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Ferrari’s Wheel Inserts

After the mass dampers, along come the wheel inserts. Ferrari have been running inserts to the rear wheels that fill the deep central well of the wheel. This is a bit dubious in terms of a couple of the technical regulations; is their purpose aerodynamic, in which case they would be contravening the rules in that area, or are they intended to aid brake cooling, as claimed by Ferrari?

Brake cooling

Yes, they need cooling…

For some reason, this reminds me of Brabham’s approach to the fuss over their fan car in 1978. Everyone could see that the fan had been built into a boxlike structure covering the engine and rear suspension and so was designed to create huge suction at the rear of the car. But Gordon Murray, Brabham’s designer, disagreed and insisted that its purpose was engine cooling (admittedly, he said this with a big grin on his face). And it was certainly true that the fan did draw air through the radiators.

In the end, the FIA acted quite sensibly and allowed the car’s one victory to stand (Swedish GP) but banned it from then on. Brabham’s real purpose had always been to focus attention on the questionable legality of the skirts that gave the Lotus 79 complete dominance in that season, so they happily accepted the decision, point made.

This is where the wheel insert controversy differs; Ferrari are not trying to make a point but are seeking performance increases to maintain a lead over the competition (this is the business of F1 after all). There is no doubt that the inserts help aerodynamic performance – they fill in the gap that creates vortices, and drag therefore, in the air flow around the rear wheels. There is nothing new in this and wheel inserts have been used for decades at Le Mans to lower drag and so maximize speed potential along the Mulsanne straight.

The onus would appear to be on Ferrari to prove that the primary intent of the inserts is brake cooling. But there is one tiny problem even if they succeed in this. As Ron Dennis has pointed out, if they are brake cooling measures, then every time Ferrari change the wheels and tires, they are changing the brake cooling apparatus too. And that, of course, is illegal…

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