In 2010 the key technical development was the F-Duct, a legal driver controlled system that stalled the rear wing for more top speed. During the course of the season, as more of the system was uncovered by prying cameras in the pit garages, I attempted to cover the workings of the F-Duct in several posts. But just a couple of years later I was able to buy a Force India F-Duct assembly from one of the teams licensed parts sellers. With this complete F-Duct and some background from people at the team involved with the project, we are now able to explain the solution in more detail.
With far reaching regulation changes coming onto the sport in 2014, the 2013 season is likely to be a year of consolidation, as few changes have been are written into this year’s rule book. So teams will be expected to optimise their designs from last year, correcting mistakes and adopting some of the better ideas of their rivals.
Some rules will have a small effect of car design and some trends from last year will be more common place. Unusually there have been few leaks or well-founded rumours circulating in the off season. This is probably as teams are expending a huge amount of resources in finding big gains for just one year’s competition, instead focussing on plans for 2014.
For 2012 we will have a raft of rules changes that will alter the look and performance of the car. For most of the new cars, we will immediately see the impact of the lower nose regulations. Then the big story of 2010-2011 of exhaust blown diffusers (EBDs) comes to an end with stringent exhaust placement rules and a further restriction on blown engine mappings.
Even without rule changes the pace of development marches on, as teams converge of a similar set of ideas to get the most from the car. This year, Rake, Front wings and clever suspensions will be the emerging trends. Sidepods will also be a big differentiator, as teams move the sidepod around to gain the best airflow to the rear of the car. There will also be the adoption of new structural solutions aimed to save weight and improve aero.
Last of all there might be the unexpected technical development, the ‘silver bullet’, the one idea we didn’t see coming. We’ve had the double diffuser and F-Duct in recent years, while exhaust blown diffusers have thrown up some new development directions. What idea it will be this year, is hard, if not impossible to predict. If not something completely new, then most likely an aggressive variation of the exhaust, sidepod or suspension ideas discussed below.
The most obvious rule change for 2012 is the lowering of the front of the nose cone. In recent years teams have tried to raise the entire front of the car in order to drive more airflow over the vanes and bargeboards below the nose. The cross section of the front bulkhead is defined by the FIA (275mm high & 300mm wide), but teams have exploited the radiuses that are allowed to be applied to the chassis edges, in order to make the entire cross section smaller. Both of these aims are obviously to drive better aero performance, despite the higher centre of Gravity (CofG) being a small a handicap, the better aero overcomes this to improve lap times.
A safety issue around these higher noses is that they were becoming higher than the mandatory head protection around the cockpit, in some areas this is as low as 55cm. It was possible that a high nose tip could easily pass over this area and strike the driver.
So now the area ahead of the front bulkhead must be lower than 55cm. However the monocoque behind this area can remain as high as 62.5cm. Thus in order to strive to retain the aero gains teams will keep a high chassis and then have the nose cone flattened up against this 55cm maximum height. Thus we will see these platypus noses, wide and flat in order to keep the area beneath deformable structure clear for better airflow. The radiussed chassis sides are still allowed so we will also see this 7.5cm step merged into the humps a top of the chassis.
Areas below and behind the nose are not allowed to have bodywork (shown yellow in the diagram), so small but aggressive vanes will have to be used, or a McLaren style snowplough. Both these devices drive airflow towards the leading edge of the underfloor for better diffuser performance.
Having used the engine via the exhausts to drive aerodynamic performance for the past two years, exhaust blown diffusers will be effectively banned in 2012. The exhausts must now sit in small allowable area, too high and far forward to direct the exhausts towards the diffuser. The exhausts must feature just two exits and no other openings in or out are allowed. The final 10cm of the exhaust must point rearwards and slightly up (between 10-30 degrees). Allied to the exhaust position, the system of using the engine to continue driving exhaust when the driver is off the throttle pedal has also been outlawed. Last year teams kept the engine throttles opened even when the driver lifted off the throttle for a corner. Then either allowing air to pass through the engine (cold blowing) or igniting some fuel along the way (hot blowing). The exhaust flow would remain a large proportion of the flow used when on the throttle, thus the engine was driving the aero, even when the driver wasn’t needing engine power. Now the throttle pedal position must map more closely the actual engine throttle position, thus if the driver is off the throttle pedal, then the engine throttles must be correspondingly closed.
Teams will be faced with the obvious choice of blowing the exhausts upwards towards the rear wing, to gain a small aerodynamic advantage, when the driver is on the throttle. These Blown Rear Wings (BRWs) will be the conservative solution and certainly will be the first solution used in testing.
However, it’s possible to be aggressive with these exhaust designs too. One idea is blowing the rear wing with a much higher exhaust outlet; this would blow tangentially athte wing profile, which is more effective at increasing the flow under the wing for more downforce. Packaging these high exhausts may cause more problems than gains. But last year’s exhausts passing low and wide across the floor suffered a similar issue, but proved to be the optimum solution.
Even more aggressive solution would be directing the exhausts onto the vanes allowed around the rear brake ducts. If avoiding the brake cooling inlet snorkel, the fast moving exhaust gas would produce downforce directly at the wheel, which is more efficient than wings mounted to the sprung part of the chassis. However the issue here would be the solution is likely to be so effective, that it will be sensitive to throttle position and rear ride height. If these issues can be engineered out, then this is an attractive solution.
Wing ride height and Rake
With rules setting a high front wing ride height and small diffusers, aero performance is limited. So teams have worked out how to work around these rules by angling the entire car into a nose down attitude. This is known as ‘Rake’, teams will run several degrees of rake to get the front wing lower and increase the effective height of the diffuser exit. Thus the front wing will sit closer to the track, than the 75mm when the car is parallel to the ground. While at the rear, the 12.5cm tall diffuser sits an additional 10cm clear of the track, making its expansion ratio greater. Teams were using the EBD, to seal this larger gap between the diffuser and the floor. Without the EBD teams will have to find alternative way to drive airflow into the gap to create a virtual skirt between the diffuser and track.
Furthermore teams have also allowed the front wing to flex downwards at speed to allow it to get closer to the ground, further improving its performance. Although meeting the FIA deflection tests, teams are allowing the wing bend and twist to position the endplate into a better orientation, either for sealing the wing to the ground or directing airflow towards the front tyres wake. Both creating downforce benefits at the front or rear of the car, respectively.
One issue with allowing the wing to ride closer to the ground through rake or flexing, is that at high speed or under braking (when the nose of the car dives), the front wing can be touching the ground. This is bad for both aero and for creating sparks, which will alert the authorities that the wing is not its normal position relative to the chassis. So teams are creating ways to manage front ride height. Traditionally front bump rubbers or heave springs will prevent excessively low ride heights. Also the front suspension geometry runs a degree of geometric anti-dive, to prevent the nose diving under braking.
Last year we saw two additional solutions, interlinked suspension, where hydraulic suspension elements prevent nose dive under braking by displacing fluid in a hydraulic circuit one end of the car to the other end, creating a stiffer front suspension set up. This prevents dive under braking, while keeping a normally soft suspension for better grip.
We have also seen Lotus (nee LRGP) use torque reaction from the front brake callipers to extend the pushrod under braking, creating an anti-dive effect and prevent the nose dipping under braking.
These and probably other solutions will be seen in 2012 to maintain the ideal ride height under all conditions.
Towards the end of last year, front end aero design was converging into a set of similar ideas. Aside from the flexible wing option, already discussed above. The main direction was the use of a delta shaped threefour element wing, sporting no obvious endplate. The delta shape means that most of the wings downforce is created at the wing tip; this means less energy is taken from the airflow towards the inner span of the wing, which improves airflow at the rear of the car. Also the higher loading near the wing tip creates a stronger vortex, which drives airflow around the front tyre to reduce drag. Three wing elements are used, each being similar in chord length, rather than one large main plane and much smaller flaps. This spaces the slots between the elements out more equally, helping reduce airflow separation under the wing. More slots mean a more aggressive wing angle can be used without stalling. At the steepest outer section of wing, teams will mould a fourth slot in the flap to further manage airflow separation.
First introduced by Brawn in 2009, the endplate-less design is used as it’s more important to drive airflow out wide around the front tyre, than to purely maintain pressure difference above and below the wing. Rules demand a minimum amount of bodywork in this area, so vanes are used to both divert the airflow and meet the surface area regulations. This philosophy has now morphed into the concept, where the wing elements curl down to form the lower part of the endplate. Making the wing a homogenous 3D design, rather than flat wing elements and a separate vertical endplate.
A feature starting to emerge last year was arched sections of wing. Particularly near the mandatory neutral centre 50cm section of wing. These arched sections created elongated vortices, which are stronger and more focussed than tip vortices often used to control airflow. In 2012 many teams will create these unusual curved sections at the wings interface with the centre section.
Above this area, the pylon that mounts to the wing to the nosecone has been exploited to stretch he FIA maximum cross section to form the longest possible pylon. This forms the mounting pylon into endplates either side of the centre section of wing and along with the arched inner wing sections, help create the ideal airflow 25cm from the cars centreline (known as the Y250 axis).
In 2011 Mercedes GP used a section of the frotn wing to link up with the fins on the brake ducts, this created an extra long section of wing. Vanes on the front brake ducts are increasingly influential on front wing performance and front tyre wake.
Mercedes GP also tried an innovative F-Duct front wing last year. This was not driver controlled, but rather speed (pressure) sensitive. Stalling the wing above 250kph, this allowed the flexing wing to unload and flex back upwards at speed, to prevent the wing grounding at speed. But the effect altered the cars balance at high speed, and the drivers reportedly didn’t like the effect on the handling. I’ve heard suggestions that the solution isn’t planned for 2012.
With so much of the car fixed within the regulation, it’s becoming the sidepods that are the main area of freedom for the designers. Last year we saw four main sidepod concepts; Conventional, Red Bull lowtapered, McLaren “U” shape and Toro Rosso’s undercut.
Each design has its own merits, depending on what the designer wants to do with the sidepods volume to get the air where they want it to flow.
This year I believe teams will want to direct as much airflow to the diffuser as possible, Red Bulls tiny sidepod works well in this regard, as does the more compromised Toro Rosso set up. Mclarens “U” pod concept might be compromised with the new exhaust rules and the desire to use a tail funnel cooling exit. However the concept could be retained with either; less of top channel or perhaps a far more aggressive interpretation creating more of an undercut.
Part and parcel of sidepod design is where the designer wants the cooling air to enter and exit the sidepod. To create a narrower tail to the sidepod and to have a continuous line of bodywork from sidepod to the gearbox, the cooling exit is placed above the sidepod, in a funnel formed in the upper part of the engine cover. Most teams have augmented this cooling outlet with small outlets aside the cockpit opening or at the very front of the sidepod.
To let more air into the sidepod, without having to create overly large inlets, teams will commonly use inlets in the roll hoop to feed gearbox or KERS coolers.
Even without the exhaust blowing over the diffuser, its design will be critical in 2012.
As already mentioned the loss of the exhaust blowing will hurt the team’s ability to run high rear ride heights and thus a lot of rake. Unobstructed the EBDs exhaust plume, airflow will want to pass from the high pressure above the floor to the lower pressure beneath it. Equally the airflow blown sideways by the rear tyres (known as tyre squirt) will also interfere with the diffuser flow.
Before EBDs teams used a coved section of floor to pickup and accelerate some airflow from above the floor into the critical area between the diffuser and rear tyre. I predict we will see these shapes and similar devices to be used to keep the diffuser sealed at the sides.
Last year we saw teams aid the diffusers use of pulling air from beneath the car, by adding large flap around its trailing edge. So a high rear impact structure raised clear of the diffusers trailing edge will help teams fit these flaps around its entire periphery. Red Bull came up with a novel ideal by creating a duct feeding airflow to the starter motor hole; this improves airflow in the difficult centre section of the diffuser. Many teams will have this starter motor hole exposed by the raised crash structure, allowing airflow to naturally pass into the hole. However I expect some vanes or ducts to aid the flow in reaching this hole tucked down at the back of the car.
DRS was a new technology last year. We soon saw teams start to converge on a short chord flap and a high mounted hydraulic actuator pod. DRS allows the rear wing flap to open a gap of upto 50mm from the main plane below it. A smaller flap flattens out more completely with this 50mm gap, reducing drag more effectively than a larger flap.
As drag is created largely at the wing tips, I would not be surprised to see tapered flaps that flatten out at the wing tip and retain some downforce in the centre section. Teams may use the Pod for housing the actuators, although Mercedes succeeded with actuators hidden in the endplates. Having the pod above the wing clears the harder working lower surface, thus we will probably not see many support struts obstructing the wing.
Super slim gearboxes have been in vogue for many years, Last year Williams upped the stakes with a super low gearbox. The normally empty structure above the gear cluster was removed and the rear suspension mounted to the rear wing pillar. Williams have this design again for 2012, albeit made somewhat lighter. With the mandatory rear biased weight distribution the weight penalty for this design is not a compromise, while the improved air flow the wing is especially useful in 2012. So it’s likely the new cars will follow the low gearbox and low differential mounting in some form.
A lot is said about Pull rod rear suspension being critical for success. In 2011 only a few teams retained push rod rear suspension (Ferrari and Marussia). I would say the benefits between the two systems are small; pushrod trades a higher CofG for more space and access to the increasingly complex spring and damper hardware. Whereas pull rod benefits from a more aerodynamically compact set up and a lower CofG. I still believe either system works well, if packaged correctly.
At the front it’s unlikely pull rod will be adopted. Largely because the high chassis would place a pull rod at too shallow an angle to work efficiently. Regardless the minimum cross section of the footwell area, discounts any potential aero benefits. Leaving just a small CofG benefit as a driver to adopt this format.
Most teams now use a metal structure to provide strength inside the roll hoop; this allows teams to undercut the roll hoop for better airflow to the rear wing. Even though last year two teams followed Mercedes 2009 blade type roll hoop, for Caterham at least, this isn’t expected to return this year. Leaving the question if Force India will retain this design?
Electronics and control systems
The 2012 technical regulations included a large number of quite complex and specific rules regarding systems controlling the engine, clutch and gearbox. It transpires that these are simply previous technical directives being rolled up into the main package of regulations. Only the aforementioned throttle pedal maps being a new regulation to combat hot and cold blowing.
While I still try to crack that deal to make this my full time job, I do this blog and my twitter feed as an aside to my day job. In the next few weeks I plan to attend the launches and pre-season tests. If you appreciate my work, can I kindly ask you to consider a ‘donation’ to support my travel costs.
Red Bull started the Abu Dhabi Young Drivers test with a mass of aero testing equipment fitted to the RB7. Although the test is supposed to be to assess young drivers, this is the first open test since the season started and teams make use of this time to gather data from the car. In Red Bulls case this was a repeat of tests from last year, where the front wing ride height and wake is being measured by a range of sensors.
Pictures via F1Talks.pl & SuttonImages.com
Airflow around the front tyre is critical with the post-2009 wide front wings. The ever more complex front wing endplates direct the airflow around the tyre. This effect varies greatly with front wing ride height, so that when the wing flexes down under load at speed, the airflow changes. I have learnt from F1 aerodynamicists that the effect of the endplate on flow around the wheel as the wing flexes down, is perhaps more important than downforce gained the wing being closer to the ground. So the Red Bull and also Ferrari tests are critical to understand how the airflow passes around the tyres with varying wing ride height.
Clearly the gains from flexible front wings will be an ever greater performance factor next year. Even though the FIA rules amended for 2011 were even more stringent than in 2010.
In Red Bulls the case the set up consists of three main elements; the aero rake, ride height sensors and the cables holding the front wing.
My interpretation of how the rig works is: the wing is allowed to deflect at speed to a specific height, this is controlled by the cables from the hump on the nose. By limiting droop, a number of wing ride height settings can be assessed during the runs. Laser ride height sensors both in the centre and at the front and rear of the endplate will confirm the actual ride height and wing angle being tested. Then the rake will take measurements of the airflow. The driver will then run at a fixed speed along the straight, keeping a consistent speed will ensure the data is consistent and the amount of wing flex can be predicted for each run.
This will create an aero map of flow across the wing and with the wing at different attitudes. The data from the tests will be used to confirm CFDWind tunnel results and direct the team in deciding how the wing should flex in 2012.
We can now look in detail how the rig is made and how it works.
Cables holding the front wing
During some runs we saw the cables lying loose between the wing and the hump. Which confirms they are cables and not solid rods, as with the rake mountings. Being cables they could not be for measuring wing position, as not being stiff, they would not be accurate enough. With the size of the nose hump and the other equipment to measure ride height, I now believe they are to control the droop of the front wing. Perhaps the test wing is more flexible than the usual race wing in order to achieve more attitudes under load. Its possible the hump contains hydraulics to adjust the droop of the wing to different attitudes during each run. The 2009 Red Bull used hydraulics in the nose to control the then legal adjustable front wing flap, so it’s a proven approach to fit more hydraulics into the nose cone. Being able to alter wing attitude on the move would greatly improve the amount of data gathered from each run. With there being two cables for each wing, one mounted on the main plane and the second on the flap, the wing could be controlled not only in droop but also the angle of attack. So that the wing could reproduce different beam and torsional stiffness of a future wing.
Ride Height sensors
We have seen laser ride height sensors fitted to cars through Friday practices and extra units fitted for testing. For the front wing rig Red Bull ran five ride height sensors on the wing. The central unit is fitted to the neutral centre section of wing. This would measure true wing ride height, as the centre section is relatively stiff and is not part of the deflecting structure of the wing. Then two ride height sensors are fitted to front to the front and rear of the endplate. These would measure the ride height of the wing tips. Using the centre ride height sensor as a base line provides the amount the wing tip is deflecting. Just as with the double cable arrangement supporting the wing, the two endplate ride height sensors would measure any change in angle of attack, the delta between the front and rear sensors showing the wings angle of attack.
With the wings attitude controlled and measured by the cables and sensors, the wake of the wing is then measured by the aero rake. This is an array of sensors measuring air speed, velocity and perhaps even direction. Two rows of rakes are employed and these are securely mounted to blisters on the nose cone. Just as with the wing mounting cables these struts may be attached to hydraulics to raise the rake over a range of positions, to map a wider area behind the wing. A slightly messy part of the mounting system if the bundle of cables exiting the rake and passing up into the nose cone to be attached to the cars telemetry system.
In free practice for the Indian GP, we saw a violent fluttering of Felipe Massa’s front wing. This is a higher frequency movement than the flex we commonly see on front wings – in fact, the movement is enough to cause the endplates to hit the ground, sending up showers of sparks. Bearing in mind that the wing is around 75mm off the ground when the car is at rest, we can appreciate the amount of movement that’s occurring here.
This movement is not an aero benefit in itself, but may be symptomatic of other flexibility in the wing.
Ferrari Flexi Wings 2011 Indian Grand Prix FP1 by Mattzel89
This clip shows the Ferrari crest the hill before braking into a turn (4s into the clip). As the car crests the hill at high speed with DRS open, it’s clear that the wing is bowed from the aero load. It’s possible to see the side spans of the wing bend down from the central section. At this point there is some vibration in the wing, but not an excessive amount. As the car starts to go down hill (DRS still open) and passes a shadow across the track, the wing starts a rocking motion (5s into the clip). This rocking soon increases in violence until Massa closes the DRS and starts to brake as usual for the corner (at 9s), so this episode only lasts three seconds. I counted around 20 movements of each endplate, which increase to the point where the endplates’ skid blocks strike the ground.
The cause may be explained as follows: the wing is bowed at speed, but as the car crests the hill the wing is unloaded slightly. Then, as the car starts to move down hill, that load would reverse and the wing (which was already vibrating) is sent into a rocking motion. One endplate moves down, while the centre section and wing mounting pylons appear to be rigidly fixed to the car and are not moving. The load passing from the endplate must have been transferred across the central spar of the wing to the other endplate, which now drops. This movement resonates in a wave from one side of the wing to the other, increasing in frequency and amplitude until the wing actually hits the ground.
I can’t explain why closing the DRS and braking calmed this resonance so quickly, but the wing rapidly returns to the low-amplitude, high-frequency vibration seen elsewhere on track.
Also, I’m no expert on composites but my limited knowledge does suggest that carbon fibre structures are relatively well damped (compared to, say, a metal structure), the rebound effect of flex being relatively well damped and not prone to oscillating.
Ferrari introduced the new front wing in Korea. Alonso ran the wing as it was clear that it displayed the accepted level of flex as used by many other teams. The wing is legal as it meets the more stringent FIA 2010 deflection test. Last year Red Bull set a precedent when its wing, which openly appeared to bow downwards at speed, passed the tests and was declared legal, even when the test loads were increased mid-season.
This bowing effect – where the tips of the wing move downwards at speed – is commonly used as the front wing then sits closer to the ground and can generate more downforce. Despite a lot of theories about mechanisms or heat being responsible for the flex, the answer is much simpler: it is down to the way you want the wing to work i.e. the tips to bend down without the wing twisting and thereby reducing the wing’s angle of attack. This is all done with the lay-up of the composites – I’m told it is a “nightmare“ and have heard of composites technicians spending weeks trying different lay-ups to get this effect, but once worked out it is very effective.
Of course F1′s knowledge of carbon structures has been used to create very stiff parts, but now that we are starting to allow controlled flex, we will start to see resonance becoming an issue. There is a new field of knowledge to be understood and controlled.
It seems the wing was tried again in FP3 and the FIA has taken an interest in the wing. The wing was removed and one would assume that it will not be raced for fear of mechanical failure or a post-race ban, although Ferrari’s Friday press release may suggest that the wing is a development item not planned for use in the race, but as part of the 2012 programme. Pat Fry: “We continued with the now usual parallel programmes: on the one hand looking for the best set-up for the car at this circuit and on the other, working to get a greater understanding of the latest aerodynamic updates, with the new car project in mind.”
We have seen extreme movement of front wings before in super slow motion, such as wing tips fluttering, wings swaying sideways on their mounting pylons and endplate devices flapping. All of these movements, although highly visible, have been accepted by the FIA because the tests have been passed. All of which is to the detriment of the overriding regulation that bodywork should be rigid and immovable.
Thanks to Andrew Biddle (email@example.com) for his assistance as Copy Editor
Before the Korean GP, I published a proposal for a flexible but legal splitter (http://scarbsf1.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/a-legal-but-flexible-t-tray-splitter-the-see-saw-solution/). This so-called See-Saw arrangement of the T-tray splitter was a response to the need for the splitter to deflect to allow a low front wing ride height, but still meet the FIA tests. It’s design was influenced by unusual wear marks seen on cars at previous races. My blog post was provocative, as I did not personally believe it is legal. But, by playing devils advocate, it was clear a case could be made for the See-Saw splitters legality. I had seen no direct evidence such a splitter is in use in F1 and I had no information suggesting that it might have been used in the past.
It was therefore a great surprise when I was tipped off that the FIA had sent out a Technical Directive (TD) on the matter during the Korean GP weekend. It transpired that a top teams Chief Designer had approached the FIA to propose they wanted to use just such a solution for their 2012 car. In the teams communication to the FIA Technical Delegate Charlie Whiting, the See-Saw concept was drawn and described as a method to ensure the splitter isn’t damaged by contact the ground, thus making the car more reliable and damage prone. The request further explained the reaction force provided by the FIA test rig, allowed the more complaint splitter to still meet the FIA deflection test. This being possible even without a kinematic fixing joint (i.e.not having a moving bearing or pivot as the splitters fulcrum point).
Its not unusual for teams to take this approach in protesting another teams car. Its less confrontational, as they argue the technologies legality, rather directly protesting another team. There have been several instances of this in the past. The team probably weren’t seriously wanting to use the See-Saw splitter, nor did they feel its use was for reliability reasons. More that they were concerned another team were currently gaining an advantage from its use and wanted the design exposed and its legality confirmed.
The FIA’s response was a technical directive, coded TD35. It’s not surprising that it confirmed such an splitter would not be legal. But, crucially the FIA confirmed that they reserve the right to alter the test to ensure the deflection test procedure isn’t being exploited. Therefore future scrutineering checks, may well include an inspection of the splitters mounting and conducting the deflection test with the cars weight bearing down at different points, rather than sat flat on top of its plank.
Several personnel within F1 teams have since contacted me on this subject. Its been suggested that such a construction is, or has been used in F1. The catalyst for this design was the further restriction on splitters after the FerrariMcLaren protest in 2007. But with the further restriction on splitter mounting and deflection announced at Monza Last year, the See-Saw solution may have become even more useful in 2011.
As yet the change to the FIA testing procedure has not been detailed. Although the Indian GP weekend will be the first chance for the FIA to act on this technical directive with revised checks. It will be interesting to hear if any teams are asked to alter their splitter construction as a result of this.
Note: Updated 24th Oct
Mercedes GP are rumoured to be running a novel front wing. This has been reported in the three major F1 magazines (AMuS, Auto sprint and Autosport). It seems the front wing uses the nose hole to blow a slot under the wing. Although this is a completely passive system (i.e. no moving parts or driver intervention), the fact that it alters aero performance at speed, has seen it dubbed as an F-duct Front Wing.
This solution was first heard of by Michael Schmidt of German magazine ‘Auto Motor und Sport’ (AMuS). Schmidt passed the tip off to Giorgio Piola who spent hours in the pitlane observing the Mercedes car and how mechanics handled the different wings. A task made additionally difficult, as he could not arouse suspicion by Mercedes and give away the fact he was researching the tip off.
He found only two noses had the nose-hole with the splitter and that these wings were only carried parallel to the ground when moved around the pitlane. The final piece of the jigsaw was when he saw a mechanic inspect the wing with his hand leading to understand the slot placement and this information allowed him to work out the system and draw it for the aforementioned magazines. Its remarkable such a tiny detail can be observed and goes to show the hard work that went into Piola exposing this innovation.
As described in the illustrations and texts, the wing assembly (including the nose) is as follows. The nose hole is used to pass air down through the front wing pylons into a slot on the underside of the wing. It appears that the slot has a wide span and is very narrow.
This design is somewhat similar to Mercedes early 2010 F-duct rear wing, which was passive. The driver didn’t have a control duct, as with the McLaren system. Instead the ductwork would only blow with enough force to stall the rear wing at a certain airspeed. Tricky to design and tune, this system worked well for Mercedes last year. Its not improbably that just such a system could be made to work on the front wing.
Aiding downforce or stalling the wing?
Typically slots in the wing are for two purposes; aiding or stalling the flow over the wings surface. How the slot creates these two very different effects depends on the slots angle to the wings surface.
To aid the airflow, you need a slot blowing nearly inline with the surface and airflow. Known as Tangential flow, this flat entry angle creates a relatively wide slot when viewed externally.
To stall the airflow, you need a slot blowing at near right angles to the surface. This creates a narrow slot when viewed externally.
Looking at what you need to aid or stall the airflow also requires different placement of the slot.
To aid the airflow, you would inject the flow from the slot in an area downstream on the wings surface where the boundary has slowed and thickened. On a front wing this would arguably be somewhere on the flap towards its trailing edge.
To stall a wing, you want to upset the airflow where it’s moving quite fast, for a front wing it would be placed towards the leading edge of the wing. Last year with F-ducts we saw the stalling slots initially placed on the flap, until Renault placed theirs on the main plane for a better stalling effect.
This analysis suggests the narrow slot towards the leading of the front wing is for stalling not aiding the airflow.
Why stall the wing?
However, while we have got this far in reverse engineering the Mercedes front wing. We now need to work out what the benefit of stalling the front wing is. When stalling aerodynamics there are two possible benefits. Reducing drag for more top speed or reducing downforce.
For a front wing the drag loss wouldn’t be that beneficial on top speed. Sitting within the frontal area of the cars silhouette the front wing has very little form drag. However, induced drag from vortices produce particularly at the outboard ends is a factor, but far less than with rear wings. With teams increasingly bending their wings down at speed to gain greater downforce, they are creating most of the load towards the wing tips. By making the wing more aggressive at its outer ends, means that more vortices will be produced and sent around the front tyre. This flow structure creates drag and stalling the wing, especially near the tips would reduce this drag and boost top speed. Martin Whitmarsh was quoted in the AMuS article as suggesting a 5/8kph gain from stalling the front wing.
With the front wing stalled, some of the energy it robs the airflow can pass towards the underfloor, increasing the pressure at its leading edge, forcing more flow under the floor for more downforce. With more downforce from the underbody, a smaller rear wing can be raced, which also creates less drag for more top speed.
But that may not be the greater goal of stalling the front wing. Instead the aim may be managing the balance of the car through out its speed range. This would be done by the loss of downforce altering the cars Centre of Pressure.
Firstly, let’s review what the front wing does for the cars dynamics at different speeds. An f1 cars downforce is produced largely by the front wing, rear wing and the floor. With the front and rear wings being the main tuning elements. By tuning the front and rear downforce you alter the cars Centre of Pressure.
Centre of Pressure (CofP) is the balance of downforce at the front and rear axles. As such it’s analogous to being the aerodynamic equivalent of Longitudinal CofG (balance of mass between the axles). CofP is also known as termed as aero balance.
Typically the CofP position closely matches that the CofG. Starting from around 1-2% behind the CofG, then as the car gains speed the car gets lower making the front wing and diffuser work better. Fairly soon the stepped bottomplank choke flow into part of the diffuser, this robs the diffuser of some downforce. While as the front wing gets closer to the track, it works in ground effect to create even more downforce. The combined effect of the loss of some rear downforce and gain in front downforce is that the CofP moves further forwards.
Such is the potential of the front wing and the near equal tyre sizes front to rear; an F1 car is largely limited on corner entry by the rear grip available. In low to mid speed turns the car needs a slight rear bias to the CofP, this prevents the car suffering corner entry oversteer. Where the car wants to spin as it approaches the apex. Too much front wing in these corners will make the car too pointy and hinder laptimes.
In faster turns the front wing can lead the car. The drivers turn in gentler to fast turns, which creates less lateral acceleration at the rear axle. So it’s rare for the rear to step out on turn-in to fast corners. Thus, at higher speeds you can have a CofP biased towards neutral or the front. Last year with the adjustable front flap, (rather than used for the overtaking balance adjustment for which it was designed) teams would use alter the front flap angle into a fast turn.
So typically you wouldn’t want to shed front downforce for fast turns, by stalling the front wing. Stalling the front wing will reduce front downforce and drive the CofP rearwards, robbing the driver of front axle load just when he needs it.
But, the move towards a rear biased high speed set up could be a response to other problems with the chassis. We knew the 2010 Mercedes W01 suffered understeer and Michael Schumacher didn’t like that facet of its handling, even though Nico Rosberg could cope with it. Perhaps Schumacher’s style of being aggressive on initial turn in, helps the car to rotate into turns more to gain speed through slowmedium speed corners. This tendency corner entry oversteer wasn’t present in the 2010 chassis.
The 2011 W02 is shorter and designed to rotate better, it certainly isn’t a natural understeer. We can suggest this forwards bias, as a possible reason for the car being hard on its rear tyres.
So if the W02 has a forward biased aero balance, this would move the car closer towards corner entry oversteer. We’ve also seen the mid season wing upgrade displays some flexibility, as with many teams front wings. This would have the effect of moving the front wing in yet closer proximity to the track and create even more front downforce at higher speeds.
So with the W02, as speed increases and the CofP moves forwards. Now the corner entry oversteer create a danger of high speed spins, the team need to calm the chassis down a little. So when the wing stalls, the CofP moves rearwards and gives the drivers more confidence with a little understeer. In Michaels case his naturally aggressive turn in is tolerated and as we’ve seen Rosberg can cope with understeer. So both drivers benefit. This might also save the tyres from slip in high speed turns, which could be detrimental to the tyres grip.
Front Ride Height
Another possibility with the stalling front wing is that it’s allowing an opportunity to play with the linearity of the cars ride height. In particular the proximity of the splitter to the ground at different speeds.
As has been much discussed, the front wing needs to run as low as possible to create downforce. To achieve this teams run as lower front ride height as possible. The limitation of a low front wing ride height is the front splitter grounding, this becomes an increasing problem as speed increases and the aero load builds up and compresses the front suspension. So at the ‘End of the Straight’ (EOS) at very high speed the car is at its lowest and splitter is grounding. This forces the car to have a higher ride height, to keep the plank from wearing away in the EOS condition. Thus at lower speeds the front ride height is correspondingly higher, compromising the potential of the wing.
If Mercedes stall the front wing as the car reaches top speed, hence above the speed of any corner on the track. Then when the wing stalls, the load on the front axle will suddenly decrease and the front ride height will increase. Effectively the ride heightspeed map is no longer linear. Ride height will decrease linearly at lower speeds, then above the speed of the circuit’s fastest corner, the wing stalls and ride height increases.
What this allows the race engineers to do is shift the ‘ride height curve’ down the map for a lower initial (static) ride height. Knowing that the splitter will not ground in the end of straight condition. Therefore with the unstalled wing having a lower ride height, more downforce can be generated. When the wing is stalled the lack of downforce is less consequential as the car is on the straight. Plus there may still be the small boost in top speed from the lack of induced drag from the stalled wing.
One other potential of such a solution is the front wing grounding. We have seen the midseason version of the Mercedes front wing ground quite easily in some turns this year. So as with splitter ride height, endplate ride height at top speed may become the limiting factor in benefiting from the wing flexing at lower speeds. Stalling the wing on the straight will see the load on the wing decrease and the wing will naturally flex upwards. Giving the opportunity to flex more at slow speeds and have the stall prevent grounding on the straight.
Looking at the options listed above, I would definitely say the cars wing is stalling. with little to be gained from drag reduction the stalline is most likley to create another effect on the chassis.
In comparison to the manipulation of the CofP to resolve handling problems, the speed sensitive ride height control would be a more likely purpose of the stalling wing. Perhaps more importantly this would be a universal solution, one that other teams could legally adopt in preference to flexible splitters or excessive rear ride height to achieve lower front ride heights.
So if we now accept that this theory is how the might wing work, we need to look at the legality and construction of the set up. Firstly a passive system that involves no moving parts or driver intervention is legal. Secondly the rules on the closed sections forming the front wing are much freer than those applied to the rear wing. So slots can be legally made across the side spans of the front wing. Clearly it would be legal in both of these respects, that the stalling slot can be made to blow at certain speeds.
The biggest issue is with the nose hole itself. This is covered in the rules and is allowed for the purposes of driver cooling. This being worded into the nose cone regulations for 2009 to prevent Ferrari style slotted noses. We know the nose hole is used to blow the front wing for several reasons. Firstly Mercedes do have the nose hole, but rarely use it, instead the duct moulded into the access panels atop the chassis are normally used for driver cooling. Most of the time the nose hole is sealed up with clear tape.
But one crucial picture in the AMuS gallery accompanying their article, was of the car with the nose removed, showing a black carbon fibre cover going over the front bulkhead. This would seal the nosecone, such that air entering the nose hole would not pass into the cockpit and instead pass down the wings support pylons. With this panel in place the nose hole cannot function as driver cooling and goes against the rules. Perhaps this set up using the nose hole was just at Suzuka for testing, as Teams are unable to do much full scale testing away from the circuit. It could be legally run in a Friday practice session, as teams are given some leeway to test parts which might otherwise be unacceptable to the scrutineers. As long as the parts aren’t run for qualifying, then apparently illegal parts can get limited Friday running.
So for 2012 the wing might gain its inlet from another position. At Suzuka, the use of the nose hole might have been a good way to disguise the system when it was tested.
I have to thank the many people who aided me in my countless questions on this design. Thanks for your patience.
For over a decade, the FIA have tried to reduce front wing performance by increasing its ride height. Moving the wing clear of the track for less “ground effect”, reduces the wings efficiency and handicaps downforce. When the major aero rules changes came in for 2009, the loss of the central spoon section and the smaller allowable working surfaces for the front wing, made getting downforce from it even harder.
Through out this period, teams have sought to gain front wing performance, largely by trying to make the wing closer to the ground. Either via flex or by altering the attitude of the car (i.e. rake). As has been explained before in this blog, the issue with making the front wing lower by raking the car is that the T-Tray splitter gets in the way. Teams have sought to make the splitter flexible to allow it move up and allow for a lower front wing.
to combat this the FIA have a deflection test to ensure the splitters are not flexing and that front wing ride height is maintained. In response to accusations about several teams splitters, at Monza last year the FIA doubled the test to 5mm of movement for a 2000 Newton (~200kg) load. Yet in 2011 we still see cars with a nose-down raked attitude and wings nearly scraping the ground. How can a splitter meet the FIA deflection and still flex on track? I have a theory for a splitter construction, that actually exploits the method of the FIA test to provide the splitter greater stiffness during the test.
Typically teams run splitters mounted to the underside of the monocoque. The splitter is often made from metal to act as ballast, with additional carbon fibre bodywork to form the aero surfaces. Beneath the splitter runs the Skid block (plank). Made to FIA dimensions the plank features holes for measuring wear.
The splitter is bolted securely to the underside of the tub by bolts and in some cases with a small strut at the leading to aid installation stiffness. Disregarding the strut, the splitter is effectively installed in a cantilever arrangement. The protruding section of splitter will need to bend upward when grounding on track or on the FIA test rig.
With a car in a raked attitude, when on track the splitter will exhibit a classic wear pattern, the tip of the splitter will wear away in a wedge shape roughly equivalent to the rake angle of the car. During normal running, for cars with high rake angles its likely no other wear may take place along the length of the plank. If the car runs a front ride height that’s too low, the splitter will wear away leading to exclusion at post race scrutineering.
Rather than run a cantilever mounted splitter, my theory would be to run the splitter mounted on a pivot. Taking the length of the removable section of splitter, the pivot woudl need to be half way along its length. Which would be roughly inline with the heel of the monocoque. Not having any significant mount at the rear of the removable section of splitter would allow the splitter to pivot like a ‘see saw’.
Now when the splitter grounds on track, the leading edge will tilt up and the trailing edge tilt down. This ‘See-Saw’ effect, will allow a slightly lower front ride height as the splitter will be deflecting upwards. To achieve this the plank will need to flex, as the front section of plank must now be a minimum of 1m long, far longer than the splitter. The drooping trailing edge of the splitter will now make the plank contact the ground, leading to a distinctive wear pattern. Now having plank wear in two placed, beneath the splitters leading edge and the trailing edge. This will also have the benefit of spreading the wear over a larger area of plank and reducing the likely hood that the front inspection hole will be excessively worn. The fulcrum point need not be the overtly obvious pivot I have drawn and the entire exterior of the splitter could be covered in bodywork, which will have enough strength to keep the splitter in place when stationery, but deform enough to allow the splitter to ‘see-saw’. But in this guise the splitter will not have the strength to meet the 200kg load from the FIA test. so how will it pass the test?
The current format of the FIA test, actually aids the pivoted splitter.
The FIA test is carried out on the multi functional rig that is used for the other regulatory checks. The car is driven up onto the rig and then steel pins protruding up from the rig, locate in corresponding holes in the plank. The sections of floor under the wheel are dropped away and the cars ~580kg (640Kg less driver) weight sits on its belly (the plankreference plane floor).
Then a hydraulic strut with load and displacement sensors extends upwards beneath the front splitter. The 2000n load is applied and the deflection measured.
For a cantilever splitter, the test tries to bend the splitter upwards straining on the bolts at its tail end.
Where as for the ‘see-saw’ splitter the test tries rock the splitter, effectively trying to bend the splitter like beam about its fulcrum. But the cars weight is sitting on the tail end of the splitter, preventing the splitter tilting upwards. As long as the splitters beam strength is enough to meet the test, then it will pass. Being a long metal structure, it should not be hard to make the splitter strong enough.
So as the FIA tests the cars weight sat down on the splitter, it actually aids the splitters ability to beat the test. If the test were to apply the load to the splitter, when the car is supported on its own wheels and not its floor, then the car would surely fail the test.
The biggest flaw is this theory is the wording of article 3.17.5 which describes the test and the mounting of the splitter. But typically the FIA rules are both vague and overly specific at the same time. The regulation states that mounting between the “front of the bodywork on the reference plane” and the “survival cell” (Monocoque) must be not be capable of deflection. The definition of “front of the bodywork” might mean its leading edge, but might not incorporate stays further back along the car. Equally the design of the fulcrum need not be the pivot I drew, but a simpler solid but flexible part, that is not suspected to deflect.
As with all borderline legal parts, this would need to be carefully assessed against the wording of the rules. But where’s there’s ambiguity, there’s a chance to exploit.
The legal interpretation of the regulations not withstanding, this is a feasible solution. The biggest risk to running it, is if the FIA change the test process without notice. This could catch the team out, although normal FIA process is to warn the team and ask for the design to be altered and pass the test at the next event. Thus unlikely to cause an exclusion or ban.
Footnote: A team have asked the FIA for clarification on the use of this splitter construction with a view to using it themselves. Charlie Whiting has made it clear it would not be and added that the deflection may now be altered to ensure the rules and test are not being exploited.
Following on from the Monza footage of the Mark Webbers Red Bull being lifted on a crane over a spectator area (http://vimeo.com/29538310), German Magazine ‘Auto Motor und Sport’ (AMuS) reported that the legality of the front splitter could once again be called into question. The footage shows the wear marks on the skid block (plank) under the car, with the wear focussed across the protruding section of splitter.
Last year Red Bull as well as other teams were suspected of having a flexible splitter. In order to run lower front ride heights to gain more front wing performance, the splitter gets in the way. Making it bend upwards, allows the crucial nose-down raked attitude required to exploit the current rules. So last year the splitter test was made more severe and also included tests to ensure the splitter couldn’t twist to avoid wear.
AMuS suggests the wear on the splitter is limited to this front section of the plank, the splitter ‘bending’ to spread the wear and avoid infringing the rules on post-race plank thickness. (http://www.auto-motor-und-sport.de/formel-1/f1-technik-exklusiv-red-bull-unterboden-illegal-4043971.html). Wear is evident on the picture (above) of Mark Webbers cars from Monza. This wear pattern, is backed up by a view of Vettels RB7 being craned off the track at Suzuka (not shown here), which also suggests the wear is focussed to the front 50cm of plank and not merely the leading edge where the FIA measure wear.
Wear only at the front of the plank is understandable; such is the nose-down attitude of the Red Bull, very little of the rest of the plank is within reach of the ground. But one would expect the wear to take a wedge shape section out of the plank, at an angle similar to the cars angle of rake. Instead the wear is focussed evenly across this front section of floor, indeed this picture suggesting the greater wear is at around 50cm back front the tip of the block.
Looking at the underside of other cars that had been craned off the track at Monza, their wear is across a greater section of plank, with no highspots of wear midway along their length.
Working how Red Bulls unusual wear pattern is created is a conundrum. The wear could simply be the result of going across kerbs during the accidents and doesn’t occur during normal running. Or the wear could be a literal interpretation of the rules, the leading edge meets the FIA vertical load test, but the splitter articulates further back along its length, to present the splitter at a flatter angle to the track to reduce wear and provide a lower front ride height. Such a set up would meet the wording of the rule 3.17.5 on the deflection and construction of the splitter. As the articulation may be at the point where the tail of the splitter meets the chassis and hence not directly affected by the FIA test and inspection of the leading edge of the splitter.
3.17.5 Bodywork may deflect no more than 5mm vertically when a 2000N load is applied vertically to it at three different points which lie on the car centre line and 100mm either side of it. Each of these loads will be applied in an upward direction at a point 380mm rearward of the front wheel centre line using a 50mm diameter ram in the two outer locations and a 70mm diameter ram on the car centre line. Stays or structures between the front of the bodywork lying on the reference plane and the survival cell may be present for this test, provided they are completely rigid and have no system or mechanism which allows non-linear deflection during any part of the test.
Furthermore, the bodywork being tested in this area may not include any component which is capable of allowing more than the permitted amount of deflection under the test load (including any linear deflection above the test load), such components could include, but are not limited to :
a) Joints, bearings pivots or any other form of articulation.
b) Dampers, hydraulics or any form of time dependent component or structure.
c) Buckling members or any component or design which may have, or is suspected of having, any non-linear characteristics.
d) Any parts which may systematically or routinely exhibit permanent deformation.
Regardless, the Red Bull passes the current stringent FIA scrutineering tests and with the precedent set last year, the car is therefore legal.
No further discussions on the subject appeared over the Suzuka weekend, so this doesn’t appear to be an issue. Again it’s left up to the other teams, to find a way to obtain the raked attitude to gain front wing performance, without excessive plank wear.
Thanks to Auto Motor und Sport for the permission to use their photogaphs with in this post.
UPDATE: While I am still awaiting a response from McLaren, I have had a direct reply from Charlie Whiting, FIA Formula One Race Director, to my questions. He responds “The slight anomaly you refer to has been investigated and we have told the team improvements need to be made”. I also asked if this area is subject to any specific deflection tests or construction of the wingpylon interface “there is no stated permissible deflection of the parts you’re referring to, we do of course have a blanket restriction on any bodywork moving but, in some cases, we define limits given that no bodywork can be designed infinitely rigid”. So it seems any movement there should not be evident at the British GP.
McLaren sported a new front wing at the European GP last. Although the endplates, main plane and cascades were all new, it was the way the wing mounted to the nosecones pylons that has caught attention. From the onboard Tv footage the wing can be seen to apparently and progressively separate from its mounting. However this movement is caused, it is likely to spark questions on flexible aerodynamics, although its clear the McLaren was passed as legal by the FIA scrutineers checks.
http://www.twitvid.com/NLDQ1 Video via Ian Doreto
As McLaren place their camera pods on the front wing pylons (the two vertical plates bonded to the nose cone) and also slightly behind them, the onboard footage presents a clear view of the side of the pylon and the wing below it.
Typically the construction of this area is relatively simple. The wings central section has a metal plate bonded to it, through which run threaded studs. These studs pass up inside corresponding holes in the pylons and are then fastened down with nuts. This makes the assembly rigid, with no freedom of movement. Teams fit a spacer shim into the gap, to ensure the wing sits at the correct static ride height when fitted to the car. Almost every team follows this basic design.
However from the onboard footage, it appears that the McLaren wing is hinging on the pylons allowing the wing to rotate backwards slightly. What can be seen is a gap incrementally opening up at speed towards the rear of the interface between wing and pylon (pictured above). Then as the car slows, the gap closes back up to nothing. I have seen two onboard shots of both the cars in the race and both appear to behave in a similar way (pictured below).
This would have the effect of flattening the front wings angle of attack at speed, decreasing downforce. Depending on the way the diffuser sheds downforce at speed, this would have the effect of inducing understeer, probably for the purpose of making the car more balanced and stable for the driver at high speed. The practice of flattening front wings has been seen before, historically it’s not been unusual to see a front wing flap flatten out at speed, as the compliant flap is subject to aero load.
By achieving a better aero balance at speed, this achieves a different effect to the Red Bull, which appears to droop the front wing into an anhedral shape at speed, this creates more downforce rather than shedding it. So Red Bull are seeking more performance, rather than managing the cars balance.
McLarens wing behaving in this way could be explained in several ways, perhaps as the result of a manufacturing fault, I will ask the team if they had any such problems with the new front wing in Valencia.
I have heard previously from several ex-designers and technical directors, that even in recent seasons teams have had springs in designed into this area. Designed in such a way, that a gap opens up by creating some compliance in the wingpylon interface. Normally by having a sprung mount, the spring being preloaded to meet any FIA test, but above the FIA load the spring is able to move the wing in a controlled manner. This is of course a far easier way to control the wing than compliance designed into the carbon fibre lay up. The rules do not specifically state that such compliant mechanisms are banned, although a similar wording has been created for the T-Tray splitter mounting. Following the precedent of the Red Bull front wing, which also appears to move at speed, it seems that any movement of the wing is allowed as long as the wing passes the FIA deflection tests. Which is in turn contradicting the FIA demand for bodywork to be rigid and having no degree of freedom in relation to the body/chassis unit.
3.15 Aerodynamic influence :
With the exception of the driver adjustable bodywork described in Article 3.18 (in addition to minimal parts solely associated with its actuation) and the ducts described in Article 11.4, any specific part of the car influencing its aerodynamic performance :
- must comply with the rules relating to bodywork ;
- must be rigidly secured to the entirely sprung part of the car (rigidly secured means not having any degree of freedom) ;
- must remain immobile in relation to the sprung part of the car.