Will Gray

Tech Talk: A wing and a prayer

Will Gray

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The double diffuser concept that put Brawn so far ahead last year has been ramped up by some teams this season - but in fact one of the most important parts is actually not at the back, but right up front.

The airflow over a Formula One car is extremely complex and the only time and place any of its aerodynamic devices have the ideal conditions in which to work is at the leading edge of the front wing, when the car is running in 'clean' air.

Behind this point, the air has already been 'worked' by the leading aerodynamic surfaces and is turbulent, heading off at different angles and creating a less uniform and therefore less efficient flow further down the car.

The detail design on the front wing, flaps and end plates and also the chassis section between the front wheels are all vital in minimising the turbulent wake coming from the front-end - and the work teams have done on this area in the off-season could be crucial when they hit the track in anger in Bahrain.

The aim is to get as much clean air moving through the central section between the two front wheels as possible - because that clean air will then flow under the sidepods and along the underbody all the way to the double diffuser, improving the efficiency of this crucial device at the rear of the car.

It is the front wing that has one of the most significant effects on this flow.

The uncluttered central section of the front wing has clean airflow and a relatively uninterrupted wake, whereas the outer sections of the front wing, which have the additional flaps and upper wing assemblies, creates much more turbulent air flows.

The typical design involves a three-element main assembly and a twin element forward upper assembly, but there is a dramatic difference in the complexities of the designs - from the detailed Red Bull creation (pictured) to the more simplistic one seen on the new Virgin machine.

The better designs aim to create the highest average downforce levels with the minimum disruptive wake flow off the back of them - and generally that means keeping the complex combination of flaps as far out as possible, or making those closer to the centre of the car as simple as possible.

Teams will even take a hit on downforce at the front if the improved flow under the car goes on to increase downforce at the rear and improve the overall downforce of the car.

To add to the complexity this year, changes to the front tyres have created an additional 25mm extra clear space between the inside of the tyre and the chassis, leading to a subtle but significant change to the airflow regime that the teams have had to investigate.

To deal with this, the endplates are becoming more and more complex. They were originally created just to stop overflow air moving from the top of the wing to the bottom, but ever since it was realised that the consistency of airflow down the car could be significantly improved by limiting the amount of air that hits the front tyres, they have been designed to do much more than that.

They now contain a complex combination of mini wings, gurney flaps, vortex generators and strakes, all focused on steering airflow around the outside of the front tyre, ensuring consistency of flow across the rest of the car.

With teams still learning the effects of the new tyres, there could be plenty of continued change to the front wings as they get to understand how best to deal with this complex interaction - and it could be that the teams that focus on the front, not the back, will be the ones to come out on top.

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