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. Edward Marshall
    28th April 2010, 11:22

    Ban front wings.
    Job done ;)

    1. I will second that !

      Front wings are the main problem, get rid of them and you get rid of the problem.

      1. If you get rid of the front wing how can you will provide downforce in the front of the car?

        The car will have trouble in getting in cornered in high speed corner like 130 R in Suzuka.

        1. Get rid of both wings and bring back the four wheel drift.

  2. Aero will always be a problem in F1. An if a performance is being gained from aero, performance will be affected behind other cars. However the obvious answer to this is to slash performance aero an theres a really obvious way of doing that, ban wings. Todays wings produce an obscene amount of downforce, truly ridiculous, luckily at a high drag cost but the ratio gets better every year.

    So what can be done, ban wings of course! Bodywork downforce will rise but it’ll still mean less updates a year an as downforce from wings will plumet, dirty air will become far less of a problem, it won’t disapear but so what? We’ve made a huge step.

    Then set about unbanning all those, real life applicable mechanical technologies. Like four wheel drive, active suspension, tuned mass dampers and brake steer. This will make the mechanical side of F1 far more attractive, useful and profitable. It’ll also help cars follow in dirty air, the more mechanical grip you have in relation to aero, the less the performance drop off due to aero matters, which is logical.

    You’ll be massivley increasing fuel efficiency as we’d have shed a ton of drag, aero may well become massivley low drag focused, increased the ability of a faster car to overtake a slower one an made F1 more relavant to the industry.

    Add this to a freed up engine formula with four cylinder turbos competing with the latest gas turbines hybreeds and electric engines an I think you can have a magnificent formula.

  3. Cornering speeds have to be limited for safety, and we’ve seen that more power than grip causes interesting races as drivers are forced to use their skills more.

    So it’s time for a U-turn – limit aero and open engine development: or permit turbos, E85 biofuel, etc. Manufacturers will be more interested in F1 because it’s the engine they make, not the car; and despite the extra power the cars won’t go round corners any faster if they haven’t got grip.

    Aero regs can be simplified as much as you like – just make it so that a car in a wind tunnel at 120mph cannot produce more than 250kg downforce per corner…

    1. Do you then have to retest each car in a wind tunnel everytime they make any bodywork update? What about ride heights? What if we get a plethora of F-duct type devices which only begin to produce downforce at 121mph?

      Would a wind tunnel really be needed? Surely you can monitor a car’s aerodynamic load in realtime through piezoelectric sensors, or something similar, in the suspension?

  4. Ban double diffusers, ban rear wing endplates, mandatory single aerofoil rear wing, ban aerofoil development of areas designated for mandatory safety features such as rear view mirrors, ban overwings on front wing assembly, reintroduce kers, standard drag inducing break ducts, reintroduce tyre war!! Sorted.

  5. 2 words: ban wings. ;-)

  6. All this hoola ha is worthless. The front runners will ALWAYS be at the front; Ferrari, McLaren, now Red Bull and Mercedes.

    As one German 7 time F1 World Champion said, “F1 is not Moto GP”. Overtaking will always be difficult in Motor racing, if you guys watch any other formular (WTCC, BTCC- though they knock opponents off the track, DTM e.t.c) it is always difficult to overtake. Once the cars are almost equally matched power-wise, what do you have to work with; Aerodynamics, grip, brakes (not much), so if you think that any changes they make will have a positive out come to me and you (spectators), that is not going to happen. I have seen rules being changed and the result been less excitment of us watching (they seem to forget us). I do not care, I just want to watch a good race. However, if they can fix the weather to drizzle and dry up (no downpoars please) during the race, that will always make us smile at the end.
    In conclusion, I say LEAVE THE ENGINEERS ALONE to produce a fast car, but restricting horsepower, that’s all. Out!!!

    1. All this hoola ha is worthless. The front runners will ALWAYS be at the front; Ferrari, McLaren, now Red Bull and Mercedes.

      The objective isn’t to change who wins, it’s to improve the quality of racing. Hence “Making F1 better”.

  7. f1 hasnt really been about true innovsation for 20 years, its time to ralise that, just as the front engined cars became obselete, so has the era of the engineer. f1 racing doesnt NEED to “get back” to anything, its original premise was to showcase manufacturers, the win on sunday, sell on monday ethos. Its not that now, the pure racing teams like Williams saw to that but perhaps things like using road tyres, steel disc brakes and a manual gearbox are necessary to bring these unworldly machines back down to earth.

    I personally love the tech stuff but the sport can survive it going. i dont think it can survive a lack of exciting races.

    1. I personally love the tech stuff but the sport can survive it going. i dont think it can survive a lack of exciting races.

      It seems increasingly like this is the way things are going.

  8. AP’s comments way above make sense to me .. limit/control the turbulence caused due to aero created downforce on the cars following and we will have some real good races

  9. Prisoner Monkeys
    28th April 2010, 14:29

    The problem with aerodynamics is that the teams know that they can get more speed with aerodynamic grip than they can with mechanical. An so long as that remains the case, they will fight for all their worth to keep it that way.

    Personally, I think the most effective way to quickly shift the emphasis from aerodynamic to mechanical grip would be to change the way the television rights are paid to the teams. Rather than base it on final championship standings, FOM should pay it to teams based on the amount of progress they make towards reducing the car’s aerodynamic output. You might get teams like Ferrari and McLaren who can afford to go without the television rights (and as a result will just build cars that are aero-dependant), but once you get more than half the teams agreeing to it and building cars that rely on mechanical grip, they’ll be able to apply pressure to the teams like Ferrari and McLaren who hold out.

  10. Geordie Porker
    28th April 2010, 15:47

    Good article and good debate. Reducing the aero reliance on cars means they need to gain some of that performance back from elsewhere. Mechanical grip can only come from the tyres, so there’s the answer, unless we want slower cars – hardly the pinnacle of motorsport if the F3 cars can outrace them!

    In my humble opinion, there are 2 aero things which need to be done. Firstly, single element wings only. This will mean that they are less suscepitble to turbulence. Secondly, remove the double diffuser to reduce turbulence at the back. From an aero point of view, the cars will be able to race closer so more chance of overtaking.

    But, as soon as you go off the racing line, the ‘marbles’ take away your grip, tyres go cold and so you lose braking ability. If F1 introduces wider tyres to return some mechanical grip and also produce much harder tyre compounds, there will be less ‘marbles’ and so the racing line will be wider – more overtaking. The only issue is that the harder compounds would mean no-stop races unless the total thickness of ‘tread’ (on a lsick tyre, I know!!) is reduced.

    This would take a smarter man than I to work out, but I think that the 2 ideas in tandem would certainly help.

  11. Is it just me that gets nervous reading this thread that if we ban all aero and go back to the halcyon days of the 50s with no downforce the races will become incredibly boring? The cars will be much slower and while there might be more overtaking, and this is my biggest fear, there will be so much that it no longer becomes an exciting event.

    I know that people aren’t suggesting we actually ban ALL the aero, but you get my point.

    I’m also concerned if we go around slapping spec wings and spec floors on the cars we’re going to lose more of what makes the sport special in the variety and the development. I’ve watched spec races and they usually bore me to tears.

    I think we need to be VERY careful when debating and implementing changes like these lest the sport shoots itself in the foot. If the cars are slow but really close together but the leader changes every 4 laps I’ll probably stop watching. Yes we want some more overtaking but surely we don’t want so many that we become desensitised to them? They still have to MEAN something.

    1. I’ve watched spec races and they usually bore me to tears.

      Some of the best and closest racing I’ve seen has been in spec categories like GP2. I’m not saying this is the way F1 should go, but I think it’s easier to create close racing in a spec series than one with free technical development.

  12. Any aerodynamic device has to be within a box formed by the outer surfaces of the tyres.
    The only exceptions being the roll-hoop, front and rear crash structures.
    On the question of costs why not ban data being transmitted from a car during practise and the race. No longer need all the technicians in the pits monitoring a car’s systems of the tons of equipment transported to each race.

  13. Reducing costs in racing is a red herring. Teams will find a way to spend any resources they can get. Even in spec kart racing, like Rotax, people find a way to spend 40-80k per year. Sure you hit a wall of diminishing returns, but a tenth for a magic carb you got with your 20th engine is still a tenth.

    So all the ban, spec, etc, for F1 is a wasted exercise wrt cost. Wrt better racing, in particular removing aero push, rules are of value. But they ought play into F1’s upside, the engineering, instead of chasing the cost aspect. The rules should also be simple. Very simple. So as to allow creative solutions.

    So I like my cheapo-windtunnel post tech thing for aero. Simple scales, like now, for mass. Allotted fuel for a race as the only engine rule. You get 100 liters (or whatever) to do a GP. Build whatever engine you want. Use whatever KERS you want. Have at it. Then we’ll see some fuel efficiency innovation.

    There is only one item I think ought be spec, and that is tires. Spec tires are the only way to control marbles/klag, and tire wars are the worst at spreading the cars out into haves and have nots, based on third parties (tire companies), not team innovation.

  14. The best solution, financially and technically, would be to force all teams to run the same bodywork. This would eliminate aero advantages and save a ton of money. The universal F1 tub could be designed to provide better drafting.

    The teams would be free to design their own suspension and everything inside the tub. This would make it much easier for new teams too.

    I know that some are going to say all the cars will look alike, but hey, do you want to spend two hours watching a race or a caravan? It may not be popular with everyone but it should be considered.

  15. If faster cars can easily overtake slower cars what would we have? Faster cars will always go to the front. Once they are ahead there will be no more overtaking. If drivers in faster cars don’t make mistakes they will be ahead when the race starts and there will be no overtaking. My point is there may never be more overtaking in F1. Is overtaking the only thing that makes F1 better?

    1. The fallacy there is in the over simplification of what actually happens in racing. This assumes a static ordering of car pace. This need not be the case. On a large wavelength there can be changing balance on fuel loads, different tire wear rates, engine wear, suitability to changing conditions (rain, or even just temperature and dust). On small wavelengths there is drafting, mistakes, dust and grass kicked up on track, and non terminal mechanical glitches (Alonso’s gearbox ‘fun’, etc).

  16. adjustable front wings

    i.e. turned down in clean air, turned up in dirty air

    simplified wing elements for front and rear

    i.e. only one-two element allowed for front and rear (look at the wings on indycars)

    the modern F1 front wing has like 6-10 different components, which work amazing in clean air, and horrible behind another car…

    simplify the wing as much as possible, and allow it to be as low as possible

    the rear wing must also be simplified, to one element,

    two elements for monaco and hungary

    3 – much smaller diffuser, ban shark fins, have a minimum size for radiators, restrict aero pieces around sidepods and around rear tires

    the end

  17. remember, the CARS ALREADY HAVE adjustable front wings, but they can only use it once per lap…

    let the cars adjust the wings even further, and let it be done as much as the driver wants or needs

  18. “It’s always controversial to suggest introducing any kind of standard components in F1. But…” Exactly my point.
    We have no clues (as viewer)of what is going on under a car, there are no technological benefits passed to the road cars from a multimillion $ F1 undercarriage…Why cannot impose a standard undercarriage? (I start to sound like a broken record..)
    Std wings, standard undercarriage and move on. Aerodynamic engineers will have plenty to invent of top of the car…I think.
    Other engineers will have to make the car stick to the ground by other means…plenty to develop for everybody!

  19. Let’s try a different approach. How about designing the cars so that driving skill becomes the primary factor, and use that as the starting point for changing the rules. 1.Anything that substitutes for the driver, such as traction control, should be eliminated from consideration. 2. Anything ridiculously complex and expensive that doesn’t add to the racing (such as KERS; a simple push-to-pass as per IRL rules works fine) should be eliminated from consideration. 3. There needs to be more adjustability built into the cars for use both before and during the race (sorry guys: a la NASCAR) to tailor the car to conditions or the driver’s “style” (no more whining about that when you aren’t competitive). In my opinion, Formula One has always been about attracting and showcasing the best drivers, which team best prepares the car, who has the best strategy, and who can design the best car within ANY set of rules. Formula One should not continue to be ruined by runaway technology. The days have long since passed when what’s in an F1 car has any relevance to what’s on the street (aside from road-going supercars), and running a KERS system does not make F1 cars relevant to the real world. Reduce the aerodynamic dependency, limit the budgets (if they can police it), and let them test the cars. Formula One had better get back in touch with its roots, if it wants to survive. Don’t forget that a few months ago it almost ceased to exist because the people running the show had forgotten or ignored where the sport came from.

    1. Apart from the Kers, which is relevant to road cars, the rest I fully agree with.
      TC is already banned in F1.As is ABS.
      Telemetery is one way only already.The team can monitor the car, but they cannot make any adjustments.Only the driver can do that.

      1. Yes telemetry is only one way but effectively you have a driver and about a dozen non-riding co-drivers. These co-drivers monitor the car systems and feed information to the driver.

        How about returning F1 to a single driver formula and only allow the driver to make adjustments based on instrumentation in the cockpit. The driver work-load may well increase but this would add to the uncertainty and could well lead to unexpected retirements or slow-downs.

        It would also serve to reduce costs significantly as there would no longer be the need for all the co-drivers to attend the race or for all the tons of their equipment to be freighted around.

        1. After seeing the video from Ferrari about their steering wheel, i certainly had the same idea.

          Take this:
          – each driver has his own spec. steering wheel.
          – during the weekend the drivers give remarks and ask for different settings
          – in the season there are several versions of the steering wheel to suit new possibilities etc.
          – there is a whole team of engineers working on this.

          At first i was astounded by the detail going into things like this, but is that not a little bit too much of it?

      2. I think KERS is just green window dressing. F1 cars are not hybrids. I don’t want to see the driver become even more distracted by gadgets in the cockpit. Talk about texting while driving! Maybe there should be even less in the cockpit. However, I think it might be a good idea to allow some control over chassis setup by the driver in the cockpit during the race. I think this could validly be classified a driving skill if an intelligent driver could compensate for changes in fuel load or change the handling somewhat to improve speed, adapt to changing conditions or save tires.

        1. I don’t want to see the driver become even more distracted by gadgets in the cockpit.

          I don’t think there’s any evidence to suggest they’re distracted to begin with.

  20. I saw Gas turbines were already tried in F1 ( )

    why not give teams a second chance at them?

    The wigshaped car looks great, does it not.

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