The start of the 2022 Formula 1 season saw a major overhaul in the aerodynamic rules. In what was described as a new era for Formula 1, these rule changes were brought in to improve the racing for the fans and the teams, and one thing brought back into F1 is what is known as the beam wing.
The beam wing on an F1 car is a small wing at the back of the car under the main rear wing, designed to push ‘dirty air’ up and over the car behind. This is designed to allow them to produce cleaner air for the car behind, making the cars easier to follow and overtake during a race.
The beam wing has a very important job on modern Formula 1 cars. Beside producing cleaner air for the car behind, the beam wing is also crucial for rear downforce and allowing the diffuser to do its job properly. Below, we’ll discuss what the beam wing in F1 is and why it’s used.
What Is Dirty Air In F1?
Dirty air in F1 is the turbulent air that comes off the back of a Formula 1 car. In order to create F1 cars’ massive amounts of downforce, the various wings and pieces of bodywork on the car disrupt the airflow, which creates turbulence behind the car, also known as dirty air.
In order to understand what dirty air means, you need to understand how downforce is generated. Essentially, as an F1 car travels at speed, its wings and various other downforce generating components create a positive area of pressure above the car, and a low-pressure area below the car. This pressure difference pushes the car towards the ground, known as downforce.
How Dirty Air Is Created
In doing this, the bodywork and wings of an F1 car manipulate and channel the airflow in various ways. This is great for producing downforce, but it interferes with the air left behind the car – the air that following cars must travel through. It essentially ends up being like the wake of a boat as it travels through the water, leaving quite rough and turbulent water behind it.
This turbulent air behind an F1 car isn’t as good at generating downforce as ‘clean’ undisturbed air is. This is because, to generate maximum downforce, an F1 car needs the air to all flow over the car cleanly in one direction. Turbulent air doesn’t allow this, reducing the effectiveness of the downforce producing parts on F1 cars that are in the wake of another car’s dirty air.
Hot Air From The Exhaust
In addition to the turbulence created by the wings cutting through the air, the heat from the engine is also ejected at the rear of the car out of the exhaust and cooling slats. Engine heat can disrupt the airflow over the trailing car, making it difficult to use to produce downforce using the wings. The hot air from the car in front can also create cooling issues for the car behind.
Why Is Dirty Air Bad For Formula 1 Cars?
Dirty air off the back of a Formula 1 car can affect a trailing car up to three or four seconds behind. When the following car is within this range, they begin to lose downforce and grip, which makes them slower than the car in front. Drivers need to be faster than the car in front in order to be able to overtake, and dirty air inhibits overtaking.
Another side effect of dirty air is the cars begin to struggle to keep their temperatures down. Formula 1 cars are carefully built to collect oncoming air to cool the brakes and the engines, but with hot and turbulent air coming off the car in front, the trailing car can struggle to get enough cool air into the sidepods and other air intakes, creating overheating issues.
2022 Rule Changes For Cleaner Air
The aim of the 2022 rule changes is to make the cars easier to follow and allow for more overtaking throughout the race by designing the cars in such a way they produce cleaner air in their wake. This required a major aerodynamic overhaul, which included the addition of the beam wing.
The cars now use floor and ground effects to produce downforce rather than just over body downforce. But over body airflow manipulation is still key, and that’s why the beam wing was reintroduced. This kicks the dirty air up and over the car behind, with the air directly behind the cars now left ‘cleaner’ than before.
This results in far less downforce loss when the cars are a few seconds behind one another, which is a massive improvement on the previous generations of cars. So, while the use of the ground effect plays a significant role in reducing the dirty air, the beam wing is also a very useful component.
When Was The Beam Wing First Used In F1?
The beam wing was first used in F1 in the 1970s. However, it did not always serve the same purpose as it does today. The beam wing was first brought in by Renault and Brabham to funnel air onto the rear wing to produce more downforce.
The beam wing concept was slow to gain traction across the rest of the grid. However, as teams began to understand the ground effect better, more teams began to implement the beam wing design into their cars to help with rear downforce.
Despite ground effect being banned from the sport in the early 1980s, the beam wing remained on the cars as a form of “structural support.” However, the beam wing still helped the cars to produce better rear downforce which ultimately made the cars faster in the corners.
In 2014, the beam wing was banned from Formula 1. This was ultimately done to reduce rear downforce on the cars and improve the racing. In its place, the teams could instead use two vertical beams to support their rear wing, as these would not have any benefit to the rear downforce being generated by the car. The T wing then appeared in 2017, but was different from the beam wing.
What Does The Beam Wing Do In F1?
The beam wing on an F1 car is designed to help the car produce more downforce, and also to deflect a lot of the dirty air up and over the cars behind. The beam wing sits underneath the main rear wing, on either side of the exhaust, acting almost like an extension of the diffuser.
The beam wing sits almost directly under the main rear wing of an F1 car, with each element sitting either side of the exhaust pipe at the back of the car. This means the beam wing on a modern F1 car plays no role in directing air either from the exhaust itself or onto the rear wing to enhance downforce.
Air flowing over the beam wing will lead to some downforce generation, but the primary downforce function is really to act as an extension of the F1 car’s diffuser at the back of the car. The beam wing helps create an area of low pressure at the top of the diffuser, helping ‘suck’ more air under the car, boosting downforce through the ground effect, and making the diffuser more effective.
But the air that flows over the rest of the car, from the front wing and over the sidepods all the way to the beam wing, is also then deflected up and – ideally – over the cars behind. This turbulent dirty air is then less likely to interfere with the trailing car’s downforce components, ideally making it easier to follow each other and to provide more overtaking opportunities.
Does The Beam Wing Help In Other Ways?
Many teams use cooling slats to direct even more airflow onto the rear wing of the car. Doing so allows the beam wing to produce more downforce, but it also forces the hot air to be deflected upwards, which means that cars behind do not suffer from overheating as much as they did before.
The beam wing on an F1 car helps the car produce more downforce, but it also deflects the dirty air produced by the car’s over body downforce generating components up and over the car behind, which allows the trailing car to produce more downforce when they are following closely behind.