Front Wing of an F1 Car: How to Optimize Its Design

Optimizing the Design of a Front Wing on an F1 Car

This article discusses the power of CFD in Formula One and how it can be harnessed to design and optimize the front wing of an F1 car.

The front wing of an F1 car is an influential component that affects the car's aerodynamic performance. Optimizing the design of the front wing can improve the car's speed, handling, and overall performance. To optimize the design, engineers must consider the shape of the wing, the material used, and the air resistance of the car. With careful consideration of these factors, engineers can create a faster and more agile F1 car. These improvements in design and materials will result in a car that is faster and more agile on the track.

Formula One is an exciting sport and has a strong following. An F1 car in itself is a marvel of mechanical engineering. On a top-speed straight, a Formula One car attains sufficient speed to take flight, if not for the downforce that holds it down. The front wing and rear wings play a critical role in the overall aerodynamics of an F1 car. 2017 brought about drastic changes to the regulations that would increase the aesthetics of the car and decrease lap times by up to 5 seconds. The video by motorsport.com visually shows the changes between 2016 and 2017.

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This article looks at the design of the front wing of an F1 car and possible ideas for improving the overall aerodynamics using CFD. To do so, it is first important to understand the regulation changes.

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The Formula One season 2017 is marked by a massive change of technical regulations with wider tires, bigger wings, and much more downforce. In this on-demand webinar, we will put you in the seat of an aerodynamics engineer and investigate the impact of the new car design on its aerodynamics, using fluid flow simulations to understand the behavior of the flow around the car. Watch the webinar recording by simply filling out this form. It will play automatically.

For more extensive details on the regulations, we can redirect you to the regulations part on the FIA website.

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Results of an aerodynamics analysis of an F1 car carried out in a web browser with SimScale

Aerodynamics play a fundamental role in the overall setup of a Formula One car. An air duct panel between the front wheel and the side panel, for instance, can add more speed than two or three extra horsepower. The teams invest as much as up to 20% of their total budget in understanding the aerodynamics of the car. Modern F1 cars can drive corners much faster than normal, commercial cars, and this would not be possible without downforce.

Meticulous precision work is undertaken using computations and experiments in wind tunnels to accurately tailor the wings and the wind deflectors to the last millimeter. This design is aimed at increasing the downforce and reducing the drag. This also permits shorter braking distances and higher cornering speeds. The downforce generates 80% of the grip required for the car. F1 cars can withstand centrifugal forces of up to 4G without sliding off the track primarily due to the aerodynamic designs allowing high cornering speeds. This would be impossible without downforce and thus ensures performance and safety.

But downforce is not the only aspect that needs to be optimized. There is no one particular design that works for all circuits. Depending on the speed and type of the circuit, different configurations are ideal. There are more than 20 settings in the rear wing and over 100 settings for the front wing. However, there is only one ideal condition. The teams need to adjust the configuration for an ideal performance in each race and the team that gets closest to that ideal conditions wins.

For example, the Italian Grand Prix in Monza has long straights and fast corners, and it is considered a high-speed circuit. Here, the teams use flat wings to gain the highest possible speeds. In contrast, in circuits with lots of narrow corners (like Monaco), wing elements with a steep setting is used. This helps generate the maximum possible downforce for the cars to drive through the corners faster. Though it is commonly believed that the front wings are responsible for about one-third of the downforce, this can get drastically reduced to one-tenth if there is a car directly ahead. Apart from the front wing, about half of the downforce is due to the diffusers on the vehicle underbody. These lead the flowing air towards the rear, creating a strong suction effect.

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