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. mp4-19b said on 29th September 2009, 14:48

    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.

    • mp4-19b said on 29th September 2009, 14:53

      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.

  2. Dingle Dell said on 29th September 2009, 15:25

    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!

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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”…??

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

  6. 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 :)

    • John Beamer (@john-beamer) said on 29th September 2009, 21:28

      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 ….

  7. Rikhart said on 29th September 2009, 17:43

    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?

  8. Bartholomew said on 29th September 2009, 18:47

    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 ?

  9. djdaveyp said on 29th September 2009, 19:07

    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.

  10. 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!

  11. mclarenFTW said on 29th September 2009, 21:45

    well im all for more overtaking..but i dont want to see f1 become a glorified touring car race..F1 cars are and should stay the fastest cars out there IMO

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

    I’m afraid Fernando wasted his 0,6 Secs with McLaren, so he will join Ferrari “Dire Straits”. :-)

    Now, being a little bit more serious, If I remember well (and is easy I don’t), Fernando said he contributed to improve the car. I think it was Haugh who gave the figure.

    • I forgot to tell you thanks for a great article, despite I cannot translate properly most of technical words you used.

      Will be great if somebody knows some link with a draw of a F1 car with all the names in English of its different parts.

  13. wasiF1 said on 30th September 2009, 3:35

    Instead of looking at the technical side why not bring back classic tracks.Only 1 track so far has provided racing that is Spa,it is not possible to have all tracks like Spa but at least 10 out of 20.

    Diffuser needs to be ban,as it is costing money.

    I don’t think banning refueling will improve racing,its good for the engine manufacturer as we will see who have the efficient engine but it was part of the show.

    They could have had a low fuel 1 shot qualifying with like we used to have in 2005.

  14. looks to me,
    that all the banned aero bits that were all over the cars in 2008 are now on the front wings…creating the same amount of dirty air…
    i say (again) take off the wings and diffusers,simple!

  15. I will make sure and bookmark this page, I will come back to follow you more.

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