Barge Boards in F1


The circled area in the insert above illustrates the positioning of barge boards

Barge Boards are vertical panels that are fitted to the side of a race car just behind the front wheels. Barge Boards were first introduced by McLaren Racing Team in 1993 meaning that barge boards have been in use in Formula One for close to three decades. The first car to appear with a barge board was the McLaren MP4-8. F1 cars at this point were up to 2.15m wide with a 1.4m wide body, compared to the 2m wide car with a 1.6m wide body as has been the case since 2017.

They were primarily designed to direct airflow around the car as well as improving its aerodynamic performance. Barge boards help to improve the car`s downforce (force that pushes a car down onto the track and is generated by the car`s aerodynamic grip). The more downforce the car has, the greater its grip on the track and the faster it can go through corners. They also assist in improving the car`s cooling performance by directing airflow around the engine and brakes. This is necessary for their longevity and reliability.

Since 2017, Barge Boards have been observed to play a significant role in the management of air flow and vortices that affect the car, and through innovative approaches, they became the most expensive aerodynamic elements in development. Some barge boards were made of up to 30 individual aerodynamic elements. The shapes and sizes of the barge boards have been dictated by the F1 Regulations which stated that when one looks at the car from below the barge board area, it must be possible to see the sky. 

Barge Boards deal with all the three types of airs in F1 diction (clean air, turbulent air as well as dirty air). The clean air is utilized for cooling purposes in the large air intakes. The turbulent air is redirected by vortices which are created by turning vanes in the barge boards. The vortices will then create a barrier that prevents any dirty air getting underneath and messing up the balance. After directing turbulent air away from the car`s bodywork, this allows the car to work more efficiently but also creates a downwash effect which will push airflow over the floor and over the diffuser. This will result in increased downforce production.

Barge boards are a very important feature in hot weather conditions when the engine and brakes are under great stress. They are made of a variety of materials including carbon fiber, aluminum, and Kevlar. Constructors often use different materials for their barge boards depending on the weather conditions. The barge boards are not supposed to be too big as this will alter the car`s cooling performance and they are not supposed to be too small as they will fail to effectively redirect airflow around the car and improve aerodynamic performance. 

Barge boards also help to reduce drag. They can also reduce tire wear since increased grip and downforce results in less stress on the tires. This also helps reduce the chances of a car spinning out of control. All Formula One cars use barge boards to improve their aerodynamic performance. Without them, the cars would not generate as much downforce would be slower around corners. Upon the introduction of the 2022 regulations which were purposed to make cars easier to follow by reducing dirty air, this resulted in the banning of barge boards in Formula One.