There is a real buzz in Formula One at the moment as the sport’s major players unveil their new 2009 machinery. This year’s launch season is one of the most exciting in recent memory thanks to the revolutionary design changes mandated by the FIA, and it is interesting to note how each of the teams have adapted differently to the new rules.
The 2009 technical regulations have been developed to encourage closer racing and more overtaking, and this is largely being accomplished through heavily revised aerodynamics. In particular, the rear wings are now taller and narrower whilst the front wings are lower and wider. Representatives from Ferrari, McLaren and Renault worked together with the FIA to formulate the new rules, and believe the changes will enable Formula One cars to race closer together without aerodynamic interference.
The smaller rear wing on a 2009 model will create less turbulent air behind the car, and it has been made higher so the resulting wake is less likely to impact the lower front wing of a car following behind.
The front wing has been made larger so that it will be less sensitive to dirty air, and the central part of the wing has been made neutral so that it does not generate any downforce at all. This is now a common part across all teams, and the idea is that it will be impossible to lose any downforce from this section of wing whilst trailing another car because it wasn’t producing any to start with.
The new regulations have resulted in six very different looking chassis from Ferrari, Toyota, McLaren, Williams, Renault and BMW. Only Red Bull, Force India, and Honda are yet to reveal their new kit, and there is a chance that Honda won’t have anything to reveal at all. Each of the cars has been uniquely designed and that is fantastic for Grand Prix enthusiasts because there is nothing wrong with technical variety in Formula One.
The new cars vary from one another most notably at the front end.
The revised front wing specifications have dramatically affected the way teams build their nosecones. The rules mean that teams are now solely trying to reduce drag around the nose rather than increase downforce, which is a significant change to their thinking.
This new philosophy is clearly seen on the Ferrari F60.
Last year the Ferrari raced at some circuits with a hole in the nosecone. This vent released air pressure created by the middle of the front wing, but since that pressure is no longer an issue the hole is gone. The car now features a very long and pointy nose that is purely designed to cut through the air with maximum efficiency, something rarely seen on Ferrari’s in the past. The front wing is mounted a long way back on the nosecone which allows the tip itself to be especially sharp because there is nothing around it to disrupt the airflow.
It is an interesting concept, but is not as interesting as what Renault have come up with.
The R29 has the most bulbous front end of any car, and is probably the most unsightly, but its bulky shape serves a very good purpose. The underside of the nosecone is effectively hollow which means it will act a little bit like a diffuser. The open space will suck air into it and will help push the car into the ground. It will also suck air out of the way of the front wheels.
Williams joined Renault in opting for a wide nosecone but have since revised their car and have narrowed the front end a little. It will be interesting to see if Renault end up doing the same, although it seems highly unlikely given their design is quite a novel way to handle the new regulations.
Toyota have gone for the total opposite. They have built a very slim nose like the Ferrari, but the front wing mountings are a long way forward, almost like the old walrus design on the 2004 Williams. Toyota have done this so they can take advantage of the area directly beneath the nosecone. The 2009 regulations are fairly relaxed about aerodynamic features on that part of the car, so Toyota’s design will give them as much space as possible to use things like turning vanes where they can. It could be a decisive advantage.
Along with the radically different nosecones, the 2009 cars are also characterised by their front wings.
The front wing endplates are now far more important than they have been in the past because the wing is as wide as the car itself. The result is that endplates will have a much bigger and direct impact on the air that collides with the front tyres.
Again, Renault have one of the most interesting designs. Their endplates are built so that air is pushed around both sides of the front wheels. The top half of the endplate pushes air to the inside, whilst the bottom half deflects air around the outside.
This is interesting because most teams are simply trying to push air around the outside. This is particularly evident on the Williams where the angle of attack on the endplates is quite obvious.
McLaren are the only other team to by trying something different. The MP4-24 is trying to push all of the air inside the front wheels rather than around the outside, and this will have a significant effect when the car is turning and there is more air making contact with the tyres.
All of the air that rushes over the front of the car and through the suspension will eventually make it around the sidepods, and this is another area where the teams are taking noticeably different approaches.
The bodywork is much cleaner this year because the extra winglets and cooling towers have been banned, so the whole sidepod is now effectively one large aerodynamic piece. Teams can no longer cut gills into the bodywork either, so the actual shape of the sidepod will be largely influenced by the car’s cooling requirements. The result is some interesting sculpting.
Renault have produced yet another unique design, and the rear of their sidepods are very wide and open. This is to release as much hot air as possible out the back and Ferrari have adopted a similar, albeit narrower, version of the same thing.
Renault’s wide sidepods do not have to be as tall, and this allows the lower part of the car just above the floor to be much narrower and sculpted. In fact, the upper part of the sidepod appears to fold over the lower section of bodywork towards the rear. The very flat and very wide design also allows cleaner and more direct air onto the rear wing.
McLaren have produced the total opposite with rather tall and narrow sidepods. The Mercedes V8 engine has always run well on temperature, and now that it will be limited to 18,000 rpm the team is taking advantage by using much smaller cooling inlets. The slimmer design creates more space between the rear wheels which should give the team an advantage as this is a sensitive area of the cars in 2009. The diffuser has been moved back and the gearbox and rear crash structure are higher than before, so there is now space for air to exit above and beneath them.
Although the teams aren’t allowed to cut gills into the sidepods anymore, BMW have got around this by seemingly cutting gills everywhere else they can. A row of small openings is visible at the very bottom of the car near the floor, and another row is visible where the sidepod joins onto the engine cover. The outlets themselves are very small but that is because it is all the regulations will allow.
No doubt more teams will copy the idea if it is successful. The development race in 2009 is going to be intense!
Hopefully the new regulations will create more overtaking and excitement, although we shouldn’t make too many assumptions because there are already a number of reasons why this might not be the case. The first is that slick tyres will reduce the length of braking zones. The second is that extra large front wings will make close racing fraught with danger, and the final reason is that F1 engineers are some of the smartest people in the world and they will recoup much of the lost downforce before we’ve even noticed it was gone.
The new rules will certainly help, but it remains to be seen how much of an impact they will actually have on the racing.
For the time being it doesn’t matter though, because at least we have a set of different cars to look at.