Category Archives: The Evolution of the Modern Front Wing

Four-part series on the evolution of the front wing from 2009-2013.

The Evolution of the Modern Front Wing – Part 4

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For the final part of this series, we shall be looking at the development of the front from 2012 through to where we are currently in 2013. If you are new to this series then I advise looking at the previous articles I have written to understand the path that the modern front wing has taken to reach the point where we are now.

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The 2012 Formula One season saw the refining of the modern front wing, with most teams firmly set on a design that simply needed fine tuning across the season. This meant that we mainly saw the development of the cascade winglets and how the planes of the wing met with the endplate/footplate at the outer edge of the wing. This slowing in development was due to the understanding of the Pirelli tyres and how to create the best flow structures around them. As mentioned in my previous articles, the tyres have a large impact on how the airflow travels around the car and they have a great influence on the components downstream of them.

Wing Elements

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Increasing the number of elements at the outer region of the wing became a common trend as more slots in the wing allowed for a steeper, progressive gradient along the profile, which in turn also provides more consistent airflow. The consistency of the flow produces less peaky downforce rather than better overall downforce.

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The current McLaren wing philosophy is potentially a greater downforce producer than, say, the Lotus wing but may only operate well in a certain window of flow speed. This is because it consists of fewer elements and a less progressive gradient, therefore it probably works best at higher flow speeds as there is less risk of airflow detachment as flow moves across the wing profile at a higher velocity.

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At the United States GP in Texas, McLaren introduced a revised layout that featured a design much more in line with what the majority of the grid already had, with each element of the wing swooping downwards sharply to meet the footplate. The green lines show each of the three elements and the yellow underline shows the footplate area. In comparison to other wings, three elements is still quite a low count compared to Ferrari’s six (introduced in late 2012 and still in use for 2013). They have kept this number of elements because the McLaren MP4-27 aerodynamics work differently compared to the Ferrari F2012 in terms of tyre interaction as well as how it produces its downforce. Adding elements to the wing to create more consistent downforce/general flow is not necessarily a given as each car is totally unique.

Noses: Stepped vs Non-Stepped

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The biggest change to front wings for the 2012 season was arguably the nose height. The nose height predicts the split of airflow over and under the car. Driving more flow beneath the car works the T-Tray area harder, forcing more air underneath the floor which produces a low pressure region which therefore, in combination with the diffuser, creates more downforce. This is why engineers and designers prefer a higher nose as a greater volume of air can travel beneath the chassis and underneath the floor.

The FIA revised the regulations stating that the nose must not exceed 550mm above the reference plane (the lowest point on the car – it is not a defined point as each car has a slightly different lowest point due to the rake and ride height it is set at). This change came about because the governing body feared that the noses were getting too high and, in an accident, could penetrate above the cockpit sides and injure a driver.

However, the regulations also read that the chassis must have a maximum height of 625mm above the reference plane until just in front of the front wheel axle line. There is then a 150mm horizontal section where the transition between the two heights must take place, hence a prominent step is evident.

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McLaren started the 2012 season with a low slung nose, as did Marussia. Many analysts criticised this but the design did not come about out of choice. Both teams designed their cars around a lower chassis height which had been incorporated on their previous models since the rules changed in 2009. Raising the chassis to maximise the new height rules would mean changing the front suspension mounting points, which changes the mechanical balance of the car, as well as changing the aerostructures of the car around the front wing and chassis. It was therefore easier for both teams to design the car with a lower front end.

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Unlike Marussia, who stuck with their low nose throughout the whole season, McLaren decided to try to replicate the higher chassis height by simply raising the nose to the maximum level possible within the limits of their chassis design. It does not quite meet the maximum 550mm limit but it was the best the team could do given the design of the ’27. This allowed more airflow beneath the chassis to reach the full potential of the floor.

One of the problems with the stepped nose was airflow detachment along the top surface of the car. Because the chassis height is fixed from just in front of the front wheel axle line to the cockpit entrance, the top of the car is completely flat when a stepped nose is in place. This leads to the flow detaching from the chassis top and spilling over the sides, disrupting other aero paths that are heading around the sides of the chassis. The step itself also causes drag due to high pressure build up along at the stepped area which also led to problems with flow management to the rear wing, as the flow spread outwards and upwards instead of travelling straight back.

Red Bull and Sauber came up with some solutions to this issue.

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A slot was introduced in the RB8’s step, fed by the raised chassis “ears” that pronounce themselves from the rest of the body. This slot had two purposes: the main purpose was to reduce the build up of high pressure at the step zone to reduce drag. This was done by diverting the air hitting the step through the slot, leaving less air to travel over the chassis stop. This also reduced spillage over the chassis sides. The secondary purpose of the slot was to channel the excess air from the slot to the cockpit area by the driver’s feet, which cools the driver. Teams often leave an opening on the nose of the car to do the same thing, but Red Bull found a nice way of integrating this.

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Sauber produced a neat duct system that ran from a forward opening at the base of the chassis to a reward facing slot along the top. The base slot collected boundary layer flow beneath the car before feeding it up an ‘S’ shaped duct to the slot above. This flow was then projected backwards along the top of the chassis. This introduction of high energy airflow reduced the amount of spillage over the top part of the car as the flow tended to remain attached for longer.

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Red Bull’s 2013 challenger, the RB9, has an almost identical copy to that of the Sauber C31 from last year. The image above shows the internal duct-work that is housed within the nosecone, with the slot evident at the top of the nose. Red Bull remained one of the few teams to retain a stepped nose layout for 2013, although it received some vanity panel treatment to reduce high pressure build up along the step.

Turning Vanes

2012 saw the main transition from under-nose turning vanes to under-chassis turning vanes, the difference between them being that the former is attached to the underside of the nose, the latter attached to the underside of the chassis just after the nose.

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The F2012 was launched with under-nose turning vanes that branched down and outwards, diverting airflow efficiently towards the sidepod leading edge and the T-Tray.

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These were then upgraded to vanes mounted onto the chassis. These vanes were split into two, each element having an individual profile in the shape of an aerofoil. They are joined to eachother by a small join piece to prevent flexing at high speed, ensuring that the airflow is guided to the necessary destination at all speeds. By the end of the season, almost every team had under-chassis turning vanes as there is greater freedom to produce ideal aerofoil shapes in this area than beneath the wing.

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However, McLaren still maintain the under-nose vanes to this day. Their MP4-28 has underlying aerodynamic issues that are believed to be caused by the current tyres that flex more under load, producing different aerostructures that the Woking outfit did not anticipate. The airflow projected off of the sidewalls at speed and the wake that the tyres produce impinges on its surrounding components, changing the way they work compared to when they operate under laminar, straight oncoming flow. This is partly the reason why their car has to still run with this more basic layout, as the aerostructures interfere with the under-chassis vanes that they tried during pre-season testing.

More recently at the Young Driver Test (YDT), McLaren returned to trying out their triple element under-chassis turning vanes as they believe that the introduction of the new tyres, with stiffer side walls and therefore less flex, will benefit the aerodynamics of the car around this sensitive area.


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With development rates slowing down, the wing pillars experienced some extra treatment. Teams started to extend the width of the pillars to the furthest point possible (in line with the trailing edge of the front wing endplate) from the pillar’s attachment point at the back of the wing’s main profile. They also tended to taper them inwards at their trailing edge to attempt to feed the turning vanes on the underside of the car.

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Ferrari have had the pioneering role in this area and have continued to develop the pillars this season. The pillars on the F138 start from the very tip of the nose, before sloping backwards to meet the back of the main plane of the front wing. The image above shows their second iteration of the design this year. The idea behind this is to work in conjunction with the extended width, guiding the air better through the underside of the car.

Mercedes and Williams have also followed suit with their own versions.

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Recently, McLaren tested their own version of the extended pillars at the YDT last week.

Pelican/Pregnant Noses

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A more recent development has been the introduction of the pelican, or pregnant, nose layout. This involves the formation of a rounded bulge directly beneath the nose to further force airflow beneath the chassis and into the floor.

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Lotus were the first to introduce this idea to their E21, but back in 2009 the same outfit, formerly known as Renault, had a very similar idea on their R29 which was then dubbed as a “snow plough”.

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Sauber have a slimmer but more pronounced bulge on the C32.

Although the pregnant nose is a good way of enhancing the floor, it also causes additional drag. So far we have seen teams using this component drop it for tracks that require low drag setups, such as Montreal in Canada. I expect the same at Monza in Italy. The additional downforce that is created from using this is not needed at these circuits. Because the bulge is formed into the nose during manufacturing, it is not a removable piece therefore separate noses must be made without the bulges for these events.

The Evolution of the Modern Front Wing – Part 3

Before I begin the third part of this series, for those of you who are new to this site, I would advise visiting parts 1 ( and 2 ( as identifying common themes and characteristics will be a lot easier!

Year three of the current regulations saw the progression of ideas that were introduced in 2010, as teams finally got to full grips with which concepts were working best for the current aerodynamic rules and also how these airflows interact with the tyres.

The tyres are a big factor in car dynamics – Pirelli even supply wind tunnel tyres, that are much smaller, that are designed to replicate the tyre used on the full car during the season. This is because the structure of the tyre allows for deformation under loading. This can happen during a corner as well as over bumps and kerbs.

This deformation angles the car slightly differently (pitch, forward-to-back movement; or yaw, side-to-side movement; warp, a combination of the two) during acceleration, braking and cornering, which affects the path that the air takes travelling along the car as well as the mechanical grip available to the driver in each of these phases.

The front wing is therefore a crucial component when controlling the outcome of how the car behaves during these phases as it manages the flow from the very front to the very back of the car.

This is why we sometimes see cars that perform better in the wet, as the treadblocks of the intermediate and extreme wet tyre raise the car by more than a centimetre, changing the characteristics of the car’s aerodynamics as a result.

Common Themes

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The height of the nose continued to gain altitude during the season as emphasis on forcing incoming air underneath the front of the floor became apparent for most of the teams. This effect forces the diffuser, probably the highest downforce producing device on the car, to work harder and therefore extract a higher volume of flow, pushing the car downwards and only increasing its effects as a result.

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The cascades and endplates also saw an attention to detail as the designers fettled with controlling tyre wake (turbulence caused by the rotation of the tyre and oncoming airflow at speed) and extracting further downforce from other components downstream of the front wing. Lotus were a particular team that trialled many endplate configurations at different circuits to optimise this area.

McLaren’s philosophy

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It is at this point, the beginning of 2011, in the current regulations where McLaren chose to stick with a more traditional front wing design – a main plane (silver in the above image) and two flaps (both red) are the primary downforce producing components. Other teams chose to go down a more adventurous route that I will explain later on in this post.

These leaves a total of three elements, all of them with a large surface area. The reason behind this concept is to induce as much front downforce as possible, as each element is very large. Reducing the amount of elements reduces the volume of laminar (consistent, straight) flow however, making management of the airflow a harder job.

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To achieve good management around the front of the car, McLaren introduced the ‘r’ shaped cascade winglets that lie inboard of the main cascade winglet. They are mounted to the wing by the base of the ‘r’ and also by a vertical strut to reduce the amount of flex at the tip.

Its role is divided into two parts: the vertical part of the cascade is used to separate and guide flow over its desired part of the wing, directing flow specifically to one area and therefore around a different region of the front tyre or front suspension. The horizontal section is designed to produce a vortex at its tip, taking airflow to a desired area, consistently, at almost all speeds that the car is moving at.

The ‘r’ cascade is split into two elements, which aids the vortex generation at the tip. The second element (furthest back) also has a slight lip that helps to splay the flow outwards.

McLaren spent time developing their endplates, often changing the number of slots that allow high pressure flow on the outside back inside to the channels in the wing, energizing and controlling the flow coming off of the wing and around the outside of the front tyre. These changes do help the main elements of the wing produce downforce, but they are primarily for flow management purposes.

The ‘other’ philosophy…

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Red Bull pioneered a concept that involves a gradual progression of the gradient of the wing across numerous elements, starting with just three elements in 2009. This soon became four, and the image above shows their 2011 front wing, consisting also of four tiers.

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This philosophy also involves the attachment of each of the elements to the footplate (the base of the endplate) creating a slotted profile across the entire wing. This is evident in the image above. The gap in the endplate reveals where the each element swoops vertically downwards dramatically right at the outboard edge of the wing, meeting the curved carbon base below. McLaren do not follow this trend, as their elements attach directly to the endplate horizontally.

The advantage of this method is that the greater the amount of slots, the more consistent flow travels between the elements, resulting in a cleaner, more laminar final resultant airflow coming off of the front wing and around the front tyre. This is more manageable airflow than that trailing off of the McLaren front wing and can therefore be directed more effectively downstream.

The drawback of this technique is that it actually produces slightly less downforce than a wing that has less elements and a higher surface area. However, in Red Bull’s case, clearly they have enough downforce at the front of the car to be able to extract the best from this concept! This therefore means they can further concentrate optimizing the rear of the car, creating a perfect balance for their drivers.

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Williams were one of the first teams to latch on to this idea. They had an arguably one of the most sophisticated designs on the grid during 2011 pre-season testing.

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They were also another team, along with Lotus, exploring the possibilities of the inner flap section as seen above. The inboard edge of the two flaps have differing profiles, the older one being slightly crinkled, the newer with a sharper, straighter edge. This straight edge inboard flap area continued to develop throughout the season and has since carried into 2012 and 2013.

The idea behind this straighter edge is similar to the idea behind the McLaren ‘r’ cascades. At the very tip of the top flap edge, a small space is exposed beneath it. Accompanied with the sharp profile, air coming over this section will divide quickly above and below the top flap. When it meets the other side, much higher pressure above the flap meets the faster lower pressure beneath it, creating a vortex. This is, like the McLaren solution, a great way of directed flow to desired components downstream of the car.


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Likewise with the main concept of the front wing design, there also seemed to be an alternative route for endplates. Noticeably, Red Bull have a very simplistic one-piece endplate that simply meets the surface area requirements in that region as they rely mainly on the very outer tips of the wing elements to manage airflow around the front tyre.

However, examples such as the Lotus endplate above are much more complex as they feature a multitude of guide vanes and flick-ups to turn the airflow outwards and around the tyre. These designs also integrate the main cascade winglets much more than the simplistic ‘Bull concept, the image above showing a beam attaching from the (black) winglet to one of the (red) guide vanes.

Ferrari derived a solution combining the pair of these two ideas. Their wing featured a single wall endplate that ran right across the length of the wing but also included a guide vane sat in front of it. This vane is allowing air to take an alternative pathway and leads to a different component downstream of the car than the path that the single wall endplate flow takes as the two are angled slightly differently.

Note how the guide vane has a much more aggressive angle at its base than it does at all other points along the trailing edge. This suggests that the air is flicked around the tyre at a greater angle at the lower part of the vane and could possibly be diverging its path to beneath the floor. This is in contrast to the less angled part above, with this airflow possibly interacting with flow coming around the sidepods further back.

Under-nose turning vanes

You can also see in the above image the large turning vanes beneath the front wing nosecone. These manage air coming in directly beneath the nose tip and dissipate it much more evenly to a designated area of the car. This process allows other components to work more efficiently due to the more laminar flow acting upon them. Large volumes of turbulent flow will not allow other aerodynamic parts to work well as they can stall them. This then produces drag and lift, slowing the car down.

We can also see this here on the underside of the Williams FW33 (image by Giorgio Piola). They are attached right at the back of the nose cone, with the extensions reaching back beneath the chassis.

The birth of these turning vanes occurred during the back-end of 2010 and started featuring on many of the cars during 2011. This turned out to be another big avenue of investment for teams as the area beneath the nose is free of a lot of restrictions.

It is during the 2012 season that most of the development in this region occurs, which will be a main feature in part four of this series.

Flexible Wings

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All aerodynamic devices have an element of flexibility when loading takes place. If they did not flex then the structure would break.

By regulation, however, teams must not breach a certain limit of flexibility on most aerodynamic components as this is deemed illegal. This is because a lot of flexibility of some devices, such as winglets and wing elements, can change the characteristics of the car dramatically between high-speed and low-speed (where little loading occurs).

In 2006, Ferrari’s rear wing had two elements like today’s generation: a main plane and an upper flap. Under extreme loading at high-speed, the gap between the two elements closed up, creating one single profile as a result. A single element rear wing would stall at its underside as the flow would detach itself as the angle of the wing increases towards the trailing edge.

Adding a second element allows a greater angle of attack on the wing without stalling the air beneath it, creating more downforce as a result.

When the elements close together on the Ferrari rear wing, the wing stalled and reduced drag and in turn allowed the car to reach a higher top speed. When they FIA realised this was occurring, they saw it as an unfair advantage and made it compulsory for the rear wing to not exceed a certain amount of flexing during high loading.

Back to front wings…

Do we all remember Hungary 2011? That is where things really kicked off regarding Red Bull’s ridiculously flexible front wing.

The front wings also under-go load testing, with large weights attached to the endplate of both sides of the wing. They must not exceed 10mm of flexing (2013 regulations) under 1000N of loading.

In the image above we can clearly see that the RB7 front wing is almost touching the ground as it approaches high velocity. The sub-image on the right shows the car stationary in the pitlane.

This flexing induces a small amount of “ground-effect”, when a low pressure zone is created between the ground and the bottom of the aerodynamic device (in this case, the front wing endplate). This low pressure is what produces extra downforce as elements of the car are closer to the ground. If you want to read more about ground effect for cars, follow the link here –

While Red Bull were pushing the entire endplate section downwards, McLaren came up with an innovative concept using their front wing mounts.

In the image above, there are clear gaps between the lower part of the front wing pillars and where the pillars are attached to the wing mounts. This occurs also under extensive loading and rotates the entire wing backwards, forcing only the very back of the endplate to reach near-ground level.

This is much easier to design as the Red Bull solution involves a complex arrangement of carbon composites to achieve the whole profile to flex downwards. McLaren’s solution, I am told, also helps to reduce drag when the endplates reach a certain angle, as beyond a certain point the low pressure area stalls.

Sorry for not being able to put this up yesterday, technical issues! I am probably incorrect about some of the theory as I have forgotten a bit of it (it WAS two years ago…). Thanks for reading and I would definitely appreciate any feedback.

The Evolution of the Modern Front Wing – Part 2

In part two of this series, we investigate the development of the modern front wing across the 2010 season, one year after the new set of regulations were introduced.

We left the last part (see here – looking at the end part of the 2009 season. Following on from the first year of the current regulations, many teams chose to revolve the car rather than carry over from last year in a bid to find the ultimate formula. This resulted in a change in front wing philosophy to interact with the rest of the changes along the entire car.

It is important to remind us of how influential the front wing is: it produces almost all of the front end grip and contributes to a large portion (a bit under half) of the car’s overall downforce. It also has to manage all of the flow over the rest of the car for all of the other components to work to their desired effect. Designing the front wing is an extremely difficult task and that is why I have decided to follow the progression of its design over the past 4 years in this four part series.

Common Themes


Already noticeable on the McLaren MP4-25 launch car compared to its predecessor (MP4-24) is the nose height. Increasing the height of the nose tends to reap rewards as more air is allowed beneath the nose/chassis area and flows down towards the floor and works the splitter harder. Also present underneath the 2010 McLaren was the splitter that guided flow either side of the chassis between the lower wishbones. This effectively made the nose height lower, as the leading edge of the splitter was much lower than the actual height of the nose itself.

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This is in contrast to the Renault and Ferrari solutions who stuck with a much lower nose height across the entirety of the season. However it was not until 2011 that most teams benefited from running a higher nose as the teams’ 2010 cars were optimised around running a lower nose height from the birth of their design.

Endplates were another area that teams developed heavily upon during the season as management of airflow around the front tyre and introducing this flow to other components downstream became a top priority once they had maximised the main plane and flap philosophies on their respective cars.

Renault’s Development Path


Renault were the team that were pushing the development mark on the front wing throughout 2010. Above are two images showing a comparison between the launch version of the R30 and the Spain version of the R29’s wing. Pretty similar? As far as I can tell they are identical. But launch cars are often a fruitless exploration when it comes to identifying key features for the coming season as lots of things are changed over testing and before the first race of the season.


This is evident by the fact that the image above is totally different concept to that shown on the launch car – this was only a few days later at the first test! Their first iteration of design for the coming season was based on of what McLaren were utilising towards the tail end of 2009: a three-element design with a single cascade winglet branching across the top, the trailing edge of this winglet producing a vortice to control flow beyond the front tyre.

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The Enstone outfit then trialled this design. There were no cascade structures, but the concept concentrated more on the shape of the main plane and flap shapes as well as developing further upon managing flow around the front tyre. This is shown by the array of turning vanes that lie on the endplate.

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They continued to build upon this platform by re-introducing the cascade winglet, but it now spanned over the endplate, too. Again, this is to try to aid flow around the front tyre efficiently. Also evident in this image are the first signs of a common trend that are evident on today’s front wings – the main plane bending downwards to meet the footplate in one smooth, intricate profile.


By the end of the season, the R30 featured this complex arrangement. The fundamentals of the design had remained unchanged, but the cascades and endplates had been developed thoroughly. No more than three turning vanes made up the endplate design, all controlling flow around the front tyre and guiding it towards parts downstream to boost downforce and efficiency. The inboard part of the cascade has been deepened here, creating more downforce rather than just flow management. You can just about see the turning vane beneath the nose that also manages flow around the critical area on the underside of the chassis (left of the image).


Endplates were constantly changing as tweaks were made across the car. Don’t forget that they were only in the second season of the current regulations so changes were being made across the board at a rapid rate in a bid for performance.

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McLaren were certainly a prime example of tweaking this area. Their first design featured a small vane atop of a two-holed endplate that was similar to last season’s car. The vanes allowed the cascade winglet to be expanded over the top of the endplate to manage flow around the tyre.


They then moved onto this platform, withdrawing the vane, placing a guide vane horizontally on top of the endplate and rounding off the trailing edge. The rounding will allow the flow to be splayed out around the tyre at different angles rather than all of the volume of air reaching roughly the same destination aft of the tyre.


This was followed by further iterations in both China and Spain, with the Woking outfit even opting back to a more squared off trailing edge with a gurney feature at the trailing edge to energize flow. The Spain version returns to the rounded solution is almost the same as the example above.


Following on from this, McLaren then enlarged the second opening and also split it at the top. The openings allow flow from outside of the wing to enter inboard, stabilising pressure and energizing flow over the wing itself. Fine tuning these openings can create a more efficient front wing in both producing downforce and airflow management.


This image drawn by Giorgio Piola shows the final installment of McLaren’s endplate development. It is made up the same profile that they used in Spain yet has additional detail at the trailing edge – a small gurney at the base of the edge turns the flow more easily. Finally, an additional slot is evident to attempt to balance pressure difference.

If you have got this far, thankyou for reading! This took a long time to write so if you have any feedback at all, it would literally make my day if you left a comment below. I am open to any constructive criticism as it will only make this blog more enjoyable for others in the future.