Toyotas Pascal Vasselon on Formula One, 2009 style 14 Nov 2008
Next week the teams begin their on-track preparations for the 2009 Formula One season, which sees some of the most far-reaching rule changes in recent years. Tighter aerodynamic regulations, the return of slick tyres, the arrival of adjustable front wings and the introduction of Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) are all set to make cars sleeker and overtaking easier. It means a busy winter ahead for the designers and engineers, but Pascal Vasselon, Toyotas senior general chassis manager, is relishing the challenge
Q: Looking ahead to next year, can you explain the reason for the changes to the aerodynamic regulations?
Pascal Vasselon: The regulation change basically targets three main objectives: the first one is to give drivers a better opportunity to overtake, the second is to limit the performance of the cars and restrict the constant increase in speeds and the third is to give the car a cleaner appearance by removing small aerodynamic devices such as winglets, turning vanes and chimneys.
Q: How will the cars' appearance change?
PV: One of the key elements of this regulation change was a desire to alter the appearance of the cars and make them look cleaner. Currently, the appearance of the cars has not been dictated purely by aerodynamic considerations; instead we have worked within what we call 'legality boxes'. These are specific areas of the car where additional downforce-generating devices are permitted. Their location is not driven purely by physics because when race car design is driven simply by aerodynamic efficiency you end up with nice, flowing shapes - not winglets etc. The regulations for next year are written in a way that means we will not see these kinds of devices.
Q: How do the new aerodynamic regulations aim to make overtaking easier?
PV: The aim of these new regulations is to make the cars less aerodynamically-sensitive to the wake of the car in front; that is the air disturbance immediately behind a car travelling at speed. This has been addressed with a two-pronged approach from the Overtaking Working Group. The first target is to make the wake of a Formula One car less disruptive to the car behind and the second is to make aerodynamic performance less sensitive to wake.
Q: Why are slick tyres returning to Formula One racing?
PV: The slick tyres are another aspect of the new regulations designed to facilitate overtaking and they play a major part in this whole concept. In order to facilitate overtaking you need to alter the current situation where the wake of a car has a very detrimental effect on the performance of the car behind. But you can also change the balance between aerodynamic performance and mechanical grip in order to limit the drop in performance suffered by the car behind. Improving mechanical grip was an important aspect of this set of regulations, obviously tyre grip is not altered in the wake of another car, and slick tyres, because they provide more grip than grooved tyres, contribute to this.
Q: What are the implications of the adjustable front wing?
PV: The adjustable front wing is another change which contributes to reducing the impact of wake on a car's performance. One of the characteristics of a car following another is to lose front downforce and end up with understeer. The new regulations have tried to minimise that but it will still exist. So the other possibility is to offer the driver an active change to the car's balance and the easiest way to achieve this is to make the front wing adjustable. This means that if a car is experiencing understeer when following another car, the driver can add some flap angle to the front wing to improve the balance. The target again is to limit the performance drop experienced when following another car closely, and to improve the chances of overtaking. But in circumstances when a driver is not following another car, he will also be able to take advantage of the adjustable wing to compensate potential balance issues in certain corners. The drivers will certainly be kept busy next year!
Q: How much of a challenge is it to deal with these regulation changes?
PV: Obviously it is a challenge because we are talking about a very large regulation change. But I have to say it has been a really interesting and exciting challenge, especially given our team's situation. We are still a young team in Formula One terms and we have been playing catch-up with other teams who were more experienced in dealing with the regulations. Now, with these new regulations, everyone has reset to zero in terms of experience with the new regulations so all teams are starting from scratch. We have given full freedom to the creativity of our team members, without imposing any restrictions, and the results have been really rewarding. It is an enjoyable challenge to face.
Q: Is there more anticipation than usual to see which solutions are adopted by other teams?
PV: We are all looking forward to seeing what the new cars look like because all teams have been working without references to the others, so we can expect more differences than we have seen in the last years - even though the regulations are far more restrictive than before. Within what is left we should be able to see very different solutions.
Q: Are the lessons you have learnt this year in terms of aerodynamics applicable to the 2009 car as well?
PV: Part of our better understanding of the aero performance of a Formula One car is transferrable but the understanding of specific items on the TF108 is not, it is as simple as that. The regulations are different enough to mean that our knowledge of how to get the best performance from a turning vane, for example, will not be especially relevant to the 2009 car.