Five F1 tech talking points of 2017: Did we learn to love shark fins and T-wings?
Posted By:   |  20 Dec 2017   |  8:03 am GMT  |  274 comments

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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I would love to know why moving aero is banned in F1? Is it because they do not want aero to over shadow suspension and other “Car like elements” ? If so, then that sounds very flawed because cars , even road cars have to cut through air. Infact the last time i checked, companies like Mercedes include the low drag co-efficient number of thier design in highlighting thier extreme fuel effciency on thier product brochures.

If F1 wants to be road relevant, why cannot they use modern day computers to have active aero? I can understand a decade ago maybe the processors were not fast enough to run complex Artificial Intelligence Stability Programs -so unnatural emergency braking or accelerating in a corner might have been a deadly situation.

Infact, AI is fine for road cars, but for F1 they should have DRIVER CONTROLLED ACTIVE AERO.. just like adjusting brake balance on the fly.. they should be able to tweak the level of aero drag(downforce) while driving – and then, let the road car programs use that data for their Artificial Intellgence Programs! That is a nice way of feeding tech and information from F1 to road cars.

I dont mind if the wings become overtly simple again, because moving complex aero elements will probably be too much for the designers to simulate at current capacity.. but over time I am sure F1 engineers will make a great push into the unknown and soon complex aero elements with moveable aero bits will also happen. I am sure it will look SUPER COOL then, watching such dynamic TRANSFORMING while on straights, changing on approach to turns, evolving around the corner and finally a different stance accelerating out the corner. Like the brake bias, the drivers should be able choose how much aero drag for every bit of the track with a slider.

Why do we denounce AERO so much like a dirty word? If they can reduce drag with moving aero on the straights.. Speeds will get too fast maybe? Great then! With less energy right? Fuel save! And use it to power through on high speed turns with wings turned to ultra grip Mode. AERO is relevant to road cars aswell, and the future of road cars.. because Cars have always been, even now they are and forever will cut through air – on earth. Active aero is relevant in millions of road cars worldwide.. and F1 drivers should be channelling thier talent and lessons into Computer programs for road cars.


And right after I posted my above comment I feel the urge to delete it and alas there is no delete button. On road cars, with an average speed limit of 70 miles per hour, their simply is not enough need to generate grip via aero, because at those speeds, the suspension itself can be tweaked passively by design or actively to generate all the grip needed for public road operations.

Besides most mass transit roads now are more or less Non meandering (instead of following the contours of the land like a few decades earlier). Hence road cars simply have no need for Massive Aero generated grip. Infact road cars simply need to have the lowest possible drag passive design will alow and the suspension can handle all matters of grip.

So all that remains is track racing action -Sports, Entertainment and Recreational Driving- that generates the need for Aero generated super grip (an over kill on everyday roads). WIth that in mind lets shift back to F1.

If High downforce wings make high speed corners a spectacle to behold, but ruins racing by generating dirty air on the straights for cars that follow – Active Aero probably is the need of the hour for F1 (even if it has no road relevancy?)

But then James, I wonder how it feels even now when you have three cars close together and the last two have thier DRS open, how is it for the third car when the car ahead of it suddenly closes its DRS wing before a corner? Is it smooth to just follow behind a DRS enabled F1 car on a straight but gets doubly tricky with the sudden dirty air just before a corner?

Perhaps you could find out and tell us How that feels @James? If its predicatble, then perhaps Active driver controlled aero (not the toy like ON /OFF DRS concept, but a tractable , driver controlled skill based one) is a must to ensure F1 remains a good racing spectacle showcasing driver and engineering skills at its best.


I seem to recall that in the Bernie days, we were told that the size of the wings on an F1 car could not be reduced because that was advertising space that brought in money. At the time, another series, it might have been WEC, was running cars with the ‘shark fin’.

So, silly me thought that you could decrease the size of the wings and replace that advert space with a shark fin. The benefit of reducing the size of the wings is of course that you get better racing. If you had smaller wings, or perhaps even no wings, you’d reduce the loss in aero efficiency that occurs when one car tries to get anywhere close to another car. Reduce the size of the wings, and cars can follow each other through corners and there’s more overtaking and passing action in a race. If you race cars with no wings and got rid of the tracks that produce boring racing from their layout, then you could have a very exciting F1.

I’d still take that trade. I’d trade shark fins for smaller wings and better racing.

In terms of getting better racing by reducing aero disturbance, I’d get rid of the T-wings. I’m not the sort of uber-purist who things they are ugly. But sometimes they flap around so much this last year that they do look a bit silly. But since to me less aero means better racing, the T-wings would be an early candidate for stuff that can go.


@James Allen.

Does it not bother you that a certain poster leaves so many comments every article? On this article alone there are about 40 comments from said poster and if we’re being honest they are not informative to say the least, it is the same tedious narrative he pumps out daily. IMO it seriously detracts from your website.

Or are you only bothered about volume of comments? I can’t understand how you allow this poster to splatter poorly written nonsense all over your brilliant articles.


the shark fins and t-wings are the mvp’s of the season


I can’t say that I actively disliked eithe, with that being said however I disliked the T-wing more that the shark fin. The Shark fin could at least be put to some use for example the drivers number/initals. I think the Mercs did it best with the drivers number and a flag for their nationality.


I do happen to like the shark fin design. It’s not the first time it has been used on F1, and it’s also used on WEC LMP1 and LMP2 cars.
Not so much the T-wing. However, I’ll take 10 T-wings over a halo.


“T Wings” remind me of the UK era when cars had retractable wing mounted aerials, these were normally broken off by vandals and replaced by a wire coathanger suitably bent. These of course went rusty and never gave decent reception. Seeing these on F1 cars to me drags them down to the status of secondhand Ford Granadas, Vauxhall Vivas, Victors etc. Back when prawn cocktail was an exciting new starter. (no doubt those of my age can also still remember the Bernie Inn’s entire menu!) These “T wings and shark fins” were the F1 design equivalent of surf and turf.
It is agreat pity that those in charge have so little imagination or indeed mettle and cling grimly to the current design parameters. This, when so much could have been done with erergy recovery from the four wheels via electric braking Audi call it “recuperation”. It was in Max’s proposed rules for cost capped teams, as was full movable front flaps. (during the perid we did have them in F1 nobody dared use then dynamically and instead they were wasted on trim effect only, when they could have been used for braking and steering) Lets have ABS then the overtaking dives can be later under braking. Aero steering vanes. Less overall downfoce. Limit the front wing to three horizontal separate elements, two of which may move controlled by the driver or as part of the steeriing and braking.

A lot of the problem is the way the regulations are written and re-written so as to prohibit any new idea, so they are all directive/specific whereas in many parts they need to be non-directive, to ban an effect not a method.
I would also introduce a dynamic ground clearance measurement (Laser, mirrors highspeed camera etc) to be set across a fast straight flat part of the track at track height.
However of course keeping the grid penalties for engine/PU component replacemant and reducing the allowed number to just three per season is just ludicrous.


Just out of interest, in the F1 ‘Good old days’ with no engine restrictions – how many would a team get through in a season?


As many as they wanted or needed.

Certainly a fresh one each Grand Prix, so that there was no driver demoted back and GP going fans weren’t punished end of the season with all these penalties.


Sharkfins .. bwoah …. T-wings no no
Happy to see them both gone next year … only sad they’re replaced by something worse.


One step forward, two steps back.

That’s F1 M.O.


Quite frankly, I’m surprised that both were not banned at the beginning of the season.


On one hand, it is often fascinating to see creativity unleashed in the pursuit of performance.

On the other hand, things like the shark fin and t-wings seem…erm, silly, if not entirely wasteful of time, money and brain power since they will likely never be seen in F1 again, if anywhere else for that matter.

I am not one to think everything in F1 should have real-world usefulness, nor do I believe the rules should be so tight that unique solutions are all but eliminated, but if any new gadget or doohickey can’t even pass the test of time of one season then greater efforts should be made to prevent their introductions in the first place.


Get rid of all the add ons. Hell not only will cars look better but think of the weight saving which is desperately needed.


Agree. Furthermore, I would include the Mguh and Mguk in the list of add-ons to get rid of.

That stuff makes the cars heavy, ungainly and insanely expensive, while doing absolutely nothing for the spectacle of the sport. In fact, the opposite is true.

Let’s have light, agile 550 kg 900 bhp cars back and let them race flat out from start to finish. In other words, let’s have F1 back.


I don’t think we can have it back anymore.

With these halos, it’s like a sex change operation – no undo in that.

Unless perhaps someone dies because of it.


The next is fully enclosed canopies and when that happens the few hundred viewers left will leave too.


Shark fins, surely are a bit of a misnomer, besides being ugly. Insult to sharks! As for the flimsy coat hangers: Hmm, not sure that they were really just bent antenna ariels to improve communication with the Drivers in places like Monaco and Singapore. 😉
The REAL innovation was surely on the FI, the little serrated edges on the trailing edge and on top of the Dorsal fin.
As for the proposed face cage, or Halo, “posterior ugly”!
As an aside, there won’t be any reduction in aero gimmicks to aid overtaking, because it is contrary to the best interest of the guys running up front. Mercedes was fine in clean air, but only average in dirty air. So, it behooves the designers to make it a more difficult for the guy BEHIND you to overtake with a simple aero tweak, especially if you can get a positive for your car as well. Very simple concept, and one that needs addressing.


Fins, NO
Coat Hangers, NO


I love the cars since about 2013 they’ve been looking a lot bigger and faster. Like they have more weight to them.

I love the shark fins and the complex front wing designs. I love to see t-wings wobble on the slow mo replays. It’s like outer space.

Looking forward to seeing the halo get incorporated into the aerodynamic designs in 2018. Formula 1 has never looked better. The cars in the 1980s and 1990s were too simple looking.


Possibly feeling the effects of the heatwave in the land down under. Else medication could be required.


Just so you know Bryce it’s comment bait from a lame imposter, so ignore him.




Now you’re getting it, although I’m pretty sure that’s copyright.

Try Toolo instead 🙂


The only think good about the fins was that the driver numbers could finally be seen in such a way as to have the *possibilty* to identify the drivers from my couch. As far as the T-wings are concerned, Clarks4WheelDrift said it best.


This sport feeds off of innovation. I think t-wings and shark fins are perfectly fine. If they are ugly, we may as well say front and rear wings are ugly too (they are).


It a giant paradox F1 they want to be so innovative yet rules are so strict where we don’t see any huge innovations because of cost and it becoming a space race. We also have the fastest car starting first which theoretically should mean that the person in first should be difficult to pass as they are the fastest, add to that the fact that aero causes the following of a car to be difficult compounding the problem against what people want cars battling as they do in go karts. People want go kart style racing just on steroids in the form of “open wheel” cars. They want to be the fastest but use the least energy. It suppose to be a sprint race but is currently operating as and endurance race. So many conflicting points.


Didn’t actually mind the shark fin, but the T wings looked awful.


Not a fan of the Shark Fin
Not a fan of the T-Wing (Coat Hanger)
Not a fan of the impending Flip Flop cage.

All three are aesthetically poor.
But of the 3 if one had a choice I’d get rid of the Flip Flop roll cage first. As at least Sauber Alfa Romeo boss will have somewhere to hang his coat🤓.
Plus Toro Rosso boss can use the Shark Fin slice a water melon while Honda changes another engine👍.


I don’t mind the fin, it has been common on recent WEC cars without any real complaint. I just wish they had used it to clearly show the driver number which seems to be something that teams want to hide.

But the T wing? No – it looks just like the squashed wire coat hanger so often seen on rusty Cortinas and Granadas in the 1970s, I think it had a Ford part number.


The FIA mandated the fins for WEC cars to prevent the cars from flying if the skidded sideways. WEC cars have wide flat bottoms and are more susceptible to lift off once the airflow over the front of the bodywork stops pushing the car down and gets under the side of the car,


To be clear..not like Picasso, but some cheap image filter that imitates a Picasso effect in digital form.


do people watch that?


Hardly. WEC reminds them it’s time for a WC break.


wasn’t that the same sport a few people on here were raving about it being more fun to watch than f1! they raved about it so much webber left f1 to join them.
i wonder where they all are now. complaining about f1 and how boring it is and yet refused to support their favourite motorsport.
the lies have it again!


WEC cars are hideous! That Toyota looks like a Picasso. They haven’t looked good since R15 era.


They have not looked great for yonks. Last time they looked great was in the Film “Le Man” when
Steve McQueen raced.


Appreciate the details, as always.

In the overall, however, am wondering when (or if) we will ever see a return to the time when driver skill/car control was relatively more important (and probably less expensive) than aero development.

A Merry Christmas and prosperous New Year to all !


The lesson the be learned is that there is far, far, far, too much aero dependence in F1. Shark fins and coat-hangers are just the ugly tip of the iceberg.


Whatever is needed to keep F1 the pinnacle of Motorsport.


Shark fins have looked cool since Jaguar D-types sported them in the 1950s. Mandating plain and clear driver identification pn them helps too.


Maybe I’m missing something but how can something so flimsy and wobbly produce meaningful and consistent downforce? The same comes to mind when I see front wing elements wobbling in some of the slow motion shots.

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