, that’s true on a track like Singapore, but elsewhere?

  18. @John Beamer – thanks, makes sense now!

    Re they 2 tyre compound rule, I’ve always thought that to be reduculous. Just let the teams use whatevers fastest, otherwise you’re going down the same road that ruined touring cars – trying to artificially create closer racing through added ballast etc.

  19. Nice article, more similar please.

  20. A warm welcome back John, and another interesting article. An idea: when talking about specific parts of a car, it’d be incredibly useful if an image or link could be supplied to help us see what you’re referring to. For example, you talk about comparing Brawn’s front wing end-plate to BMW’s, but without visual reference it has little meaning.

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