Technical analysis: 2009 so far

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

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106 comments on Technical analysis: 2009 so far

  1. The Beard said on 29th September 2009, 11:52

    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.

  2. 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.

    • 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.

  3. @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.

  4. Nice article, more similar please.

  5. 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.

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

  7. 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.

  8. YODADDA said on 29th September 2009, 13:01

    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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

    • 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.

  11. 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.

    • mp4-19b said on 29th September 2009, 14:19

      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.

    • Martin said on 30th September 2009, 1:01

      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.

  12. antonyob said on 29th September 2009, 13:48

    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

    • 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…

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

  13. Racin-Rob said on 29th September 2009, 14:13

    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!

    • mp4-19b said on 29th September 2009, 15:01

      -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.

      • Racin-Rob said on 29th September 2009, 17:12

        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.

        • Martin said on 30th September 2009, 1:06

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

          • Racin-Rob said on 30th September 2009, 13:56

            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.

  14. Charles Treen said on 29th September 2009, 14:27

    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.

    • 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.

    • HounslowBusGarage said on 29th September 2009, 17:39

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

    • Martin said on 30th September 2009, 1:12

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

  15. Matt M. said on 29th September 2009, 14:47

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

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