2019 Front Wing Regulations Explained

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After the meeting of the World Motorsport Council on October 13th the definitive regulations for the 2019 season were finally ratified - and released on October 15th - just two and a half months before the end of the year. A number of changes are detailed, including sweeping changes to the front wing geometry (the details of which will be discussed below), a new front brake duct volume, shorter bargeboards, a taller and wider rear wing with increased endplate area, new rain warning lights on the rear wing endplates, a minimum driver plus seat weight of 80kg, new camera locations to minimize the halo interference, and a more prescriptive rear view mirror position.
Full text of the regulations can be found at fia.com/regulations.

In this article we will focus on the new front wing rules, which are some of the most restrictive bodywork rules ever seen in F1, requiring nine separate clauses, over 2300 words, and over five and a half pages to define - to put that in context go back a decade and while there were eight clauses to the front wing rules, they required less than a page of text to define.

One of the key changes to the front wing rules is the splitting of the components into a more common vernacular, in particular the “endplates”, “profiles” and “strakes” are defined, as well as a separate definition for “auxiliaries”; which describes everything else permitted within the front wing volume, namely tyre temperature sensors, profile slot gap separators, and flap incidence adjusters. There is also a new definition for a “virtual endplate surface” which helps describe the endplate, inwards facing region of the footplate, and the termination of the front wing profiles.

Mandatory central section and pylons

The front wing retains the swept back form which was first mandated in 2017 (a sweep of just under 11.5°). At the center of the wing the FIA section also remains in the region from the car centreline to ±250mm in the Y direction, albeit the leading edge is shifted 25mm forwards from 2017/18 to just under 1225mm ahead of the front axle line (because of the 500mm radius applied to the centreline of the neutral section the overhang is shorter). As before, the only bodywork, other than the FIA section, allowed in this region of the car is a pair of symmetrical front wing mounting pylons, which must have an total projected area, in plan view, of less than 5000mm².

Schematic of front wing layout in plan view.

Overall dimensions

Outboard of the FIA section the front wing volume is wider, longer, and taller than in 2018. The span is increased from 1800mm to 2000mm, while the length is increased by 25mm to 575mm, and the maximum height is also increased by 25mm to 300mm above the reference plane (meaning the endplate can now be up to 225mm tall as the minimum height of the front wing is 75mm above the reference plane).

Front wing bodywork volume (grey) and “virtual endplate surface” volume (dark blue).

Front wing endplates

The key aim of this rule change was to reduce the volume of air being pushed around the front tyres by the front wing endplates, to this end the front wing endplate rules are rather prescriptive - albeit not quite restricted enough to create a standard part, though they do severely limit the creativity of the designers.

The front wing endplates are defined from a 2-D curved surface, dubbed the “virtual endplate surface”, which must fit within a box between 910mm and 950mm from the car centreline. The virtual endplate surface must form a continuous curve, bound to the front, rear, top and bottom of the front wing endplate volume; it cannot produce an angle greater than 15° from the car centreline (to stop teams pushing air outwards).

Example of “virtual endplate surface” (orange) profile, plan view.

The front wing endplate volume is then defined from this virtual endplate surface. The front wing endplate must form a continuous, unbroken surface, and it must enclose at least 95% of the virtual endplate surface. It may only be offset from the virtual endplate surface by ±10mm in the first 150mm of the endplate, and ±6mm for the rest of the endplate. While the virtual endplate surface must remain bound by the volume described above, this does not preclude the endplate from exceeding that - provided it conforms to the 95% intersection rule. In reality it will be difficult to deviate too far from the virtual endplate surface profile as the front wing endplate is required to remain at least 10mm thick over it’s length, with a radius of at least 5mm - to prevent damage to competitor’s tyres.

Various offsets from “virtual endplate surface” (orange) which define the front wing endplate volume.

The virtual endplate surface is also used to define the inner facing portion of the footplate. This may only offset the virtual surface by up to 30mm, while any geometry in this region may not exceed 10mm in thickness (75mm < REF < 85mm). The outboard section of the footplate must not exceed a height of 110mm from the reference plane. Together these rules almost completely define the shape of the endplate and footplate, with the virtual endplate volume constrained to a 40mm span of the front wing, very little freedom of design remains.

The larger, unbroken, surface of the 2019 front wing endplates are desired by team principals to improve the visibility of sponsor logos. While the new virtual endplate rule will severely limit the outwash it is possible to produce near the tip of the front wing. The wider span of the wing should go some way to reducing the necessity for this outwash, but performance will be lost with this new rule. Whether the result will be a reduction of the performance lost when following a competitor is yet to be seen.

Front wing profiles

As hinted when the rules were in draft, the front wing will be limited to just five profiles on each side of the wing. These elements must be contained between a box from 250mm to 950mm from the car centreline, prohibiting any geometry but the footplate in the outer 50mm of the front wing volume. The virtual endplate surface is also used to cut the front wing elements - stopping any wing profiles from existing outside of the endplate surface. There are also new rules regarding concavity of the wing profiles, similar to the rear wing rules, preventing any concave surface with a radius less than 50mm - this is tested by the FIA using a 100mm diameter ball which is passed along the wing surface.

To prevent the cascade elements at the tip, the rules prohibit the visibility of the trailing edges of the wing elements when viewed from above (the exception being the rearmost element), and vice versa require the visibility of the trailing edges from below. This means that the elements must stack in series, without any large overlaps. This rule is backed up by a limit on the gap between elements to between 5mm and 15mm. This rule is only in effect between 400mm and 950mm of the car centreline, allowing teams 150mm of freedom to manipulate the Y250 vortex using the inboard tips of the wing elements.

To prevent the front wing cones used by all teams near the tip of the wing - where the elements curve down to meet the footplate vertically - the rules also stipulate that the elements must join the virtual endplate surface at an angle of no more than 15° from the horizontal. This means the wing profiles will join the endplate, rather than the footplate, as has been the case for the past few seasons. Where they join the endplate, the profiles are allowed a 10mm radius to smooth the junction.

Early attempt of a 2019 front wing, note the endplate and footplate shape is basically defined by the virtual endplate surface and offsets. [James Moy Photography]

Of the five profiles at least one must be fixed across the span of the wing, meaning flaps may contain up to four elements. The adjustable flaps have to be rigidly fixed to one another to prevent aero-elasticity.

Strakes

As with the number of front wing elements, the number of strakes is now limited - to just two per-side. Strakes are vertical elements which run underneath the wing - and work to both align the flow and produce vortices which are beneficial to the flow downsteam - especially the front wheel wake. Like the endplates, the strakes are defined by a virtual surface, which must lie between 500mm and 800mm of the car centreline, and may only be 75mm tall. Each strake may only have a single plane of curvature in the lateral, vertical, or horizontal planes, i.e. no S-shaped profiles. Strakes may only be affixed to the fixed front wing profiles - i.e. not the flaps - so teams will have to consider the relationship between the front wing profiles and strakes very carefully.

In conclusion the 2019 front wing regulations are some of the most detailed and restrictive rules in F1 history. The endplate region in particular will see a considerable simplification when compared to current designs, working more as a traditional wing endplate than the complex turning vane arrangements on 2018 cars.

The loss of the cascades and turning vanes around the tips of the wing in particular will affect the performance of the cars, especially how the front wing alters the size and shape of the front wheel wake. The target is also to reduce the effective width of the cars, seen by the FIA as a key reason for the lap delta experienced when following another car.

Despite the extent of the regulations the FIA remains wary to the possibility of loopholes being found by teams, stipulating that:

...should there be a requirement for any additional component to be added, a team must write specifically to the FIA with an explanation, design, and calculated aerodynamic effect, in order to get approval. Such a communication will be circulated to rival teams if deemed to cover a new aspect that had previously not been considered...

in order to mitigate such a loophole providing a performance boost.

While these rules do not specify standardized bodywork, they do severely hamper the creativity and individuality of teams, especially in the front wing endplate region. In a series where the USP is that teams must design and build their own cars, championship money is awarded based on the constructors result after all, this quasi-standardization is contrary to the raison d’ȇtre of the sport. If the result is that they produce more exciting racing, or help close the gap between the front three teams and the rest of the grid, perhaps that is an acceptable compromise; however, it does raise the question of how far is too far when it comes to restricting freedom of design.

Finally, to put the detail contained in the 2019 front wing rules in context, this whole article is shorter than article 3.3 (Front Wing) in the FIA regulations.


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