The future of F1 aerodynamics part 2

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Are the 2009 aerodynamics F1\'s equivalent of NASCAR\'s Car of Tomorrow?
Are the 2009 aerodynamics F1's equivalent of NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow?

In the final part of his look at the future of aerodynamics in motor racing, John Beamer looks at how F1 is following NASCAR in using aerodynamics restrictions in a bid to improve racing – although NASCAR’s efforts have not been entirely successful.

Kurt Romberg, Hedrick Motorsports (NASCAR)

NASCAR\'s Car of Tomorrow has proved very difficult to set up
NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow has proved very difficult to set up

With Sky broadcasting NASCAR live 2008 was an opportunity for British F1 fans to try to understand the hoo-ha behind America?s favourite motorsport. Hands up those who thought the racing was disappointing? Me too.

Romberg tackled the issue head on acknowledging the show had worsened this year. The reason is an overhaul of the technical regulations to legislate for more exciting, cheaper and safer racing, which has resulted in what is called the Car of Tomorrow (CoT). Despite the good intention it turned out that the regulations led to more expensive cars and created processional racing ?ǣ F1 beware.

Romberg told the audience that the way downforce is generated in NASCAR changed. The rear spoiler was replaced with a wing which leads to higher base pressure, lower under body downforce, and more rear downforce. To rebalance the car NASCAR allowed teams to run a front splitter. As a result the CoT generates front downforce close to the car centreline whereas under the old rules front downforce was created towards the car?s extremities. These seemingly innocuous changes radically affect the racing. The CoT has to move sideways a lot further to accumulate downforce that did its elder brother ?ǣ no wonder overtaking is much harder under the new regime.

I managed to steal a few words with Romberg during lunch and he noted an additional complication was that the CoT was incredibly difficult to drive. The car has an extraordinarily narrow set-up window which means that performance tends to skew to better drivers and teams. Even the very best find the machine twitchy even in the best conditions.

So what?s the solution?

Romberg suggested that NASCAR opens up innovation, even if only a little. By doing this teams will start to solve some of the issues plaguing the series and over the course of the season there should be more variability in results. Is it going to happen? Romberg believes that while NASCAR is willing to tinker at the edges to improve racing its ultimate goal is to move towards a spec series.

Panel discussion

To close with Iley chaired a panel discussion asking whether the role of the aerodynamicist had peaked as teams face tighter regulations and a torrid economic climate. Predictably, given all the panellists are aerodynamicists, the unanimous verdict was that aerodynamics would remain an essential discipline.

Romberg opined that despite NASCAR moving towards spec aero there would always be opportunities to tweak performance even if it was moving a few internal parts around to help cooling and thereby cut drag. His fellow panellists concurred and felt that irrespective of the formula aerodynamicists would always be in demand.

Interestingly Iley thought the outlook bleaker and seemed genuinely concerned for his species. Given the cold economic winds F1 faces, Iley speculated that the FIA could be quick to slap on CFD and wind tunnel restrictions, which would affect staffing levels. After all if the FIA restricts computing or wind tunnel time there is no need to employ an army of aero boffins. A decision on whether this will be imposed is expected at some point in December.

The panel also ended up discussing how the closed nature of F1 could ultimately harm the sport. The panel drew contrast to NASCAR where fan participation in expected ?ǣ for instance drivers are required to sign autographs and crews are encouraged to interact with the fans ?ǣ whereas in F1 Bernie Ecclestone tries to run a closed, exclusive shop. Surely F1 will benefit if it follows a similar path?

The panel concluded that F1 must absolutely become more accessible technically. Apparently the TV coverage in Japan shows CFD videos to demonstrate how different elements of an F1 car work. By embracing and explaining innovations to fans F1 reminds the audience that it is a constructor formula and that technical development is a cornerstone of the sport. Moreover, my experience suggests that even the most causal armchair fans have some technical interests. Getting fans to ask more questions will likely make them more loyal and, importantly, bring in more money.

Closing thoughts

The overall theme of the day was to rile against how the FIA continues to push motor sport down the spec route with a plea to continue to allow innovation. Iley, for instance, called for regulations to define outcomes and let teams innovate to that. For aerodynamic load Iley suggested that the FIA should set a maximum downforce limit that is testable by specifying a force for which the floor must touch the ground ?ǣ the objective then becomes how a designer can work with that downforce limit more efficiently. The same concept also applies to engine power and fuel consumption. However, there was an acknowledgement by all that canny F1 designers would no doubt find legal work-arounds!

That resonated with me. Top level motor sport should be a constructor formula that is encouraged to develop road relevant technology. Anything that furthers that goal is most welcome.

Having the opportunity to spend a day in the company of some of the people at the forefront of technical development in motor sport was inspiring. Not only was the day thoroughly enjoyable but it was also brilliantly organised by the Race Tech crew.

Those of you with a technical inkling could do a lot worse than spending a couple of cold, autumnal days wrapped up warm listening to the doyens of motor sport impart their infinite wisdom.

A big thank you to the Race Tech team, and especially William Kimberley, for making me feel welcome and running a superb event. Bring on 2009. Details of the 2009 event will be posted on thier website when they become available.

Read the first instalment in this post: The future of F1 aerodynamics part 1

This is a guest article by John Beamer. If you want to write a guest article for F1 Fanatic you can find all the information you need here.

NASCAR image (C) The Freewheeling Daredevil via Flickr

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  • 12 comments on “The future of F1 aerodynamics part 2”

    1. Sounds fascinating John. I’m still confounded why F1 doesn;t just do away with refuelling, therefore making fuel consumption paramount in the construction of the car. To me that would seem to be the most sinmple and road relevant technological route. Power versus consumption. I appreciate that there is a cost factor, but surely if the research is useful, then the mopney spent isn;t so much of a problem. That’s why I’m not so keen on this whole engine freeze idea.

    2. I appreciate that there is a cost factor

      Whatever cost factor there is would surely be mitigated to some extent by them not having to fly refuelling equipment around the world? They must have at least 20 rigs per weekend (two per team), and those things are pretty big.

    3. Biggest thing about new cars are this, It takes time (years) to get the car just how you want it. Some teams do it quicker than others and some teames never get it. I agree with the opening of the rules and stop putting the teams in a small box. But I dont see out the new F1 car is the = to the COT of NASCAR. But then again I find comparasions of the sports to be silly and not comparable.

      my 2 cents

    4. Just to defend the comment that the NASCAR “racing” was disappointing. It is like a lot of sports, it’s a story that unfolds over 30+ weekends both on the track and behind the scenes. Once you “like” a driver or team then you follow it like anything else. Just grab your chew, fishing hat and six-pack. There is good racing during the season, but a lot of mindless “filler” too.

    5. I have never been able to get into the Nascar attraction Formula 1 anyday.

    6. I’ve watched a few NASCAR races this years and I thought they were quite good, nothing amazing but better than I expected.

      If I was going to rewrite the F1 rulebook I’d do away with most of the aerodynamic devices from the top & sides of the cars & let the teams develop venturies (is this the right spelling ??) and other under car devices.

      There’s less than 20 road cars available to buy at the moment that use aerodynamics & downforce in the way that F1 cars do and they all cost over £100,000, it just has no relevance to modern production cars & never will.
      Many production cars use the undertray, splitters & defusers as a means to generate grip and all of them use mechanical grip generated by the suspension & wheels so why not use F1 as a means to develop road relevant technology ?

      It’d also get rid of most of the problems associated with turbulence & allow the cars to run a lot closer together.

    7. beneboy,

      there’s still not that many cars in production using diffusers and underbody technologies — it drastically reduces the serviceability (ask any Lotus Elise owner) and a true venturi would impose on the packaging and reduce trunk or interior space.

      You bring up a good point that F1 has curiously and purposely closed off almost all development except aerodynamics, and it would be great if somehow this research could be applied to make production cars better. I’m not sure how — it would be much better I think if they were developing the engines to use less fuel in a weekend or something that could be directly transferable, but the FIA has different ideas…

    8. Kevin – We’re starting to see more diffusers on road cars though aren’t we? A couple of the ‘hot’ Renaults have them now, as do some Mercedes.

      I think if they were developing the engines to use less fuel in a weekend or something that could be directly transferable, but the FIA has different ideas…

      I guess the reason they don’t pursue this is to cut manufacturers’ expense on engine development.

      It’s a conflict between two things F1 needs to do: become more cost effective and improve its environmental credentials. If manufacturers are developing green technologies through F1 that’s great, but they’re going to spend an awful lot of money to do it, which is a problem.

    9. Hey Keith,

      you’re right, a lot of cars do have diffusers more and more — but I suspect they are as much for a look as they are for functionality, just like ‘spoilers’ that were so popular on everything from saloons to hatches for a while but provided no functionality (spoilers on every day cars were set at a neutral angle from the factory that produced neither downforce nor lift). The effect of a rear diffuser is, I suspect, minimal, without a flat undertray to guide the air to it, which, like I mentioned is expensive and reduces access for even basic car maintenance. But I’m no aerodynamicist!

      The F1 green credentials issue is one that I find very interesting, and pressing. F1 will always be expensive, and the aerodynamic changes for next year are going to be very expensive to adjust to. Most money in F1 is spent on aero these days, but if the engine regulations were to change (to a fuel-minded specification, for example) and allow development, then I think we would see less spent on aero and more being spent on engines — basically whichever part of the package could provide the biggest gains is where the most money will be spent. So I don’t really think the budgets would change — just be re-diverted. Besides, implementation of KERS next year won’t come cheap, and that effort is, I think, misguided at best.

      Technological development in F1 is what we love about the sport, and I think if it were channelled, in times like these, towards efficiency and sustainability, it could greatly improve F1s image. The V10s from 1995 to 2005 when from ~650bhp to almost (or perhaps over) 1000bhp with no change in displacement! It’s astonishing what can be achieved when F1’s great minds focus on a problem over a sustained amount of time.

      Here’s the hypothetical scenario I keep coming back to: if oil reaches $200 a barrel, it’s not hard to imagine public opinion going sour on a boisterous racing series that jetsets around the world guzzling fuel. If there is enough public outcry within a race-hosting nation, it’s also not hard to imagine a government-subsidized Grand Prix disappearing from the calender very quickly. Politics are politics. And from there it could only take one. We know there are emerging countries lined up for a GP right now, today, but will that still be the case after, potentially, a few years of global recession and rising oil prices?

      Sorry for the doomsday scenario, but I believe that the public opinion may have a large influence on the fate of F1, which could go for or against it. Sure, the effect of 20 race cars on the global environment is miniscule — but on the other hand, if the might of F1’s tech wizards were working towards a goal of reduced consumption, it actually would make a difference, one that could eventually trickle down to benefit each and every one of us, in the same ways that advances in automotive safety do today.

    10. Kevin,

      Yes, we’re indeed starting to see diffusers on road cars. But it must be said that on aero side Formula 1 has no relevancy for road cars. Formula 1 cars are open-wheel, road cars are closed-wheel. This means that the entire bodywork and undertray work differently.

    11. I believe the only intended connection between Nascar’s Car of The Moment mistake and the state of F1 is that he doesn’t want to see F1 make things worse in the interest of making them better.

      The force limit mentioned invites cheating and circumvention in a number of places, including but not limited to suspension and illegal use of ground effect. I should say, though, that the more I learn about the 2009 car, the more I think it has the right -basic- idea. I think if they want to get it completely right, though, FIA must allow the engineers to build better powerplants and suspension.

    12. This post couldnt be more correct!

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