So, it’s evident by now that we’re in for a bit of an eye-sore season. The question on everyone’s mind – why are these cars being built with such ugly front ends?
During the European Grand Prix of 2010 you may remember Mark Webber going head-over-heels after making contact with the
Caterham Lotus of Heikki Kovalainen.
Part of the problem was the relative height of the nosecone. Nose height had been increasing to the point where it was pretty much level with the height of the chassis and, worryingly, level with the cockpit. Teams had been heading this way for the sole reason of getting as much clean airflow under the car, and towards the floor, at the earliest point.
In order to minimise a nasty accident – where the nose box of the one car could collide with the cockpit area of another – and to try and stop the nose going over the top of another cars tyre, we ended up with the ugly stepped-noses of 2012.
For 2014 the nose height has been reduced further. But why have we got such ugly noses on the cars coming out from under the covers?
The answer lies in the technical regulations under the section dealing with crash testing. Whilst the nose is a large part of the cars aerodynamics, its main purpose is to absorb frontal impacts.
To start with the front of the chassis where the nose attaches to has been reduced by 100mm. This is measured from the top of the chassis to the reference plane (the floor of the car).
Next, we have dimensions that detail how long the nose can be and its height, but these are dominated by one line in the regulations…
“It must have a single external cross section, in horizontal projection, of more than 9000mm² at a point 50mm behind its forward-most point.”
In English, this means that 50mm behind the tip of the nose there needs to be a minimum surface area (cross section) of 9000mm² – so basically a 95mm by 95mm square (maths!). The centre of this area needs to be 185mm from the floor of the car. However the top of this area cannot be higher than 300mm from the floor of the car or lower than 135mm from the floor of the car.
This is seriously low to the floor and explains why we have such low noses. It also explains why we can have some variation as seen from Ferrari and McLaren.
You could have a square of 95mm by 95mm, but equally you could have a thin-fat area of, say, 180mm by 50mm. This cross section also needs to be a minimum of 750mm from the centre of the front wheels, which gives us our length. At no point can the nose go any higher than the cockpit height as well.
This is also why we have a rather ugly looking thin tube on the front of some of the cars. It seems some teams still want to have as much clean airflow going under the car as possible despite the nose being lower.
To do this, they are designing a normal nose cone further back with the “tube” extending out purely to meet the regulations. The tube shape, like a second nose, then meets the 9000mm² surface area with a minimum area blocking the airflow going under the nose and towards the floor.
Not the easiest thing to explain away, but this should give some insight into the 2014 regulations. I think I would rather have a 2012 Ferrari stepped-nose any day of the week though!