And with little changes in the F1 rules for 2013, they continued developing it until the closing stages of the season. The McLaren sported a revised front wing as Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button ended the season with a win apiece.
A Formula One car’s front wing is responsible for producing about 40% of total downforce. However, downforce-generation is only part of the job description for a front wing.
A second and equally important function is to condition and control the air flow to the rest of the car – particularly to the floor and diffuser. It is no surprise then that teams spend a considerable proportion of their resources tinkering with the front wing and bring updates to almost every race.
Given the role in flow conditioning it plays, front wings are very specific to particular cars. In 2011 McLaren, struggling with their octopus exhaust, bolted on Red Bull’s solution and found 1.5s a lap. The same wouldn’t be possible with the front wing – putting Red Bull’s front wing on the McLaren would likely see the silver car lose a chunk of lap time.
Therefore front wing design tends to be evolutionary. Fins will be added to end plates or the cascade design will be slightly altered as teams better understand the flow regime coming off the front wing. Without close-up photographs it is often very hard for observers to distinguish differences in sequential front wing designs.
McLaren is a good example of a team that has evolved its front wing design. The first illustration (above) shows a picture of the McLaren nose and front wing from Silverstone. There are a few things worth noting.
First McLaren has a three-element design – look for the two flaps behind the main plane. Second, the device sports two cascades – an outer cascade (see blue circle) and an inner cascade (yellow circle).
Also note the ‘folds’ in the main plane (green circle) that capture and channel vortices aft of the device. Interestingly, this design is unique to McLaren. Many teams choose to follow the Red Bull school of front wings, which have multiple stacked cascade elements with fins and fences to micro-direct the airflow as needed. By contrast the McLaren wing is simpler.
McLaren first introduced this basic, three-element two-cascade wing concept, in the 2010 Singapore Grand Prix and has spent the over two years refining the design. To the surprise of many observers McLaren launched a new front wing concept for final two races of the season – see illustration two below.
Essentially the inner cascade has been replaced by a vertical fin (see yellow circle). Although this is hardly revolutionary it does represent a philosophical shift in the how to manage airflow from the mid-part of the wing.
The old inner cascade creates a little bit of downforce and a vortex on its inner tip, with the presumed purpose of attaching airflow at the front of the floor. The new vertical fin dispenses with the vortex and is designed to ‘massage’ the flow to the sidepods. Interestingly these vertical fins were pioneered by Lotus-Renault earlier in the 2012 season.
In addition there are other small changes to the end plate which are hard to pick up in the drawing. The outermost rearwards part of the endplate is more rounded (green circle), which should result in a more consistent vortex to manage the flow to the front tyres.
Also the folds in the main plane have been reshaped, again to better manage and control vortices. These secondary details are simply fine tuning part of the existing concept rather a radical rethink of the front wing.
Given McLaren won the last two races of the season it is likely the new front wing will be carried over to 2013. As it seems to be working for both Lotus and McLaren the obvious question now is whether other teams will try to imitate it.
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Image © McLaren/Hoch Zwei