Insight: How you can see a new F1 car is progressing well
Posted By: James Allen  |  08 Feb 2013   |  9:45 am GMT  |  58 comments

Formula 1 cars are prototypes and as such they are constantly changing and being evolved in the pursuit of performance.

The first week of testing in Jerez has seen many teams racking up over a thousand kilometres on their new cars, first working on reliability then pushing new development parts onto the car looking for more speed. But what sort of thing are the engineers looking for and how can they see the difference between a new part that is working and one that is not?

Here we offer a simple example to help readers get a better understanding.

Downforce is crucial in an F1 car and one of the main differences between the cars at the front and those at the back of the grid is the amount of downforce they generate. This is down to having more resources and deploying them better.

Here we are comparing two images of cars where a team has put on Flo Viz paint onto a key aerodynamic part, which highlights the air flow over a key downforce generating piece. Flo Viz is short for “Flow Vizualisation”. It allows engineers to see how a part is behaving aerodynamically.

Marussia brake duct
Look closely at this rear brake duct on the new Marussia car. What you see painted dayglo is what is called a “cascade”, which is a multi element piece on the brake duct which is an important downforce making device close to the rear wheel.

You can see the flow structure; the lower lines aren’t too bad, but as you get to the upper elements the flow moves inboard and separates at the top edge and on the top element the flow has broken down completely.

This cascade isn’t working properly; the geometry is too aggressive and the imperfect flow lines are a clear indication to the team’s engineers that they have work to do in the wind-tunnel. It’s back to the drawing board on this piece for Marussia.

Red Bull

In contrast, look at this photo of the beam wing on the new Red Bull. You can see that the left hand side of the wing has been correctly painted with Flo Viz and the air flow lines are perfect. The air is very attached as it works its way over this piece and this is what engineers want to see when they analyse the flow structure. It means that the wing is doing its job and generating downforce in line with expectations.

Note – The right hand side hasn’t been painted properly which is why it looks a bit strange; this is a mistake by the technician when applying the paint before the run.

Hopefully this gives a better understanding of the kind of work that is going on in Jerez this week and in the remaining tests. If you watch Friday practice sessions at Grands Prix you will see teams doing this too. It’s one of the important jobs of the engineers.

[Technical Analysis - Mark Gillan]

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  1. Spyros says:


    I assume the paint at the back end of the diffuser isn’t supposed to be there..?

    1. Cos says:

      I initially thought not. The top edge of the diffuser seems to me like some of the Flo Viz has been blown across it but then when you look at the bottom right hand “cavity” (sorry don’t know the true name) there are clearly what appears to some brush (or other) strokes so maybe it was supposed to be there to give like a secondary reading. (Hopefully someone can correct me if I am clucthing at straws here).

  2. Clear View says:

    Thanks so much for the explanation, very interesting. I have to say although I had heard the term ‘cascades’ used I didn’t know what they were so again thanks for that. I love tech articles like this.
    Good job.

  3. Davexxx says:

    GREAT STUFF! Very interesting and appreciated!

  4. Wayne says:

    Impressive stuff, never seen detailed pictures of the Flo Viz paint system in action before. It’s great to see the above comparrison to contextualise the concept. Thanks!

    1. Adam says:

      Actually, you can find some more detailed explaination at

      1. Comon says:

        Yea, great site. A lot of great articles.

    2. Phil says:

      That F1 dictionary piece is one of the worst written articles I’ve ever seen! The use of English is appalling. I’d much rather stick to reading James’s stuff!

  5. Roger Moth says:

    Great insight and information thanks very much.

  6. Thank you James, that is a very cool insight into how they gather information using flo-viz. Wish we could have seen the image of the exact same angle of both cars to give us a clearer idea of the difference in air flow between the two.

  7. JSHT says:

    How insightful. James, it would be great to see how else teams develop their chargers!!

  8. Richie Hezz says:

    Fantastic! Thanks for this.

    1. Daninator says:


      Great article James!

  9. Alberto Martínez says:

    Great article!

    For the ordinary fan it´s great to have such a detailed insight into the world of aerodinamics.

    We need much more of this coverage. Keep it up!

    1. Antonio says:

      As Alberto says, thanks for the insights and keep doing things like until now. Your contribution to the fan knowledge is very useful.

      Lets to

  10. Random 79 says:

    It’s amazing that after millions of dollars spent on CFD and wind tunnels it all comes down to a bit of paint.

    Before I read this I had a general idea of how it worked, but I never really understood the specifics.

    Great analysis, found it very helpful.

  11. Aplomb says:

    I never recall hearing about this Flo Viz until a few years ago when McLaren were having an awful time pre season and people were laughing at them for using it, an act of desperation it was billed as at the time…

    1. Joel says:


      Wonderful detail.

      However, I thought engineers have started using a type of FloViz that won’t be seen by a naked eye, but by a filter glass, etc – just to hide curious eyes from journos & competing teams.

    2. Mitchel says:

      Yes, that’s exactly what I remember too.

      If anything, I’d have thought it would be more integral to all the testing they ever do…..

    3. AuraF1 says:

      Very true. Odd that isn’t it? I can only guess the strict limitations on some spending areas has made floviz mainstream again? But I do rember the ridicule mclaren got to be at that stage during testing.

  12. Carl says:

    Great to follow the practice session:

  13. Yak says:

    Always like seeing decent flow viz photos, as it doesn’t seem to happen too often. I guess it’s something the teams probably prefer to not have out there, given that it’s sorta like a big, “Hey everyone, check out how great this part of our car is working!”

    1. Mitchel says:

      Do people get paid just to analyse what the others are doing? It’s fascinating stuff. I like the espionage element of it.

      From an engineering point of view of course!

  14. Kay says:

    Thanks James! Love this piece!
    Keep it up!

  15. Keith says:

    Really interesting article, really great to see this sort of stuff published. Keep up the great work and looking forward to more articles like this!

  16. Peter says:

    And this is why you are the only go-to source worth reading. I applaud what you have done with a humble website over the last few years. Obviously fans wanted this level of analysis and educated comment, but nobody really thought to supply it.

    1. Michael says:

      While James Allen is great you are discounting one of the best sources of information I’ve ever come across in Craig Scarborough. Those are the two single writer F1 blogs that I check a few times a day to see if theres any new content.

  17. guy says:

    I remember in ’09 Mclaren were (correctly!) thought to be in trouble when they applied the FloViz to their car during testing. However it now seems to be much more standard practice. Why is this the case given the testing restrictions were in place in ’09 please?

  18. Mark in Australia says:

    Awesome. Keep these articles coming James

  19. Phil says:

    Great info. Please keep the tech articles coming.

  20. Kevin says:

    How is the paint applied? Is the entire area coated and the moving air forces the paint to align to the flow, or is the paint positioned ‘up wind’ and the air pushes the paint ‘down wind’ in the direction of the flow?

    1. RodgerT says:

      I believe that the paint is applied fairly uniformly over the surface that is being analyzed. The airflow over the surface then wears the paint off and the resulting pattern lets you know how the air is going over the part.

      Smooth air flow will wear less paint off, turbulent air more. If you look at the Marussia photo above and read the description it’ll make more sense. The lower element that is working well still has plenty of paint and is streaked in a linear way. The middle element it is streaked inward with a lot of paint gone at the top showing air being swept inward then getting turbulent at the top. Then most all of the paint on the upper element is gone so the air is a turbulent mess all along that surface.

      I’m not an expert, but that is the thumbnail of how it works.

      1. Kevin says:

        Thanks mate.

    2. Mark Gillan says:

      The entire area of the part under scrutiny is either painted or sprayed (spraying is better) and the air ‘pushes’ the paint in the direction of the flow – it typically dries after a few corners on the out lap.

      1. Endless says:

        Great article Mark, thanks.

      2. That’s very useful and enlightening as I used to think that just the leading edge of a component was painted and the air would then drag it across the component, highlighting areas that were within the flow of air and the non-painted sections of the surface indicated the dead zones. Whereas it is actually the reverse with the paint clinging to the dead zones and the dark areas indicating where the air flow has removed the paint – is that correct?

  21. Kit says:

    Finally! Another tech topic demystified! I’ve been wondering for years on how to interpret these paint flows..

  22. BreezyRacer says:

    It seems to me that analyzing flo viz patterns would require before/after pics .. basically comparing application to pattern results.

    Do they apply flo viz to only the leading portion of a wing to see where it goes and how well it’s distributed or do they paint the entire wing, perhaps perpendicular to flow and then analyze the resulting pattern .. or am I getting too anal about the details?

    Can airflow be so high that it strips off flow viz from the surface? How long does flo viz stay wet?

  23. Alexyoong says:

    That is a proper article

  24. NomadLand says:

    Another thought on testing/spying on another team…are any of the teams using thermal imaging to determine the fuel loads being carried, or would this be impossible due to the construction of the fuel cells?

  25. Nil says:

    Thanks for that excellent description! Why not use a rear facing thermal camera mounted on the back of the car?

  26. Tornillo Amarillo says:

    Great stuff, good job.

  27. Lee says:

    Very interesting. Great piece thanks.

  28. Veena says:

    Thanks James for the awesome insight. This is what I come to your site. Its different and resourceful. Keep it coming. Thanks again.

  29. Wanja says:

    Great article, thanks very much.

  30. rob in victoria bc says:

    Hamilton said, “On the steering wheel I think I’ve got at least double the amount of buttons and switches that I had on my previous one. I’ve already got rid of quite a few of the buttons as soon as I got here.”
    I can unnderstand wanting fewer distractions, but just how many switches/dials/buttons on a Formula 1 steering wheel could be considered ‘disposable’?

    1. Rich C says:

      Did he keep the ‘Eject!’ button?

      1. rob in victoria bc says:

        Or one that played a message saying,’Nico, Michael is faster than you.’.

    2. Moog says:

      He probably had Shuey’s steering wheel which had the “Make Barrichello crash” button on it

  31. Rich C says:

    How do they get that stuff off there afterwards?

    1. James Allen says:

      Detergent and elbow grease!!

      1. Rich C says:

        Hey, I could do that! And I work cheap!
        Do they need someone…. ?

  32. dufus says:

    Very educational for the fans.
    James, thank you.

  33. Sufyaan Patel says:

    Thanks James. Short, ‘sweet’ and to the point. So, would you be able to look into doing an analysis based on teams experimenting with Flo Viz? (with pictures would be a bonus)

  34. Andrew says:

    Awesome insight Mark, much appreciated.

  35. Elie says:

    Nice work James/ thanks to Mark for his input

  36. Mic says:

    Thank you James and Mark,

    this is right the reason why I studied Aerodynamics: you can’t normally see air but it is there and the challenge is to use it to your advantage. Exciting!

    Thank you again!


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