Home - The Official Formula 1 Website Skip to content

Analysis - top teams pass notes to improve overtaking 03 Oct 2008

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R28 and Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4/23 battle for position. Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, French Grand Prix, Race, Magny-Cours, France, Sunday 22 June 2008. Paddy Lowe (GBR) McLaren. Formula One World Championship, Rd 11, Hungarian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Budapest, Hungary, Saturday 2 August 2008. Nico Rosberg (GER) Williams FW30 passes Jarno Trulli (ITA) Toyota TF108 Formula One World Championship, Rd 15, Singapore Grand Prix, Race, Singapore, Sunday 28 September 2008. Jenson Button (GBR) Honda RA108 and Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing RB4. Australian Grand Prix, Rd 1, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday 16 March 2008. Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R28, David Coulthard (GBR) Red Bull Racing RB4 and Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1.08 battle. Malaysian Grand Prix, Rd 2, Race, Sepang, Malaysia, Sunday 23 March 2008.

The 2009 Formula One season could see a lot more passing manoeuvres thanks to a unique collaboration between three of the sport’s leading teams. Backed by the FIA, top design engineers from Ferrari, McLaren and Renault worked together to help frame changes to the aerodynamic regulations that should make overtaking far less of a rarity.

Under current regulations, a driver typically needs to be as much as two seconds a lap faster than the car in front to have a realistic chance of passing. That should be cut to around a second next year thanks to a host of bodywork changes, including wider front wings that can be adjusted by the driver from the cockpit - a Formula One first.

Instigated by the FIA at the beginning of 2007, the Overtaking Working Group (OWG) - comprising Ferrari’s Rory Byrne, McLaren’s Paddy Lowe and Renault’s Pat Symonds - used McLaren’s advanced Formula One simulator to evaluate overtaking at Turn 1 of the old Barcelona circuit. Having established the existing ‘two seconds per lap’ requirement, they set about cutting that in half through aerodynamic changes.

They quickly learned that previous FIA proposals aimed at increasing overtaking, in particular the planned Centreline Downwash Generating (CDG) rear wing, had some major flaws. Utilising a conventional wind tunnel rather than computer-based Computational Fluid Dynamics, they instead came up with a series of new measures which should guarantee the desired effect.

The most obvious changes to the cars will be a taller and narrower rear wing, a shorter rear diffuser, and the loss of bodywork appendages such as deflectors, winglets and chimneys. Perhaps the most interesting revision, however, is to the front wing, which will become much wider. It will also be Formula One racing’s first (legal) moveable aerodynamic device, with the driver able to fine tune its settings from the cockpit.

“The flap will be controlled and monitored by the standard ECU,” explains OWG member Paddy Lowe. “The software in this unit is FIA-controlled, so it will only allow two adjustments per lap. The number of settings available to the driver will be up to the team, but the maximum flap angle range is +/- 3 degrees (i.e. 6 degrees total), so probably a team might provide one-degree steps.”

Having achieved their target of the ‘one second per lap’ requirement, it remains to be seen how the OWG’s measures will perform during an actual Grand Prix. Have they got the balance right? After all, many will rightly argue that overtaking in Formula One - the world’s premier motorsport series - should be difficult.

“In my view the reduction from two seconds to one is a very big and important step,” says Lowe. “We may indeed find that this is sufficient. Clearly a zero second per lap differential is nonsensical, so it is not as though we only made half the necessary progress! I also do not believe we want to make overtaking trivial if your car is at all faster - i.e. if we reduced that same number to 0.2sec/lap, say, then it would almost guarantee that any faster car could overtake any slower car without delay - a really quite boring prospect.”

It’s clear the changes should make for even more exciting racing, but that doesn’t mean they will make life any easier for the drivers. They already have a myriad of controls to deal with from the cockpit and next year will see the addition of not only adjustable wings but also KERS, the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (which could also boost overtaking).

As Lowe succinctly puts it, “Switch 'real estate' on the steering wheel is becoming as difficult to find as it is in the cockpit of a 747!”