F1 2009 aerodynamics: Fast is always beautiful


See also the first part of this article:
F1 2009 aerodynamics: Good, bad or ugly?

Toyota TF 109

Toyota introduced their 2009 Formula 1 car at a "virtual" launch on the Internet. The new car should bring Toyota its first win: there is a lot of pressure on the team and on drivers Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock to deliver that maiden win.

Detail of the new Toyota TF109.
Photo by Toyota Motorsport GmbH.

When Honda pulled out of Formula 1 at the end of 2008, fans feared that Toyota might be the next team to withdraw due to the economic crisis, but Toyota firmly stated that the team is still strongly committed to Formula 1.

A first glance at the new Toyota reveals the comeback of the "hammerhead" front wing as seen on the 2004 Williams - and detested by many - but Toyota made the design much more elegant. It has driver-adjustable single-element flaps, and the wing endplates are curved to get a smooth airflow along the front wheels.

The sidepods also are bottle-shaped, but seem to be bulkier than the Ferrari and McLaren sidepods. The front wheels have wheel fairings. Toyota published only a few photos of their 2009 contender, which makes it very difficult to say more about the features of the car. During testing at the Algarve Motor Park in Portugal the car had no front wheel fairings and was fitted with last years "classic" shark fin engine cover and not with the engine cover we see on the launch photos.

Renault R29

Team boss Flavio Briatore and drivers Fernando Alonso and Nelson Piquet presented the new Renault R29 at the Algarve Motor Park in Portugal. It is without a doubt one of the most striking designs we have seen sofar. The car has a new yellow, orange and white striped livery and the name of Dutch ING Bank sponsor has a very prominent place on the sidepods and engine cover.

On this car the nosecone is not pointy but wide and flat, and the front wing design is very similar to the "hammerhead" design. The front wing has moveable single-element flaps on both sides and large wing endplates to control the airflow along the front wheels.

Front wing detail of the new Renault R29.
Photo by xpb.cc.

The sidepods are the most distinctive features of the Renault design: they have a teardrop shape and cover a part of the rear suspension. The engine cover is sharkfin-shaped, and looks very similar to the one we saw on the 2008 Renault.

The gearbox is a completely new design, but the engine is an evolution of last years engine, and should now last for three races. The KERS system was developed in corporation with Magneti Marelli, the battery pack is mounted in the chassis, and the KERS itself is connected to the front of the engine.

Williams FW31

At the same circuit the Williams teams presented their 2009 contender, the Williams FW31. The car was presented in a dark blue interim livery and the definitive livery will be presented shortly before the first race in Australia. It is also possible that the interim livery has something to do with the sponsoring of RBS, this week the Royal Bank of Scotland forecasted the biggest loss ever reported by a UK company, and it remains to be seen whether RBS will continue sponsoring the Williams team.

Again we saw the very small and high-mounted rear wing and a very wide front wing. The flaps on the wing are larger compared to the other cars. The sidepods have large openings at the front, but look more like the traditional sidepods we saw in previous Formula 1 seasons. They do have the bottle shape, but not as extreme as we have seen on other 2009 cars. The engine cover is also more like the traditional engine cover, and has no sharkfin shape.

The flywheel-based KERS system was developed by Williams, but technical director Sam Michael said Williams has still not decided whether they will use the system at the first race in Australia. With the new car Williams hopes to close the gap to the cars at the front of the field.

BMW-Sauber F1.09

BMW-Sauber started very early testing their new aerodynamics, in November 2008 the first photos of the new car emerged and the huge front wing caused quite a stir amongst Formula 1 fans.

The new BMW Sauber F1.09.
Photo by xpb.cc.

The front wing is still the same today; it has two big flaps, but only the top flap can be moved. A small electric motor is built into the wing endplates to move the flaps. The nosecone is flat and wide and also looks a bit like the "hammerhead" nose. The front suspension has been redesigned to suit the front wing aerodynamics.

The bodywork looks very sleek without the bargeboards and vanes, the sidepods are wide at the front but don't have the extreme bottle shape we have seen on other cars. The engine cover has a sort of a fin, but it is not as large as the sharkfin-shaped engine cover.

Although BMW was the first team with a fully working KERS system, team manager Mario Theissen has said that they are not sure whether they will use the system during the first race of the season.

Different teams, different solutions

On all cars we see smaller and very high-mounted rear wings. The rules are very strict and that's why the rear wings looks more or less the same on all new 2009 cars. The wing endplates are tall and they all have three slots, designed to reduce the drag.

The wider and lower-mounted front wings now have more influence on the airflow around the front wheels, and the front wing endplates are the key to control that airflow. All teams have come up with a different designs: Ferrari, Toyota and McLaren designed a high-off-the-ground and pointy nosecone, while BMW-Sauber, Renault and Williams use a flatter and wider nosecone.

All front wings have adjustable flaps; the driver can use the system to get more straight-line speed or to get more downforce in corners, both ideal for easier overtaking. Some teams use a small electric motor which is located in the wing endplates. If it gets damaged, the flaps can't move anymore and the advantage the system offers is gone, or worse. Front wing replacement might take some extra time because of the system that moves the wing flaps, therefore it will be even more important for drivers not to damage or lose the front wing during the race.

Detail of the new Williams FW 31.
Photo by Williams F1.

Whatever you think of the new wings, all of them have been thoroughly tested in a wind tunnel, and you can bet your life on it that they do the work they are supposed to be doing. They were not designed to make the car look prettier, they serve a purpose. Some of the wing designs are elegant, like on the Ferrari, McLaren and Toyota, others look bulkier, like the Renault, BMW-Sauber and Williams front wings.

Some drivers have expressed their concerns about the increased wing span, they fear if they hit another car the wing might get stuck under the front wheels. That happened to Robert Kubica in Canada in 2007 when he tried to overtake Jarno Trulli, he couldn't steer the car anymore, and that was the reason why he went of the track in such a big way.

But this is not new in F1, in the past similar accidents happened with Giancarlo Fisichella and Luciano Burti, there is always a risk something gets stuck under the front wheels or under the bottom of the car.

When we look at the sidepods, it becomes apparent that designers all used different approaches in their design. The bottle- or tear-shaped sidepods are new to Formula 1. The Renault design is the most radical; Ferrari, McLaren and Toyota designed elegant-looking sidepods, while Williams and BMW-Sauber opted for the more traditional-looking sidepods.

KERS could be a curse or a blessing in 2009. If the system works without problems, it could be worth something between 0.2 or 0.3 seconds per lap and a few miles extra straight line speed, and bring that little bit extra a driver needs to overtake another car. But when the system fails, it could also seriously hamper the performance of car.

We should also keep in mind that KERS is not the same as the famous "push to pass button" or the "power boost button" we saw in other race series, as this system is specifically designed to recover and re-use energy that is lost during braking.

But it remains to be seen whether all those millions of dollars that teams have spent on developing and building the KERS system are justified, cutting costs in Formula 1 seems more important to me. Some teams haven't even decided if they will use the KERS system this season, which makes the introduction of KERS even more questionable.

Good, bad or ugly?

Formula 1 fans all over the world wanted changes in F1, the cars that so far have been unveiled are the result of these changes. Some of you will like it, some of you will not. Teams and designers have worked very hard to build a new car, and due to the large rule changes all teams had to build a new car from scratch. We will get used to the new Formula 1 look, and we also have to give these changes the benefit of the doubt. And because of all those changes, it is impossible to predict what will happen this season. But isn't that an exciting idea itself?

Gilles Villeneuve in the Ferrari 312 T4.
Photo by David Phipps.

If these new regulations improve the Formula 1 spectacle, we will soon forget about the aesthetics of Formula 1 wing designs and enjoy an exciting 2009 season. It is also good to see that F1 designers still have plenty of freedom to incorporate their ideas in the 2009 cars, that is very positive as well. A McLaren still looks like a McLaren and a Ferrari still looks like a Ferrari. And that is the way it should be.

The new regulations are "good", sometimes rule changes are necessary to keep the sport alive, it would have been "bad" to ignore the wishes of the fans to see more overtaking on the track and do nothing, and about the "ugly" aspect: already in 1979 Enzo Ferrari stated that his 1979 Ferrari 312 T4 was the ugliest car he had ever built, but he didn't care as long as it was a winning car. And Enzo Ferrari was right as usual, the ugliest Ferrari ever -- with Jody Scheckter at the wheel -- won the championship in 1979.