As Formula 1 introduced a raft of changes ahead of the new season, 2017 was always likely to produce some new features on the aerodynamic front. Here are some of the key highlights from this year.
The appearance of T-wings on this year’s cars is a consequence of the changing of the rear wing dimensions for 2017. During the rewriting of the rules a small region that was previously occupied by the outgoing higher rear wings was accidently left unattended. The extruded 50 x 750 mm area was instantly taken advantage of by the teams, with the majority of them converging on some form of twin element design by mid-season.
On its own the T-wing produces some downforce with minimal drag due to its wide span and extremely short 50 mm chord length. This in itself is a good enough reason to install one on the car, however it also has other positive implications.
An aerofoil with even a small amount of camber will generate an air pressure difference between its upper and lower surfaces. The air will try to equalise itself as quickly as possible, and the best way for it to do that is for the high pressure flow on top of the wing to flip underneath at the wing tips. This causes the air to rotate, generating a vortex due to the flow’s momentum.
The rear wing produces huge tip vortices due to its high angle of attack, which the teams try to control using endplates. Although the presence of a vortex indicates induced drag, they can beneficial to the car’s aerodynamics as they help pull airflow from elsewhere. You can either use them to pull air over bodywork to produce more downforce, or move turbulence away from more sensitive regions of the car (i.e. Y250 vortex).
The small tip vortex rolling up on one side of the T-wing travels backwards and entwines with its corresponding rear wing tip vortex behind, creating a slightly more powerful vortex overall. This amplifies its suction effect and therefore draws out more air from under the rear wing, thus enhancing rear downforce. It may only be worth a fraction of a second, less than a tenth. But considering its simplicity and minimal manufacturing cost, it is an item that’s definitely worth having.
A lot of previously blocked areas of the car have been opened up for development for 2017, including the bargeboards and the floor surrounding them. While we expected to see the sprouting of flamboyant geometries and the arrangement of multiple turning vanes, it is still fascinating to see the intricate detailing that separates even the top teams.
In 2016 Mercedes started to play with serrated bodywork to manipulate the air more aggressively. Dividing an angled geometry into several sections allows flow to migrate between the two sides, reducing the chances of flow separation. In turn, mini vortices form across each section, which then all roll up into one powerful vortex projected aft of the bodywork. This trend has been carried into 2017: Mercedes have even chosen to stagger a series of mini turning vanes – each producing their own vortex – along the bargeboard’s footplate to provide the same effect.
This technique can be found on other sections of the car too. Like a vertically mounted turning vane, the floor of the car has a pressure gradient between its upper and lower surfaces – this is due to ground effect. Serrating the floor/bargeboard footplate has become a popular choice for plenty of teams, including Force India, Ferrari and Renault (pictured), as it helps energise the air flowing along the flanks of the car. Air naturally wants to migrate underneath the car, and by introducing it in this fashion the direction and intensity of the flow can be further dictated. This will help seal the floor along the side of the car, allowing teams to run a higher rake angle.
Mercedes cape nose
The caped nose Mercedes introduced in Spain represents one of the most dramatic changes in frontal aero philosophy in recent years. Dubbed the cape due to its trailing, flared silhouette, its job is to direct clean air into the bargeboard area and enhance the Y250 vortex produced at the inboard section of the front wing. It replaces the common solution of a series of turning vanes that hang under the front bulkhead, which offers slightly less efficiency compared to the ‘mini diffuser’ geometry that the W08 now has.
The cape’s lipped leading edge is designed to produce a vortex along its periphery, while the smooth underside – which hosts the inlet for the S-duct – aids the transition of laminar flow underneath the bodywork and out of the diffuser-like channels at the back.
The chances of seeing another rival introduce this solution before the end of the season are pretty slim, but it is perhaps something that we might see creep onto other cars from 2018 onwards.