Why do 2014 F1 cars have finger noses?
A key feature of most of the 2014 cars will be an odd shaped proboscis sticking out from the nose. This isn’t a new aero trick in its right, but simply a reaction to some badly written rules. Albeit rules were written in good faith to introduce anew safety measure, these ‘finger’ noses are likely to figure a lot in the early season as fans get used to their odd design. Here I explain why these designs have become necessary.
Since 2012 The FIA safety working group have been moving towards lower noses for F1 cars. The 2012 changes forced the nose to be lower than 55cm, which is the same height as the cockpit sides. Clearly that change was to prevent noses riding over the cockpit and striking the driver. This change was allied to another safety innovation which were mandatory anti intrusion panels bonded along the cockpit sides. These serve to prevent the nose of another car penetrating the monocoque in a T-bone accident. Albeit these rules lead to the contentious stepped noses, albeit covered with optional vanity panels in 2013, the nose changes for 2014 were for a different reason than T-bone accident safety. The SWG felt that nose to rear tyre contact remains a risk of creating flip over accidents, such as Mark Webber had in Valencia in 2012. This thinking lead to a far lower nose tip being needed, this simple principal was subsequently written into the rules after practical compromises being requested by the teams. Clearly a low nose tip would be best introduced as a part of package of rules that lowered the raised chassis from the nose all the way back to the cockpit. However the teams countered this would mean all new aerodynamics and all new suspension, which on top of other regulatory changes was a step too far. The watered down regulations subsequently lowered the nose to a specific 185mm height and the front bulkhead down 100mm to a 525mm maximum height. This compromise saved the teams an expensive complete redesign, but left opportunities for exploiting the intention of the rule for aerodynamic benefit.
Noses would be very different shape were it not for the crash test requirement, but seeing as they have to be there, the teams exploit any aerodynamic benefit they can.
The nose serves as the stagnation point of the airflow hitting the car, before the flow passes in all axis back along the car. Thus the nose is highly influential in the airflow back along the car, and in particular air passing under the nose. As this affects both the front wing below it and the passing back towards the floor.
We have to look as far back as the start of the 90s to see where nose aero took off, predating the Tyrrell 019, many teams were slimming the nose and removing its obstruction from the hard working suction surface beneath the wing. This lead to Jean Claude Migeot’s concept for the Tyrrell 019 which removed the centre section of wing as it found greater airflow back along the car, created more downforce from the rear end of the car. Rear end downforce is often produced by the rear wing along with lots of drag. Anything to increase the efficiency of rear aero, means less wing can be run for a given downforce level and thus less drag is created. Meanwhile the front wing is relatively easy t shape for enough downforce to balance that from the rear end.
Since the 019 nose aero has progressively raised the nose to the maximum permissible height, the aero gain being so great the CofG height and front suspension geometry are compromised n favour of aero derived lap time. Through single, twin and zero (if there is such a thing!) keels, the nose\raised-chassis by 2013 was up at the maximum 625mm height and the mandatory 300x275mm cross section was flat topped to send as much airflow to the rear of the car as possible. McLaren even foregoing their sleek nose for a high flat raised chassis for 2013.
Since 2009 F1 front wings have had a mandatory neutral centre section and anything to influence this part into creating downforce is useful. At the advent of these rules back in 2009 both Williams and Renault, used a bulge under the nose to create a low pressure behind in order generate a little downforce. These ideas slipped from use until the last two years when several teams exploited chin like bulges for a little low drag downforce.
In a similar the way the pylon that support the front wing have evolved to be of a longer chord and create low pressure beneath the nose.
It was as far back as the early eighties that a mandatory 30cm nose box had to be integrated into the front of the chassis, before that the front bulkhead was all the structure that separated the driver’s feet from any impending accident. As Safety rules became more effective, the nose became a detachable structure and had to undergo representative crash tests.
Making the nose meet the crash test is a balance of weight and length. A heavy nose would be easy to meet the crash test; equally a long nose may be more effective to slow the decelerations to the required levels. Now made of a carbon fibre outer skin with honeycomb cores and thinner inner layer of carbon fibre, the nose peels inwards to absorb a frontal crash.
Looking inside a recent F1 nose the effectively square cross section was formed by sandwich formed flat panels and the single skin corners, where each flat panel peels inwards during the impact, splitting at the thinner and thus weaker corners.
Once we start to balance the needs of the aero shape of the nose, the aerodynamicists want a short rounded nose, while the structures dept want a long straight nose. So the ideal aero nose may well be heavy and hard to pass a crash test. While the structures dept will have a light crash-able nose, which ruins the aero!
2014 rules in detail
A bundle of rules in both the bodywork and chassis rules create the geometry for the nose cone. Of course the nose is an aerodynamic feature, but largely influenced by the need to pass a range of crash tests and mount the front wing to the chassis. Its other requirements that made the team develop these odd finger noses.
Firstly the nose must meet a minimum tip height, this means the area 50mm behind the actual tip must be centred at 185mm above the cars reference plane (the bottom of the stepped floor), additionally this cross section must not be lower than 135mm (10mm above the front wing) or above 300mm. The cross section for the tip must be 9000mm2 which equates to a 97mm square or 107mm diameter circle. Albeit the actual shape is relatively free within these parameters.
Further more the nose must not be higher than a diagonal line passing from 300mm height at the nose tip and a 625mm at the front bulkhead. This prevents noses being arched upwards excessively to aid airflow under the car.
In terms of length the nose can not be shorter than front wing centre section and can extend forwards beyond the front wing.
One aspect of the nose shape is carried over from the 2009 rules is the demand it’s a single open section; this was to prevent the slotted noses Ferrari introduced in 2008. It also usefully serves to keep the nose shape relatively free. This rule works by enforcing a single continuous cross section, if the nose’s side face were sliced open. If any of these slices form two or more pieces then the nose is not a single section and thus illegal.
2014 nose design
To make a nose ideally suited to the 2014 rules, it needs to raise as much of the nose shape out of the way of the airflow passing under the raised chassis. However the nose still needs to form the low tip and of the right cross section. While to meet the crash tests the nose shouldn’t be too short or hooked and maintaining the minimum cross section is not as crash-able as nose that tapers outwards towards the chassis.
This creates a dichotomy between the two requirements and a compromise needs to be sought somewhere.
With the regulations the immediately obvious solution is to simply lower a typical nose shape down to place its tip at the 185mm height. This would create a simple, light and crash-able nose. However the width and down swept shape would be bad for aero, so it’s unlikely any team will have a nose such as this, unless they are really struggling to meet the minimum weight.
Once we disregard the simple low nose design for one that is more aerodynamically beneficial we reach the obvious conclusion that the two demands for the nose are split into two different nose sections. That is an upper nose for aero and the lower nose for legality and crash worthiness. This is where the ‘Finger’ nose comes in as the first realistic design solution.
I use the term ‘finger’ nose as the resulting solution looks somewhat like Vettel’s race winging wagging finger, with a finger-like extension projecting from a hand or fist. Of course the designers found a less politically correct way of naming this nose, but needing to be publishable, the finger analogy works far better. I feel the term anteater or needle nose do not suit the design, as these are more elegant tapering shapes and not the jarring shape of the 2014 noses.
With this design we have a main structural element passing from the tip back to the front bulkhead. Being long and of a simple shape, this meets the crash requirements and the nose height\cross section rules. It also puts the minimum cross section low down for the aid of airflow to the back of the car. Then to further aid aero the upper nose forms a wedge shape, this will help push more flow down under the raised chassis.
The upper shape need not be structural depending on how the designers want to arrange the front end. So the upper nose can be a vanity panel bonded over the long thin crash structure of the lower nose. In this guise the front wing will need to be mounted to the lower nose, by the use of closely space and very short pylons. This is an attractive proposition but the nose design loses some of the benefits of large turning vane like wing mounting pylons. It appears Caterham have taken this design path.
It is possible to race a nose in this simple low-nose only configuration and no doubt and circuits where weight or drag is critical, a team may remove the surrounding vanity panel.
Another design is to make the wedge shaped upper nose part of the structure too, this may be a more complex design, as the crash structure needs to go from the along thin initial section to a far thicker section as the upper nose is impacted in the test, changing the decelerations with the change in cross section. This solution may well be heavier due to the complex shape.
However this design does allow the front wing to be mounted via taller wider spaced pylons, giving some aerodynamics gains. Being the vortices along the Y250 axis, to separate the front tyre wake from the chassis and also create a low pressure for some downforce on the front end.
Clearly with just a vanity panel forming the upper nose, the load bearing front wing pylons could not be attached to the very thin composite structure. So far Williams and Force India appear to taken this latter route with a structural upper nose.
A question often posed by fans is the risk of the spear-like finger nose penetrating the side of another car in a T-bone crash. But the nose, despite its thin looks meets the same crash test and would crumple just as a 2013 nose would on impact. Indeed the mandatory cross section size it not dissimilar to that of 2013 noses, which had a flat oval tip shape. Added to the anti intrusion panels on the sides of the monocoque, I do not see this as a risk to safety.
Other nose solutions
Looking at the other successful low nose designs of recent years a few other solutions can be identified as potential ideas for 2014.
McLaren up until 2013 were very much the kings of low nose aero design, the noses aero was aided by the complex snow plough vane set up beneath it. This bodywork acted to both create a low pressure region beneath the nose for downforce and also set up a strong vortex structure behind it to work with the Y250 flow.
As a result the snow plough design initially brought into F1 by Williams in 2009 and subsequently copied by McLaren could be legal and beneficial in 2014. If the snow plough tongue of the nose were extended to form the 185mm high tip and upper nose shortened, this could form an effective aero and crashworthy design. As the nose was legal from a single open section viewpoint back in 2012, it will still be legal now.
Another route to an effective aero shaped nose is a far blunter rounded design. This would be more analogous to the rounded chin designs seen last year, in this case the rounded nose similar to that on bulbous bow oil tankers. Such designs would be far more about creating low pressure behind the nose and aiding the cars balance as a result. Being shorter these designs would be harder to pass crash tests and thus more expensive, heavy and complex for teams to develop. It’s likely that the top teams with their greater resources are researching this route, while lesser funded teams develop the more obvious finger nose design as a safe way to get the car ready for the first test, then plan to introduce the rounded nose later in the season.
One nose design often tipped to me for use in F1 in 2014 by fans is the 2009 Brawn nose. This was a low nose and the car was hugely successful. It’s arguable that the cars success was more as a result of its diffuser, brake duct and front wing design than the nose. Indeed the low nose was a compromise brought on by the front suspension uprights. The existing Honda uprights flowed brake cooling air inside the stub axles, this made it hard to raise the lower wishbone upwards and mount it at axle height, as this would block the brake duct set up. So a low wishbone necessitated a low nose, rather than the nose being the ideal aerodynamic concept to start with.