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The FIA Might Clip Some Wings

According to an F1-Live story, the FIA is considering a ban on the winglets and flip-ups that have sprouted from F1 cars over the last few years. This has to be a step in the right direction, considering the strange growths seen in testing in Barcelona, McLaren’s over-the-nose wing and Honda’s bunny ears.

Renault rear view

The big problem is going to be in defining what is an aerodynamic protuberance and what isn’t. As can be seen from the above shot of last year’s Renault R26, there are bulges and extrusions all over the outer surface of modern cars, most of which are primarily aerodynamic in intent. But some are caused by what lies underneath – the blisters above the rear suspension mounting points on the Renault are an example. So how are the FIA to draw a line and say that’s the limit?

All those obvious winglets on the body would have to go but the flip-ups are more problematic; at what point do they cease to be a necessary part of the body and become aerodynamic extensions? Barge boards and the increasingly-complex additions to the front wing could perhaps be outlawed – but who is to say what is part of the wing and what is an addition?

It could be a thorny problem and has the potential to involve the governing body in complicated discussions for years. But they are right in that something needs to be done. Although aerodynamic extensions have increasingly been sprouting from the cars over the years, this year’s engine freeze and consequent saving of money has ensured that the extra cash goes into aerodynamics instead. The result is an acceleration of such developments and yet more problems with overtaking as the cars become completely dependent upon clean air to function properly.

I have been saying for some time that it is not the car that needs to have its wings clipped – it’s the science of aerodynamics. Extend the flat bottom to eliminate the raised nose, consider getting rid of wings completely, and you leave the aerodynamicist very little with which to work. That may be what the FIA will be forced to do in the end, instead of trying to define what bits are allowed where and how big they can be. Simplification is what they should be aiming for, not endless complication.

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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.

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Technical Rumblings from Melbourne

One race done and already the muttering about cheating has started. Ron Dennis has been hinting that Ferrari’s speed can be partly attributed to a flexible floor on the cars. Since the scrutineers had a good look at this during their inspection, it may be that Ron made sure that they heard a rumor.

Ron

McLaren boss, Ron Dennis

The point is that, if the floor moves downwards at speed, it can alter the under-car aerodynamics and lessen drag, thereby allowing more speed on the straights. That would show up on the speed traps but you could disguise it by increasing the wing angles, thus slowing the car to a believable speed on the straights but reaping the benefit of extra downforce in the corners. All of which would be illegal under the “no moveable aerodynamic devices” rule.

The scrutineers passed the cars in Melbourne but this does not necessarily mean that something underhand is not going on. Apparently, they test at the moment by looking only at upward flexing of the floor – but it would be downward pressure that would clear the matter up once and for all.

Naturally, a lot of people are saying that it’s just Ron looking for excuses for his own cars not being as fast as the Ferraris. But that presumes that he knew before the race that the McLarens would be beaten. It is far more likely that his concern is genuine, having noticed the complex arrangement for keeping the Ferrari’s floor in place at the front.

Probably, Ron hopes that the rumor will activate the FIA and they will have a quiet word in Ferrari’s ear to tell them to get rid of the system. That would be the most sensible way to proceed, avoiding any possibility of legal action and a continuing unseemly fight throughout the season. F1 has had enough of those, surely, with the mass damper fiasco fresh in everyone’s mind and the customer car row about to enter litigation.

This is the kind of thing that happens when the rules become so all-embracing and extensive, however. With the importance of aerodynamics and every constructor having wind tunnels, the cars get ever closer in design and performance increases become a matter of subtle and sometimes dubious tweaks. Since every designer is looking for ways to gain an advantage, it is no wonder that they work in areas that are not completely dictated by mandatory measurements.

And that means they push the boundaries of legality on occasion, thereby forcing the FIA to be even more stringent on what they will allow. It is an endless cycle of increasing complication that needs to be stopped before the rules become so limiting that there is no difference at all between the cars, apart from the color scheme and badge on the front. How do you do that?

Well, you could start by simplifying everything immediately; extend the flat bottom from nose to tail, for instance, and let the designers work out how they are going to cope with that. But it’s a long subject and I could best sum it up with the philosophy of “We need less regulation, not more.”

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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.

Inserts

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.

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