Wheels Within Wheels
It looks as if Ferrari-style wheel inserts are indeed going to be used by other teams in 2007, if this photo of the Renault in testing is anything to go by.
Although a protest was never mounted against the inserts, it can hardly be denied that they serve an aerodynamic function, whether or not they assist in brake cooling. This is the official F1 site’s view on the matter:
Ferrari 248 F1 – brake cooling drums
This interesting feature used in Malaysia is an evolution of similar devices seen on cars last year, but Ferrari have taken it to its extreme. The cooling drum not only covers the brake disc and calliper, preventing heat being transferred to the wheel rim, it also creates a seal of sorts with the wheel itself. It completely fills the space inside the wheel rim, not only improving brake cooling, but also dramatically reducing the vortices generated by the rotation of the wheels, hence making this area more aerodynamically efficient.
At least that is an admission that the inserts do have an aerodynamic effect. I suppose the argument is that this is not their primary purpose; they are there to keep the wheel rim cool and any aerodynamic effect is purely incidental. Which is fine until you notice that the inserts are used only on the rear wheels.
Something seems wrong there – the front brakes do most of the work as all the weight of the car is thrown forward as soon as it begins to decelerate. And that means they get hot, considerably hotter than the rear brakes. Surely any heat protection for the wheel rims should appear on the front wheels first; and, if the system is that effective, why not put it on all the wheels?
Of course, the wheel wells on the rears are much deeper than on the fronts and so they produce stronger vortices and drag and this would argue for putting the inserts at the back before bothering with the front. But would not that call into question the primary intent of the inserts? It is all very mysterious.
Not that it matters, of course. If everyone is going to use them, the playing field is level and we can forget the whole business. But it does make me wonder what the next dubious brush with the regulations will be. That’s part of the fun of F1 after all – watching the engineers and designers slip their tweaks past the FIA.