Mark Hughes explains the thinking that could be behind F1's new nose designs
Mercedes and Ferrari go one way, the rest go the other. How come?
By Mark Hughes
Last Updated: 28/01/14 11:35am
Predictably, it has been the unfortunate aesthetics of the new generation of noses that has attracted most of the attention - but this much was already known in advance. Designers were warning mid-last year that this was the obvious aerodynamic and structural solution to regulations that lowered the nose but kept the chassis height the same.
There have been broadly two solutions: that of Mercedes and Ferrari - who have each rejected the 'pencil extensions' of the nose - and that of all the others. Neither are pretty. The pencil extension approach is to maximise the volume of air flowing through to the underbody whilst still meeting the new regulatory low height demand - particularly for the benefit of rear downforce. The 'dolphin' type of nose used by Mercedes and Ferrari forms a much bigger blockage, though the bigger area of the nose's underside at the front will enable more front downforce to be created than in the pencil designs.
What is interesting to speculate is how rear downforce might have been reclaimed with the dolphin design. Although it's impossible to be definitive at this stage, it appears as if the Merc and Ferrari may feature longer wheelbases in order to give the airflow a better route from the front wing to the rear of the car, where it can be used to create rear downforce.
Generically, with a 2014 car the massively increased cooling demands of the new power units mean that the radiator intakes within the sidepods have to be much bigger, making the pods bulkier and restricting the airflow's passage from the front wing to the rear of the car. But looking at the sidepods of the Merc and - particularly - the Ferrari, this is much less apparent than on other cars. Looking at the Ferrari from above and comparing it to, say, the Lotus or McLaren, it's clear that the sidepods are much longer and are therefore able to be slimmer. It's as if there is more length into which the sidepods can fit, suggesting a longer wheelbase (see below). In this view there also appears to be a greater distance between the front wheels and the cockpit.
If this is indeed the case, then with the longer wheelbase the airflow from the regulation narrow front wing - which now has to struggle much more to find a way around the wheels - has more possibility of re-attaching itself to the surface of the sidepods in a smoother fashion after it has found its way around the wheels (because there is a greater length in which to have the airflow turn back in towards the car). Furthermore, because those pods are skinnier, there is not so much blockage - and more of that airflow should be able to find its way over the rear aero-profiled brake ducts and over the top of the diffuser, thereby creating more rear downforce. So it may just be that the dolphin nose/long wheelbase combo allows you to have your aero cake and eat it; the nose itself creates more front downforce while the loss of rear downforce from the nose's blockage is compensated by better flow to the rear from the longer wheelbase. The downside of the longer wheelbase car would be that of weight - in a formula where everyone is really struggling to get down to the minimum weight limit.
It's only a theory at this early stage. But clearly something is driving the different interpretations to the new regulations.