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Sepang – Special Technical Update
Sepang – Special Technical Update
Posted By: James Allen  |  02 Apr 2010   |  4:50 pm GMT  |  89 comments

Ever wondered why F1 designers go to such extraordinary lengths to refine the design of the front wings and particularly the endplates? Top teams bring something new in this area to almost every race.

When you drill down into this area of the car’s design, you realise that it has far more effect on the aerodynamics than the much discussed double diffuser – probably five to ten times more effect!

Double Diffusers grab all the headlines, largely because of the legality issues, but they are nothing like as important to an F1 car as the barely discussed “outwash” front wing.

So this week we’re going to give the outwash wing, the spotlight it deserves.

The front wing tip vortex and the front wheel wake are the most important things to control in F1 aerodynamics. You want to stop them going in places where they do too much damage. 50-60% of the aerodynamics of an F1 car is concentrated on this vital area.

In 1998 when F1 cars were new rules narrowed in width from 2 metres to 1.8 metres the cars ended up with the front wing endplate alongside the edge of the front tyre. Designers developed very sophisticated solutions to manage the front wheel wake and wing tip vortex in order to get lots of downforce.

But then in 2009 the FIA brought in a radical change of aerodynamic rules, one of which was to make the front wing wider. Now, with the tips of the front wing sitting directly ahead of the front wheels, it was a completely different ball game.

The more experienced engineers in the pit lane, who had been around before 1997, or who had worked on IndyCars or Le Mans cars, knew that it would be desirable to produce an outwash effect from the front wing endplate, which would generate a low pressure area on the outside of the front wheel. It would also avoid the front flap being blocked by having a wheel right behind it.

Toyota were one of the first to try it, thanks to the intervention of veteran aerodynamicist Frank Dernie, and it was one of the signature items on the Brawn car. Engineers say that the outwash front wing was the single biggest step from 2008 to 2009, far more than the double diffuser.

The huge step in performance McLaren made last July was largely down to introducing an outwash front wing for the first time.

This year every car in the pit lane has one, with varying degrees of sophistication.

Red Bull has a very pronounced vortex channel underneath the end of the wing. If you look really closely there are lots of new details, sometimes tiny, sometimes very pronounced every race weekend, because the front wing, and particularly the tip of it, is an incredibly sensitive area and the tiniest change to a turning vane can make a big difference to the car’s performance. Ferrari made a good gain in Melbourne with the new wing endplate detail we featured in the Australian LG Technical Report.

Some of the new teams like Lotus and Virgin have fairly crude front wings and refining them will bring a big step forward in performance, moving them closer to the midfield teams. Lotus has an upgrade to its front wing coming for Spain.

For Virgin Racing, whose designer Nick Wirth insists on using only CFD (computational fluid dynamics) in the design and development of his car, this will be a real test and the whole pit lane is watching to see how well he does it.

This is because the main weakness of CFD in F1 design is in the area of modelling front wheel wake. It is so complex and changes with every tiny movement in the attitude of the car. Rival engineers, who also have big CFD capability in their factories, say it’s not possible to accurately measure front wheel wake using F1 standard CFD alone. This is because the air flow in the wheel wake is unsteady and the only CFD programme capable of modelling unsteady flow is owned by NASA and costs $1 million a month to run!

If the rivals are right then this will hold Virgin racing back. But if Wirth comes up with a major step in this area, then the others may begin to concede that he has found an affordable way to do away with wind tunnels.

But Virgin’s development may be held back in any case by the urgent need to build a larger fuel tank and Wirth’s attention will be focussed on that. It is a huge job, not just lengthening the chassis and redesigning the floor and bodywork, but the wiring harness will not be long enough. There are two options there; build a new one which is a huge task, or lengthen the old one, which is sub optimal and could introduce reliability problems.

Renault introduced a sophisticated new outwash front wing solution in Australia and it contributed a significant amount to the car’s improvement.

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the new cars these year looks very streamlined and very stylish, i wonder what the new cars next year would look like ,.’


The front wing in modern F1 has the function to create a hole in the air in front, making sure that air flow will go over the car, under the car or around the front wheels.

All this airflow need to be as “clean” as possible, making sure that there is no turbolence or wake in it.

The interaction between air flow and aerodynamics parts creates the downforce that will allow the driver to go faster in the corners.

Most F1 nowadays are very efficient and the different end plates will divert the air in different ways mainly due to the speed of the car.

If the iar is getting around the car, under and over, very clean the double diffuser and the shrk fin will work very efficiently.

But if the air is disturbed these components will not work as good as they should making a huge difference in the os called points of downforce.

What is the aim of the front wing and end plates ?

To open a hole in the air and try to make this hole as neat as possible.

Double diffuser will try to produce avacuum behind the car to “suck” the car in the hole.

The two combined effects will make the car faster and more slippery in the air.


Now we’re talking! I’ve always felt the DD was being given way too much credit for it’s effect on the wake behind cars!

With a front wing of the size of today’s, it will obviously have a major effect!

I would actually prefer to have the downforce of the cars produced mainly by ground effects as opposed to wings, this would drastically reduce the size of the turbulent wake behind the cars and allow much closer following, slipstreaming, braking and overtaking.



Paul, if we are going to have downforce produced by ground effect, F1 will be very very dangerous.

We need to remember why F1 banned ground effect, Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi accidents showed what it is dangerous with this solution.

Ground effect is the reverse concept of how planes are able to take off as everyone knows and at the moment in which the ground eefect ceased to work, the car become a plane, taking off the ground and basically reversing its properties.

With today understanding of aero and the teams ability to manufacture different parts with every race, a ground effect F1 car will become a fatal accident waiting to happen, Cars will be much faster in corners and therefore at top speed, it will be much more difficult to follow another car without being sucked.

Moreover drivers will need to be very carefull while driving at speed in order not to touch curbs, it will stop the suction under the car.

And finally ground effect might cause the car to bottom and loose the steering for short time during the race, one of the causes of Ayrton Senna death.

In my opinion ground effect is not a feasible solution for modern F1 cars


Mmmm. I doubt that a Spitfire could be flown inverted straight and level. Certainly not in GE. You won’t have enough thrust to keep it flying with the AoA that would be required. If you flew it close to the ground, there would be no downwash as the trailing edge will be positive. Why, you have a car wing in effect. The only trouble is that the car wing has too little area to lift the car when it is out of ground effect. The car lifts because the floor has the required area for rotation. Aerobatic aircraft have symmetrical wings with a zero trailing edge angle so with even a slight AoA inverted or not, the lift coefficient will increase up to 20% if the wing is within 10% of the wing span off the surface. A full gross Spitfire at TO speed in GE, will fly at the same AoA as it will at cruise speed at 20 000 ft. The lift coefficient in GE will improve by 35%


Oops. Just watching quali 1. Should be a great race tomorrow. Lewis, jenson, fernando and felippe at the back.


james, you are buddies with the relevant people at the FIA. how do you feel about dropping into conversation how easy things would be with standardised front and rear wings. they could then make it easier to follow the car in front, and avoid wasting such vast sums of money on something that does precisely nothing to contribute to good racing or the world outside F1. The FIA should be steering F1 towards standardised aero and open technology on engine development and fuel efficiency – at the moment it’s completely the opposite and it’s plain illogical.

i heard one journalist talking casually to charlie about all these different buttons and modes that the drivers should be allowed along the lines of push to pass and it just made me shudder. we need to get back to simple pure racing. no gimmicks. no knee jerk interventions to ‘improve the show’. and while we’re at it, no 18″ rims. this is F1, not pimp my ride.


I TOTALLY agree, JohnG,



I agree 100% about the standard front and rear wings.


Single element front and rear wings (that the teams retain control of), an outright ban on the rear diffuser, a wider wheel track and cruicially then a standard (ground effect) sidepod floor is the way to go IMHO.

Move the sidepod leading edge suitably so the sidepod floor local aerodynamic centre is about the same place as the desired car aerodynamic centre, and that should hopefully remove alot of the sensitivity to the wake of a car ahead.


I knew that the front wings must play a big role because of the complexity and variety of designs. Only something that is worth it would command that type of attention.

Which goes to the heart of what ails F1. Too much attention on aero. It’s no longer a WDC but a world aerodynamics championship. As a fan, I have zero interest in that contest. I watch to see the heirs of Fangio and Jim Clark show their craft and could not care less how clever Frank Dernie or Adrian Newey are.

I say standardize aero as much as possible, with the emphasis on reducing turbulence on following cars.


WELL said, beautifully put, absolutely correct, CanadaGP. And btw, I’m looking forward to your race this season!



Great stuff James!

Wonder if you could show a picture of the airflow for “bad” front wing in comparison to “good” wing?



James, do you have any insight into the different T-Cam Fairuz Fauzy was running early in FP1?


it seems a bit simplistic to equate performance to the directing of air around the front wheels. surely when the width of the frotn wing was extended, this was the obvious solution for directing air around the front tires. I’m interested to know how much info you James get from engineers and how you much you assume for yourself and draw your own conclusions?


It’s all from engineers


I would agree that the nasa CFD programme story sounds like poo, and in any case, $1million a month for something that is worth so much time would be snapped up by every team.

Ban aerodyamasists and accountants and you would have better racing!


Again, to reiterate a post above, you can always watch NASCAR, if that it is your mindset …


Re: Computational Fluid Dynamics

$1 million a month to run a very complex flow simulation. Sounds a lot, but thats actually about £9 million a year. In F1 terms that is very affordable.

Not so long ago top F1 budgets were in the mulitple hundred million dollar mark.

Even if you think that is not affordable, consider this: (potted tech history bit coming up)…

Less than 20 years ago I had a computer next to my desk valued at £80,000. It had 64MB of memory (MB not GB!) and a processor that ran at a blazing 120MHz (compare that to your modern day AMD/Intel processor running at about 3.5GHz). It was a DECStation 5000 workstation with a MIPS R4000 chip in it. Your iPhone is more powerful (by a very large margin).

6 months later it was worth £32,000. And so on.

Only a few years ago we had single core CPUs (Pentium III and the like). The hyper threaded pseudo 2 core CPUs (Pentium IV). Then real dual core CPUs (core2-duo). Then iCore7 with with 4 hyperthreaded cores (8 pseudo cores). AMD are about to launch a chip with 12 cores.

As time goes on more cores per chip will happen faster. Why is that important? Because CFD is one of those problems that is very parallelisable (sorry about that word).

When you can keep chopping problems into small pieces and hand them out to a CPU for its undivided attention, solving that problem gets cheaper (until you run out of bus bandwidth and etc).

The rate Intel and AMD are going for it with the extra cores (because they can no longer crank up the chip speed) it won’t be long before that cost per month figure gets very affordable.

Oh and if that isn’t enough, in a few years (guess, 10) time they’ll start making chips using a new technology that allows even finer lithography and faster speeds (and if memory serves, it won’t be on silicon). The first papers on this tech were published about 3 months ago. So when that comes on stream, plenty of headroom to crank up the speeds as well as have the god knows how many cores they’ll be creating by then.


Off topic, but being a computer architecture freak, I was wondering what new tech you were talking about at the end of your comment. Can you send me a link to those papers ?


Sorry I can’t. It was linked to from a story on Slashdot. I can’t remember the URL. About 2 or 3 months back. Not a hoax or anything like that.


Yes, the endplate has critical functionality in:

(1) making the front wing work, through the mechanisms you quote (interestingly, what the endplate does is the exact opposite of what you would do if the wheel were not there!)

(2) sealing the sidepod floor to enhance underfloor downforce

(3) providing turbulent flow to the upper surface of the diffuser for entraining additional flow out from under the diffuser (i.e. further increasing diffuser effectiveness) – however this would be a poor third to the above two.

But, to say the endplates are more important than a diffuser is a bit… well. Being crude about it; if car A has a perfect “100% efficient” front wing endplate but only a 90% efficient diffuser, and car B has a 90% efficient front wing endplate and a perfect diffuser…. car B would definitely be the winner.

Oh, and whoever told you “the only CFD programme capable of modelling unsteady flow is owned by NASA and costs $1 million a month to run!” was telling you little white ones. There are loads of commercial codes, such as Fluent (used by Ferrari and Sauber AFAIK), CFX and Star-CD all capable of modelling unsteady flow to varying accuracies (dependant on what techniques you use from the myriad of options!). There are also “home-made” codes, which are probably better suited to this job as it can be tailor tuned; I’m pretty sure Renault use a code of their own.

I’d reckon nearly all of the teams will have their own in-house codes, and also use some commercial stuff as well – and every single one of them will be capable of modelling unsteady flow. 🙂

[oh, and NASA do have some great codes!]


They may well be capable of modeling unsteady flow, but to what accuracy? If they were accurate enough then they wouldn’t still need the wind tunnels.


Guys, I did state:

“all capable of modelling unsteady flow to varying accuracies”

Note the varying accuracies bit! 🙂

Theoretically, you could do a complete DNS simulation capturing every single eddy/vortex, no matter how small. However, you’d need a computer like Jaguar or Roadrunner to do it, and you’d need months for a single simulation. Of course, modelling approximations are used… the most accurate feasible option being Large Eddy Simulation, the least accurate option probably being 1 or 2 equation turbulence models (probably k-w SST).

As long as you know your code, and know the questions certain models are likely to get the wrong answers to, then CFD is an incredibly powerful too. If you don’t know your code, chances are you’ll be barking up the wrong tree.


Then what’s the point of having and running expensive Wind Tunnel operations?


Hi James,

If this is such a sensitive section of the car, why does the FIA and/or the OWG not concentrate on simplifying the design of the front wing? It sounds that because they are so sensitive to the airflow when following another car the airflow would be different to that of what is produced in the windtunnel – thus possibly making it harder to follow.

What is the difference between now and say 1993/94 between the designs of the front wing where following a car was much easier? Is it not possible for the OWG to look at the figures in their wind tunnels between now and then and calculate why it is harder to overtake?


Great article. I didn’t really understand why the wings were so complex but I do now.

Does the very complexity mean they are reliant on clean air (I.e is this a primary reason for the inability to stay close behind another car).

what are your thoughts on 18 inch rear tyres. Bridgestone stated it would induce oversteer? How would a wider surface area on the road create oversteer?


Personally I’d rather not see wider, lower profile tyres on the grounds that they would be more sensitive to camber change curves built into the suspensions thereby creating greater sensitivity to track surfaces, (especially street tracks), corner weights etc and heaps of other things, as well as creating more turbulence in the wake, and leading to cars being more twitchy and difficult to optimise the setup, and probably vary the handling characteristics to a greater degree throughout the course of a race.



It is the inside diameter of the tyre that Michelin is looking to increase.

Fitting wider tyres doesn’t increase the contact area. The contact area is driven by air pressure.

The tyre’s grip comes from the force on the tyre from the cars mass and aerodynamic load and the ability of the tyre’s surface to grip the road. Softer rubber grips better, but gets hotter.

As a tyre rolls it distorts to create the contact patch. The distortion generate heat. A wider tyre has a shorter contact patch than a narrow one. This means the tyre distorts less as it rolls generating less heat. If Michelin reduces the tyre’s profile then the distortion will be over a shorter distance, which could generate more heat.

This would also apply to the front tyres, so I’m not sure why oversteer would be increased.


We’ll do something on that if it starts to look like a goer


I posted this as a response in the previous article but it happens to relate to this one, so reposting here:

That (Renault) looks like the most developed front wing on the whole grid. Some of them are certainly (visually) getting closer to the pre-2009 regulation wings, what with the curvy planes and elements that want to touch the nose, as opposed to the ‘Group C’ looking front wings that were normal under these regulations.


This once more shows how sensitive these cars are concerning front end grip. Not good news for overtaking.

Makes me wonder why in Indycar cars can run close behind each other and not in F1…

If only there were rules that forced designers to exploit more the potential of mechanical grip at the front, instead of exploiting front-end aero grip..


The IRL cars have a lower downforce to mass ratio and generate a greater proportion of their downforce from underneath the car.

Wings on cars work by forcing a mass of air upwards and the equal and opposite reaction in the car going downwards. Wings result in a lot of high velocity air.

Ground effects work using the Bernoulli effect. With a perfect venturi the exit air is returned to normal atmospheric pressure by slowing it down through an expansion volume – the diffuser.

Turbulence is driven be velocity, so slow air is better than fast air. This reduces the turbulence behind the IRL cars. The banning of double diffusers is likely to make the problem worse.

If we went back to 1982 regulations, with full ground effects allowed, then front wings might again disappear.

On mechanical grip, I’m confident that there is minimal design performance to be gained in this area. Some changes can be made to change the feel of the car to make the driver more comfortable and from that faster.




Thanks Martin, a brilliant explanation, and one I absolutely agree with! (note my post on here).




I am really fascinated by this. I know I may ask a bit too much, would it be possible for you to find some computer animation air flow through the front wing?

Thank you so much to bring F1 much closer to the fans like me. One of the major attraction of F1 to me is the technology part of it.


As someone who develops and uses CFD codes in a research context, I can state categorically that the statement that “the only CFD programme capable of modelling unsteady flow is owned by NASA” is complete BS. It will be costly to run, however, because of the power consumed by the supercomputers required to get (reasonably) accurate solutions.


it also struck me as rather odd.


very good,but no idea about ban of sidepod mounted mirrors.


Excellent bit of work, I love this sort of stuff. I would love to see the BBC cover this sort of thing but I guess it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Only just found your website a couple of weeks ago its the best F1 site out there.


Excellent bit of work, I love this sort of stuff. I would love to see the BBC cover this sort of thing but I guess it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Only just found your website a couple of weeks ago its the best F1 site out there.


hi james,i have a question:

what is your idea about ban of sidepod mounted mirrors?

can these ban effect on aerodynamics?

if yes,why fia change the aero rule in season and why team such as ferrari and red bull accept it?


I’ve been talking about this forever. They need to dumb down the front wing endplates, they are one of the main reasons why there are problems with overtaking and aero stability when following another car. They need to be SIMPLE! only 1 piece of carbon fibre without any holes.

Changing the width to 2m again is also another great decision F1 could make


I totally agree about widening the cars again, even if only for cosmetic reasons. Having watched the beeb’s highlights of the 1990 Australian GP last week I was struck by how much more clean and in proportion the cars looked then. They seemed to be able to follow closely and overtake as well.

I believe that pre 1993 the cars were wider than 2m and had even wider rear tyres as well.

By my simple understanding of how the current cars are working, it seems that because of the narrow track and with each change to the wing regulations, the engineers are having to go more and more extreme to find the same downforce they had previously. By all accounts they have regained all the downforce and more, but as I see it, by beating the airflow into submission to make it do the work they want it to.

I say go back to 1992 car and tyre widths, make the front wings much more simple (especially the endplates), and allow Michelin’s low profile tyres and we can get back to cars that generate grip because of their shape and layout rather than in spite of it.

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