When Tyrell introduced the first car with a high nose cone (namely the Tyrrell 019) in 1990, the car was not at the top of the field and raised a lot of questions about its efficiency. It was however a primitive type as several important points of a high nose design were not yet thought of. As the years have evolved, the mechanical parts have become smaller and smaller increasing the advantages of a small high front nose. In 1997 all low nosed cars had disappeared in favour of the higher alternative. The design is one thing, but optimising it is another. Here is an elaboration...
The high nose
The last really good performing low nose cars were to be found with Williams. While Prost won the 1993 championship in his comeback year, the Williams of 1994 was still very good but outraced by Benetton's Michael Schumacher who took his first championship. Prost therefore is in the history books as the last man to have won the championship with a low nosed car. As soon as Williams and its chief designer Adrian Newey implemented a high nose with their 1995 challenger, the Williams FW17 was a runner up in the hands of Damon Hill and a championship winner the next two years.
The main advantages of a higher nose need some thinking and knowledge of the complete car to see. At first sight the higher nose is equal to less downforce as by itself it pushes less air up over the nose. However if you have a look at Prost's Williams FW15C and even more the Williams FW16 of the year after, surprisingly the nose is not aimed to push air up, but instead small at the front to allow air flow aside of the nose. The air that passes the nose forms the basic concept of a high nose cone. Having such a nose allows air to go straight through under the nose instead of having to bend around it. While it reduces drag for sure, the front wing planes can span the complete width of the car which in fact allows more downforce to be generated at the front. All air that passed under the nose is then guided under the car or split to either side of the car by the splitter located just in front of the sidepods.
Why now would we want so much air to nicely pass the nose and go into the sidepods or under the car's floor? Quite simply where the most downforce can be generated, exactly the diffuser that locates at the end of the car's stepped floor. The more air you get under the floor and the faster it can exit out of the diffuser the more downforce will be generated. The advantage of such a floor is even more obvious as downforce is generated not only in the diffuser but also under the complete floor.
But the sky is not all blue as there are also some disadvantages to it. The nose itself of course does not generate much downforce, in fact the higher the nose point the less downforce by itself (this does not include any downforce generated by front wing or floor). Another disadvantage for the highest noses may be visibility from the driver's point of view.
The image shows the airflow at the front of the car for the Red Bull RB1 of 2005.
While the nose cone or box is mainly designed for aerodynamic efficiency it must also comply with several strength and measurement rules that are set by the FIA. Not only must it absorb energy in the case of a head-on collision, it must also support the front wing.
Made of carbon fibre impregnated with resin, the structure is laminated in order to provide the most effective energy-absorbing properties. During its construction, individual plies of carbon fibre are layered and staggered so that the car's deceleration is controlled progressively. "The beauty of composite construction is that you can put plies exactly where they need to be to optimise the load-bearing requirement," explains Matthew Jeffreys, Senior Project Engineer, McLaren Racing. The component's function as the frontal energy-absorbing structure is regulated by Formula 1's governing body, the FIA, with its length being influenced by the amount of energy and deceleration it must sustain.
Each new nosebox design must pass two mandatory tests, one a static side load test and the other an impact test. In this, the nosebox is fitted to a monocoque - complete with driver dummy - mounted on a trolley and crashed into a wall. To pass the test, all the energy must be absorbed by the nosebox, with no damage incurred to the monocoque or dummy. "People often comment that the test speed of 14 metres per second (around 50km/h) is not very fast compared with the speed at which a Formula 1 car travels," says Jeffreys. "But during the test the car is in effect hitting an immovable brick wall, whereas on the circuit the crash barriers take some of the energy so not all of it is absorbed by the nosebox itself." Upon impact, the carbon fibre will turn to dust.
"Generally the smaller the particles you are left with, the more efficient the structure has been," he explains. Another of the nosebox's crucial functions is as the supporting structure for the front wing assembly, which is mounted by two aerodynamically shaped wing hangers. "A feature of the technical regulation changes for the 2005 season has been to raise the front wing," adds Jeffreys. "This has not really affected the structural requirement of the nosebox, but it has had an impact on the shape of the nosebox in order for it to fulfil the aerodynamic needs."
While in 2005 it had become a rage to put ballast in the tip of the nose to provide better grip in the front of the car. Since F1 cars have a minimum weight set by the FIA and all teams have a lighter car they can move ballast around the car to where it can be used best for performance. The tip of the nose is an interesting place since it is actually in front of the front wheels and for low noses even low to the ground. This was the centre of gravity can remain as low as possible while the distance between the front wheel axis and the ballast acts as a lever.
The extra weight in the noses became a serious danger in 2005. Suppose an accident happens and part of a nosecone gets thrown up onto another car. The more the weight, the more damage it may cause there. From 2006 on the FIA decided to impose a weight limit for the nose cone.
4.1 Minimum weight :
The weight of the car must not be less than 605 kg during the qualifying practice session and no less than 600 kg at all other times during the Event.
4.2 Ballast :
Ballast can be used provided it is secured in such a way that tools are required for its removal. It must be possible to fix seals if deemed necessary by the FIA technical delegate.
4.3 Adding during the race :
With the exception of fuel and compressed gases, no substance may be added to the car during the race. If it becomes necessary to replace any part of the car during the race, the new part must not weigh any more than the original part.