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F1 Front Wings Explained In Simple Terms

The 2022 Formula 1 rule changes are some of the most dramatic changes that we have seen in many years. The cars have been overhauled, and they not only look completely different, but they also operate differently. One key area of the 2022 F1 cars that has changed is the front wing.

F1 front wings are key components on the cars that generate downforce and guide airflow both under and over the car. While the 2022 rule changes simplified F1 front wings to some degree, they still produce a lot of downforce and are one of the most important parts of the car.

2022’s F1 front wings are very different to what we have seen in the past, when front wings were one of the primary downforce generators on the cars. While they still play a key role in producing downforce, they have changed a lot in 2022, and we take a closer look at them below.

How The 2022 F1 Front Wings Are Different

The 2022 rule changes simplified F1 front wings significantly. Not only do the front wings look completely different, but they also play a slightly different role to what they used to. While they still generate downforce, they also guide a lot of air to the underfloor for the ground effect.

The ground effect has returned, and teams can now use the underfloor of the car to generate downforce, along with the wings and the body of the car. Using over-body downforce often leaves a massive amount of turbulent – or dirty – air behind the car. This makes following other cars difficult, as this dirty air can’t generate as much down force as clean, undisturbed air can.

However, with the new rule changes, using underfloor downforce is the priority, and a big part of reducing turbulent air in the car’s wake is simplifying the front wing. But this front wing is also designed not just to make following easier, but also to help the cars guide airflow in the necessary ways to generate their own downforce more effectively through the ground effect.

2021 Front Wings

In previous generations of Formula 1 cars, downforce has been generated by capturing the air flowing over the car and using it to “push” the car down into the tarmac. Since the front wing is the first part of the car that the air interacts with, it plays an important role in what the air does to the rest of the car.

Previous generations of F1 cars had complex front wings with several different elements, plates, and winglets all over them. The shapes of these wings produced downforce much in the same way that 2022’s simplified front wings do, but the complex wings played one more significant role in terms of guiding the airflow over the car.

Creating Vortices

In order to guide airflow over the cars in a favorable way at speed, an element of aerodynamics called vortices were used (and still are to an extent). These are high-energy spirals of air that effectively allow fast moving airflow to remain “stuck” or attached to a given surface, such as the chassis of an F1 car.

The reason teams want this high-energy, fast-moving air to be effectively attached to the chassis is actually quite straightforward. In order to cool the car’s engine and other internals, there needs to be a lot of airflow over the radiators through the sidepods and into the air intake above the driver’s head.

Using vortices allows teams to guide some of the high-energy air around the various parts of the front of the car and into these air intakes for effective cooling. However, there is another area of the car where teams want fast moving air to run into, and that’s the downforce-producing rear wing.

The faster the air moves over the top of an F1 car’s front or rear wing, the more downforce they can produce. So, if teams can guide fast moving air all the way from the front and sides of the cars to the rear wing, they can produce downforce more effectively. That’s what these vortices do, and there’s one in particular called the Y250 vortex.

What Is The Y250 Vortex?

It’s called the Y250 vortex because it is generated 250 mm either side of the car’s centerline. The air in this vortex is extremely high in energy, and controlling it around the car from the front wing helps guide airflow into the cooling intakes and over the back of the car to the rear wing.

This Y250 vortex therefore starts its journey at the tips of the front wing and works its way along the chassis to the rear wing. It helps keep high-energy airflow close to the car to minimize drag, and also keeps turbulent air kicked up off the tires away from the body of the car, ensuring the car is able to effectively produce downforce.

2022 Front Wings

The 2022 front wings look much simpler in comparison to what we have seen in the past, and you’ll notice that there are no sharp edges and winglets on the wings that are able to create the Y250 vortices. While there will still be some vortices created, they won’t be as powerful as they were in the past.

The new rules state that the front wing cannot have more than four elements that have to be much smoother and less complex than we have seen in the past. No more aggressive front wing designs on the new cars means that less turbulent air is produced by the front of the car.

The Problem Of Dirty Air

While these vortices at the front of the car helped that car generate downforce and cool the internals, it created a nightmare for the car behind by leaving nothing but turbulent, low pressure air for them to drive through.

Turbulent air is not only not as good for producing downforce, but it’s also not good for cooling. That made following cars in previous years more difficult, because not only would the trailing car not be able to produce as much downforce in the corners, therefore losing some grip, but their cars were also prone to overheating if they stayed too close for too long.

How Do 2022 F1 Front Wings Generate Downforce?

2022 F1 front wings generate downforce in much the same way as previous generations, by creating an area of high pressure above the wing and low pressure below it. The result of the 2022 F1 front wing simplification is that they produce less downforce and less turbulent air than before.

In the previous generation of cars, the front wings would, in addition to creating a high-low pressure differential to generate downforce, channel air over the top of the car. This would largely be done using the various vortices discussed above.

The new front wings, however, are now designed to help direct more of the airflow underneath the car and into the Venturi tunnels, which will help to boost the ground effect that the cars get when travelling at higher speeds. This ground effect almost “sucks” the car to the ground, giving the car more grip.

So, because the 2022 regulations mean that a lot of the car’s downforce must come from the ground effect and they must not produce as much over-body downforce, the front wings can be raised higher off the ground to encourage airflow under the car, rather than over it (although a bit of both still occurs).

Unique 2022 F1 Front Wings

If you take a closer look at each F1 car’s front wing, both in past seasons and from 2022 onwards, you’ll see a few differences between each one. This ultimately comes down to design choice and how the teams set up their cars. Each car is unique, and one wing design might not work for another one.

Front Wing Elements

The most obvious difference is the shape of the front wing elements. These had to be simplified, and there can only be a maximum of four front wing elements (versus five on previous generations). Everyone had to follow these rules, so you won’t see much difference there, and teams will likely make use of all four.

However, if you look closely at the shape of these elements, you’ll begin to spot some differences. Mercedes at the start of the 2022 season, for example, had larger elements on the outsides of the front wing and towards the insides, as closer to the nosecone there are large cut outs. This allows air to flow straight into their car’s Venturi tunnels and start producing underfloor downforce.

McLaren on the other hand had a much more even front wing element which almost blocks air from flowing into the floor of the car. This may allow the front wing to generate more downforce, giving the car better front end grip through the high speed corners. It’s all about making the right sacrifices for the specifics of the individual cars.

Front Wing Attachment

Another area where teams have been taking different approaches is where the front wing attaches to the nose of the car. Mercedes and Ferrari both opted to attach their front wings to the main plane of the front wing (the lowest element). This has been normal in the past as the front wing was used to push the car into the tarmac.

Other teams, such as Aston Martin and McLaren, opted to attach the nose to the second plane (just above the lowest element), leaving a gap in between the lowest plane and the second plane in the front wing.

Doing so may help the car funnel more air into the Venturi tunnels built into the floor of the car. With a tiny groove in the front wing, the air is pushed through at a much higher velocity and straight down the Venturi tunnels. Higher velocity air means lower pressure, which leads to more downforce generated by the ground effect.

Height Of The Front Wing

Aston Martin grabbed the attention of a lot of people when they first released their 2022 car. This is because their front wing was built much higher than we usually see in a Formula 1 car, leaving the floor underneath the car relatively exposed. McLaren then released their car, and their front wing was much lower than that of the Aston Martin.

In the past, having the front wing as low to the ground as possible was preferred as it allowed the car to be effectively pushed into tarmac by the oncoming high pressure air. This year though, the ground effect is the main source of downforce, and raising the front wing is beneficial as you let more air flow straight into the floor.

What Do Front Wing End Plates Do On F1 Cars?

Front wing end plates help to reduce turbulent airflow around the front tires. They also help guide air towards the sidepod air intakes. Even though they look small and insignificant, the slightest amount of damage to an end plate can cause a massive performance drop for an F1 car.

Front wing end plates are used to direct the airflow around the tires of the car which reduces drag and prevents turbulent air from hitting the rear of the car, which would cause it to lose downforce on the rear wing.

The 2022 front wing end plates look very different to previous generations, but they’re also very much the same between all teams. The new, simplified endplates aim to redirect the air towards the winglets over the tires and across the wheel covers, which will deflect the air away from the car behind.

What Is A Tea-Tray In F1?

The tea tray refers to the section of floor behind the front wing on an F1 car. With the 2022 regulations it is responsible for funneling air from the front wing into the Venturi tunnels, which is where a large portion of the car’s downforce is generated.

Final Thoughts

F1 front wings are key aerodynamical components on the cars that not only generate downforce but also guide airflow to various parts of the car. The 2022 regulations brought back the ground effect to produce downforce, so the front wing now plays a key role in guiding airflow underneath the car.