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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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!


Nice work James/ thanks to Mark for his input


Awesome insight Mark, much appreciated.


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)


Very educational for the fans.

James, thank you.


How do they get that stuff off there afterwards?


Detergent and elbow grease!!


Hey, I could do that! And I work cheap!

Do they need someone…. ?

rob in victoria bc

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’?


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


Did he keep the ‘Eject!’ button?

rob in victoria bc

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


Great article, thanks very much.


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


Very interesting. Great piece thanks.

Tornillo Amarillo

Great stuff, good job.


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


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?


That is a proper article


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?


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


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?


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.


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?


Great article Mark, thanks.


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.


Thanks mate.


Great info. Please keep the tech articles coming.

Mark in Australia

Awesome. Keep these articles coming James


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?


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.


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.


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!


Thanks James! Love this piece!

Keep it up!


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!”


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!


Great to follow the practice session:

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