F1 2009 technology: front wing

Posted on | Author John Beamer

The F1 teams have a range of different front nose and wing arrangements
The F1 teams have a range of different front nose and wing arrangements

F1 Fanatic guest writer John Beamer looks at the technology of the 2009 F1 cars, starting with those eye-catching front wings.

Contrary to what many feared a few months ago, 2009 will be a bonanza for F1 technical aficionados. The lower (and flatter)??front wing, higher nose and deletion of various aerodynamic paraphernalia circling the chassis allow a much better sense for the how F1 engineers channel airflow below the chassis – take a look at any low frontal shot of a 2009 F1 car for a visual treat.

Also the aerodynamic variation among teams is stark, at least at this early stage of the season. As the??year progresses designs may start to converge but, rest assured, technical innovation in F1 is alive and well.

In this article I’ll look at some of the aero innovations found around the front wing and nose. Before the season starts we’ll take a look at both the mid-region and rear of the car. Naturally it is impossible to comment on all the changes that take place so I’ve picked out some highlights.

Front wing

Jenson Button was first to drive the BGP 001 at Silverstone (click to enlarge)

The front wing looks vastly different to its 2008 cousin. For a start it is lower (at its lowest 75mm above the reference plane, rather than 150mm) and has an FIA specified central section that actually produces lift to reduce aero sensitivity. Under the old regulations the ‘U’-shaped central section produced a lot of downforce and was susceptible to performance degradation when following a car. Although the flat??central section is FIA mandated, teams have considerable freedom??to innovate towards the extremities of the wing.

Also the wing is wider – it now spans the width of the car – which gives rise to a different wheel-wing design philosophy. The narrower wing of 2008 meant that the end plates were designed to force air inside the tyre line to reduce drag. This year the wider wing forces designers to use end plates to scoop air around the outside of the tyre – this is why the front wing looks boxy compared to last year’s sleek look. While this sounds a trivial change it??the context of the sport it is??important.????In the last five years teams have developed advanced tyre modelling software that now needs to handle this new design philosophy. Tyres contribute 30-40% of drag so getting the wheel-wing interaction right is important.

Despite its current performance woes McLaren has been aggressive with the front of the car. The MP4-24 is the first to sport a four-element front wing for maximum downforce. The flaps integrate with an intricate endplate that is not only designed to direct airflow around the wheel but also to seal the underside of the wing.

Sealing is accomplished a couple of ways. First the semi-circular Venturi channel is retained. This channel captures and controls a vortex under the endplate’s footplate which prevents high pressure air from spilling under the wing. Also a series of fences can be seen on the inner side of the endplate directly in front of the tyre. These fences manage the air under the wing to prevent the flow??from being overly disturbed by air that is pushed off the front of the tyre.

This air is high pressure and as such tends to seep under the main plane harming downforce. Deploying such fences is prone to sensitivity under cornering as the air flow changes easily, but McLaren must feel that the downforce gain offsets any handling issues. The new McLaren wheel fairing, with the forward facing duct,??is also a consequence of the new rules which means that air is channelled to the outer side of the tyres. To ensure the car is legal the width must be slightly narrower to allow the fairing to jut out.

Brawn GP (above) has taken a novel approach to its front wing and eschews traditional endplates.??A fence does protrude from the footplate but it isn’t connected to any flaps.??Cascade flaps sprout from the main plane and flick upwards to prevent it spilling from the cascade to the plane. The main??flaps are supported by a triangular section rising from the footplate – usually this section would be oblong to form the endplate. This allows the high pressure air to roll off the top of the flaps where it is channeled outside the wheel reducing drag – it will be interesting to see if other teams follow Brawn GP’s lead.


Timo Glock, Toyota, Barcelona, 2009
Timo Glock, Toyota, Barcelona, 2009

A striking design difference among teams is the shape, size and positioning of the nose cone – from the raised point preferred by Toyota to the bulbous droop from Brawn GP.??

A higher the nose funnels more air under the??chassis??to the splitter. Controlling the airflow in this region is important for feeding the floor and increasing consistency of the diffuser.??In contrast a lower nose impedes airflow but??can create a Venturi channel between the wheels to add downforce??- this is what Brawn GP has done.

The air is forced through a gap between the nose and the standard front wing plane and then expands in the space behind creating a low pressure zone.??With this configuration more work is required to feed the floor evenly??as evidenced by the complex undersides of the Williams and Brawn cars. A close look at the Williams reveals a ‘snow plough’ arrangement above the splitter to scoop up the fast flowing air under the chassis and direct it to the floor. Vortices spin off the plough under the floor to the diffuser causing a dramatic increase in downforce.

Some teams employ a higher nose to create design loopholes in which vanes and bargeboard type elements are deployed. BMW, for instance, has a pair of vanes appended to the lower outer section of the nose that drop 10cm below the monocoque. These function like the forward turning vanes that were ubiquitous last year – encouraging flow on the outer side of the vane towards the sidepod undercut.

Most teams elect to keep the nose cone less than the regulatory maximum so as to have the option of appending strakes to the nose. These create tip vortices that control the flow over the mid-region of the car towards the rear wing.

One reason why some teams??may??choose a fat nose is to house KERS????batteries. These are exceptionally heavy and placing them aft will upset the weight distribution of the car. Although placing the batteries in the nose will raise the centre of gravity the additional forward weight bias should more than offset this.

Final thoughts

In the front part of the car there is a surprising amount of aero development. As the season matures some design convergence will no doubt occur. However, the beauty of new regulations is that all teams start from the same baseline and the pace of change in the early races should be substantial.??And for those of us who love F1 because of the technical challenge that is extremely good news.

This is a guest article by John Beamer. If you want to write a guest article for F1 Fanatic you can find all the information you need here.

Images (C) Ferrari spa, Brawn GP, Toyota F1 Worls

13 comments on “F1 2009 technology: front wing”

  1. Mouse_Nightshirt
    16th March 2009, 13:05

    A very thorough and interesting article there John – it’s good to understand the processes happening with these new front wings; there are definitely some very different design philosophies going on here and it’ll be interesting to see which design they all eventually converge towards.

  2. Actually the ailing MP4-24 is the only front wing that doesn’t appear to make significant effort to push around the front wheel.

    In fact it looks to me to be slightly canted inwards at the rear of the endplate,
    and otherwise parallel to the air flow, unlike most other designs.


  3. Thank you for the article John. Very interesting.

    It seems that the Ferrari has vertical fins as opposed to venturi channels at the side of the wing. Does anyone know how these prevent high pressure air spilling underneath, if at all?

  4. Whewbacca the Cookie
    16th March 2009, 13:53

    Thank you very much John. Quite thorough. I am curious to see the McL perform on track (real race I mean)…

  5. Thanks for the good analysis. Don’t you think placing the KERS batteries in the nose will complicate the (inevitable) nose replacements we will see?

  6. Good question garyc. Changing the nose will be already complicated, due to the wires necessary for controling the front-wing flaps, event the nose has KERS battery than it is even more complciated! But then, if they the nose houses any KERS battery and it’s necessary to replace one, then will they replace a battery also? They would be replacing a mechanical component of the car during a race, which I think it’s illegal…

  7. There are some safety issues concerning KERS that I would like to know about.
    First of all, when a car has crashed (and is heavily damaged), can KERS be dangerous for the marshalls who will try to roll the car over? And what if it’s raining then?
    I don’t know any technical details about KERS, but I presume there will be a lot of sparks when cars crash into walls or into one another.

    It’s a pity neither of the teams has released a video where they would present how the driver controlls the wing’s angle on a hot lap.
    It’d also be interesting to hear from the drivers how they/the team anylyze a given track to decide where they will use the 2 wing adjustments per lap.

  8. I guess the marshalls will wear those rubber gloves too.. and if it’s raining they’re just going to leave the cars there on the gravel

  9. Very interesting… can we have a similar article about diffusers, please?

  10. nice article, thanks. i hope this could be supplemented with some video at some time in the future.

  11. Hi Guys,

    What about the moving parts of the front wing?

    On another note, I’m not an expert, but won’t slick tires cause less airflow disruption and drag than the old grooved tires?

    Can’t wait to see the light go off in Melbourne, I just hope I don’t over-snooze my alarm.

    1. How could you possibly over sleep. It’s not like it’s getting up for work! However with the Beeb’s extended coverage it looks like an all nighter anyway. And, when the race is over its also a chance to go for a good hoon around the countryside on a quiet Sunday morning :)

      Great article by the way. The one design that has always struck me more than the others is Force India’s. The inclination of their nose makes it look extremely uncomfortable for the driver. Looks like his legs will be inclined quite a bit to get to the pedals. I’d love to see a current cutaway with a driver in place.

  12. Ross Brawn posted on brawngp.com that last all the teams focused on creating downforce on the top end of the car and that with the reg changes Brawn gp focused the design of there car on the underside of the car. As we all learned today in quali, Brawn and his staff took everyone to aerodynamics school. Don’t forget about the most helpful vernturi of them all, the one crafted into the rear diffuser. Upon comparing to Williams and Toyota Brawns diffuser is by far the most thoroughly thought out.

    This is possibly the most intersting week i’ve ever seen in F1!

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