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

F1 Racing (UK) - - CONTENTS - WORDS STU­ART CODLING

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

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