F1 working on passing concern
Neither of the two new Formula One races on the 2008 calendar has been notable for the most important part of racing: overtaking.
A strong case can be made that circuit design militates against passing moves, but for 2009 the design of Formula One cars themselves will change yet again. Backed by the sport's ruling body, the FIA, and in an extraordinary and hitherto unknown spirit of mutual collaboration, design engineers from the three leading teams of 2006 – Ferrari, Renault and McLaren – pooled their knowledge, resources and experience to frame crucial new aerodynamic regulations aimed specifically at creating better overtaking opportunities. The plan was not to make passing so easy that it happens like points in basketball, however.
"Great overtaking," suggests McLaren's Paddy Lowe, who together with Renault's Pat Symonds and Ferrari's Rory Byrne formed the Overtaking Working Group, "is appreciated most where the guy has really worked for it. My personal favorite was when Mika Hakkinen passed Michael Schumacher at Spa in 2000 as both of them overtook on either side of Ricardo Zonta going up the hill to Les Combes."
Basing their investigation on empirically sourced information from McLaren's highly advanced simulator, the working group figured that at the old Barcelona circuit, with a fast corner leading on to the main straight, the driver in a following car needed an advantage of two seconds a lap in order to have a chance of overtaking into the ensuing first corner. The aim was to reduce that to a second, and the McLaren test driver Pedro de la Rosa tried a wide variety of aero configurations in the simulator until a suitable combination was achieved.
During the research it emerged that the wind tunnel is still the most suitable investigative tool, rather than computational fluid dynamics, with which former design Nick Wirth had carried out previous studies which led to the two-part CDG rear wing. The FIA planned to make that mandatory next year before the group's work exposed flaws in its conception.
"Almost all of the attempts to reduce downforce in the recent past have been retrograde in terms of overtaking possibilities and wake behavior," one working group representative observed. "If we had wanted to make overtaking chances worse, that's what we would have come up with..."
The 2009 cars will have fewer ugly appendages, such as barge boards and air extractor chimneys – partly to reduce drag and partly because team principals want better advertising space – but the real key is management of the turbulent wake that each car generates. The rear wings will be smaller and mounted higher, while the front wings will be wider and mounted lower.
Crucially, drivers will also be allowed to adjust their front wings while in motion, through three degrees, twice per lap – the first time that movable aerodynamics have been legal in Formula One since wings first appeared 40 years ago. Thus drivers will have a much better chance of maintaining their car's balance while chasing another, and that should reduce the understeer that currently militates against overtaking attempts.
"There won't be any overtaking here," Lewis Hamilton said prior to Sunday's Singapore Grand Prix, "but I hope things will be very different with next year's cars." The Independent