FRONT WING ART
Take a moment to savour the boundless complexity of these front-wing details, because in a few months all this will change as a new era of Formula 1 begins
The fabulous-but-flawed intricacy of 2018 front wings close up
We’ve reached the point of peak wing. Formula 1’s era of aero art for art’s sake is about to be packed into a regulatory box and filed away – at least so far as front wings are concerned. From next year onwards, these elegantly sculpted beams with their many complicated layers of twists and curves will be replaced by far less intricate designs.
As with any other work of art, the front wing 2018-style divides opinion. Some adore the sheer complexity and imagination of the swoops and cascades; others declaim such elaboration as axiomatically ugly – and needlessly expensive. In our gallery on these pages we’ve credited the respective heads of aerodynamics for the sake of brevity, but in truth – as with the art factories presided over by the likes of Andy Warhol and
Damien Hirst – each wing is the work of many hands. Such is the importance of the front wing to the overall aero performance of the car that each team spends millions of pounds per season on development, and the process is so iterative that changes yielding improvements worth fractions of a second are often barely noticeable.
At the heart of the issue is the front wing’s dual role as airflow conditioner and downforce generator. Regulations enshrine the central 500mm section as a flat area, free from development, but from there to the wingtips on each side it’s been a free-for-all since the rules changed to allow wings to be wider in 2009. Aerodynamicists duly began to exploit the newly available width to achieve ‘outwash’ by steering air around the front wheels, each of which acts as a blockage and a generator of turbulence.
So as well as generating downforce, those complex folds and protuberances around the endplates are setting up flow structures that accelerate air around the wheels. The sharp points further in towards the centre are geared towards setting up what’s known as the Y250 vortex (because it begins 250mm from the centreline of the car, at the end of the flat section of the main plane). On each side of the car, the Y250 vortex passes between the nose and wheels and, in effect, pushes the low-energy air in the wake of the front wheels away from the car. In the right conditions, when the ambient air is dense and damp, you can see the core of the Y250 vortices as a pair of contra-rotating spirals.
This effect is arguably more powerful in terms of overall performance than downforce alone – you’ll notice on the Renault wing in particular that the majority of the cascade structure (the section painted in black) is non-adjustable. And it has a toxic effect on the aero performance of following cars, since it leaves a wide wake of discombobulated air.
So next year’s rules aim to reduce that effect by mandating simpler geometries and fewer flow conditioners. Chances are it won’t reduce the amount teams spend on aero; it also means you won’t see this sort of artistic complexity again.
THE WING’S CASCADE STRUCTURE HAS A TOXIC EFFECT ON THE AERO PERFORMANCE OF FOLLOWING CARS, SINCE IT LEAVES A WIDE WAKE OF DISCOMBOBULATED AIR