As F1 2019 Gets Under Way, Spare a Thought for the Aerodynamicist…..

When you look at vehicle development over the last 50 years, the most noticeable changes are usually down to advancements in aerodynamics. In many motorsports, apart from tyre development, aerodynamics offers the most obvious potential for gaining competitive advantage over the opposition and millions are spent each year by teams looking to leverage decades of research and development in the field. Each year, motorsport’s governing bodies release more rules to reign in the overly-enthusiastic aerodynamicist. Some say it helps to level the playing field, others that it places the emphasis back on the driver rather than the car. Whatever the reason, the 2019 motorsport season will be no exception when it comes to aerodynamicists pushing the rules to breaking point. With controversy already dominating the MotoGP after one race, what do we have to look forward to when Formula 1 and other series get underway in the coming weeks?

Desmo-Dovi and the Winglet

Despite stricter regulations being introduced for this year’s MotoGP, last weekend’s season opener descended into chaos following Ducati’s use of a new aerodynamic device fitted to the rear swingarm. Four rival teams lodged a complaint to the FIM, protesting that the device used contravened regulations as it was designed to cool the rear tyre of the bike. The only team to finish in the top 5 and not complain was Yamaha, who used a similar deflect or in Valencia last year to direct water away from the back wheel. Conditions in Qatar were dry which potentially adds fuel to the fire and despite the complaint being rejected by the Stewards Panel, Repsol Honda, Suzuki Ecstar, Red Bull KTM Racing and Aprilia Racing Team Gresini have now lodged an appeal with the FIM with an aim to make an announcement before the next round in Argentina on 31st March.

The race was close from start to finish, with Dovizioso and Ducati beating Honda’s Marc Márquez by a miniscule 0.023 seconds. Whether the winglet was designed to create additional downforce, cool the rear wheel or funnel impending rain, this situation just goes to show how aerodynamics can potentially be the difference between winning and….ummm…not winning!

Wacky Races

It’s now over 50 years since modern aerodynamics were first considered and incorporated into F1 cars. As early as 1969, the sports governing body started setting out rules and regulations which would directly affect an aerodynamicists ability to influence a car’s performance at will. Partly due to safety concerns, the FIA mandated that rear spoilers would have to be fitted directly on to the rear of the car, rather than on the flimsy struts which had been seen in previous years and they’ve not stopped ‘interfering’ since!

New aerodynamic regulations aim to ‘spice up’ racing in 2019, enabling drivers to race much more closely without being heavily affected by the dirty air generated by the car in front. Many of the regulations seek to improve aerodynamic conditions for other drivers, which is all well and good as long as you’re not the race leader. The design of the front wing has been heavily regulated and yet enhanced, with increased height and width and horizontal positioning to enable drivers to get closer without suffering the effects of disturbed air from the car in front.

F1 2019 Front Wing Changes Courtesy of Racecar Engineering

The complex front wing end plates seen last season have been banned and replaced with simplified versions which enhances downforce rather than outwash airflow around the front tyres. The multiple under-wing strakes have also been limited to two per side to increase airflow to the underbody. This further reduces the aerodynamic disturbance experienced by following drivers.

Changes have also been introduced to limit the aerodynamic benefits of brake ducts. Past seasons have seen the most creative aerodynamicists use brake duct designs to guide air to benefit the front wing, tyre and suspension arms, rather than simply cooling the brakes. Restrictions now mean that there will be a limited surface radius of 180mm which removes the ability to partially cover the inner edge of the front tyre for aerodynamic benefit. F1Technical have created a great post to explain these changes in more detail – it’s an interesting read!

Ferrari estimate that the newly introduced rules slow the 2019 Formula 1 cars by 1.5 seconds. But will these changes make the sport more competitive and better for fans? We’ll wait and see when the circus starts again in Melbourne this weekend. For now, you can see the significant changes here in this great official F1 animation.

Speed or Substance?

It’s not just F1 seeking to make the sport more interesting for spectators. NASCAR is another series enforcing changes which will slow cars down in favour of creating more chances for passing and drafting on shorter tracks. After spending years trying to decrease downforce, NASCAR’s 2019 series will see a new aero package which will seek to increase drag and downforce whilst decreasing horsepower all with the aim of making racing more dramatic for the fans. In a similar vein to F1, spoilers are taller (and increase of 6cm to 20.32cm!) and front splitters longer. A smaller tapered restrictor has also been introduced to restrict airflow which comes at a price – a reduction of around 200bhp!

At the end of the day, this isn’t the land speed record and without fans, motorsports simply wouldn’t exist but what does this all mean for the budding aerodynamicist?

The Future for the Aerodynamicist

According to Ross Brawn, the next three years will see efforts continue towards improving actual ‘racing’. Top speed will come secondary to making cars more competitive and less influenced by dirty air which will see more overtaking and closer battles between drivers. F1 cars can currently lose around 50% of their performance at around 3-4 car lengths and designs have recently been revealed which can cut this to 20% which Brawn hails as a substantial improvement.

Over the next decade, we’re sure to see ever more unusual aerodynamic designs being introduced. With the inevitable diminishment of the combustion engine, software and battery tech has been at the forefront of development for electric vehicle racing but that doesn’t make aero any less important, the considerations are just a little different. In retail automotive terms this has had surprising consequences. When Jaguar designed the I-Pace, they incorporated a grille despite the obvious absence of a radiator. And it’s not just window dressing, the functionality of the grille feeds air to heat exchangers for the battery’s cooling system.

When it comes to motorsport, the challenge of the aerodynamicist will always be to push the boundaries whilst working within the regulations set by the sport’s governing bodies and as in any highly competitive field there will always be moments of controversy when a team is suspected to have gained a competitive advantage by selective interpretation. But isn’t that what makes motorsport so exciting? Seeing teams, drivers and riders pushing themselves to the limits of technical and physical innovation?

Here at the NMA, we’re training the motorsport engineers of the future. Our courses are designed and taught by motorsport professionals who have actual, first-hand experience working at the top level of this exciting industry. Using the latest specialist software packages and industry methods, we ensure that our students graduate with the best opportunities ahead of them.

Interested in becoming an aerodynamicist with a top-level racing team? Take a look at our available courses. Choose your own start date and fit in around your current job with out flexible online motorsport degrees.

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