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Pat Sy­monds on 2019 changes

For­mula 1 has long been re­sis­tant to change, a sit­u­a­tion that was brought about by a per­verse gov­er­nance sys­tem, vari­able amounts of dis­unity be­tween en­fran­chised bod­ies – and, most im­por­tantly, teams that guarded per­ceived com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage to an ex­treme de­gree.

The past twelve months have brought a sea change in this sit­u­a­tion. Firstly the gov­ern­ing body and the com­mer­cial rights holder are aligned in the de­sire to bring en­ter­tain­ment back to rac­ing and the teams are also see­ing the merit, both from a fi­nan­cial and a sport­ing viewpoint, of pro­vid­ing closer and less pre­dictable rac­ing.

Much of the work is longer term but the

FIA took the ini­tia­tive ear­lier this year to see if some of the re­search into the 2021 aero­dy­namic reg­u­la­tions could be cherry-picked to im­prove the short-term sit­u­a­tion. Of­ten this is a dan­ger­ous thing to do, but al­ready the changes be­ing in­ves­ti­gated are bet­ter re­searched than any pre­vi­ous it­er­a­tion of bodywork rules.

The early work on un­der­stand­ing what it is about the aero­dy­namic char­ac­ter­is­tics of the cur­rent cars that in­hibits close fol­low­ing didn’t show up any sur­prises. In essence there are two fea­tures of the wake of a car that are detri­men­tal to the per­for­mance of a fol­low­ing car. The first is the tur­bu­lence in­ten­sity of the wake and the sec­ond, and far more im­por­tant, is the low en­ergy or to­tal pres­sure of the wake flow.

Aero­dy­namic forces are di­rectly pro­por­tional to the to­tal pres­sure that they ex­pe­ri­ence. To­tal pres­sure is made up of two com­po­nents: the static pres­sure or am­bi­ent pres­sure, which is mainly a func­tion of weather con­di­tions and al­ti­tude; and then there is dy­namic pres­sure, which is a func­tion of the ve­loc­ity of the air im­ping­ing on the aero­dy­namic sur­face.

As I’ve writ­ten be­fore, the route to per­for­mance on an F1 car is to sweep the wake of the front wheels out to the side of the car so that this lowen­ergy flow, the very type of low-en­ergy flow that is detri­men­tal to the fol­low­ing car, is pushed away from your own car. Un­for­tu­nately this also leaves a very wide wake of low-en­ergy air for the fol­low­ing car to drive through.

What is re­quired to im­prove fol­low­ing car per­for­mance is to keep the wake nar­row and lift it up be­hind the lead­ing car in a shape re­sem­bling a mush­room. Fun­da­men­tal to keep­ing it nar­row is to limit out­wash­ing, and a strong rear wing is re­quired to lift it up.

Ex­per­i­men­tal work on the 2021 reg­u­la­tions showed these fea­tures to be un­con­tro­ver­sial. So, while a more com­plete so­lu­tion was sought for 2021, a few sim­ple fixes were pro­posed for 2019. In or­der not to in­ter­rupt the work on the fu­ture car, the teams were asked to carry out some ba­sic re­search on the new pro­pos­als and con­cen­trate on the qual­ity of the wake rather than on the ab­so­lute per­for­mance of the lead­ing car. While there was some vari­a­tion of re­sults, not a sin­gle one was neg­a­tive, and there­fore the re­vised reg­u­la­tions were put to a vote. To the sur­prise of many, this vote was car­ried and the rules adopted. The story didn’t quite fin­ish there, though, be­cause once the teams stud­ied the rules in de­tail they found some am­bi­gu­i­ties. At one time this might have been enough to de­rail the whole process, but in the new-found sprit of co­op­er­a­tion these have been ironed out and a com­pre­hen­sive, if ex­tremely com­plex, set of rules agreed on.

So what are the fun­da­men­tals of the changes? Start­ing at the front, the front wing has been sim­pli­fied by re­mov­ing many of the ap­pendages that sit on top of it, and the num­ber of el­e­ments re­duced to five. Abrupt changes of sec­tion which could pro­duce vor­tices to en­hance the main Y250 vor­tex have been out­lawed. Un­der the wing, the ver­ti­cal strakes have been lim­ited both in num­ber and ge­om­e­try.

Most im­por­tantly at the front, the wing end­plate has been re­de­fined as a much more sim­ple de­vice, de­void of the many sec­tions cur­rently seen. The ge­om­e­try is such that the out­wash an­gle is lim­ited to 15 de­grees and the foot­plate is less com­plex. Fi­nally the prac­tice of blow­ing air through the wheel hubs has been out­lawed and the front brake duct outer sur­faces sim­pli­fied.

These changes have de-pow­ered the front wing, and to get bal­ance back the wing is


larger with the front moved for­ward 25mm, the width in­creased by 100mm, and the height also in­creased by 25mm.

The barge­boards are also changed by re­duc­ing their height by 125mm, al­though this pre-dates the lat­est changes and was done to ex­pose more of the chas­sis to ex­ploit ad­ver­tis­ing po­ten­tial. To re­gain some per­for­mance the plan area that can be oc­cu­pied by the barge­boards is in­creased.

At the rear, the wing has been made larger by ex­tend­ing it 20mm rear­wards and mak­ing it 50mm wider. The depth of the wing is 20mm greater and the DRS now al­lows a gap of 85mm be­tween wing el­e­ments when de­ployed, 20mm more than be­fore. The rear wing end­plates have also been sim­pli­fied, again aimed at ad­ver­tis­ing space rather than wake man­age­ment.

There are some other de­tail changes, most of which are a con­se­quence of the main changes, al­though some de­tail around the halo junc­tion to the chas­sis has also been al­tered to make for bet­ter aes­thet­ics.

The big ques­tion is whether these changes will make a sub­stan­tive dif­fer­ence, and I be­lieve the an­swer is yes. They will not achieve all that is re­quired for close rac­ing, and in­deed even the 2021 aero reg­u­la­tions won’t achieve this in iso­la­tion, but I do be­lieve that the changes for 2019 are for the bet­ter. There is an im­me­di­ate cost to the teams in terms of lack of carry-over parts into 2019 but change will al­ways cost money. The im­por­tant fac­tor is re­turn on in­vest­ment, and if we can im­prove rac­ing and at­tract new fans and spon­sors, then the in­vest­ment into the many changes tak­ing place over the next few years will be re­paid many times over.

To over­take a car the chaser must first get close, but that brings with it wake prob­lems

The re­sult ev­ery­one is hop­ing for from these changes is closer rac­ing Width in­creased by100mm Depth in­creased by 25mm A sim­pli­fied front wing for 2019 her­alds a raft of changes which seek to min­imise a car’s wake Height in­creased by 25mm

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