Formula 1 engineers are constantly looking for ways to eek performance from the regulations. That’s their job. Each new set of regulations brings a new element that becomes a must have through the grid. This season it appears to be the ‘T-wing’. But what are they and why has every team through the grid tried them out?
Firstly, how are teams able to run them? In a similar style to the double diffuser of 2009, the T wings are the result of a loop-hole. With the angled rear wings of 2017 replacing the upright counterparts, new areas of the car were opened up for development. The FIA realised this, and blocked teams from putting bodywork in these areas in the initial regulations. However, an update of the regulations opened up a 50mm space in front of the rear wing. This is the same place occupied by the front of the old rear wings. The wings still have to conform to various width and height regulations which limit their placement.
But what are they for? Initially it was thought that they could be used to condition the air as it flows towards the rear wing. The small wing having the effect of deflecting turbulent air from the main surface of the rear wing. This idea would allow the rear wing to work more efficiently, producing more down force when following other cars. Having wings position lower in this sector could potentially reduce this effect from the car’s own aerodynamic surfaces.
While this is possible, it appears that their actual function is a lot similar. They are there to produce down force. The designs from teams like Willams and Mercedes appear to have touring car style wings. The surfaces are also clearly cambered which would produce a down force effect, as well as a small amount of drag.
The solutions from Mercedes and Williams seem to back up that theory. Both teams have trailed a double wing configuration. Mercedes have simply stacked a second wing to their original design. The Williams concept is a lot more complex. Like most solutions, it features wing at the top, which also has swept tips to reduce vortex generation. It also features a second wing further down the shark fin which has an aggressive sweep. This could be a throw back to the beam wings of old. These bottom wing elements produced worked with the diffuser to increase down force. They were outlawed in 2014. The inner section of the element could help the rear wing, by directing air away from its lower portion, decreasing the pressure. The lower the pressure, the more down force the wing can produce.
While small elements like these will have a relatively small affect on the car, they can be crucial for the balance of a car. Something that some teams have had issues with in the past few seasons. Their introduction is not too dissimilar to the cars of the early 2000, which had winglets sprouting from every area that the regulations would allow. There have been calls by some to ban them and the shark fin, it doesn’t appear that they will be going away. I personally can’t wait to see how teams develop this concept, and how far they will take it. So far, almost all teams have tested this concept, only McLaren and Toro Rosso haven’t. Whether the wings will still feature come Australia is something only time and testing will tell.
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