Formula 1 has tweaked its aerodynamic rules for the 2019 season in a bid to improve overtaking and encourage closer racing.
The changes are the first made by F1 chief Ross Brawn ahead of a major technical overhaul in 2021 and, with launch week just around the corner, will result in some intriguing designs on the new cars.
But what’s going to be so different, and how much of an impact will the rules have on racing?
Changes to the cars
Simplified front wing, with a larger span
Perhaps the most significant addition. The previous front wings, though impressively intricate as teams varied with their aerodynamic approaches and upgrades, were also extremely complex with complicated endplates and wing elements.
The new front wing is 200mm wider, but has also been simplified in order to reduce turbulence. That should mean the cars can race closer together, thus increasing the chances of overtaking.
The FIA, the sport’s governing body, are also hoping for a low ‘outwash’ potential – meaning less air is directed outside the wheels. If that’s the case, the car behind will be able to get more grip to go through corners faster.
The front wing has also been brought forward by 25mm, which should help the consistency of its performance, while the height has been increased by 20mm to further increase its power.
Simplified front brake duct with no winglets
A simplified front brake duct works in tandem with the front wing, and the surface available for aerodynamic exploitation has been reduced. The change encourages designers to use the ducts for cooling, rather than aerodynamic gain.
The banning of ‘blown axles’, featured on the Ferrari and Red Bull cars from last year, will further smooth the airflow.
Wider and deeper rear wing
The taller, wider and simpler rear wings should generate more downforce at the back of the cars and improve airflow, allowing drivers to slipstream the cars in front more effectively.,
The rear wings can also now be fitted with a higher flap – which could increase the strength and power of DRS by 25 per cent.
How big an effect will the changes have?
The proof will be in the pudding at the season-opening Australian GP but Brawn, F1’s managing director since 2017 and a leading technical mind who is widely regarded as one of the sport’s most influential team bosses of all-time, has already said he is expecting a tangible difference in the racing this year.
From predictions we’re achieving about 20 per cent improvement, he explained, referencing a driver’s ability to attack the car in front.
While the aerodynamic tweaks have been fast-tracked somewhat, Brawn has also insisted the new rules are not just a one-stop solution, and are very important for the next bigger step, in 2021.
Of course, not every team agrees.
Christian Horner, boss of a Red Bull team who have a knack of mastering fresh aerodynamic regulations, has frequently stated that he doesn’t believe the changes will have the desired impact.
They have cherry-picked something in isolation off a future concept for 2021, and rushed it through onto the current car, he told reporters earlier this week.
Just taking a front wing and saying that will make racing better, it is quite a naive and ultimately expensive approach. And of course the burden of that expense is on the teams.
New rules, means pecking order shake-up?
Hugely beneficial to overtaking or not, even Horner has admitted that the new rules should have their benefits.
As the changes have forced teams to completely redesign their 2018 cars, they could result in a major shake-up in the pecking order.
Toto Wolff, who has led Mercedes’ trophy-laden five-year streak, went as far to say the new regulations would have the biggest impact on the field.
That will change everything upside down, the Silver Arrows chief said last year.
Somebody might find a loophole or a regulation or understand how these cars work earlier than others so I think there is a big, big variable in those new regulations.
We will have teams right up there that are not on the radar today.
Horner, meanwhile, added: What I think will happen in the early part of the year is that some people will have got it right, and some people won’t.
Teams will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of Brawn’s own outfit, who entered the 2009 campaign as a new and rather unknown entity and finished it with both the drivers’ and constructors’ titles.
Brawn, coming off the back of extremely successful tenures with Benetton and Ferrari, bought out the withdrawing Honda team at the end of 2008 to form ‘Brawn GP, and immediately took advantage of the following season’s aerodynamic regulations, with his team winning eight of the 17 races.
Could anyone follow suit this year and significantly improve their car?
They are simplifying the cars quite a lot so we’ve lost quite a lot of performance initially – I believe that’s the case for everybody – but we have regained a chunk of this performance, said Marcin Budkowski, technical chief of Renault, who finished fourth last year.
In terms of mixing the playing field, we feel that the top teams will have lost more than us.
But they are also better equipped to regain it quicker.
The aerodynamic changes aren’t guaranteed to give us better racing, but they will certainly provide added intrigue to pre-season testing and the start of the season.
Now then, roll on launch week and F1 2019!
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