TECH TUESDAY: Three ways the teams have tried to claw back performance under F1's radical aero regs
The teams have come up with ingenious but controversial solutions to aero development in 2023. Why have some been outlawed and some allowed by the FIA? F1 technical expert Mark Hughes explains, with illustrations from Giorgio Piola.
Now that the radical new aero regulations of 2022 are maturing, we are beginning to see solutions on the cars which appear to go against the main objective of the regulations – which was to improve the quality of racing on track by making the aerodynamic wake of the car ahead less disruptive for the following car.
In their striving for performance the teams will not be considering the effect upon the car behind. Performance trumps all, always. As such, a certain reduction in the effectiveness of the regulations in meeting their objectives was always expected.
What is important is that this is not an order of magnitude different. The FIA monitor – with data from both the wind tunnel and track – the effect on the various developments the teams have introduced. They are satisfied that, as yet, any change is minor.
“We’ve got objective data which shows us how much the airflow to the following car is disturbed,” says the FIA’s Tim Goss. “Then as a result, what that means in terms of aero load. We know what the previous cars were like, we know where we wanted to get to as it was specced before people actually designed them.
"We knew as they worked on these cars and developed them, they would erode that a bit. We can see it’s come back a little bit but it’s still an order of magnitude better than before.”
So, what are these developments which will have degraded – even if only slightly – the quality of airflow for the following car?
The cut-away front wing endplate
This was introduced by Mercedes at Miami last year and has since been adopted by Alfa Romeo and Red Bull.
The regulations were written specifying a continuous surface in the transition from the wing elements to the endplate. It was expected that this would oblige teams to have a uniform separation from the elements to the endplate, which is there to retain the flow over the wing and keep it from moving transversely across it to other parts of the car.
Although the endplate improves the downforce of the wing itself, teams will ideally want to trade off that for directing some additional flow to the area ahead of the sidepods.
The Mercedes solution – with a cut-away at the rear of that transition – allowed them to comply with the letter of the regulation but still direct airflow out from outboard edges of the wing. This increased outwash would have a small negative effect on the smoothness of the car’s wake.
The rolled rear wing endplate
Just as with the front wing, these regulations stipulated a continuous surface between the rear wing’s elements and the sides, which effectively outlawed the vortex-inducing sharp-cornered endplate.
But Aston Martin’s ingenious interpretation of the wording allowed them to introduce a rolled surface at the outer tips of the wing which effectively re-introduced it. This wing was introduced in Hungary and used for the remainder of the season.
This was permitted for the remainder of last year but a tweak in how that regulation was applied was made for 2023, effectively outlawing it once more.
“Sometimes the regulations are on the borderline of whether it’s right or wrong side of legality,” says the FIA’s single seater director Nikolas Tombazis, “and in these cases we feel we can change the criteria by which we interpret the regulations or clarify the criteria. Sometimes we feel that is fair that we introduce it at a certain time.
“For next year, say. But in other cases there may be a solution we don’t like but which is comfortably on the legal side and in such cases we can’t invent a reason for which it's not legal.
"We can’t change the regulations unilaterally. We have to follow the governance. If we don’t manage to get enough support from teams, we have to accept solutions which stay on.”
Hence why the Mercedes front wing solution remains permitted, but the Aston rear wing innovation is not.
Aero slot gap separators
At Austin last year Mercedes introduced a front wing with slot gap separators which clearly also aligned the airflow across the wing, giving a more powerful outwash.
The wing was not raced as the FIA technical department was not satisfied it conformed with the wording about the primary purpose of a component.
However, it’s since been accepted that this was an impractical definition, and the regulation has since been re-written specifying only the dimensions. Hence the aero-effect separators are now legal within newly-defined dimensional requirements – and this is something Ferrari have taken advantage of with their front wing this year.