Addicted to aero (Making F1 better)

Posted on Author Keith Collantine

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

189 comments on “Addicted to aero (Making F1 better)”

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  1. I don’t think Indycar will have the balls to accept it, but I think the DeltaWing approach,remembering that the Deltawing group isn’t a car design, it’s a design philosophy and idea for other teams to interpret, would be perfect for F1

  2. I’ve brought this up before.
    Return to active suspension, even if it is a spec unit.
    It has implications for the motor industry, as it will improve ride, grip and handling on road cars.

    On F1 cars, it will improve mechanical grip, narrow the window of performance gained in Free Practice and if you mandate a minimum ride height that is far above current standards, you can limit the effect of underfloor air flow, which results in less turbulence. A car following will still have a higher level of mechanical grip to help them close up on a car.

  3. Some of the best racing comes dring wet races. I’d say we need to decrease aero grip and have a corresponding increase in power to mimick wet race conditions.

    A downforce limit is easy to enforce if the tech inspectors were given the spring and dampening rates and load cells were attached to the suspension. With a downforce limit, efficiency comes to the forefront which would actally provide a benefit to road cars and engine development can come back.

  4. a return to the ground effects of the 80’s and banning the ridiculous and hideous wide front wings would work

  5. can’t ban wings…that’s advertising space. besides, like it or not, wings are now a part of f1. you can decrease the size of the wing i suppose.

    another problem the cars have is the ability to follow each other. there has to be some sort of minimum radiator area available for cooling. how often do we see a car pop out of the slipstream so as to get fresh air? pathetic.

    the neutering of the engine development takes away one of the best methods for a team to increase their speed.

  6. Standardizing aero is not a solution. It will make teams to spend the very same amount of money on making the wings work better, e.g. by refining the bodywork.

    In my opinion the diffuser should be banned and both the front and rear wings to be reduced in surface.

    1. If wings were standardised, and engine and kers development opened up, the teams would quickly move the money onto engine and kers development, as spedning money on optimising engine covers etc would be as effective as bruning it :D

      resources will always be spent on the areas where the greatest gains can be made

  7. Reduce surface area and lower the angles of front and rear wings, by up to 40%, and ban double diffusers. Done. Leave mechanical grip where it is and simply reduce downforce. Significantly. Easier to follow closely and more emphasis on driver skill like the good old days when wings were first introduced.

  8. I find it interesting how frequently some of the top teams will modify their aerodynamic package; as often as every single race as the article says.

    Surely in an age of cost reduction this is an expensive process?

    Besides which it seems to me that the real way to get overtaking into the sport is to increase imperfection in a car’s setup (i.e. having the weaker of the two tyre compounds for one thing), so why not restrict how many times a team can alter the aerodynamics of their car in a season?

    I’m not proposing a restriction on actual development, limited track and wind tunnel time covers that, so teams can design and test as many new wings etc. as they wish to but when it comes to actually starting a competitive session with such a modification (i.e. Q1) then that has to be approved and exhausts one of the team’s permitted changes for the season. A bit like engines or gearboxes really (so that way there IS scope to make additional changes to rectify a mistake but there’s a penalty attached).

    That way we might see more cars designed to ‘best fit’ a number of circuits rather than tailor made to each one.

    1. This does not sound like a bad idea. To improve the show the teams could be made to actually present what they changed to the public.

      The problem with limiting this is, that a team that got it wrong at the start has less possibility to catch up. This in season development makes a lot of the seasons exiting.

  9. Other than perhaps getting rid of DDDs next year, if it aint broke don’t fix it.

    I don’t personally want F1 to be a series where overtaking is any more than it is at present. It’s just fine and most races for the last 3 or 4 years have actually been very entertaining on the whole.

    Am I the only one here taking crazy pills or is everyone else? F1 is just fine as it is!!

    1. you’re missing the strings of midfield cars all seperated by 1 second and unable to get any closer. it’s all about closing the gap so that it doesn’t look like a procession

    2. Looking at how races have been rated on this site over the past two years the most popular ones have been those where there is more racing for position:

      2008 race ratings
      2009 race ratings

      Usually that’s been because of rain but there are a couple of exceptions: Melbourne ’09 and Canada ’08, the latter enlivened somewhat by a deteriorating track surface and a conveniently-timed safety car.

      The majority of races score around five out of ten with a few real stinkers getting even less: Valencia ’08 and China ’08, for example.

      Now, there will always be some bad F1 races the way there will always be bad some football matches and some bad rugby games. Sport, by its very nature, is unpredictable and can be one-sided.

      But it’s the poor quality of your average F1 race that worries me. The leading places are rarely in dispute and it seems that even when we have a quicker car behind a slower one it can’t get close enough to even begin to try to make a pass. To me, that says there’s a problem with the aerodynamics.

      1. You make sound points Keith, there is no doubt. I do hope that aero is reduced slightly, but not so much so that we lose some of scope for the little bits of innovation that makes F1 so unique.

        There is a problem with following cars, but it’s not as big as some make out (the drivers are always going to go on about it I know, but that’s just to be expected!) and are we at risk of making overtaking the norm – and hence inadvertently making it a little less special at the same time?

        Needless to say I’ll still be watching whatever happens.

        1. There is a problem with following cars, but it’s not as big as some make out (the drivers are always going to go on about it I know, but that’s just to be expected!) and are we at risk of making overtaking the norm – and hence inadvertently making it a little less special at the same time?

          I agree that there needs to be a balance between making it possible and making it so easy that cars just breeze past each other.

  10. I agree, that we need F1 to get rid of its Aero dependance to get improve it.

    But i am not sure, standard elements will actually solve this.

    – The engine is standardized, yet all teams constantly make changes to it. A lot of the money spent on developing them went to aero development instead.
    – The regulations inhibit a lot of aero-devices around the car, yet we have a load of barge boards, mirror mounds, turning vanes etc. The non regulated aerea of the wings and bodywork have become a wilderness of developments onto the parts that can be adjusted.

    I think the resource restrictions will get rid of part of the throwing money at 100ths of seconds won in aero or any other area. Also testing limits mean the teams have limited possibility to try new things, limiting their possibilities for in season development.
    Standardisation of one area does not solve the problem because it just moves the attention to other areas.

    The OWG wanted larger front wings, to get more aero downforce from them, in the areas outside the rear wing of the car they are following. The other way is better, getting smaller front wings, to lessen the total effect they may have on aero, so being in turbulence has less effect.
    An alternative would be to have more scope for the driver to adjust the wing to following a car, making it change the balance.

    1. Actually reading this back, i have to add something.

      I think it does make sense to get some more limitations to the areas of aerodynamics developments, like smaller wings.

      That would enable getting more recources spent in meaningfull development of the drive train to improve its efficiency (KERS, electrical 4WD, gas turbines, hydro power etc) wich should be freed up.

  11. Jonesracing82
    28th April 2010, 9:54

    aa return on re-fuelling will not, and i repeat WILL NOT! make the racing anyn more exciting, we had refuelling for 15 years and we had some mighty tedious races in that era……. alkl it did was mix up 1 or 2 places at certain times of the race, and did so artificially, as well. i think standard 500 style front wings (smaller and therefor not much is to be lost by turbulance, being the the front wing is the most affected part of the car by turbulance) as well as DD diffusers should do the trick. we had overtaking last year until the cars got those bloody things 9wrongly) legalised…..

  12. The way I see it, there are 2 problems:

    1) The problem with technology in F1 is that you can’t uninvent it. A team will introduce a revolutionary new part (e.g. a double deck diffuser), and everyone will copy it (as happened last year), then the FIA will ban it (as of 2011). After this, the teams will try to claw back the loss in another way. When the FIA sets rules to limit downforce, the engineers look at the rules and then think “How do we get all that lovely downforce back without breaking the rules?” This leads to devices such as snowploughs and RB6 style front wings, all of which are great when the car is in clean air, and useless in dirty air.

    2) The highly restrictive rules are part of the problem, not the solution. Because of the highly restrictive rules (the engine freeze etc) that the teams have been forced to focus on a few areas where they have technical freedom (e.g. the front wing and the diffusers) we have cars which are incredibly sensitive, and which are difficult to follow.

    I have no idea how to fix the problem, but greater standardisation and more restrictive rules just aren’t the way to go.

    1. Yup – totally agree with No 2.

      There is nowhere else for teams to gain time except aero development. We need the engine freeze to go, so that teams focus their resources on an avenue that will inprove overtaking opportunities.

  13. I’d say no wings at all and completely flat bottomed cars.
    To start…
    But, again, I want to underline that, even if it is hard to explain, we see much greater races with more overtaking attempts when the mechanical grip decreases also (in the rain, for instance). Why not decreasing also wheels dimensions?

  14. While I would like cars to be able to follow each other more closely, and the main culprit seems to be aero, I am instinctively against standardised wings or banning them altogether.

    Although there is the old saying that if all the cars were painted the same colour you couldn’t tell which car was which, I think that on the whole there is enough difference between the cars to be able to tell them apart. If the wings were standardised I think it would lead to the cars becoming more alike though.

    Apart from small parts such as nuts and bolts the only other area I am in favour of being standardised are the tyres.

    F1 is supposed to be fastest at what it does, circuit racing, if wings were banned, junior formula would be faster than F1, something which I don’t think the powers that be would let happen, and something I don’t think quite a few fans would like.

  15. Im surprised that no one has mentioned the lack of power relative to the grip available as a cause of the overtaking problems. I would allow engine power to be increased to the point that the available grip was not surficient. As well as lowering the available aero derived grip, leave the mechanical where it is at the moment.

    1. Some of the best racing comes dring wet races. I’d say we need to decrease aero grip and have a corresponding increase in power to mimick wet race conditions.


      mentioned that one yesterday lol. though i gess slightly different wording?

  16. Over the past 20 years or so the focus in F1 shifted from mechanical grip to aerodynamics. Not that that is not a good thing, but I think it went over the top. Nowadays cars perform only in the right circumstances and are not able to slipstream any more. A good thing if you are in front, but not so good when you want to overtake.

    Reducing the turbulence behind a car (smaller diffuser) is one way to go, but still there are limits to how close you can get to the car in front, because the car behind has less air flowing over (and under) the car). The car behind has still a disadvantage.

    In my humble opinion there can be only one solution. the return of ground-effect. Then both cars are ‘glued’ to the ground and can drive in the slipstream of the car in front and it is possible to overtake. To prevent ground-effect from becoming too dangerous (the reason it was banned in the ’80s) teams should use a standard under-tray which delivers a standard amount of ground-effect. This in combination with smaller wings (not standard), should make a car have more mechanical grip compared to aerodynamic grip. Ground-effect is used in GP2 and Indycar as well, with good results.

    Refuelling is not an issue. In fact, refuelling decreased the amount of overtakes when it was introduced (again) in 1994 and every year after the amount of overtakes in a race became less and less (because of better aerodynamics). Even with refuelling the race in Bahrein probably would be boring, thanks to the new circuit layout and the currently used tyres (they wear too fast when driving fast laps). Another tyre compound, which doesn’t wear so fast when drivers try to overtake should increase the overtake attempts as well.

    1. I think you have a solid point here.

  17. Push the Button
    28th April 2010, 10:50

    For me personally I feel this is the biggest thing that will help F1. Currently, due to the aerodynamic inefficiency following a car closely through a corner, the chasing car can’t get close enough to have a shot down the straight… not unless there is at least a 3 second difference in laptime (according to reports). So, we need to get the cars closer through the corners, which means more balance to the mechanical grip and less on aero. As I’ve said before, on some other thread, the increase in aero dependency since the early ’90s has seen a counter decrease in overtaking and spectical in the sport, and subsequently the need for the FIA to mess about trying to liven it up with the rules and refuelling etc.

    The aerodynamics should be the only standardised component, the wings should be there for the advertising space and provide very little downforce. A standard spec for the underbody as well, and no other downforce genereating parts on the car should be allowed. Ultimately aero stuff doesn’t transfer to the road car so well.

    Release the other restrictions, because developments in the engine, in the gearbox, in the drivetrain, in energy recovery and/or hybrid technologies, in suspension, all can be transferred and make road cars better for us and the manufacturer has another reason to invest in F1. Williams is the classic example of the privateer race team collaborating successfully with a manufacturer and getting return for their development. Renault/Mercedes/Ferrari obviously are more directly connected.

    Lets return to fatter tyres, and I’m all for the tyre manufacturers request to go big on the wheels to allow them to transfer the lessons learnt to the road and get better return on their investment.

    The problem with all this of course, is controlling the costs, and as much as I’d say only this amount of fuel (reduced year on year) and this amount of budget, I think that would stifle the development rate for the road car end product… it’s a tough one, but I think budget the fuel & the costs and leave the rest well alone.

  18. There is a easy to police way of reducing downforce, and it keeps earo as a part of the show (it is for me): seriously limit the amount of fuel per race.
    Current F1 cars produce obscene amounts of downforce at the cost of equally obscene amounts of drag. In general terms, to add downforce you have to accept adding some drag too. This drag is compensated by powerful engines eating obscene amounts of fuel, much of which leaves the exhausts unburnt.
    My proposal is: limit the fuel to 100Kg per race, probably of some stardard fuel mix. Easy to police, before the race your car must be empty, and by the way, here is your fuel, see you at the finish line. In further years, why not redece it to 90Kg, or 80Kg, or even 50Kg! Of course this would make all teams work in engine efficiency, a good thing per se, I guess, but the knock on effect on aero would be equally dramatic. If you want downforce, you’ll have to accept drag, and if you want to move a draggy car through 305Km or race, well, good luck not using fuel for that!
    This way, the designs would shift towards less drag, simply to be able to see the finish line, and in order to generate less drag, some of the downforce has to be sacrificed. We’ll end up with equally sofisticated cars, but with much of the aero effort redirected towards low drag (road relevant!) and with lowered general downforce levels (hello mechanical grip! hello longer braking distances!).
    It is not just slowing the cars down, if you want, design your engine to be able to eat a lot of fuel for a short time to give a lot of power, that is a kind of push to pass in itself, but drivers won’t be able to use much of it, as they have to stretch the fuel to finish the race.
    I’ll cite again what could be the best aspect of this proposal: easy to police!

    1. wouldn’t the cars start resembling something like these solar engery contests?

      I think just having the cars start with all the fuel on board will already prompt teams to go for more efficient packages.

      1. But more power and more drag at the expense of higher fuel weight will still make you faster. The engines and aero haven’ exactly been tuned down this year with the ban on refuelling…
        It is only with a limit in the total amount that efficiency strats trumping raw brute power.

    2. seriously limit the amount of fuel per race.
      Current F1 cars produce obscene amounts of downforce at the cost of equally obscene amounts of drag. In general terms, to add downforce you have to accept adding some drag too. This drag is compensated by powerful engines eating obscene amounts of fuel, much of which leaves the exhausts unburnt.
      My proposal is: limit the fuel to 100Kg per race, probably of some stardard fuel mix. Easy to police, before the race your car must be empty, and by the way, here is your fuel, see you at the finish line. In further years, why not redece it to 90Kg, or 80Kg, or even 50Kg!

      That’s a very interesting idea. I can’t say for sure how accurate your figures are but the theory sounds convincing.

      I wonder if there’s any value in doing what IndyCar has done this year and prevent drivers from being able to alter the mixture settings on their engines?

      1. This isn’t a million miles away from the final turbo formula in ’88. IIRC they were restricted to 155kg of fuel, which is what gave the McLarens such an advantage. A turbo was easily better than normally aspirated for eeking out fuel without sacrificing power, and only Arrows (old thirsty BMW turbo) and Lotus (rubbish chassis) were in the same league.

        I’m not sure an economy formula is a good idea unless there is complete freedom for development (and freedom to spend loads of money).

        Sure, it might get exciting at the end wondering who’s going to run out (like the Top Gear economy race) but it’s not really going to encourage on track action – everyone will go for the fastest start-finish speed and stick to that average leading to alot of processions.

        Also worth noting is the difference between now and the 80s is that measuring fuel consumption is far more accurate. If this was taken away I think it would have more chance of working, simply because drivers would have to “feel” their way rather than following the equation.

  19. It really depends if we understand why there is a problem, if there is indeed a problem!
    Most of us on these sort of websites will watch F1 and most other motorsports regardless of the “show”. F1 like other major mototrsports needs the millions of TV viewers who are not particularly knowledgeable. They dont want different tyre manufacturers and different fuel strategies. Just to see lots of cars running round in qualifying and plenty of overtaking in the race. Refuelling was seen in general as diminishing the show as overtakes were happening in the pitlane as opposed to on track. This doesnt necessarily affect other motosports the same as it is a good aspect of Nascar but has been criticised for years in F1

    Tyres? Certainly the single tyre supply has not adversely affected the “Show” in Moto GP; and single tyre supply does allow us to concentrate on the Cars and drivers without the added complication of tyre manufacturer.

    Unable to follow other cars closely?
    This just becomes worse as aero becomes more important. Its not the hole in the air that is the issue as much as how dependent you are for there to be no hole in the air. Adjusting the balance here will redress the issue, but how? The standard floor idea seemed good especially as it is out of view; but standard wings seems to be wrong for the f1 ethos and i suspect will create a million winglets and vanes channeling air to the standard rear wing which then end up being sensitive and we are back where we started.

    Braking distances?
    These are so short that it is nearly impossible to introduce driver error. China was a wonderful example, with cars braking after the 100m board from top speed for the hairpin after the 1km back straight. This is also more aero dependent than tyre or brake type/size.

    Enforced Tyre Stops?
    In theory this is to improve the show, but not only does it penalise smoothies like Button, but in wet races we have seen this rule removed and drivers change when THEY need/want too. I dont see the value unless watching many people changing tyres in sub 4 secs lights your fire.

    Differnt engines allowed?
    todays engines are close to identical, differing engines would allow for eco V8s versus heavier more powerful V10s/V12s. A limited amount of fuel could provide added interest as it does in MotoGP. It does have a cost implication though, and this could be offset if less is spent on aero. Would this improve the show though as other formulas have very good shows with standard engines?

    Dont discount the F1 engineers, they will out-think and ruin the intention of every sensible rule change ;-) , and also dont forget if there was an easy answer the authorities and the OWG would have come up with them already.

  20. If cars are generating downforce from ‘unforeseen’ areas such as diffusers why not ban front and rear wings altogether? At worst, they should be smaller single element devices.

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