Formula 1 rule changes: The Secret Aerodynamicist

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Design offices in Formula 1 teams, such as the one I work in as a senior aerodynamics engineer, face a tricky balancing act at this time of year.There is still some work going into the last few end-of-season car upgrades, but the vast majority of our efforts are now on next year's car. It's a trade-off we've been playing with for some months now, actually.There is always the temptation to roll the dice and switch development to next year's car early on in the season, hoping to jump up the grid.
But the flip side is that your current car might be out-developed by other teams and you find yourself losing out on prize money, only to underperform next year anyway. It's a gamble that has paid off for some in the past but has knocked other teams back for years.This year, that particular calculation is made all the more complicated by the major overhaul to the technical regulations being planned for 2021. Trying to decide how soon to start looking at the design for 2021 and how much resource to put on it has been difficult, especially when the proposed rules have continued to change and - depending on how the political situation develops in the sport - may not even be introduced at all. The big three teams are opposing the new rules and Ferrari have the nuclear option of vetoing them. In that event, any work we put in now could be a complete waste of time.
What is the idea behind the new rules[/img]

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A good way to understand the invisible wake behind an F1 car is to look at the turbulent water around an oar
Why is the wake so problematic[/img]
How can this problem be fixed?
This is where the new regulations come in. In order to try to reduce this problem and allow cars to follow much more closely, F1 has taken a two-fold approach.The first step is to tightly restrict what geometry we can design at the front of the car, particularly the front wings and in the areas around the front wheels. This will reduce our ability to push the tyre wake away from the car.The second is to allow for much more powerful diffusers - the curved part of the rear floor of the car, where the air underneath the car exits - and rear wings. This is intended to have the effect of scooping up the wake and throwing it over the top of any following car - creating an 'up-wash', as it is known.
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Currently, the air flow is directly around the car and into the path of the car following...

...the new designs should throw the airflow upwards and over the top of cars behind
Would the new rules work[/img]

The latest design for the 2021 is called the 'kilo-plus'
How are the teams approaching the rules?
Having to work on three different cars at once, with two different sets of regulations, is a real stretch for the aero department, especially when resources are already tight.I hear from friends at other teams that everyone is approaching the unknown quantity of the 2021 rules differently. I know of at least one team that has had a 2021 model in their wind tunnel for some time. This might mean they are ahead of other teams, but, with the restrictions on wind-tunnel testing, they will have directly taken away from development they are allowed to do on this and next year's cars. The work they have done will also have been of only limited relevance given that the proposed regulations have changed a number of times of the last few months. Whether that shows and they slip backwards, or whether they get away with it, but get the jump on the competition for 2021 is the million-dollar question.I know other teams have taken a more conservative approach, preferring to wait until the rules are fixed to avoid wasting time and effort looking at the wrong thing. Will they already be too far behind in this two-year long development race to catch up? Only time will tell.Personally, I just want the rules confirmed so we can get stuck into the design work with confidence. As an aerodynamicist, it's always exciting when sweeping changes come in as you have to throw out everything you thought you knew and relearn it all again. There is a palpable sense of optimism and opportunity. Maybe, just maybe, we'll design the fastest car in the world in 2021.
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