The Evolution of the Modern Front Wing – Part 1

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In 2009, a raft of new regulations were brought into Formula to try to spice up the racing. Grooved tyres, complex sidepod bodywork and chimneys, sleek low-lying rear wings, narrow and curvy front wings were all out. KERS, a whole new aerodynamic platform, slick tyres and tougher restrictions on the number of engines and gearboxes allowed for each team over the course of the season were brought in.

In this post I shall be looking at the evolution of the modern front wing since the regulations changed, looking out how teams have changed their philosophy of front aerodynamics to try to maximise the best out of the “snow plough” and why they were designed this way.

2009

F1 needed a change to try to swing the balance back to some of the midfield teams as Ferrari, Renault and McLaren were starting to gain a undefeatable dominance. It was only on rare occasions that BMW broke into the top ranks, scoring podiums and only securing one win in Canada 2008.

2009 saw the biggest regulation change in years so when the first cars rolled out for testing the F1 world was very intent in seeing what the big teams, and little teams, had brewed up over the last few years.

It wasn’t pretty.

Since then, however, the cars have been looking fairly good-looking in my opinion thanks to continuous development, particularly around the front wing area.

The front wing width went up to 1800mm (the equivalent width of the entire car), and were also lowered to just 75mm above the ground. This meant that engineers had a lot of work to do to try to turn airflow around the front tyre as much as possible, as the tyres on an F1 account for around 30-40% of the car’s overall drag. Not only that but it also had to produce the downforce required to make the cars so blisteringly quick around the corners.

Because of these two main demands, there were a lot of diverse designs and ideas that were rolled out at the first few tests. Here are a few examples.

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This is the Renault R29 front wing. What I found very interesting about this wing is that despite the wing being the width of the entire car, the designers still chose to pinch the endplates inboard at their trailing edge, diverting the air inside the tyre much like teams did pre-2009. Before, they could do this because the front wings were narrower so it was a logical area to divert the flow. Renault chose to apply the same principle despite it being easier to direct the flow around the front tyre instead.

There are only two elements two this wing – the main plane and the flap. The chord of both the main plane and flap only take up half of the endplate length, with a minimal angle of attack and hardly any progression of gradient across the surface.

The flap angle is adjusted via a small hole at the top of endplate and there is a small, simple guide vane along the flap to attempt to divert the flow efficiently around the suspension layout.

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Renault were the first team to maximise the bodywork beneath the nosecone by creating flat turning vanes to encourage air to flow directly underneath the chassis and under the front of the floor. They also incorporated a downfacing surface underneath the nose to also provoke the same effect. Interestingly, this concept is being revisited by a number of teams this season in the form of a bulbous beneath the nose for the very same purpose.

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Williams’ FW31 had a more sophisticated wing design. The flap adjuster was still housed within the endplate but overall it was a complete step away from Renault’s version. Although it was still a two plane concept, cascades were mounted to the endplates to produce more downforce and turn air inside of the front tyre. The endplates themselves turned the flow around the outside of the tyre as you can see by their curvature as the reach towards the leading edge of the tyre.

A gurney flap was placed upon the flap’s trailing edge to keep the boundary layer of air attached to the surface of the wing, increasing its efficiency and therefore aiding downforce.

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Image drawing by Giorgio Piola

Out of all the cars that launched at the start of 2009, the Red Bull RB5 was quite a step away from everyone elses design.

1 shows the two ears on top of the chassis that stop airflow spilling over the side of it and disrupting the flow along the side of the car; 2 highlights the very narrow and closely spaced wing pillars that attach near the back of the main plane of the wing; 3 points to how the main plane seamlessly forms into the body of the endplate; 4 displays the complex (at the time) cascade winglets along with the crinkled main plane area; and 5 shows the outward facing endplate, guiding the airflow around the outside of the front tyre.

The nosecone was very narrow, another completely different idea to those seen across the entire grid (except Toro Rosso, who were still running an almost identical aero-package to RBR that season; they became independent in 2010).

The wing consisted of three elements, all in one uniform profile, that took advantage of the entire length of the endplate. Evidently there was the main plane, but defined flaps were never truly evident, as only a small section of the wing could be angle adjusted. Instead the whole wing profile was one gradual progression of gradient, producing a consistent flow which enabled it to be directed around the car more efficiently than the previous examples.

By the end of the season, the front wing had moved on dramatically from the versions that were on the cars in Melbourne. McLaren had been playing catch-up all season long after starting with a “dog” of a car and their front wing design that was used at the last round in Abu Dhabi showed just how far they had come.

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The image above shows the launch version of the MP4-24 front wing which, surprisingly, was barely changed over winter testing. It consisted of a main plane and two flaps, a low-lying bulbous nose and very flat endplates. The endplates neither turned flow inside or outside the front tyre, leaving them with a large area of airflow over the actual wing profile heading straight for the surface of the tyre.

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Image drawing by Giorgio Piola

These are a few iterations of endplate design that McLaren used over the first 5 or 6 rounds. Turning vanes were placed at various places along the footplate to try to turn the airflow around the front tyre, yet they did not change the actual endplate shape until mid-season!

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This image shows the progress of McLaren’s development during the mid-season. As you may have noticed, the team introduced a long cascade winglet with a slot running across its entire length to produce downforce. At the tip of these cascades inboard of the wing, vortices are created, guiding spirals of airflow in and around the lower wishbones and underneath the floor in an aim to improve the car’s global downforce.

At the Nurburgring there was the introduction of the outward facing endplate, complete with a lip at its trailing edge to further push the flow round the tyre. The endplate also featured a slot to accelerate the flow beneath the wing, lowering the pressure beneath the surface of the flaps as a result.

McLaren had also added an additional slot to the main plane of the wing to create a total of four elements in an attempt to produce more consistent airflow along and underneath the body of the wing.

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Image drawing by Giorgio Piola

By the end of the season, the endplate looked like this. It featured two slots and a guide along the top to stop flow along the endplate surface spilling into the wing profile itself. McLaren also positioned the flap adjust housing for an aerodynamic benefit inboard of the wing and also added additional fences beneath the wing to guide the flow to other areas of the car more efficiently.

Red Bull also invested a lot of development into this area and their design changed a substantial amount across the season.

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This image shows how they split the cascade winglet into two sections: the outboard, narrower yet deeper profile provides a small amount of downforce and has an additional vane above it attached to the endplate to help turn the flow. The inboard section is still designed to guide flow in and around the suspension area and aid components downstream of the wing.

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Again, there are substantial changes evident in this image. The above design is pre-Silverstone. At Silverstone, Red Bull brought an upgrade package that boosted their performance that brought them up to that of the Brawn GP BGP001. It included this new front wing design (lower image). The nose is much wider and the camera pods have been moved to the leading edge of the nosetip, acting as a guide for the flow to go between the upper and lower wishbones. The red number ‘2’ also shows how they extended the footplate width by undercutting the join between the mainplane and the endplate.

This development is a relentless part of Formula One, and I have only shown you a few examples of this! In the next part I will be writing about the developments of the front wing across the 2010 season, which shows an even bigger step towards that of the current generation.

As always, feedback would be much appreciated!

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6 thoughts on “The Evolution of the Modern Front Wing – Part 1

  1. Morris Dancer

    Interesting stuff, though I must admit my lack of physics knowledge meant I didn’t get all of it. Helpful to see photos comparing upgrades and diagrams pointing out features and what they do.

    Reply
      1. Morris Dancer

        Np. Although my own writing on F1 is of an entirely different nature (focused on betting) it is useful (and more interesting) when people comment on it.

        The general principles I understood (trying to keep airflow in advantageous places), but I won’t be getting a job designing front wings anytime soon 😉

  2. Pingback: Barcelona Final Test – Final Updates (The Top Teams) | theWPTformula

  3. Pingback: The Evolution of the Modern Front Wing – Part 2 | theWPTformula

  4. Pingback: The Evolution of the Modern Front Wing – Part 3 | theWPTformula

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