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Bunny Ears and the Aero Boys

Sounds like a new cartoon adventure, doesn’t it? But it’s just the story of testing in Barcelona this week. First we had McLaren putting the nose of their car in brackets, then bunny ears sprouted from the Hondas and, finally, Ferrari talked about their amazing shrinking sidepods.

The McLaren development seemed logical enough to me, surely just taking the idea of “mustachio” front wing elements, as seen on several of the cars this year, and extending them from endplate to endplate, thereby maximising whatever benefit they give.

Williams

A mustachioed Williams

The strange growth of ears on the nose of the Honda looks like desperation, however. Obviously they are intended to give a little more downforce and control to the front of the car under braking, but a more inelegant solution can hardly be imagined. If that is the best their aero boys can come up with, methinks they need a better wind tunnel.

Honda

Honda or Bugs Bunny?

And then there’s Ferrari. When Kimi Raikkonen seems much happier with developments and there is mention of major advances in the design of the sidepods and engine cover, rather than bits and pieces added to the nose, it is time for the other teams to get worried. All the teams are talking about steps forward being taken but it sounds as though it’s Ferrari who have made the most important advances.

Notice that these are all aerodynamic tweaks, however. In this era of frozen engine development, the concentration on aerodynamics becomes even greater until it seems the only way to squeeze a little more speed or grip from the chassis. The FIA may be congratulating themselves on helping the engine manufacturers to economize but the money just gets spent in other areas instead. And F1 hardly needs even more effort put into aerodynamics, blamed as it is for the dearth of overtaking these days.

Somehow we need to get back to a situation where all aspects of a car’s handling are equally important. Whilst the science of aerodynamics cannot be “un-invented”, it is certainly possible to introduce regulations that make it less important, thereby encouraging renewed life into suspension and chassis design in the quest for mechanical grip.

It seems to me that the first and most logical step towards this would be to change the flat bottom rule. At the moment, the floor of the car is supposed to be flat between the rear face of the front tires and the front face of the rear tires; extend the flat bottom rule from the nose to the rear face of the rear tires and you immediately do away with the raised nose that has consumed the great majority of aerodynamic work over the last few years. The designers would be forced to look at other ways of clawing back some of the downforce they have become used to and, more importantly, would have to find non-aerodynamic methods for coping with the huge reduction in downforce.

The flexi-floor saga is an illustration of how ridiculous things have become, thanks to the flat bottom rule being circumvented. If the FIA had insisted that the floor of the car must mean the bottom of the chassis, the extended lip would never have been necessary and flexi-floors would be pointless. Hence my suggestion that the floor be extended to the nose – let them try to circumvent that rule!

The FIA has delayed the introduction of new aerodynamic regulations and even these do not envisage anything so radical as a truly flat-bottomed car. It seems that the regulators would rather fiddle about with ever-more-precise measurements of what can be done here and what is allowed there. It is all wasted energy; the designers will keep the aerodynamic advantages they have developed over the years unless you take away their toy completely. Remove it and they will have to go back to cars that corner quickly because they work better, rather than relying on a huge aerodynamic hand forcing them on to the ground.

And with aerodynamics put in its place, who knows, we might even have a bit more overtaking in F1. Now that should keep everyone happy, surely.

10 Responses to “Bunny Ears and the Aero Boys”

  1. As I understand it, there hasn’t been a truly flat bottomed car since 1994. Its more like a stepped bottom. Hence the wooden plank in the middle of the car. It was found that a truly flat bottomed car would be too pitch sensitive, easily destabilising the car in the bumps. Together with titanium skid plates, it was the cause of a number of accidents, notably Nigel Mansell’s 1987 Suzuka crash that took him out of the championship.

    Also, in 1993 with interest in oval racing as a result of Mansell’s move to Indycars, they introduced the stepped bottom, just in case F1 cars should run on ovals. A truly flat bottomed car would be suicidal on the oval because of the pitch sensitivity.

    I think the best solution would be to reduce wing size but yet reallow venturi tunnels along the length of the car, as in the days of ground effects and in Indycars and Group B sports cars in yesteryears. Think of it as super extended diffuser. More downforce would be produced by the underbody and less dependence on wings. And what wing there is should be allowed to be run as close to the ground as possible so that it can “ground effect” as well.

    In fact, I believe GP2 is running this configuration. In Bahrain, it was obvious especially when viewing the cars from the back. There were long venturi tunnels. Or at least thats what my eyes tell me.

    I think GP2 has proven the way for proper racing aero and I can’t understand why they should not move aero development in that direction instead. As in Indycars many years ago, the ability to overtake is not reduced with this aero configuration.

  2. The FIA tries to justify all these changes to the car by saying that the racing is now safer. I guess the numbers don’t lie, although there have been some bad accidents we have not had anything fatal recently(knock on wood). I think alot of this can be attributed to the tracks as much as the cars (think the San Marino chicane).

    I could be wrong but it seems to me mechanical grip is much more predictable then grip produced by areo. Personally if I’m taking a corner at 100+MPH I would like things predictable/safer. All it would take is a little contact to remove someones front wing going into a corner and we could have a disaster on par with Senna’s last race. Of course ultimatley this ’94 race continued, for some reason, after 2 deaths on the weekend further proving that as long as the money is coming in, F1 and the FIA will look the other way.

    Take a page out of Champ Car, slick tires, regulated areo packages, and what the hell, give them a power to pass button with limited usage (we know how much F1 loves artificial strategy).

    I know its hard for F1 to set their pride aside and realize that maybe us Americans are on to something here, but if we’re are going to have an (American) Football game in England next year to start the season maybe we will see F1 warm up to us also. :)

  3. Two things:

    Slicks. Bring back those fat grooveless tires.
    Ground Effects. Make that floor an inverted wing to stick them to the asphault.

    On the other hand, regulated aero packages as in Indy… well, that’s Indy and this is F1. The same goes to that bollocks of customer chassis. Power pass button? Again not. This is F1, not your average videogame. Instead let those engines be as powerful as they can get.

    Let’s not forget that, as faulted as it may be, F1 is the pinnacle of motorsport and that’s because, mainly, the technology involved, we can’t have customer chassis and regulated aero, that’s A1GP and NASCAR and Indy. That can’t happen here.

    For one I rather watch a technical race, with overtakings in the pits and marvel myself of the timings, strategy and all, and the rare but great overtakings, than watch Indy with it’s countless overtaking moves, specially on the ovals, when you CAN predict next turn the two leaders will switch position, and on the 10 last laps or so, you do your math and find out who’s gonna win.

    I remember reading somewhere right after MS retired, a NASCAR boss was giving an interview and he said that MS would “find NASCAR pretty technical”… I couldn’t decide to laugh or to cry. One thing was sure: that bloke had absolutely no idea what “technical” means. He mus think that screwing two bolts and fixing two hoses with duct tape is as technical as it gets.
    No, we’re talking about a sport in wich the designers have PhD’s and would be able to work at NASA if they feel like it. Titanium boxes, no-time gear changes, carbon fibre joints. Not some grease and oil.

    Pride or no pride, this is F1 and it should remain as the most complex, technical and science involving motorsport ever.

  4. Hmmm, you guys have been talking amongst yourselves, I see. ;)

    Okay, let’s see if I can work out what I think in all this. Firstly, I must admit that I’d like to get rid of the raised nose because it’s dead-end technology – we know about it now and development only leads to more and more complication for tiny gains in downforce. It’s not really going anywhere and will never be used in road cars, unless we can persuade people to drive with their feet higher than their backsides (and I can’t even get others to see that it’s stupid to drive with your chest right up against the steering wheel).

    I was against the flat bottom when it first came in because I liked the ground effect cars – but have had to accept that it was the way things went and nothing could be done about it. If you’re going to have a rule with an explicit purpose in mind, however, I do think you should stick to it; and I think the raised nose is an obvious way of getting around the flat bottom rule. Sure, the tray looks like the floor continued but the arching chassis above is the real body of the car and we all know it.

    As I recall, the wooden plank was introduced to prevent teams running the car with less ground clearance than specified in the rules – by the use of dual rate springs you can get the car past height clearance checks while stationary but get it to drop down at speed and so we had the era of sparks spraying from under the car as it bottomed out on bumps (spectacular but dangerous, as you point out, Qwerty). The steps allowed to prevent oversensitivity to pitch would stay with my system of nose-to-rear wheel flat bottom – I use the term merely to indicate the basic rule. The real point is to get rid of raised noses, as I have said.

    Interesting that everyone seems to want to bring back venturi tunnels and ground effect. They were very unpopular in their heyday, being accused of preventing overtaking (sound familiar?) and raising cornering speeds to dangerous levels. I thought Nelson Piquet and I were the only ones sorry to see ground effect go but it seems I was wrong.

    The big problem is that the FIA will never allow it back. Although the cars are probably developing even more downforce via aerodynamics now than was available through venturi sidepods in the early eighties, that would soon change if ground effect was allowed again. Very soon the cars would be exceeding the speeds we see now and the FIA would have a collective heart attack.

    I have to look for possible rule changes that the FIA might be prepared to implement – and I think the extension of the flat bottom would appeal to them because it simplifies what is becoming an increasingly complex area of the regulations, decreases the influence of aerodynamics and should allow more overtaking, since turbulence from the car in front will affect the car behind to a lesser extent.

    Slicks will come back sooner or later – probably when the FIA have succeeded in decreasing cornering speeds to a point they’re happy with. They are talking about allowing a power-to-pass button as well but I, for one, would be horrified to see it in F1 – surely it’s an open admission that it’s become impossible to overtake. And I don’t think that’s true – just ask Coulthard and Wurz how they managed to drive through the field in the last couple of races.

    And, Dan – American football has been played in the UK since the early eighties, admittedly not as a professional sport but that may come yet. My son joined one of the teams in a brief burst of enthusiasm back then – pressure of work prevented him from becoming heavily involved, however. Go Packers!

  5. “They are talking about allowing a power-to-pass button as well but I, for one, would be horrified to see it in F1 – surely it’s an open admission that it’s become impossible to overtake”

    I guess the FIA isn’t too good at admitting when things could be better. I think a PtP button would make passing more feasible. On long straights when the dirty air of the car in front creates less of a problem, and the draft gives a slingshot effect effectively giving the second car a little more speed, add to that an extra few Hp to complete that pass and we have an interesting sport.

    The ban on TC should also help passing in the corners where the drivers with more finesse should get more power to the ground through the corner.

    Also imagine a finish, say Malaysia, where Kimi was gaining on Hamilton…. What if Kimi had one more shot of boost on that last corner, we could have seen a photo finish…..

    Of course passing has the reverse effect of making sure that your car is where it should be relative to the rest of the field. In other words the slower car wouldn’t be able to keep a faster car behind him through defensive driving (unless your name starts with L and ends with ewis Hamilton).

  6. Hehehe, I like the Hamilton reference. :D

    But, Dan, if everyone has a PtP button, won’t it even out in the end? Either you can save it until someone else uses theirs on you or you pass whoever you can and then see them come past again when they use theirs. Yes, I know it’s about choosing the right moment to use it so that you don’t run out of options when you really need it, but it’s the same for everyone. Theoretically, you will pass a certain number of cars and then have the same number of cars pass you. What’s the point, apart from increasing the number of overtaking maneuvers? And how are we to know when a driver has passed another through skill rather than by using the PtP button?

    I am not convinced that all F1 needs to be a great spectacle is more overtaking. There are times when the ability to keep a faster car behind you is more evidence of driving skill than merely going quickly – and I’m not talking about weaving, which is supposed to be outlawed in F1 anyway. Would we not feel cheated if a great driver who is managing to stay ahead of a faster car is ultimately beaten because the guy behind was able to pass by using the PtP button? I think I would.

    Mind you, it could do wonders for Fisichella’s reputation… ;)

  7. Yes, we all agree that there’s overtaking in F1, almost every overtaking move is outstanding, because is so hard to overtake… just ask Fisico ;)

    And we all agree that the PtP button is rubbish.
    We all agree that mechanical grip is the way to go.

    Why don’t people like us works in the FIA? Bloody beats me!

    Cornering speed? THAT is what F1 is ALL about. Champ cars are faster on a straight line, but when it comes to turn, they just are snail slow.

    Bring back all those things that are good and pure, and make the disc brakes larger.

    TC obviously must go, that’s for the missus minivan!

  8. Why aren’t we in the FIA? Because we live in the real world, Haplo! :D

  9. Well I can see your point on the PtP, but saying that everyone would have the same advantage and it would defeat the point would require you to have the same stance on having to run hard/soft compounds of the same manufacturer. If Team A runs soft they will be quicker relative to a team on hards until they go on hards themselves.

    I agree, I cannot take my eyes off the television when there is a good battle going on, but thats not always case. F1 is an intresting sport in that, everyone loves it, everyone thinks its flawed in one way or another, and everyone has there idea of what is best.

    If we implimented all the ideas mentioned, we would have just another racing series no different then any other. Formula 1 plays by its own rules and I guess thats why we watch in the first place.

    I think I may have a solution though. Run a single “All Star” race in the middle of the season. One driver from each team, identical 2 seat race cars racing around the track of choice. Think about it, no long break, it would surley stir controversy between teammates, and most importantly we can find out who is truly fastest on an equal playing field… It will even put more money in everyones pockets, whats to hate?

  10. Pretty much the same used to happen back in the sixties and even into the seventies, Dan. F1 drivers would enter in many other formulas and battle it out with unknown drivers. Just this evening I was watching a video of Jim Clark racing a Lotus Cortina in a British saloon car race. There were non-championship F1 races too and the last of these disappeared about 1980, I think. Anyone could enter such races and they gave us an idea of just how good the stars were in other types of car.

    The problem nowadays is that F1 team owners invest far too much money in a driver to risk having him injure himself in a race that “doesn’t count” and so depriving the team of his services for months. The contracts limit the drivers to racing in sanctioned F1 races only.

    But I agree with you – pay the drivers a bit less and let them race in whatever they want to.

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