Williams 2019 front wing test, Hungaroring, 2018

Don’t expect a revolution in racing from F1’s new front wings

2019 F1 season

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Formula 1 cars are going to look rather different this year. Wider front wings and taller, deeper rear wings will create a generation of machines resembling the designs of 2009-13.

While those may not have been the best-looking cars F1 has ever seen, and drivers are concerned the new generation won’t look great either, the hope is that the action will be rather more fun to watch. There’s two reasons why this could be the case.

One is that it will might the field. The front wing affects the airflow over every other part on the car. Change that, and teams have to re-evaluate their entire aerodynamic philosophy.

This could affect some more than others. Red Bull, who’ve made great strides with their aerodynamics since the start of 2017, are obvious candidates. That may hand those outside the ‘big three’ a chance to trim their deficit.

But realistically, the front-running teams are where they are because they have vastly larger budgets. The same thing which has put them at the front of the field is likely to keep them there, regardless of whether the rules change.

That brings us to point two: the reason why the wings have been changed. Simply put, this is to make it easier for cars to follow each other closely and thereby improve the quality of the racing.

Christian Horner, Red Bull, Circuit de Catalunya, 2018
Horner has repeatedly criticised the rules change
Some critics of the change, including prominent figures at (perhaps unsurprisingly) Red Bull, have suggested the goal was to slow the cars down. This isn’t the case.

While it’s true the FIA originally claimed the 2019 cars would be up to one-and-a-half seconds per lap slower because of the change, this is a side effect and not a goal. The goal was to make it easier for the cars to follow each other more closely. Those suggesting that the new rules will have failed if this year’s cars are no slower than last years are being disingenuous.

The purpose of the 2019 rules changes is to prevent teams from using complex ‘outwashing’ designs which have been blamed for the difficulties drives face when following other cars closely. The intricate sculpted end plates, which force air around the sides of the car, have been a feature of front wing design for almost a decade.

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The prototype 2019 front wings tested by Force India and Williams last year indicate they are about to become a thing of the past. Will that make the racing better?

Mercedes director Toto Wolff cast doubt on the change. “I think we have found solutions that we can get the air again around the car,” he said last year. “It’s not going to change an awful lot.”

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Albert Park, 2018
Will we see closer racing from the start of next year
This is the usual problem with trying to ban a technology in Formula 1. Teams aren’t going to un-learn the benefit of a particular design, so they’ve just going to seek a new way of creating it.

And of course, Formula 1 cars are incredibly sophisticated machines. How the new car behave when following other cars closely depends on many other factors. How badly does it affect their cooling? Will it cause their tyres to go off? Pirelli plan to bring more conservative tyres this year may therefore help aid cars running more closely together.

Even so, many expect the effect of the new wings to be minimal at best. Last year some drivers said the turbulence from another car could be felt from as much as seven seconds behind.

The FIA’s head of single-seater matters Nikolas Tombazis says the change is the product of one of the most thorough research programmes on overtaking ever attempted. Soon we will discover how it has fared against the combined ingenuity and resources of 10 of the world’s best racing car builders.

It may be that the best we can realistically hope for is that F1’s new wings stop the overtaking problem from getting any worse, rather than making it better.

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2019 F1 season

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Nicholas Latifi, Force India, Hungaroring, 2018
Force India (now Racing Point) tested the new front wings in Hungary

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 50 comments on “Don’t expect a revolution in racing from F1’s new front wings”

    1. Step 1 – Target 5-6 seconds of lap time improvement across the following areas:
      – engine capacity / fuel flow & limits, target up to 1000bhp in race trim
      – allowance of one engine & gearbox per race meeting, less engine conservation, lighter construction (and less grid penalties!)
      – larger rear diffuser
      – more design freedom around suspension technology
      – reduction in car size & weight
      – improved tire compounds / construction

      Step 2 – Reduce overall downforce by approx 5-6 seconds.

      Step 3 – Remove DRS.

      Step 4 – Enjoy some great racing with chosen beverage.

      1. @aussierod ”Reduce overall downforce by approx 5-6 seconds.” – Seconds? I think you meant percentage.

        1. @aussierod undoubtedly meant downforce-impact, @jerejj

          And with an average lap time at around 1m40s it doesn’t really matter ;)

          1. @coldfly A less misleading, and, therefore, better word choice would’ve been ‘reduce downforce by approx ‘x’ %.’

            1. @jerejj …And a word choice that would completely ruin the whole point: make other things faster by roughly the same time lost to lower downforce, to ensure there isn’t so much impact to laptimes.

              (of course, that would be pretty impossible to do consistently between tracks, as different tracks weigh e.g. fast engine and good aero differently)

      2. allowance of one engine & gearbox per race meeting, less engine conservation

        Isn’t going to happen, why bother?

      3. @aussierod

        They clearly dont want 400kph missiles on the straights because its deemed unsafe so this wont happen.

      4. @aussierod What a great way to even further the gulf between the top 3 and the rest of the field. You’re talking massive expense there.

    2. ”Wider front wings and taller, deeper rear wings will create a generation of machines resembling the designs of 2009-13.”
      – I wouldn’t really compare next season’s cars to the 2009-13 ones design-wise especially on the rear wing front as it’s still closer to the last two seasons in size than to the aero rules of 2009-2016. Furthermore, the front wing size is also effectively entirely unnoticeable between 2009-2013 and 2014-2018.

      1. @jerejj, I guess that “following the intentions of the 2009-2013 regulations” might perhaps be a better description – the design might be different, but the intended effect is meant to be similar.

        1. And the 2009-13 rules were so successful that they decided to go for bigger tyres to increase the mechanical grip contribution and then screwed the whole thing up with bigger wings, but nobody foresaw the consequences of those bigger wings. Nobody involved in F1 design regs that is, but almost all of us here at @f1fanatic could see the inevitable result, it’s a wonder that us fans continue to follow this sport that kicks us in the teeth time after time after time. Perhaps @keithcollantine could re-visit the comments on new rule packages over the ages to see who got it right, the fans or the regulators.

    3. I don’t expect a revolution in racing this year, but I do so for 2021. That TW says they have found other ways to outwash this year just shows how restrictive or specific and encompassing the 2021 regs will have to be aero wise.

    4. I’ve long argued that DRS should be replaced by DRS.

      Get rid of the Downforce Reduction System on the straights, and introduce a Downforce Recovery System (in the turns).
      If following cars (with 1 or 2 sec) are allowed to move their front wing (steeper) to get more front grip when following, then they will be able to follow closely in the turns. On the straights both cars will have to fight it out without any gimmicks, and truly earn the overtake (drag, pick side, brake late).

      And as nobody wants more front wing on the straight we do not even have to limit the new DRS to certain sections. Following cars will only use it in turns where they need the extra downforce and will be first to switch it off as soon as they go full throttle on the straight.

      1. @coldfly Sounds like just another gimmick meant to try to mask over too much clean air dependence. I’m envisioning the lead car still left helpless to defend, only in your way by him not being able to keep behind the trailing car that now has more grip, as opposed to the trailing car having more speed the way it is now. How about just mandating regs that make the cars produce much less downforce and wake so that no gimmicks are needed and rather the mechanical grip holds a bigger part of the ratio of mechanical to aero grip. I’d rather see a more apples to apples comparison amongst the drivers than it being advantaged driver vs helpless to defend driver.

      2. @coldfly, the problem is that the sport did try that back in 2009, but it turned out that it wasn’t particularly effective in practise. More often than not, instead of using it when trailing another drivers, the drivers tended to use it to adjust the balance of the car as fuel burned off – so, when they did come up behind another driver, more often than not they’d have already used up most of the adjustment range and couldn’t increase the front wing angle any further.

        The other aspect is that, in quite a few ways, the front wing wasn’t really the problem – the issue has generally been stalling of the floor and the handling balance change that it caused, and increasing the front wing angle didn’t really improve the handling balance (there were several instances where the front wing just tended to end up stalling instead as the drivers tried to overcompensate for the shifts in the centre of pressure of the floor, sometimes making the problem worse rather than better).

        1. Rather than ditching it, they should have developed it further. You would stop this to be a finetuning fiddly thing and become a useful downforce recovery tool if only allow following cars (within 1 or 2sec) to use it (as often as they want).

          Of course, I’d rather see racing where the aero of one car does not ruin the downforce of the following one (to stop these gimmicks to be needed as per @robbie‘s statement). But I’d prefer a ‘gimmick’ which directly offsets a negative impact (cannot follow) rather than a gimmick which provides an artificial benefit on the next straight.

          1. @coldfly, even when being used in that fashion, it turned out that it really wasn’t that effective due to the fact that it wasn’t addressing the stalling issues that arose at the front of the floor, nor addressing the issues of the individual wing elements themselves stalling.

            1. This. Because if it were just about the front wing, then that central section of the front wing that is designed to not provide any downforce could have been shaped to provide lift, which then would be nullified when running behind another car this producing overall downforce.

      3. They tried on track movable front wings. From memory the teams voted to get rid of it.

      4. @coldfly it’s been tried. Also, I don’t think increasing the angle of the wings would work as we think it would because they’d still be under turbulent air, and those surfaces create effective down force on clean air. I don’t know how but the best way to overcome aero deoendency is to make mechanical grip the main characteristic. Fiddling with aero just opens up the game to teams, and it ends up disturbing the guy behind, whatever they do.

    5. They said as much from the beginning when they announced the change. This is not meant to be a revolution, it is a baby step toward allowing the cars to follow each other more closely, and a lead-in to the future regulations. Anyone expecting a revolution hasn’t been paying attention.

      1. Who pays attention besides diehards? The media has certainly made it seem like it is a huge change. Everyone has been saying ‘2019 and big changes in f1’

        1. NOT everyone…! Perhaps you’ve paying too much attention to the wrong media… which oddly seems to make you feel knowledgeable… ;-)

    6. @keithcollantine

      One is that it will might the field.

      I genuinely do not understand what this means: should the word might be unite perhaps?

      1. Tighten, level, doesn’t matter, it won’t happen. The smaller teams can’t afford to do multiple iterations of three or four parallel wing developments– the big teams can.

        Expect huge gaps between the front-runners and the rest in Australia, which will eventually close down as the smaller teams get the new parts into the pipeline, and then the FIA / Liberty will knock over the board, and reset everything for 2020, giving the advantage right back to Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, and then the FIA-L will complain that the gap in racing is still too huge, and make yet more drastic changes.

        In motorsport terms, it’s the equivalent overcompensating into tank-slapper.

    7. F1 has 3 main problems for overtaking. 1. their power to weight
      2. Unequal machinery
      3. the tracks they race on. F1 cars have such acceleration out of turns that with 2 equally matched cars it is always going to be hard to overtake…. The car in front accelerates out of a turn first, and in that brief time before the following car accelerates out of a turn, the car in front has jumped many car lengths ahead. For this I think f1 needs more straights like in Baku, so that the slipstream effect works to help overtaking. Also that should do something like make it closer to a spec series or Balance of Power like other series do… The difference in speed is too much between the cars over a lap.

      1. How can unequal machinery possible be a problem for overtaking? If anything that should increase overtaking, I mean even Bottas can overtake with unequal machinery.

        “problem 3” would be solved by fixing “problem 1”, if they would battle for grip out of the corners rather than just going full throttle all the time it would open up alot of overtaking. Just look at rainraces.

      2. @kpcart
        Whatever is done to the cars it will be across all teams so power to weight will always be (approx) the same. Unless you’re suggesting placing ballast in the front runners?

        1. kpcart – how old are you…? ;-)

      3. @kpcart Surprised you haven’t mentioned the most obvious problem for overtaking. Cars greatly dependent on clear air to perform at their optimum, are greatly negatively affected when in dirty air. Also, putting terrible tires on the front that can’t handle the movement at the front when a car is in dirty air, does not help.

    8. I don’t understand the front wing width increase. If FOM want to reduce outwash, surely a narrower wing is required.

      They were narrowed a few seasons ago for a reason. I predict a return to lots of first lap breakages, carbon spread all over the track & safety car by lap two. #boring

      1. @dave-f ”I predict a return to lots of first lap breakages, carbon spread all over the track & safety car by lap two. #boring”
        – That was never really the case from 2009 to 2013 with approximately the same front wing width as next season, so the reality proved different to the expectation/assumption, and, therefore, I doubt it’s going to be any different this time around either.

        1. @jerejj
          I must have been watching different races to you.

          1. @dave-f Other people have pointed out the same as well, not just me, LOL. The difference in width between 2009-2013 and 2014-2018 is barely even noticeable, which is why I wasn’t aware of it at the time the change in width happened, but only found it out a few years afterwards.

            1. I’d be interested in the other people’s views. Do you have links?
              “Unaware”? LOL.

            2. Not aware… and then suddenly an authority… lol…

      2. Liberty is probably thinking of a US oval racing where safety cars are continously deployed, and thinking ‘good, closes the field’

    9. Will the wider front wing increase downforce at the front, and thus affect front tyre wear? Would this detrimentally affect any particular teams more than others? If so, which teams?

      1. Strange, with all the ‘experts’ here, that nobody has tried to answer this simple & valid question… ;-)

      2. If the wing were just wider, then yes, but they have also been made simpler (i.e. fewer elements) and the outwash effect has been reduced. Together this means less front downforce.

        With fewer and more simplified wing elements, there is less surface area to generate the downforce. With reduced outwash effect, more air must travel over the front tires which becomes “dirty” air.

    10. There is only ONE THING that will create closer racing in F1: Budget caps. Unless and until FOM has the stones to implement and enforce strict budget caps, the deep pockets of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull will always be squeeze out the extra bits of performance and the other teams will be fighting for the leftovers. The regulations ensure that they days when a genius on a mid field team could come up with startling innovation and vault to the front are gone. Even if that were to happen, the big teams would immediately throw tens of millions at it, copy it, improve it and leave the them behind.

      I don’t know if everyone quite realizes the enormous resources that a team like Mercedes our into even the tiniest details of their effort. As long as that continues, F1 will stay pretty much as we see it now.

      1. @partofthepuzzle: Agree in principle. A decade ago.

        In 2019, there’s only two small independent teams left, Williams and McLaren. And Williams is the only budget-constrained independent. McLaren’s 2018 $220M budget was $30M more than Renault spent.

        Ferrari has two ‘B’ teams now, Alfa and Haas. RBR has Toro Roso and it appears Race Pointing will be Mercedes designated B-team. The Bees won’t be permitted to buzz at the highest level, from orders at the highest level, budget-cap or not.

        1. Yup … we are going into the F1 – F1.5 and F1.25 season.

        2. @jimmi-cynic Mclaren is technically a manufacturer team, though.

          1. @jerejj: Technically then, F1 has only one independent garagista left. Il Commendatore’s grand revenge is almost complete.

            1. Wonderful history lesson… ;-)

    11. Just as always when this type of changes come, before the year concludes, the cars are going to be faster than last year. Wait and see.

      1. With the change, it was hypothesized that the cars would lose around 1.5s per lap. I agree that teams should be able to more than make up this deficit by year’s end. It will be interesting to see where they start in testing, e.g. will they really be 1.5s slower to start.

    12. “ALL” they have to do is make the front wing standard for all teams. Imagine how much money will be saved. Imagine the close racing that will be possible. Instead we have half assed rules that only serves a challenge and millions of dollars to get the same airflow as before. This is a joke, yet they get paid millions for incompetence and all you hear is “Oh, sorry, that was unforeseen consequence”, B.S.

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