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F1 in the Future – The Aerodynamics
F1 in the Future – The Aerodynamics
Posted By: James Allen  |  28 Dec 2009   |  9:58 am GMT  |  67 comments

When you contemplate the F1 cars of the future you imagine their shape and that is all about aerodynamics. F1 cars haven’t changed much in looks over the past 30 years and there is no reason why they should – you cannot uninvent aerodynamics.

Lotus F1 technical director Mike Gascoyne pointed out that aeroplanes have changed little in looks and fundamental layout since the monoplanes of the World War I and so projecting forwards, there is no real reason why F1 cars should change much in looks over the next 20 years.

Not everyone in F1 shares that view, however.

F1 cars have always been open wheeled, apart from the 1954 W196 Mercedes, known as the ‘Streamliner’ (in 1955 the same car appeared in single-seater format). For veteran aerodynamics engineer Frank Dernie, it is inconceivable that the F1 car of the future will have covered wheels. “Almost all surfaces of a covered wheel racing car produce lift and it takes only a small upset to make them take off. An F1 car, when upset, very rarely takes off and if it does it comes back to earth very quickly. So from a safety point of view it has to be open wheel. ”

We will come on to safety later in the series, but this is clearly an area where no compromises can be allowed.

The challenge for F1 aerodynamicists of working with open wheels is the sophistication of modelling the way the air is disturbed by the spinning wheels and how to channel the disturbed air around and over and under the bodywork. This provides a vital part of the engineering challenge of F1 and the engineers say it probably still will in 20 years time, so complex is the problem. As well as work in the wind tunnel, teams use computer simulator programmes like computational fluid dynamics, which divide the car into billions of tiny squares and perform many billions of calculations based on adding in variables based on car movement.

Former FIA technical consultant Tony Purnell sees the car being open wheeled, but with bumpers around the wheels, as a safety device to avoid cars touching wheels, which happens occasionally and can launch one of them into the air. He sees the need for bumpers because he believes that the cars will race very closely with each other and the drivers will be used to dicing and bumping into each other, with three or more cars abreast and constant chopping and changing. F1 will be less about doing a perfect qualifying lap and then reeling off a string of fast laps in the race, it will be about pure speed in qualifying and then ultra-high speed “cluster racing”.

This is because F1 will be primarily, perhaps solely, an entertainment and the next two generations, who will be raised on gaming, will want fast and furious action. A successful business has to adapt and give its customers what they want.

To that end Purnell also sees the shape of the car being set by stylists rather than by design engineers. In other words, aerodynamics will have a less important role than today and the cars will be designed to look as sexy as possible, “more of a fashion than a function.” The drivers will be more visible, although still well protected and they will be obviously busier in the cockpit, working various adjustable functions of the car, moveable aerodynamic devices which will allow them to get extremely close to the cars around them without becoming unstable, as they do today.

In this vision the cars will need to be able to go around the track in a gaggle, rather than strung out as they are today and to take corners side by side, because this is what the public will want from them.

The cars will probably be smaller because the efficient engine will require the car to have a much smaller fuel tank. Whereas today an F1 car uses 150 kilos of fuel to cover a Grand Prix distance, in 20 years time they will use less than 50 kilos to go just as far and as fast.

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Like rpaco said, I see aero changing as a necessity of efficiency. Dimples, or any rough surface (while, obviously, still maintaining an aerodynamic shape), most definitely disrupts the boundary layer, created on smooth surfaces, enough to make anything flowing through liquid travel faster with all else being equal; therefore, fuel economy is improved and higher top speeds are attained.


if i have an idea to avoid spin in high speed and its linked with front wing , where should i contact to explain my idea



I would love to see the movable aerodynamic device taken to a much greater degree. A driver is skilled enough to be able to manage this task as well as driving – after all, they no longer need to use a clutch or take their hands off the steering wheel.

I can well imagine looking in wonder at onboard footage as the drivers constantly tweak the wing angles to give themselves the best straightline and cornering speeds. It would be a very visible sign of skill which is not a bad thing.

Is it dangerous? Well, you could argue that it’s dangerous to adjust brake balance, KERS, roll bars and use the radio, but they have managed. Let’s try it!!

– James, are the wing adjustment rules the same for 2010 as this season?


In other words, aerodynamics will have a less important role than today and the cars will be designed to look as sexy as possible, “more of a fashion than a function.”

Utter Rubbish IMHO!


After all of the attempts at standardising engines and mechanical parts, plus the incredibly detailed aero regulations, I wonder why we haven’t heard suggestions of standard aero elements. It’s said that this is the biggest gain on the cars during the season and while it is interesting for F1 to be pushing the development of CFD, it also seems to be the most significant obstacle to close racing. Watching significantly faster cars impotently washing out because they are understeering in the dirty air behind a slower car is an artifact of the current regulations. It would seem that tinkering around with the existing regulations isn’t really going to help (I thought ground effects were banned) so perhaps other avenues should be explored. Loosening the regulations would be another way to go; moveable aerodynamic pieces would certainly increase cornering speeds (a safety issue) but might be the only way that close racing can be brought back.

I make videogames and I don’t think that game players want pointless overtaking but they certainly do get frustrated with regulations seem to be designed to keep the cars in the order they started all the way to the end of the race, almost regardless of driver skill or vehicular ability. Between dirty air and marbles off the line, there is definitely a problem in F1. Driver aids and reconfigurable cars are probably not the solution because they increase cornering speed but something is going to have to give.

Personally, I enjoy the technical and engineering mastery that is F1 but it would be interesting to see actual racing being the rule on Sunday, instead of most of the racing happening on Saturday in qually.


How does the FIA balance out what engineers and business people want from F1 and how they direct the future. I am no aerodynamic specialist, but lets say I was a key figure head in the FIA, how do I take charge of the situation of development when I don’t know much about it?

How do we know that the FIA aren’t tampering or interfering with the future development just by being restrictive?

Should there be some sort of natural progression?


i ve been watching f1 since since i was eight and i have the feeling that the most beautiful cars were always the faster… maclaren, williams, benetton, mclaren, ferrari… even alonso’s renault was sexy… form follows function…


Ehhh title should be ‘europe wants NASCAR’ lol

( but I dont!! )

Purnell forgot neon lights and flames out of the exhaust.


Id like to see a return to proper sized rear wings. The current rear wings look awful and in my opinion make it look like a lesser Formula. Maybe allow the driver to electronically adjust wings during a race to aid overtaking?


To be quite honest, I don’t even try to imagine what will the new rules be in 1 or 2 years time.

Seems like there are new requirements for the engines, tyres and dynamics every year, which changes the way the cars look.

More overtaking is what we all want to see and I’m sure most people wouldn’t mind if it is done in uglier cars.


Actually the W196 was always single-seater. Essentially the same car whether with open-wheel or streamlined bodies. I believe it ran 3 times with enclosed body in 1954. Winning at Rhiems and Monza, but famously getting beaten at Silverstone, where the combination of enclosed bodywork and twistier track made accurate placement of the car difficult, even for Fangio. Photos clearly show damage to the front corners of the car. I wonder then, if enclosed bodywork or covered wheels, even in the future, may give drivers the same problems. F1 cars don’t seem forgiving of inaccurate placement!

On a slightly related note. Is Mercedes 2010 feeling the pressure of living up to their legendary F1 history? Does Norbet Haug see himself as the new Neubauer? He certainly has some of the attributes 😉

Naturally expectations must be relevant to a 2010 context, and I’m sure RB is way too pragmatic to be concerned about it. But as a fan of F1 history and Mercedes, I hope they see their goal as being to emulate, and build on, the Silver Arrows success of the past.

Anything less than a clear C’ship win would be disappointing.


Renault had them last season


I’ve seen the future and it’s glowing break rotors, sparking skid plates limited electronics and none of these crappy winglets. That’s right, the future was early 90’s with 2010 safety levels.

Improve the engines, make them smaller and efficient with turbos and let’s stop messing with a good thing. Let us see the machine work. I’m sure that flames out of exhaust pipes on down shift will also be welcomed.

Bumpers around the wheels? I guess anyone with a suggestion no matter how silly was allowed to speak?


I can’t express how much I HATE the idea of bumpers or anything similar. Formula Fords are open wheeled, often race side-by-side, have inexperienced drivers but have bumpers introduced. The best drivers in the world should be able to handle it, and it would greatly diminish the excitement factor, which the rule makers forget is inseparably linked to risk.

And anyone who thinks that ‘cluster’ racing is the way forward – have a look at NASCAR. I don’t want F1 to be like that; an overtaking manoeuvre holds no meaning in that sport. We need more overtaking in F1 but to make it like Moto GP or NASCAR would be a travesty. The fans are not as fickle as that.


To get close racing aero has to be reduced considerably from current levels. F1 needs to get back to using gravity well and maybe learn something useful for road cars. The first step would be to get rid of the obvious work-arounds the current rules. Make the plank run from the front axle line to the rear axle line and be attached to the bodywork with no gaps above it or anything attached to it front or rear. Currently the front of the plank is used as a downthrust aero device, and the rear ‘diffusers’ are ground effects devices in all but name. Then issue standard ‘no-frills’ wings front and rear with the front narrower and closer to the body to avoid silly damage at the first corner. These moves would have the immediate benefits of reducing costs.


“I would repeat that aero will see tuned surfaces with micro grooves and/or dimples to lessen the friction…”

I never thought of that! Are such surfaces specifically excluded from the regs?


The merc was not the only enclosed GP car Connaught built one Vanwall built a pretty half hearted effort and I think Cooper used the centre cockpit sports car in F1 races. As fir looking back 30 years the Lotus 80 looks nothing like a current car, quite a lot if the cars of that era ran without front wings, and the typical location for the driver was much closer to the front of the car. We also had a wider range of engine shapes that influenced the chasis design. The best looking of that era was the Lotus 79 no contest. If only the team had stiffened the chasis up for 79 rather than going on to the 80, history would have been very different.


I would like to see a ban on wings altogether.

As for fossil fuel, F1 needs to be seen as being in sync with the rest of the world and

wings are simply not necessary for road cars, including the fuel wasting drag they generate.

I think it would be an interesting engineering challenge with more road car relevancy. Of course, this would bring along other challenges like much higher straight line speeds and the safety concerns that it raises…


The cars would look like they were ice skating if they didn’t have wings, unless they were made into 1.5 ton beasts or the corners were banked.

As the post said, you can’t uninvent aerodynamics.


“more of a fashion than a function.”

I think car design will still be driven by function, but In the future augmented reality will be part of our everyday lives which means the cars will look however the fans, teams and sponsors want them to look.

Fans will be able to log on to their favorite team website and create their own custom veichal designs from an online library containing hundreds of unique branded body parts. Once created, your custom veichal will become a user selectable item on your tv set to be assigned to your favorite driver during the race.

Sponsors will love it, Ferrari could team up with pixar to promote the latest cars movie and give fans the option to watch alonso piloting lightning mcqueen using augmented reality technologies.



To improve overtaking something as simple as adding a brake light to the chassis. It’ll give the following driver a target to hunt down.


Dont like the car being designed by stylists thing.. also the show being more about crashing each other and that stuff…

those guys can go watch fast and furious.


I think it would be cool to have exposed engines again. Who wouldn’t want to see the exhaust headers glowing red? Or turbos for that matter…

Why did they decide upon active aero in 2009, yet have such a minimal amount of movement? It isn’t even noticeable on tv.


I wondered that too. Such a minimal change allowed, what’s the point? No wonder it didn’t work.


The exitement in F1 is not what people like Tony Purnell thinks. His ideas about cars with bumpers and stock car racing on the tracks may appeal to an imaginary casual fan which everyone seems to want to please these times.

F1 needs great tracks, exiting cars and star drivers. As for the aerodynamics that is simple as well. Less aerodynimc downforce and more tyre grip, and please do it properly the next time.


It all sounds a bit Pie in the Sky for my liking.

While closer racing would be a good thing and better for the fans to watch, what Purnell is describing sounds more like giant go kart racing than F1 cars. Read his description again of bumpers and aero-design, and he is on about making glorified giant go-karts. Is that really where F1 is heading? Is that really what F1 fans want?


This talk about stylists designing F1 cars before aerodynamicists is rubbish, if you ask me. I think F1 would lose just about its entire true fanbase if it turned into some pansy racing series. Let those ignorant people, who can’t appreciate the technical excellence of F1, watch some other style-over-substance series.

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