The Formula One teams are gearing up for the 2014 season following one of the biggest regulation changes in the history of the sport. It marks a complete turnaround of the powertrain regulations, combined with further measures to limit aerodynamic downforce of the cars in an attempt to improve the overall efficiency of the cars.
Arguably the upcoming rule changes are bigger than those of 1983, 1998 or the most recent overhaul of 2009 when slicks returned to F1 and the aerodynamic regulations were virtually rewritten entirely in an attempt to improve overtaking. In most of these regulation changes however, the focus was either on the drivetrain or aerodynamics, while the 2014 modifications include fairly big changes in all aspects of the car.
For starters, we'll have a look into the aerodynamic changes that have been imposed to increase safety and reduce downforce.
Front end aerodynamic changes
As of the first drafts of the 2014 regulations it was clear that the FIA was going to push for lower noses on Formula One cars. Even though later on many changes were introduced and several radical ideas were scrapped, the low nose idea remained intact and will create a big visual difference.
Ever since Harvey Poslethwaite and Jean-Claude Migeot designed the Tyrrell 019, the first high nosed car in Formula One, teams started realising that higher noses could help increase the downforce generated by the car's underbody. Through the next years, teams gradually raised the noses of their cars, ending up with many cars featuring maximum height nose cones by 2012.
While this initially became a problem for driver visibility, there was only serious consideration to do something about it when it became a safety hazard in case of a T-bone crash as the nose on some cars was higher than the sidepods and cockpit shoulders of several cars. In what first look to be a simple and great idea, the FIA stepped in to limit the height of the noses. Crucially, the maximum height of the monocoque was left unchanged, and when it became clear this would result in the 'ugly' stepped noses of 2012 it was too late to do something about it. A vanity panel was subsequently allowed for 2013 as a simple one-year aesthetic patch ahead of a major regulation overhaul for 2014.
To enforce considerably lower noses in 2014, the technical regulations specify a maximum height at the front of the monocoque to be 550mm. However, the maximum height of the monocoque itself remains the old 625mm, making it possible to have a very sudden step at the top of the nose, similar to what is present right now. It is interesting to know that here, the FIA later tried to enforce a linear upper surface between the front of the monocoque and the front of the cockpit opening, but teams declined, indicating that some were advanced with designs that would not comply with this additional change.
Another change is the specification of a cross section 50mm behind the tip of the nose cone. Article 15.4.3 mandates that this cross section must be larger than 9000mm² and has its centre no higher than 185mm above the car's reference plane. This means that it is possible to have fairly flat and wide noses with a cross section 15cm wide and 6cm high up to nearly rectangular profiles of 9 by 10 centimetres. Article 3.7.8 further prevents the nose cones from narrowing behind this section, effectively banning noses with a wide tip and a narrow neck, something that would likely have interested several teams in an attempt to get as much air as possible underneath the monocoque.
No matter which direction the teams choose, the nose tip will tend to be very close to the front wing - which has its uppermost surface in the middle 500mm at around 120mm above the reference plane. This could create the opportunity of having the underside of the nose work as a venturi channel with the upside of the central part of the front wing. If this would prove inefficient, nose cones can be designed to extend 200mm ahead of the front wing or even be so short that they only overlap the front wing by approximately 40mm. The latter case would look quite special, but it might be extremely difficult to create such a short nose cone that would still pass the front impact crash test.
Of course, it wouldn't be F1 if this was not further complicated by more limitations as Article 3.7.2 mandates two pillars to hold the front wing, removing the possibility to connect the nose cone directly to the front wing as used to be the case with most F1 cars in the eighties and the Williams cars from the early nineties which are often perceived as beautiful machines.
To reduce front end downforce, the total width of the front wing will also be reduced, shaving off 75mm from each side. This poses a considerable challenge to the aerodynamicists in trying to control airflow onto the front wheels, as managing this area correctly is equally crucial for the aerodynamic performance of the car more to the back. Visually this will make for a very small difference, but it may help drivers avoid front wing damage during close battles.
Despite the fairly strict regulations and the elegant design possibility shown above, understanding readers of the regulations soon found that some special nose cones would still be possible, including the B-type nose, named after Blanchimont, a member on the F1technical forum who first proposed the design. This strange layout attempts to comply with the minimal section while still allowing as much air as possible underneath the nose cone. The steepness of the first part of the nose also creates fairly long front wing supports that could prove beneficial - simply because they are effectively designed as vertical aerofoils.
The changes to the engine and its ancillaries are plenty of food for another article, but the changes in this area also have their aerodynamic impact.
Basically, the engine package will get shorter, but most likely wider above the cylinder block as the turbo will have to be mounted somewhere in this area. The reduction from 8 to 6 cylinders will however reduce exhaust piping and heat rejection in this area, allowing for other elements of the drivetrain to be packaged at each side of the engine.
An increased need for cooling could on the other hand require (slightly) bigger sidepods as they will need to house the water and oil coolers, along with an additional intercooler that is expected to be of roughly the same size as the water radiators housed in the sidepods of the 2013 cars.
Reduced rear end downforce
Contrary to the front end changes that are predominantly laid out to enhance safety, the rear end modifications are all about downforce reduction.
The two panels of the rear wing for instance have been reduced in size and can only by 200mm high, compared to the 220mm from before. This is a fairly straightforward change for the teams and only means less downforce and drag at the most demanding tracks. Red Bull Racing have however mostly completed the 2013 races with rear wings that already comply with the 2014 regulations, whereas virtually every Monza spec rear wing would comply as well.
Far more complicated changes have been made in the diffuser area however. The modified regulations now effectively ban the lower beam wings which used to support the rear wing structurally. As the designers will need to find other ways to support the rear wing, it is very likely that we will see the return of central pillars in the middle of the rear wing, although it is possible to extend the rear wing endplates to the floor and attach it there.
Beam wings did become more and more important as they tend to interact with the diffuser to get more consistent rear downforce. With this gone it is very likely that downforce levels will vary more when the ride height of a car changes due to bumps or braking.
Simplified exhaust systems
The change in engines has also been an opportunity to eliminate the Coanda exhausts, a design that was found particularly hard to get right, even for the bigger teams due to the difficulty to accurately simulate the exhaust output in a windtunnel. No team has really been able to catch up with Red Bull Racing since 2009 in this aspect, and a removal of the system should equalise the field.
To ensure the exhausts will have little or no aerodynamic impact, the FIA now mandates a specific, very narrow section where it is allowed to have an exhaust exit - as per Article 5.8, marked by the orange section in the drawings. For improved sound output and simplicity, only one single exhaust pipe is allowed, running from the turbo towards the rear of the car.
The final part of this pipe is very strictly defined. Its diameter must be between 98mm and 134mm, no part of it may be more than 100mm from the car's centre line and it must exit either horizontally, or up to 5° upward. Additionally, any kind of bodywork is forbidden in a virtual cylinder behind the exhaust.
The only real option that is left for teams to exploit some of the blowing effect of the exhausts - even though they will be far less powerful than in 2013 due to the turbo and lower engine revs - is by fitting a monkey seat somewhere in the neighbourhood of the exhaust exit. We can therefore expect most of the teams to opt for a slightly upward exhaust exit combined with an aggressive combination of aerofoils in the middle 150mm of some 2014 cars.
Given that the exhausts will no longer exit out of the sidepods, and that less exhaust piping will have to be housed inside the sidepods, it will be interesting to see how teams shape up their sidepods to get as much airflow as possible onto the diffuser. The most conventional route here would likely be to focus on a narrow tail and less slope on the upper side of the bodywork, but there's still room for alternatives here. It's far from impossible that we will see teams like Red Bull continuing with aggressive slopes on the upper surface, even though this would make the sidepods create lift instead of downforce.
What this will produce in terms of cars is still a bit unsure, but many from different teams have suggested that the 2014 cars will look very different from what we're used to, and perhaps somewhat ugly particularly at the front where designers will almost certainly be looking to get as much air as possible underneath the nose.
The unexpectedly heavy new drivetrains have forced the minimum weight up to 690kg, a whopping 48kg more than in 2013 - of which at least 314kg must be on the front wheels and 369kg on rear wheels. Combined with an estimated 10-15% reduction of downforce, the cars will end up nearly 3 seconds a lap slower. Even more so, Pirelli's conservative tyres will almost certainly reduce grip levels, slowing the cars down even more.
It nonetheless promises to be an interesting season as teams will soon copy each other when it turns out one or the other has done a better job. The entirely new drivetrains will create a reliability concern that could rapidly see many cars get grid penalties following a change of faulty engine parts.
Whatever it will turn out to be, Formula One in 2014 is set to be vastly different but no less challenging than during the V8 era.Car renderings by Marcos Smirkoff