This is chiefly thanks to the revised nose regulations, where designers have explored creative means of satisfying the FIA’s demand for lower and theoretically safer noses.
Good F1 car design starts with the front wing. This is because an F1 car works as an aerodynamic system – the rear of the car is designed with the front in mind.
The flicks, fins and vanes on the front wing manipulate the airflow in specific way to maximise air flow to the floor, around the sidepods and to the diffuser. Ferrari, who have tended to lag behind their rivals when it comes to aerodynamics, have some interesting approaches to this challenge.
What the rule book says
For 2014 the front wing width was reduced from 1,800mm to 1,650mm, chiefly to reduce the risk of carbon fibres slicing tyres open in the chase to the first corner.
Significant changes were also made to the nose, the tip of which must meet a minimum height. Further rules restrict what designers can do with the rest of this structure.
The area 50mm behind the tip must be centred at 185mm above the bottom of the stepped floor (which is known as the reference plane). This nose area must be contained between 135mm-300mm above the reference plane. In addition the cross-section must be exactly 9,000 square mm, but its shape is not restricted.
Furthermore, to prevent excessively arched noses, the FIA defined an exclusion zone which designers may not use. This zone is the area above the maximum nose tip height (300mm) and the front bulkhead height (650mm).
Finally, the length of the nose can not be shorter than front wing centre section and can extend forwards beyond the front wing.
Front wing workings
Besides meeting the technical regulations, designers aim for the following objectives when designing the front wing and nose: generating downforce, controlling the airflow to the rear of the car and balancing front and rear downforce.
In years past ensuring the rear of the car was properly fed with air was the main objective. As air works its way over the chassis to the diffuser the risk is that it stalls (similar to an aeroplane) because the air flow speed is too low. Raising the nose is one way to ensure that air ‘hits’ the car later and is easier to manipulate. This has been the dominant design trend in recent years.
One problem with high noses is that they don’t create downforce. But as long as the car isn’t saturated with rear downforce then it isn’t too much of a problem. Although exhaust blown diffusers previously resulted in a rapid increase in rear downforce, this was mostly in low speed corners where rear traction was limiting factor.
Many of the cars with ‘finger’ noses are trying to recreate the high nose philosophy. A look at the McLaren or Toro Rosso illustrates the concept nicely with the nose cone arched to maximise airflow underneath it.
Ferrari have gone in a different direction and have made the nose ‘downforce positive’. The nose and wing form a letter box shape (see (1) on the diagram), which expands behind the leading edge of the nose.
The nose tip is at minimum point (135mm) above the reference plane and its thickness conforms with FIA’s cross-section requirements. The area behind the nose acts as a venturi tunnel and it is this that creates downforce.
Air is forced through the letterbox nose at high speed and then expands in to the area behind it (2). It is similar to how a diffuser or ground-effect car works. Bodywork extends down from the nose section (below the Kaspersky Lab sponsorship) to enhance the diffuser effect and also to prevent air that is pushed over the top of the nose from spilling in to this area.
Given the mantra in recent years that higher noses are better, many ask what have Mercedes done to build a similar design but with a higher nose? The assumption is that Ferrari have messed up – but it isn’t necessarily the case.
Ferrari likely creates more downforce with its contraption than the W05. The W05 nose is slightly narrower and higher than Ferrari’s and is positioned at the FIA mandated 185mm above the reference plane. If you look closely you can see the shape of the front wing mounts change, which is to comply with the FIA’s cross-section requirements
Dealing with the wheels
The flaps and cascade obviously produce downforce. Depending on how you count, the Ferrari front wing has up to six flaps, but many of these are slots in a continuous structure. The slots allow air to bleed through to the underside of the wing which adds energy to this flow. This energises the air and prevents it from stalling, which harms downforce. The slots actually cut overall downforce but deliver more consistent performance, which is more important from a driver’s perspective.
A big factor in front wing design is managing the wheel-wing interaction. The tyre not only presents a large surface area, which increase drag, but also rotates ‘pushing’ air towards the front wing. Again careful design is needed to ensure the wake coming off the endplates and cascades interacts with the wheel in the right way to prevent this turbulent air hurting performance.
One technique is to shape the endplates and cascades to push the air outboard of the wheel. With the narrowing of the front wing for 2014 this has meant significant changes to shape of the cascade structure. The curled structure by the ‘V-Power’ insignia on the cascade (6) of the F14 T serves precisely this purpose. Before the season some thought it may make sense to direct airflow inside the tyres as was done before 2009 when the front wing was much narrower. However, none of the teams have gone this route.
The endplate itself contains some slots and a number of curved structures around the footplate. The slots (7) serve a similar purpose to those in the front wing and help air transition from outside the endplate to underneath the wing. This creates a vortex that helps pulls air around the outside of the tyre. The footplate curves (8), which are either side of the endplate, are also designed to create an capture vortices. If one were to look at the airflow CFD traces it would likely show that all these vortices roll up in to one larger, more powerful vortex.
The Y250 vortex
The outer part of the front wing is the most aerodynamically intricate part of a modern F1 car. The various cascades and flaps produce downforce but also set up the airflow regimen along the rest of the car. This is done by creating a series of vortices and ‘squirting’ them to areas of the car that are critical for performance.
A vortex is twisting mass of fluid – think a whirlpool – and is easily created by allowing high pressure air to ‘fall’ into a zone of lower pressure. This happens naturally at any flap. Typically air on the top side of the flap is at a higher pressure and when this spills over the flap it twists and creates a vortex.
It turns out that vortices are very robust fluid structures and once formed take a while to break down. Moreover smaller vortices and eddies in the air can be absorbed by a larger vortex cleaning up the airflow profile around the car. It is these features that make the vortex structure so useful.
The Y250 vortex is so-called because it is generated by the flap 250mm from the car centreline (4). All cars will create a Y250 vortex because the front wing regulations prevent bodywork from being any closer to the car centreline. Turning vanes (5) appended to the chassis will then steer this vortex to the bargeboards where it will funnel around the sidepods.
This will seal the side of the car and under nose area from any turbulent air. On a humid day it is sometimes possible to see the vortex and its progression along the length of the car.
The FIA also mandates the requirement and positioning of the nose cameras (3). The trend this year is to have the camera pods to sprout from the bodywork and look like ears protruding from the chassis. They are a micro version of the ‘elephant ear’ devices that adorned the McLaren MP4-23.
Although the FIA has written the regulations to try to negate any aerodynamic benefit from camera placement, the position on the Ferrari will condition airflow over the top of the sidepods, to a small benefit.
Interesting, Red Bull has dispensed of the camera pods altogether and has cleverly integrated the camera in to the chassis bodywork (pictured).
This is an elegant solution that minimises drag. The picture quality from the camera, which points through a narrow aperture in the nose, isn’t great – but that’s not a concern for Red Bull.
Developments in 2014 and beyond
But we are in the first year of a new rules package so it can’t be ruled out completely. The next race in Spain is often where such aggressive changes appear, as it marks the beginning of the ‘European season’ where teams are racing closer to their factories and can bring new parts at short notice.
Mercedes introduced a revised nose in China which sits as far back from the front wing as possible to ensure clean air over the central section. However its broad concept is unchanged.
For 2015 the FIA plans to alter the regulations again in the hopes of doing away with the unattractive designs which were produced this year. The regulations are yet to be published so it is not clear what the FIA has in mind but expect a stricter definition on the dimensions and positioning of the front cross-section.
Until then we can enjoy the variety that the the current regulations have brought, if not the aesthetic qualities of the current generation of noses.
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Images © John Beamer for F1 Fanatic, McLaren/LAT, Red Bull/Getty, Daimler/Hoch Zwei
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