Examining the design trends from launch season
2022 has presented teams with a clean sheet of paper approach to the aerodynamic rules, with a return to underbody tunnels after 40 years of flat floors and a radical new CAD based approach to the definition and enforcement of those rules. The suspension is also radically simplified with a ban on j-dampers and reduced means to control ride height with steer input, in fact the engine (sorry “Power Unit”) is really the only major component which can be carried over from 2021 - although the change to e10 fuels means there are some detail changes even though the architecture remains the same.
There were fears (not least from this humbled author) that the 2022 rules would create a series of identikit cars but the designs for 2022 have been different enough to create some interest. Even so, the main differences are constrained to three key areas, the front wing and nose, sidepods, and the entrance to the Venturi tunnel. In this article we look at these design trends revealed so far in 2022.
Front wing and nose
The front wing is arguably the most important aerodynamic component on an F1 car. Even though it only provides around half the downforce of the underbody it is responsible for setting the flow condition for the rest of the car. A badly designed wing can reduce the downforce of downstream components, even affecting the rear wing, whereas a well designed wing limits the interference down the car.
Front wing elements
So far there have been two schools of thought when it comes to front wing design; (1) inboard loaded wings, like on the Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Haas, McLaren, and Williams, where the camber and incidence remain relatively high where the wing meets the nose but is lower toward the mid-span of the wing. (2) the mid-span loaded wings, as featured on the Alpha Tauri, Aston Martin, Mercedes, and Red Bull, where camber, incidence, and/or ground clearance are significantly reduced where the front wing meets the nose before sweeping to a high camber wing at ~Y300. The Alpine seems to be a third concept, with a fairly flat wing across the span ramping into a steep wing ahead of the front tyre; however, at the time of writing we have yet to see the real car.
As stated the front wing is vitally important as it has to produce downforce in its own right such that the car is aerodynamically balanced, i.e. when the driver turns the steering wheel they get the reaction they want, but not produce the downforce in a way which negatively impacts the downstream surfaces. The front wing is also uniquely placed to try and reduce some of the negative aspects of the front tyre wake - even though the FIA have taken steps in recent years to limit how much teams can do this as the outwash teams produced to drive the front tyre wake away from the underbody has negatively impacted the wheel-to-wheel aspect of F1 racing by making the wake wider than the footprint of the car.
The inboard loaded wings are designed to create more outwash at the tips. Because the wing has a rearward sweep there is a natural spanwise flow toward the tip (outwash) due to the angle between the chordwise and streamwise flows. By reducing the load near the mid-span these wings create less upwash thereby increasing the outward flow (as the 3-d vector is more dominated by the horizontal flow condition). To balance this out the centre portion of the wing needs to produce more downforce such that the loading across the wing is more uniform. Conversely the mid-span loaded wing creates little load around the nose, which cleans up the flow heading towards the floor by “using” the air less, but has to have more camber near the middle of the wing to produce the required downforce, at the expense of outwash. The advantage to this is that the rules around the flap can be cheekily used to reproduce the effect of the y250 vortex of the last 13 years.
The rules require the front wing elements to be continuous across the span of the wing, however the rules also allow the rearmost one or two elements of the front wing to be adjusted to balance the car. When in its highest position the rearmost element of this flap can be no further than 35mm at any point on its surface from the “design” position - a small endplate is then allowed at the junction of the moveable flap and immovable wing. So teams can design a wing but with the assumption that they will be running the flap in a higher position to create a discontinuity and promote a vortex to form. Mercedes (and possibly Red Bull) appear to have gone furthest in exploiting this rule - by sweeping the wing aggressively from low to high camber and then placing the flap separator in this sweep they will create a very strong vortex which will help to produce some downwash into the inlet of the underbody tunnels.
So which concept is best? Time will tell, however the front wing also has to work with the downstream elements of the car so a copy-and-paste of a competitor's wing will not necessarily result in gains. Mercedes and Red Bull have had much success in the past three years with wildly different front wing concepts (more outboard loaded) to the rest of the field, while Alfa Romeo haven’t been world beaters with their very outwashy design. But having the “cleanest” flow path to the Venturi would seem to be the most logical solution given the importance of the underbody in overall downforce - though this is the less common design.
Front wing endplates
The front wing endplates are more subtly different between teams, and differ even when considering the two overriding front wing concepts. There is not a huge amount of space to play with and the outwash potential is quite limited. However, teams will always work to the limit of the rules. So far no teams design resembles the FOM model, which had the endplates cambered inboard at the top and aimed toward the front tyre - instead teams have universally situated the rear edge of the endplate as far outboard as possible to shed the top vortex around the front tyre. There then appear to be some subtle differences in how much camber is used on the endplate though predominantly the lower portion tends to have little camber where the wing elements blend in, then the mid section is creating as much outwash as possible, before backing off the camber at the top edge with some even having a slight inwash shape. The S-shape of the endplate will be changing the pressure distribution along the height of the endplate and probably is aimed at reducing the strength of the upper tip vortex. Mercedes have placed their front tyre temperature cameras right at the top of the endplate, again probably to try and disturb the formation of this tip vortex.
Haas has an interesting front wing endplate with a ridged leading edge almost resembling whale pectoral fin tubercles, which function to reduce drag and delay stall incidence. It’s possible Haas have found something, as the large front wing endplates will create a large side-load in yaw conditions, and the tubercle design serves to delay flow separation, or it could be they chased a red herring (badum tshh).
New for 2022 is the front wing endplate diveplane which is a required element which all teams must run. The diveplane has to be between 10mm and 12mm thick with a radius of at least 5mm applied to its edge to prevent punctures. It has a minimum length but must also be arranged such that the trailing edge is 75mm higher than the leading edge.
Again each team's diveplane has been subtly different from relatively benign curves (Aston Martin/Ferrari), to more cambered shapes (Mercedes), to quite aggressive S-shaped arrangements with steep camber at the front edge and a flatter section at the rear to fulfil the length and height requirements (Alfa Romeo/Williams). How far up the height of the endplate the diveplane sits is also subtly different from team-to-team. For example the camber of the Aston Martin and Ferrari diveplanes are similar but the Aston Martin one sits much higher than the Ferrari. The shape and placement will be decided on how it best interacts with the front tyre and wing tip flows and how that propagates down the car.
Because the trailing edge is required to be higher than the leading edge the diveplane makes a small amount of downforce, but also sheds a vortex which rotates air inwards toward the car. This can make it a negative element where teams are trying to outwash flow between the wing and front tyre. Again Haas have come up with an interesting solution, by downwashing their diveplane but then steeply raising it at the tail to conform to the 75mm height rule it will cast off an opposite handed vortex, rotating down and outwards, which may help the outwash of the front wing tip but will also not pull the lower front tyre wake inboard to the car. This isn’t a game changing or rule-breaking (in the sense of reducing the ability to follow) feature but it again shows how clever F1 engineers can work around seemingly well set rules.
The nose cone has a dual function as aerodynamic and safety device, optimal aerodynamic solutions may not be able to pass impact tests while shapes which would easily pass crash tests may not work aerodynamically. As with the FOM models in real and CG form the noses are split into two camps - long and short. In the longer nose camp the Mercedes and Ferrari blend their nose cones nicely into the lowest front wing element allowing the flow from the bottom element to continue smoothly along the bottom of the nose. The shorter noses, as featured on most of the rest of the cars, do the same but with the second element. This leaves a slot gap under the nose to inject a fresh boundary layer, leaving a potentially cleaner flow heading to the boat keel at the front of the floor.
There is a balance of long and short noses in creating enough stiffness across the wing span to support the aerodynamic loads of the wing. By regulation the two foremost wing elements have to have a section width of at least 25mm to help the structural strength, but it could be that Mercedes and Ferrari sacrificed pure aerodynamics for a stiffer, stronger and potentially lighter front wing and thinner nose assembly or that they found minimizing the cross-section of the nose was more beneficial - the Ferrari nose in particular has a very small cross section.
The Alpha Tauri is an interesting outlier, as they do not blend the front wing elements to the nose, instead the wing elements sweep up (like the Aston Martin) but the bottom of the nose sits below the main element. This is a puzzling design as it seems to be the worst of both worlds, the low nose making some downforce but without the slot to reinforce the boundary layer and shedding a vortex at the junction of every wing element to the nose. The nose also has the deepest vertical section of any car, seemingly increasing the blockage to the floor. It could be a temporary measure if they couldn’t pass a crash test or there is something less immediately obvious going on.
|-||Nose type||Wing type|
|Alpha Tauri||Long||Mid loaded|
|Aston Martin||Short||Mid loaded|
|Red Bull||Short||Mid loaded|
To hammer home a point made here many times before, 2022 is not a return to ground effect as has often been said but is a return to underbody tunnels which were banned at the end of 1982. The tunnels in 2022 are much more 3-dimensional than the skirted creations of the 80s and feature up to four vertical fences (per side) at the mouth of the tunnel.
The underbody is the area teams have tried their utmost to conceal during their launch events. McLaren and Ferrari blocked out the underbody fences from the rendered images while Alpine and Alpha Tauri went as far as to place the FOM underbody under their bodywork in their renderings. The floor edge is also an area where there is some freedom and most teams have tried to conceal their intentions here.
There are still some interesting features for the eagle-eyed, like the Aston Martin (and latterly Ferrari) double tea tray/bib, which is forming a vortex to run along the upper junction of the Venturi. The Mclaren’s thick bib and offset floor, allowing a path from under the car to the front face of the sidepod. Mercedes and Ferrari dropping the height of the Venturi mouth towards the outer edge of the floor, Mercedes do this more aggressively than Ferrari in using the fences to separate the floor mouth into two distinct channels. Of the four fences the outermost is being used as a bargeboard by most teams with a steep angle to create a high pressure bubble which diverts the front tyre wake outboard. The length, height, and angle of this outer vane varies front team-to-team as this area is working with the front of the sidepods, discussed in the next section. There seems to be disagreement about whether to smoothly blend the top of this bargeboard vane into the upper deck of the Venturi mouth or to leave a step, which will shed an outwashing vortex to help the outer edge of the floor.
At the rear of the floor there are two features used by nearly all teams, namely the double kick diffuser and cutout in the sidewall of the diffuser. The double kick helps move the centre of pressure of the underbody forward, by running the floor at its lowest legal height then kicking up to the maximum legal height of the floor volume they can effectively increase the length of the diffuser - propagating low pressure forward to help the diffuser mouth. The sidewall cutout allows the vortex formed by air coming in at the rear of the floor to fill the low pressure under the car to detach from the surface, then a “cleaner” vortex is formed in the final half meter of the tunnel.
Finally the high rake philosophy of the past generation, where the rear ride height was 100+mm higher than the front, seems to be consigned to the bin. Even Adrian Newey's new RB18 looks to be running near flat.
The sidepods are where there is perhaps the greatest variation between teams, but there is some overlap between teams, e.g. the Alpine sidepods have similarities to McLaren at the front and Alpha Tauri on the upper and rear surface. Aston Martin and Alfa Romeo probably have the most similar sidepods of any teams, with a deep undercut which continues to the rear of the car and a high top to the sidepod to maximize the size of the cooling louvers.
There are a few different concepts here but to generalize the sidepods could be grouped into (1) wide and (2) narrow, but within each of these there is (3) flat topped and (4) downwashing, and then again (5) undercut or (6) no or minimal undercut. Each approach has benefits and drawbacks so we’ll try to keep it general here. Aston Martin and Alfa Romeo fall into the flat and wide top with a deep undercut. Alpine, Alpha Tauri, and Red Bull are quite wide with downwashing top surfaces and long but not full length undercuts. Ferrari and Haas have flat topped, wide sidepods with minimal undercuts. While McLaren, Mercedes and Williams have narrow sidepods without much of an undercut at all and varying degrees of downwash. There is some similarity between engine supply and sidepod concept, though Aston Martin and Alfa Romeo buck these trends.
|-||Engine supplier||Sidepod width||Downwashing top||Undercut length||Undercut depth||Cooling louvers|
|Alfa Romeo||Ferrari||Wide||No||Full length||Deep||Yes|
|Alpha Tauri||Red Bull||Wide||Yes||Long||Deep||No|
|Aston Martin||Mercedes||Wide||No||Full length||Deep||Yes|
|Ferrari||Ferrari||Wide||No||Full length||Deep then shallow||Yes|
|Red Bull||Red Bull||Wide||Yes||Long||Deep||No|
Again generalizing, the wider sidepods should help keep the front tyre wake outboard, preventing it from interfering with the rear wing and diffuser. While narrower bodywork may prevent the tyre wake from “latching” to the surface in the first place. Teams using the wide sidepod have tended to push the front edge, around the inlet, to the very front of the legality box, creating some high pressure to help outwash the front tyre wake. While those with narrower sidepods have a more “bluff” lower front edge to do the same thing, albeit lower down, while also helping the flow down into the Venturi. Having a wide sidepod allows the teams to make full use of the cooling louvers, while teams with shorter sidepods have to use the peanut shaped or cannon cooling exit at the rear of the bodywork. Each solution has drawbacks, the louvers introduce low energy air on top of the sidepod which thickens the bodywork wake, while the wide rear exit will increase bodywork form drag but the hot air is more precisely ducted between the upper and lower rear wings.
Mercedes probably have the tightest rear package while Williams perhaps have the most innovative sidepod, with a really sharp downwash assisted by allowing a hole through the sidepod inlet and bypassing the radiator to louvers on the rear of the sidepod, to help the air sharply turn downwards without creating a thick boundary layer or separating. Ferrari have made perhaps the most innovative use of the cooling louvers with the “bathtub” sidepods spinning the losses back upwards and into the channel between the main and beam rear wings.
The much vaunted return of pull rod front suspension has indeed occurred in 2022, though only McLaren and Red Bull have made the switch. This is a fairly minor gain with a slightly lower centre of gravity and some aerodynamic benefits, to the detriment of setup ease. With the loss of the j-damper (or inerter) - one of the clever ways teams have found to replicate some of the aerodynamic stability given by active suspension over the years, others being tuned mass dampers, and FRIC (front and rear interconnected suspension) - teams are returning to a more conventional anti-dive wishbone setup.
One area where teams differ is in the placement of their front track rod or steering arm, some choosing to place it in front of the lower wishbone and others the top wishbone. Ferrari have their track rod mounted between the upper and lower wishbones, while Alpha Tauri continue with their steering arm unconventionally (in recent memory) mounted behind the front axle line. As the front suspension members can be angled up to 10° nose down this track rod placement is being used to help realign the upwash coming from the front wing as upwashing flow effectively de-cambers the mouth of the Venturi, which costs downforce.
Where there was perhaps a little surprise is that McLaren, Alfa Romeo and now Alpha Tauri and Red Bull ( who share suspension parts with the sister team) have opted for pushrod rear suspension - where the convention for the last 10 odd years has been for pullrod. This is undoubtedly a decision made to clean the flow path to the beam wing and rear diffuser, but makes the gearbox case bulkier and raises the centre of mass of the rear suspension with the rockers placed higher up.
|-||Front suspension||Rear suspension|
|Alfa Romeo||Push rod||Push rod|
|Alpha Tauri||Push rod||Push rod|
|Alpine||Push rod||Pull rod|
|Aston Martin||Push rod||Pull rod|
|Ferrari||Push rod||Pull rod|
|Haas||Push rod||Pull rod|
|McLaren||Pull rod||Push rod|
|Mercedes||Push rod||Pull rod|
|Red Bull||Pull rod||Push rod|
|Williams||Push rod||Pull rod|
The fears that 2022 would feature 20 identical looking cars in 10 different liveries were unfounded and the grid features a diverse array of concepts each of which has interesting and unique features. Time will tell which teams got it right, or which got it wrong, but it’s difficult to suggest Mercedes and Red Bull will not remain competitive. Where it remains to be seen is how far the teams who chose to focus all their development effort last season into 2022 can climb the order, and if Ferrari and McLaren chasing third in last year's title will harm their chances or if they got the balance right. Testing will give us some ideas about where each team stands but the true order will not be revealed until qualifying in Bahrain on 19th March.