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Five F1 tech talking points of 2017: Did we learn to love shark fins and T-wings?

The first year of a new set of regulations is always a fascinating time; to see who has got it right and who's got it wrong.

Five F1 tech talking points of 2017: Did we learn to love shark fins and T-wings?

The first year of a new set of regulations is always a fascinating time; to see who has got it right and who's got it wrong.

During a flurry of launches in February, many fans were captivated by the wider, lower cars complete with chunky tyres. As the season progressed, we began to see the effect of the new aero geometry, with the jury still out on whether it was a good addition to F1.

Many praised the speed and poise of the 2017-spec cars through the fast corners, but there was a strong undercurrent lamenting the negative effect on on-track overtaking.

Nonetheless, the new formula has given plenty for F1’s crack aerodynamicists to work with, so let’s take a look at some of the more inventive innovations introduced in the 2017 season, starting with the newly-reinstated shark fin developments.

Shark fins and T-wings

The reintroduction of the shark fin was unpopular among fans, but was permitted as the amendments to the bounding boxes defined by the rules allowed for an extended engine cover.

A handy inclusion for F1’s aerodynamicists, the shark fin offers the designers a greater platform to condition the air around the roll-hoop section as it flows downstream towards the rear wing.

Without the fin, the air intake above the driver’s head produces turbulence as the flow either side mixes, creating a wake formation. Thus, the fin is a convenient way to essentially eliminate that.

The shark fins were also used as a springboard for further developments in that area, taking advantage of the new regulations to manage airflow at the rear of the car.

Thanks to a small loophole, a result of the rear wing being positioned lower down, the nature of the bounding boxes allowed teams to add small aerodynamic appendages to the tip of the shark fin – the T-wing.

Having identified the loophole during their exploration of the new bodywork dimensions, a collection of teams arrived in Barcelona for the first test with their own T-wing adaptations, which were later employed by every team on the grid in some form over the season.

The initial T-wing designs largely consisted of a single wing element placed in front of the rear wing, adding a small amount of downforce while also providing some interaction with the rear wing itself to realign the pressure distribution, boosting rear-end downforce further.

Furthermore, any turbulent air flowing into this region was provided with an upwash effect, lifting it out of the direction of the rear wing area, ensuring that the rear wing geometry could benefit from cleaner flow.

However, these early designs produced large tip vortices which interacted with the rear wing’s flow structures, creating a small drag penalty. With some teams deciding to negate this, their engineers developed a double T-wing with a “coathanger” shape, which was produced to reduce the tip vortex size.

Mercedes first trialled a double T-wing in the Barcelona tests, albeit attached on a tower structure rather than shark fin itself. This proved to be quite flimsy, breaking off of Valtteri Bottas’ car in practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix and damaging Max Verstappen’s following Red Bull. Afterwards, Mercedes gravitated towards a more conventional design.

McLaren took Mercedes’ lead, later bringing their “coathanger” T-wing to Shanghai as they sought to chase aerodynamic performance. This was complete with a small Gurney flap on the trailing edge of the top element, providing a small downforce boost and increasing the upwash effect produced by the cambered T-wing elements.

It wasn’t long before teams nestled a third element into the geometry to maximise the effects discussed, proving a popular choice with Force India, Renault and Williams as they sought to eke out more performance.

Force India also developed a very novel solution to managing airflow along the top edge of the shark fin, adding a series of tiny winglets to reduce the effect of separation of airflow from the shark fin. This limits the wake structure created by any separation, keeping the flow tightly controlled to be worked further by the T-wing.

With the amount of development in this area, and the resulting concerns over safety, it became clear very early on that the FIA was to ban shark fins and T-wings for 2018 – their inclusions presenting unpopular additions in various quarters.

Although the shark fins were given a reprieve later on, McLaren provided enough resistance to reinstate the ban having developed its machinery for next season without it, which was confirmed in late November.

Did you learn to love the shark fins and T wings? Or would you like to see the back of them? Leave your comment in the section below
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