The new aero rules rushed in for 2019, decided by the feedback after the first race of the 2018 season, had been hoped would improve the issue of cars following one another, thus improve the ability to overtake.
Widening and simplifying the front wings had been the decision by the new technical boss for F1 working with owners Liberty Media, and rather impressively he managed to convince the team bosses to agree to this rule change at the 11th hour back in the spring of 2018.
So after the first test in Barcelona with the new front wings, it’s a rather unfortunate thing to reveal, but actually, the issue has worsened rather than improved. Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg described the situation when comparing last years to this year’s car “as if you had pressed the Copy & Paste button”.
According to Auto Motor und Sport, teams think that widening the front wings have ended up with the same result as 2009 when a similar tactic had been used.
The irony of this is mind-blowing to me. TJ13 recalls back in 2009, the FIA thought that the wide wings would improve a car’s ability to follow closer to the back of another, back then the teams employed the ‘in-wash’ concept – that is, air flow from the 2008 front wings was directed inwards between the wheels and the nose, and down toward the floor. This was achieved with small front wings.
The FIA mandated wide front wings for 2009, after recommendations by the now-defunct Overtaking Working Group.
Ross Brawn negated the problem of wide wings with inwash by famously by being one of the only teams to do the opposite with his groundbreaking 2009 Brawn GP car. By directing the flow outwards – therefore ‘outwash’ concept, his team were able to improve their aerodynamic performace. With this, along with the infamous double-deck diffuser, the rest is history with Jenson Button taking the drivers title and the Brawn team becoming manufacturers Champions on their maiden and only season. Their car was several seconds faster than anything else at the time.
So what does Ross Brawn do for 2019? Brings back wide 2009 style 2 metre wide front wings, and the result is that teams have increased their ability to outwash, worsening the issue of cars following. The outwash being the main problem the whole new regulation was trying to prevent.
The drivers report that nothing has changed. Driving behind and overtaking is at least as difficult as before. The engineers even fear a deterioration.
Thanks to the wider front wings, team engineers are able to direct more turbulent air around the front wheels, and with these turbulences meeting again behind the car, the following car cannot work it’s aero correctly when too close. To make things worse, the wide wings are less robust and are prone to damage in a race.
“Why did you make the wings wider again, if you thought years ago that these wide wings are the problem?” laments Sebastian Vettel during the test this week.
The front wing endplates are as wide as the front tires and also angled 15 degrees outwards. The rest is done by the aerodynamics with the arrangement of the flaps. For most cars, they are flatter on the outside than inside.
“It did not bring anything at all, just cost a lot of money,” blames Red Bull Motorsport Director Helmut Marko.
“Our drivers report that they still feel the same turbulence in the slipstream,” concludes Marko.
Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton showed on the third day of testing the proof that nothing has changed. Vettel drove for many laps behind the McLaren of Carlos Sainz, Hamilton had felt it an eternity sitting behind in the wake of Kimi Raikkonen. The Ferrari driver had previously caught up with Sainz two seconds per lap.
Vettel reported: “No chance to pass him. I just never got close enough to him.”
Red Bull’s Adrian Newey even fears that it will be even harder to stay in the slipstream of another car.
“You lose as much downforce as before. But it is still unstable because we now lack the vertical baffles in the front wing to control the flow.” says the Red Bull man.
Force India Chief Technology Officer Andy Green is not surprised that the overtaking committee’s efforts are going nowhere saying “We do not build cars that make driving easier for the rear car.
“We see that our car is as fast as possible. And to do this, the air must pass the outside of the wheels. As long as we see the chance to do that, we will do it.”
Armed with this knowledge, teams will rush to pursue their qualifying ‘party’ modes for Saturday, and we’ll again see that whoever wins on Saturday will likely take the race win on Sunday.