Addicted to aero (Making F1 better)

Aerodynamics are widely blamed for causing poor racing in F1

Aerodynamics are widely blamed for causing poor racing in F1

The “Making F1 better” discussion series started here last week has provoke a range of responses and ideas from fans.

But one particular complaint has come up time and time again: F1 cars are too dependent on downforce.

There may be no silver bullet which cures all F1’s ills, but kicking its addiction to aerodynamics could be the best way of improving the quality of racing. How can F1 do it?

Piece by piece

It didn’t take long after wings first started to appear on F1 cars for the governing body to step in to restrict them. The first wings, mounted high above the cars on tall legs, were prone to collapsing, causing huge accidents. These were banned, but soon teams got to grips with integrating them into their cars.

Throughout the eighties and nineties and up to the present day wing size, shape and position has become increasingly restricted. But as the teams’ understanding of aerodynamics has become more sophisticated they’ve been able to claw back the lost performance.

Today the leading F1 teams bring new aerodynamic components to every race – either refinements of existing designs or one-off versions tailored to the demands of a particular track.

The changes recommended by the FIA’s Overtaking Working Group in 2009 brought the most radical changes to the aerodynamic rules in a generation. These continued the practice of limiting what aerodynamic devices the designers could put on the cars, and where.

The oversight in the regulations which allowed teams to create ‘double diffusers’ will be fixed in 2011. Some designers have disputed whether banning double diffusers will increase the amount of overtaking.

Could the FIA limit the amount of downforce a car could produce? Hiring a windtunnel to measure it would be prohibitively expensive, and the cars would have to be checked at the tracks to ensure compliance, so this looks like a non-starter.

Is it possible to reign in downforce sufficiently by continuing the practice of limiting what the designers can put on the cars? The amount of development which has gone into front wings and pod wings this year suggests more aggressive tactics are necessary.

Standard components

It’s always controversial to suggest introducing any kind of standard components in F1. But as rules on what the teams can put on their cars become ever tighter, the value of retaining total freedom looks increasingly worthless.

It is impossible for F1 to have completely free technical rules – it would be too expensive and too unsafe.

Requiring the teams to use some standard aerodynamic components, such as front wings and rear wings, could free up their budgets to concentrate on areas that are more beneficial for the wider motoring industry and less likely to harm the quality of racing than piling yet more downforce onto the cars.

Over to you

How should F1 get its aerodynamic problem under control? Has the time come to standardise wings on the cars? Is more than just a ban on double diffusers needed for 2011?

Or perhaps you think the aerodynamic a debate a red herring, and there is a greater problem which spoils the quality of racing in F1? Have your say in the comments.

Read more: FOTA consider new 2011 downforce cuts

This is part of “Making F1 better”, a series of articles looking at ways to improve Formula 1. Fore more information see the introduction: Making F1 better: a discussion series

Making F1 better

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189 comments on Addicted to aero (Making F1 better)

  1. So far in 2010, the only interesting races where hit affected by rain. Naturally, the scramble to chose the right tire for the conditions changed the order quite a bit, but in those conditions, overtaking was possible.
    Just as an example, Hamilton could not pass Kubica in Australia when the track dried, but he was able to in China under the mixed conditions. With this in mind, the argument for lower mechanical grip seems to be the right approach to promote overtaking. A quick way to do this would be to re-introduce grooved tires or we could revert to the much harder compounds used in the 2005 season (when tire changes were banned). If the FIA chooses to use only one tire supplier, this could easily be accomplished.

  2. F1 Novice said on 27th April 2010, 20:19

    The best races this year have been when mechanical grip has been at a premium i.e. when it’s been wet – so reduce both mechanical and aero and stick a smaller diffuser on with a rear wing that makes a decent hole in the air with minimal turbulence for a car that gets close enough out of the corners to have half a chance on a straight and under braking which will favour the brave – and historically those are the drivers we’ve all craved for and remembered guys who are just as happy with acar going sideways if it means they make a pass for positions and those who had the nuts to carry it out in a sometimes win it or bin it almost cavalier fashion….. namely – Gilles Villeneuve, Nigel Mansell, Ayrton Senna, Jacque Villeneuve, Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton, Fenando Alonso, Jenson Button in Brasil 2009 even !

    Like these….

    Mansell / Senna Barcelona 1991 still gets me going:

    youtube.com/watch?v=jsG5JEXweMA :)

    Mansell Berger Mexico 1990

    youtube.com/watch?v=V2g1yrGputA

    Senna, Prost, Schumacher at Silverstone ’93 – I was there !! :)

    youtube.com/watch?v=5MEG88C3Mp0

    Jaque Villeneuve doing Schumacher at Estoril

    youtube.com/watch?v=Mp37Rl2J_fg

    &

    Gilles Villeneuve v Rene Arnoux arguably the best laps in F1 EVER !

    youtube.com/watch?v=kre35Pct0yA

  3. Standard front and rear wings could only lead to one conclusion, standard cars. Because there would only one set of resulting dimensions for all the other ‘body work’ components.

  4. Accidental Mick said on 27th April 2010, 20:24

    Keith, I think you are wrong in saying that limiting the turbulance left by a car would be too expensive to measure and police.

    All the teams bar one already test in wind tunnels so all it needs is an independant observer at one of the tests to take the required measurement.

    From that moment on, no aero changes are permitted for the rest of the season unless those changes are measured in a wind tunnel (which the team would have to pay for).

    Leave it to the teams to police each other – any of them would howl if they thought someone else was fudging.

    • Yes ! I was going to say this before I read your comment. Can’t see why that wouldn’t work.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 28th April 2010, 10:08

      any of them would howl if they thought someone else was fudging.

      They’d do a lot more howling than that. Any time they thought they might be able to force a rival team to get something off their car they’d have a go. Remember the diffuser row last year? It’d be like that all the time.

  5. Limit Aero said on 27th April 2010, 20:47

    “Hiring a windtunnel to measure it would be prohibitively expensive, and the cars would have to be checked at the tracks to ensure compliance, so this looks like a non-starter”

    This is completely not true (the non-starter bit). It IS viable to downforce check each car after the race, the same as mass. To measure overall downforce at some single speed is a much much easier and cheaper thing to do than to do the sophisticated measurement and analysis of a lab wind tunnel. You could build a single speed open section wind tunnel out of the trailer of a single semi truck out of a large powerful fan and scales. That is completely ‘good enough’. Having a downforce limit at 150 kph only is completely adequate to control the whole range.

    They don’t use many-post rig to measure mass in post tech, just scales. They don’t need a research level wind tunnel to measure downforce either.

    • without the wheels spinning and the ground moving, the air wouldn’t flow correctly over the car

      • Limit Aero said on 27th April 2010, 23:46

        True, but there would be a correlation to rolling downforce, which is all that you’d need. It does not need to be the accurate absolute numbers for 150kph on track. It simply needs to correlate in a reasonably consistent way (wrt approaches teams take to game it). The bottom line is that if the cheapo-tunnel numbers are set low, the real on track downforce will be low too, and hence aero push will be less, hence racing will be better.

    • It’s not really that simple, teams don’t even use full scale models for testing themselves, but you expect the FIA to use the cars? And create a steady, controlled flow, out of a portable trailer?

      And you can’t expect teams to knock up 1/2 scale models (and you’ll need a decent sized scale to achieve dynamic similarity without supersonic flow speeds) along with every update of the car, whilst expecting them to ‘reduce costs’. It’s absurd.

  6. Bartholomew said on 27th April 2010, 20:50

    - definitely, banning all “floor” things like DD
    – front wings, half as wide and half as deep, to make cars shorter.
    – smaller brakes
    – shorter cars
    – whatever it takes

  7. DaveW said on 27th April 2010, 20:55

    This obsession with chopping off the wings, even if based on more than aesthetics or nostalgia, is misguided. The evidence we have is that limiting the appearance of certain types of body work in certain places does not by itself make cars more follow-able. And it won’t save costs.

    Standardizing the wings, or making them teency, will not somehow demephasize aero development, or make it cheaper, or make it less time-consuming. One only has to look at the nose of the Audi R-15 and its competitors to see how much banning front wings has done to idle aerodynamicists, or quiet design controversies. More likely, drastic limits will only increase the marginal returns to research in that area, and thus the effort expended on body-work-related downforce.

    Second, and as a related result, I expect that it will not necessarily reduce turbulence sensitivity, which is not the same thing as reducing turbulence. Open-wheel, open-cockpit cars have enourmous amounts of drag, due primarily to their fundamental configuration. So long as any downforce, and performance, is derived from bodywork, it will be disrupted by turbulence. Further, possibly, resulting designs relying almost entirely on body shape for downforce will be more vulnerable to dirty air, not less. Even Sprint Cup cars suffer from these issues, and, contrary to popular myth, IRL cars suffer greatly from wake turbulence as well.

    It’s easy to say, well then “ban” “wings”, but a glance at an LMS/ALMS car where the rear wing is limited to a scrawny single plane, with no front wing allowed, shows us the limits of texts to govern shapes. And Adrian Newey hasn’t even put his pencil to a modern prototype design.

    This is simply not a pressing issue. And going down some radical path of redesign of the formula is not a risk worth taking. Frankly, I don’t think the aero changes from 08 to 09 ammounted to a hill of beans, as far as improving the show.

    I would suggest one body work change, to go with some rule changes. The cars should be required to have hard body work behind and and in front of the wheels, like the Swift IRL chassis proposals. Drivers need to know that going for a pass will not send them into the stands if it goes wrong.

    • BasCB said on 28th April 2010, 10:03

      Maybe having the 18″ wheels next year will make the teams change the suspension and have a more varying ride heigt to cope with less flexibility in the tyres.
      That would affect Aero efficiency as well, wouldn’t it?
      The tyres would ruin aero in a larger part of the cars.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 30th April 2010, 17:05

      I would suggest one body work change, to go with some rule changes. The cars should be required to have hard body work behind and and in front of the wheels, like the Swift IRL chassis proposals. Drivers need to know that going for a pass will not send them into the stands if it goes wrong.

      That would be pretty radical. Would people even recognise them as F1 cars any more? And would it not just encourage driver to push each other out of the way?

  8. Eddie Irvine said on 27th April 2010, 20:57

    I totally disagree! if we agree on that, in 5-6 years we ‘ll agrre to remove completely the front and the rear wing… We will come up with a formula 1 car like 50s’. Formula 1 is all about designing an opel wheel car. I’m sad to say that but max mosley was right…set a budget cap(my proposal is 100m without marketing) and give freedom to the designers, this will lead to bigger differences between cars and more overtaking…
    Finally most of the overtaking takes place under braking… so increase the breaking zones.. how? increase the power of the engines ..so bigger top speeds… and put ”bad” breakes

  9. Niko said on 27th April 2010, 21:31

    3 things that you need to consider:

    1.) these discussions kinda fall victim to the continuous banging about fixing F1 and making it “better”. Although I truly love and follow this blog, it seems that we are only talking about getting cars to overtake each other easily. Is this what is all about? No. Watch motoGP if you rather – however think first why it is easier for them to overtake – simply it is harder to drive the bike and has less elements to adjust and manipulate for each track totake it to the limit corner after corner.
    2.) We all know that in a race a) an F1 car matters too much to the result – yes, but b) driver/team finding optimum setup and getting into the “grove” matter too – this is really important to understand that the whole sport now revolves around this fact – changing the aerodynamic philosophy is not enough, as this is how F1 operates and the teams will find anything they can to get an optimum setup for each track. It is like “programming” the cars to a base level that contribute to 95% of the performance and up to the driver to find the remaining 5% (if that). You want more challenge? the restrict the adjustments they can do on a race by race basis – let them drive almost same car in Monaco, Bahrain, Spa, Monza, etc… – But hang on – we don’t want that do we?
    3.) If you just make overtaking easier then you are making it easier for the fast car to get in front during the race – indirectly you are allowing the fast ones to, say, make mistake and have a good chance to get back in front.

    The main fact is this – the fastest cars have a huge advantage – best drivers do not necessarily shine. Cutting aero etc will not fix this challenge, it will shift it to something else that the clever engineers will find. This is how it is for the last 20 years I watch F1, (Beneton, Williams, McLaren, Ferrari, Renault+Michelin, etc..) – but this is what we come to like. I hate boring races, but then the small details make the difference now and this is what we all appreciate in this sport – diversity and technology at the cost of manic overtaking – and when it rains then let them driver work his magic or ruin it

    • Gilles said on 30th April 2010, 11:56

      I think you have an interesting idea in racing the same car at every track. We wouldn’t notice it that much, but it might still contribute something. At least, it’ll keep some costs down, although the teams will probably end up designing their car to do OK in most of the tracks on the calendar.

  10. Sven said on 27th April 2010, 21:45

    Make the tyres wider and the wings smaller.

  11. Craig said on 27th April 2010, 21:52

    Larger wheels, radius and width, smaller wings, cars to be higher off the ground? And BRING BACK REFUELLING!

  12. Front wing just a head of the barg boards (it would be cool to see how the aro guys would use the air coming off of the front wheels. Rear wing mounted on the shark fin,trailing edge must end at the center line of the drive shafts and the single floor plate must end there too. Push bar on gearbox, so team mate can push to pass like NASCAR :)

  13. Ant W said on 27th April 2010, 22:40

    I’ve been reading nearly all the comments on here and obviously I believe some of the ideas are quite good. Instead of all the restrictions for the sake of them, e.g. they might improve overtaking costs etc. Why not instead have a points based system whereby you can bring updates to your car, either at the expense of you own teams points, or based on the previous years constructors standings. So the higher you finish the more restricted you are in terms of number of developments, track time in testing. This would give smaller teams, more freedom to keep on par with the big boys but more cheaply. Obviously you have downsides, say ferrari make a really bad car, think we can skip this year and dominate the next, but is that really in the teams interest? I would see it kind of like mosely’s cost capping rules(as much as I despise him), but based on points instead.

    • RFB said on 28th April 2010, 0:35

      You realise that with your rules, in 2009, Brawn in front would have been allowed lots of developments, while Ferrari and McLaren would have been stuck with slow cars all season, right ?

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 28th April 2010, 10:14

      So the higher you finish the more restricted you are in terms of number of developments, track time in testing.

      I can’t agree with that idea, it’s wrong to punish people for doing well. It’s like giving the winning driver more ballast for the next race.

  14. f1Fan said on 27th April 2010, 22:50

    I think F1 does have a problem because of its reliance on aero which does need to be addressed in some way to get a greater balance between mechanical and aero grip.

    But if you listened to the drivers after bahrain Schumacher said its impossible to overtake unless a driver makes a mistake, Button also eluded to this by saying he wasnt driving flatout because there was no way passed micheal.

    So I think there are two things to think about here,

    You could re-introduce manual gear boxes, a driver might get the wrong gear coming into a corner – driver behind has a chance to overtake.

    The tracks have a lot to do with it! F1 needs to look at going to race circuits where they are many places a driver can overtake if he’s fundamentally faster. Brazil is a good example, there is always plenty of overtaking because of the environment of the track, the sweeping corners, straights, braking zones and the face its high above sea level (I think :S)…

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 28th April 2010, 10:17

      I think the manual gearboxes idea is a red herring. It’s not as if we saw much overtaking due to missed gearchanges before semi-automatic gearboxes came along.

      And in a few years’ time you might have a job explaining to an average driver what a manual gearbox used to be.

  15. Mark said on 27th April 2010, 23:26

    How about removing the rev limit ?

    One limit on overtaking is that cars hit the rev limit on the straights when slipstreaming and therefore they cannot get past or even close enough to overtake under braking.

    Remove the rev limit and a following car will be able to gain much more speed to overtake than they can today.

    Also some teams/drivers will take more of a risk with the revs than others and may suffer engine failures (better for the show ?) and run into problems towards the end of season due to the engine limit…. it would certainly introduce greater variation and different strategies.

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