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. the main problem is the front wing is to stronge , half the size and make the tyres bigger to keep the speeds up

  2. I’ve made mention of this before but I will again which is to re-introduce the gearstick and do away with the flappy paddle gearboxes. That will provide some additional physical movement for the drivers when changing gears etc and therefore induce more mistakes which can throw unpredictability in the race.

    They also need to get rid of the aero dependancies and come back towards mechanical grip. The day the FIA finally do that things should work out better.

    Lastly the biggest factor is reliability. The current problem in F1 is that the cars are just too reliable, even if turbos had remained by now the teams would have had them working without ANY problems. Many of the exciting races of the “good old days” were helped by the fact that nobody was guaranteed to finish a race and again leading to unpredictable racing.

  3. Brundle mentioned it on Sunday – make the braking area bigger.
    I say keep the carbon / cramic disks for safety but reduce their diameter.
    2010 disks to be say 75% of now and see how it goes.
    Reduce further if need be.
    Nice and cheap!

  4. I really enjoyed reading this article, well done!

    I’d like an article exploring the possibilities of using ground effects safely in Formula One today. I firmly believe it’s the way forward if we want more overtaking in F1.

  5. 1) Cut down massively on the amount and complexity of aero, and do it properly; don’t leave these silly little loopholes like they exploited with the sidepod issues. Leave only a few things open to teams, such as the gradient/slope of the nose cone. If there are ways of forming the rules so that improving one aspect of aero will mean compromises in other – for example, improving front downforce through the front wing interfering with the rear wing airflow – do that as well.
    2) Claw back the downforce through mechanical means; limited ground effects, for example.
    3) I like the tyre rule, because it equalises the car. But it only works when there’s a big enough gap.
    4) Re-open development for things inside the car, most notably the engine.
    5) Either make the KERS power unlimited, or better yet get rid of the time limit. This will lead to tactical uses of it. If a driver uses KERS to get away from a chasing car which can claw back the advantage through a few corners and can then use its own KERS when the other guy’s running low, perfect.
    6) I don’t agree with going back to shift-stick gear changing, but certainly reduce any remaining electronic aids.

    1. And of course, change the engines to the kind of efficient dual-turbos VW are pioneering in their road cars. If the FIA want to limit speeds, then limit the power. The rev limit has proven counter-productive to overtaking; if you want the engines to last a few races, they have to be designed to and handled properly – the rev limit may reduce stress but it doesn’t make the engine last by itself.

  6. Very nice article.

    I’m mystified that Ferrari have stopped devloping the F60 for 2009. Surely any advances made on something like a front wing, will be very usable for 2010.

    John Iley was extremely capable

    I agree with you… Ferrari seem to have lost the plot when it comes to aero recently.

    1. Enzo Ferrari once infamously remarked that, Aero is for people who cannot build good engines. Poor Enzo, I am sure would have taken back his words if he were alive.

    2. The people at ferrari have run off almost all the people that made them dominate. There aero people are behind the curve and seem to have a copy the others and then modify to improve attitude.
      We can make rules whatever we want to..the good engineers are going to run us in cirles after they look at the rules.
      Limiting engine power and rpm was a mistake. Now everyone is almost the same so no one has the power to truly overtake. Also other than the red bulls hardly anyone is blowing engines. This leads to boring races and long processions of largely uncompetitive cars. They should open the engine rules back upo and let people stretch their legs, and when you ride the ragged edge of power sometimes you throw a rod. This brings the unknown back into the race.
      I dont want to see the old stick transmissios as more and more road cars dont have them, my C55 has paddle shift and I prefer it to the old crashbox.
      Brakes should be limited in size and thickness(probably at current levels) and allow them to try whatever they want.
      I would love to see the reintroduction of systemwide electronic for the shifting,theengine, and the suspension as well.
      The ban on refeuling is ok as long as they dont limit how much they can carry as they did in the early 80’s so a racer would lead the entire race and run out of feul on the last or previous lap and hand the victory to a lesser car.
      Tires should be run whatever you want and use as many sets as you want in the race.
      Let them have all the ground effects and limit the size of the front and rear wings with a stipulation that there are no winglets/bargeboards/or other littl bits hung on the car.
      Bring back in season testing so the teams can refine with some certainty that it is a good move.
      F1 is an expensive sport, dont ever think they can legislate a mandatory spending cap in this sport and it work.
      The more they legislate the worse the racing gets.

  7. thinking a bit laterally: change the circuits, slippy tarmac, bumps. ban street circuits they just dont work anymore. And yes maybe add metal brakes. Banning downforce would be impossible to police.

    Another and more controversially..employ some drivers who can overtake!!! Only Lewis & Alonso can do it effectively, maybe Webber when hes mad. The rest are just lucked in test drivers

    1. You forget: Raikonnen can overtake from outside when none of the stewards are watching. ;P

      But he won’t be at Ferrari next year, so would this affect his style? Stay tuned…

    2. Button has shown that he can overtake….on lap 1 or 2…

  8. My thoughts on overtaking….

    -Standard aero floor (a la Champcar)
    -2 element front and rear wings (a la Atlantic)
    -keep slicks (give them back the HUGE rears of the early 90s)
    -non-carbon brakes (lengthen braking distance)
    -don’t restrict power output

    Basically, make the cars faster in the straights, slower in the corners with longer more difficult braking zones and harder to hook up out of the corners.

    Make the drivers really WORK for their pay!

    1. -Standard aero floor (a la Champcar)
      -2 element front and rear wings (a la Atlantic)
      -keep slicks (give them back the HUGE rears of the early 90s)
      -non-carbon brakes (lengthen braking distance)

      It wouldn’t be formula one anymore. But I agree with your last point to lift the engine freeze rule.

      1. I disagree, it’s still F1, but they ould then be forced to develop the best mechanical package as a majority of the aero package is already specified. I’m not necessarily saying that we’d take downforce away, just change the method in which it is made and as a result how it affects the cars following.

        1. Technology is what has always been the driving force of this formula, you take that away and it becomes formula none!

          1. At what point did I say anything about taking away technology? There would still be TONS of areas for innovation, but the focus would shift from aero to mechanical and electronic. We’ve got to allow innovations like mass dampers and KERS etc and move away from the millions of little aero add ons.

  9. Am I the only one who is turned off by modern racing – at the age of 65 I find a modern GP less than entertaining. I might watch the start and finish, but find it increasingly difficult to sit through the whole, mostly rather predictable, race. Racing as seen at the Goodwood Revival is infinitely more entertaining – the cars all look different, large and small engined cars compete relatively evenly on the track, and a good time is had by all.

    I realise that Messrs Moseley and Ecclestone are mainly motivated by the returns from TV-land, and the 400 million odd viewers, most of whom know nothing about the cars and less about the technology. The result is a never ending rush of new regulations, very similar to the outpourings of a government, who feel it necessary to legislate for every tiniest possibility.

    Many years ago the technical regulations for the cars were enterprising and left a great deal of room for individual engineers and designers to exercise their skills and knowledge, and often their guile, to produce cars that won races, or, sometimes, failed spectacularly. The current regulations might just as well apply to A1 racing – the cars are all similar, the regulations ensure that no-one team will enjoy a major advantage due to superior brain power or skill in interpreting ‘the regs’.

    Will we ever see anything similar to ‘Formula Libre’ again? I have listed below a proposed list of regulations aimed at bringing the “Formula” back into Formula One.

    Proposed F1 Regulations Package for 2013
    Valid to 2020

    • Bio-Diesel, Petrol or Bio-Ethanol fuelled engines permitted.
    • 4 Stroke : Maximum capacity 3.00 litres, 8 cylinders.
    • 2 Stroke : Maximum capacity 2.00 litres, 12 cylinders.
    • Supercharged/Turbocharged 2 or 4 stroke : Maximum capacity 1.0 litres, 24 cylinders.

    Fuel :
    • Petrol Maximum Octane 98 RON. Unleaded pump fuel only.
    • Bio-Diesel
    • Bio-Ethanol

    Fuel Limitations
    • No oxygenated additives permitted.
    • Fuel Tank Size : 80 litres only, Petrol & Bio-diesel. 100 litres, Bio-Ethanol.
    • Max non cooling water allowed 10 litres.

    • Emission limits to be set and monitored full time.
    • Any excess emission leads to disqualification.
    • Catalyst – if preferred to meet limits.

    Transmission :
    • Manual operation only, with hydraulic assistance but no electronic control.
    • 8 speeds maximum.
    • Clutch to be foot operated only, with power assist but no linkage of any kind to gear selector. No auto or semi auto shifts permitted.
    • No traction or launch control permitted.
    • 4 wheel drive permitted with a mass penalty of 50kg. (Total mass = 550kg minimum.)

    Suspension and Underchassis profile
    • As at present, including board.
    • No ABS system permitted on brakes.

    Aerodynamic assistance:
    • Fixed Front and Rear aerofoils with end plates only.
    • Aerofoil max width – between inner tyre walls front and rear.
    • Aerofoil max chord – 25% of width.
    • No protrusions from a smooth bodywork line for aerodynamic purposes.

    Tyres :
    • Max width 450mm front or rear, slick or rain pattern.

    • Max Wheelbase As at present
    • Max Width As at present
    • Max Length As at present
    • Max Height As at present
    • Max Weight 500kg empty before penalties. 550kg with 4WD

    • As at present

    • No refuelling during the course of a race of 200km

    No practising lawyer allowed with 1000km of the pits.

    This formula could be extended to allow steam and electric cars, or limit fuel tankage based purely upon energy content.

    1. so if superior brain power is the objective – whatever team can build the most advanced machine, why go back 20 years to a manual gearbox and no electronics?

      technology is the future and the most underdeveloped area, there should be more done about kers and other energy sources rather than trying to find ways to burn fuels faster.

      why not allow hydrogen push to pass motors and other fuel cells.

      i’d much rather see technological advancements than turbo’s, supercharges and manual gearboxes.

      the last thing i’d ever want to see in f1 is a bio-diesel engine.

    2. HounslowBusGarage
      29th September 2009, 17:39

      “Max Weight . . .” Or do you mean “Min Weight”?

    3. I especially like the bit about lawyers…it needs to include some of the business managers and fia officials too.

  10. Love the technical side of F1. Thanks for the article.

  11. Nice article John, we need more technical stuff here. That would make F1Fanatic more enjoyable. The problem with F1 these days is that Aero rules. Aero is ultimately what gives you that performance edge. It is quite understandable why Ferrari & McLaren got it so wrong. They were fully pushing their resources into the 08 season. McLaren is said to have spent 5 million $$ for their rear wing update for Interlagos alone. What were the rest doing? The likes of BMW,Renault,Toyota had every opportunity to abandon their 08 car & to start working on 09 ones. BMW stopped developing their car midway, but they got it horribly wrong. Something must have gone wrong on the technical side. But I really like the way about have mclaren have gone about upgrading their car. Nice & methodical approach.

    I feel the problem of lack of overtaking can be solved by employing few of there points:-

    1. Lift freeze on engine RPM.

    2. It must be made mandatory that big corp like mercedes,BMW,toyota,honda can “only” supply engine & not bother about other things.

    3. Real f1 teams like McLaren, williams, Red bull must build only chassis & transmission & not bother about engines.

    4.Encourage innovative designs

    5.Bring back some classic tracks.

    6.Appoint Adrian Newey as the head of OWG.

    7. teams could be given an option, to choose a car developed around

    a) Aero
    b) Turbo engine

    A team that chooses Aero as their main priority will have to be content with normally aspirated v8 engines.
    But they could do whatever they want in term of aero.
    Whereas a team that chooses to design their car around the turbo engines will get the freedom to develop their engines as to their liking, but will have restricted or very little aero modifications.

    8. Voluntary reduction of wind-tunnel testing by the teams.

    9. Bring back two tyre manufacturers rule .

    10. Drivers must be asked to attend some workshop which focuses on building up courage, because some of the current drives absolutely don’t have the guts to pull off an overtaking move. At the end of the day it is the driver that has to pull off the move & most of them don’t seem to make an conscious effort.

    1. The only thing that I don’t agree with you is that 0.6 sec from Alonso. Do you know something that we don’t? ;)

      Mind you, even Ferrari have a spanish test driver, just like mclaren. So you never know with Alonso. Anything could happen.

      1. It’s something Alonso said he brought to McLaren when he got there :)

  12. Say it all guys of the FIA or the FOTA or the F1 teams, drivers and crews. What is to shout about with the aerodynamics? Is that really some technology that is so freaking stunning? I believe they are just some gizmos and waste of money to make the sport to look innovative with the funny bizarre designs and to make racing least close and yet boring to the utmost!


    These were the essence of racing, of Formula 1, which is the real Grand Prix racing what Murray Walker the voice of F1 used to say.

    Yes, we love ban of refuelling, but kindly bring back the wide-looking cars with almost no aerodynamics pieces but just pure clean looking chassis that a driver could sit on the thin sidepods instead of nowadays tall and fat yet curvacious ugly boons!

    Where did the low ride heights go? Now it’s so deceiving to see the cars at a high ride height and able to see the naked piece of wood plank and when there is bottoming out, we will see the ugly wood dust of brown ogre-ish colour and it contaminate the tarmac road with the stains of wood dust!

    Besides that, the front wing, isn’t it supposed to look clean and with almost no addition of silly flaps and extensions to it? Are they legal? How about those sidepods gates and bridges? And those bargeboards? Plus those wing mirrors that Ferrari introduced which looks so ugly and hard for the drivers to view just for the sake of ‘aerodynamic’ purpose. What about those wheel covers? All these have been a waste of resources and make no use to a great racing show but just a silly-berry joke to make F1 a laughing matter. Sadness.

    Where were the sparks that we have seen once upon a time that was so marvelous yet stunning? Where were the brake disc glows that we have observed once upon a time under-braking? Where were the clean-looking chassis with wide body shape and wide rear wheels with a sliding car and turbo-charged engines we last saw?

    Pity, those ugly high-rise nose cone makes F1 look so naked on the underside. We definitely need Ari Vatanen and a course of evolution!

    1. Wait a minute! that uncontrolled tone, that disjointed syntax, those hectic leaps of logic…. is that you, Murray Walker???

  13. Wake limits and performance testing is the way to go. How teams get under that limit should be up to them as much as possible so we get interesting solutions and a good mixup as it gets introduced.

    1. Mussolini's Pet Cat
      29th September 2009, 15:37

      I know some say F1 is boring, but limits on being awake sounds rather extreme! ;)

  14. Great article John, if these become a regular feature then F1 Fanatic will be the complete F1 site!!

    Does anyone know if the regs are being tightened next year to limit the aero any further by closing the loop holes that the teams have exploited this year?

    It does seem to me that part of the reason the OWG’s changes haven’t been as effective as they expected is that (some of) the teams straight away got around them…

    Either that or have they considered that when they tested them on the McLaren simulator that it was switched to to “Arcade” mode rather than “Simulator”…??

  15. Yeah very interesting post. And some great ammo in there

  16. Welcome back John, I have missed your posts this year.

    2 doubts:

    1. How does increased grip (due to slicks) mean that more weight should be shifted to front? After all, the increased grip will be at both front and back.

    2. Movable flaps of front wings have not been used by any drivers so far. They were introduced so that cars could follow the cars in front more easily by changing the front wing angle. I am assuming drivers don’t use it as it brings negligible improvement (or they are short of fingers with all the gear changes, KERS, steering; the movable wing is not worth the extra headache?)

    Thanks in advance :)

    1. 1/ It’s just a caracteristic of the tyres. Moving to the control bridgestone 2 years ago saw more front bias for the Michelin teams yet the tyre looked the same. Next year bridgestone is narrowing the front slick to try to redress some of this balance

      2/ It’s unclear exactly how much it is used. In dirty air I suspect that some drivers may tweak the flap to improve balance and grip but in reality it’s use is negligible. My understanding is that few if any drivers use it on every lap – although I at Monza in qualy it wouldn’t suprise me if a couple tried to when going through parabolica ….

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

    Let me know when you land back in Earth… How´s the weather on whatever planet you live?

    1. It’s so irritating when poorly informed commenters are unable to tell sarcasm from serious remarks.

      Are you really completely unaware of the highly publicized claim from Alonso, when he said he brought 0.6 secs to McLaren?

      The writer is being ironic here, you know… How’s the weather on your planet?

      1. MJ4 – thanks. For those who don’t understand the comment here is a link:

        1. How about cutting out the irritation, irony and sarcasm and lets just have the serious remarks.

  18. All this technical info is very interesting. It seems that at the rate we are going, it wil be the World Championship of Aerodinamicists. Instead of drivers, we can place robots controlled via videoscreen.

    We need more overtaking measures. I would limit the diameter of steel brakes, and make the front wheels a litle narrower.
    And by the way, what would happen if there where no front and rear wings ? would the cars just fly off or would we have better racing ?

  19. I think they should bring back the ground effect, but it should be the same design for each team and there should basically be a templated floor and diffuser design, as a safety measure active suspension should be allowed with the ground effect. This way the fia can control the amount of downforce from ground effects so it doesnt get out of control through the teams developing it like hell!

    Then they simply really tighten up the rules on bodywork, unfreeze the engines, make kers unlimited. When I say unfreeze engine, they should allow a turbo engine of lower cc, and the 2.4 naturally aspirated engines should not have fixed v angles etc. This will create cars that are faster in different ways, which is what you need for overtaking.

    The modern f1 car is safer than it has ever been, they shouldn’t stop teams going to fast because they might crash, drivers will crash whatever the rules. AS we have seen recently a driver is more likely to die from being hit by debris than crashing into the tyre barriers after going across an enormous run off zone. Plus less body work on top of the car leaves less to fall off it that could potentially hit another car at cockpit height!

    So to summarise. I say, bring back ground effect and active suspension, open up engines and kers, and severely restrict upper body work on cars.

    1. one more thing, i think adjustable front and rear wings with unlimited movements would spice things up.

  20. I’ve read all the comments here suggesting going back to how things were – ‘ban paddle shift’, ‘ban aero’, ‘bring back ground effect’.

    What they of course ought to do is stop drivers training so hard and make sure they stay out late partying every night.

    This would induce mistakes, making overtaking much more likely! James Hunt showed us how to do it, Raikkonen would gladly follow in his footsteps!

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