Regrettably, the initial trial run of the prototype wheel arches or spray guards, as they are informally referred to, did not achieve immediate success.
Nevertheless, as an initial measure and concerning the collection and analysis of data, it proved to be a beneficial undertaking. It offered the FIA a starting point to address a matter that became prominent following the red-flagged Belgian GP of 2021.
Nicolas Tombazis, the director of FIA single-seater, expresses that it would have been ideal if all aspects had aligned flawlessly and a solution had already been available to implement in October or a similar timeframe.
However, that was not the situation. Our dedication to making this work is unwavering because we believe it will ultimately determine whether a race is cancelled or takes place.
“If, throughout its existence, it manages to prevent a race and 100,000 individuals from experiencing a scenario similar to Spa in 2021, then I believe it is highly valuable, even if it only makes a positive impact once.”
The event in Belgium caused controversy, as the cars were forced to follow the safety car due to poor visibility caused by spray. This incident led to efforts being made to minimize spray and enhance visibility.
The aim was to create something that could be fitted to cars on occasions when rain is so heavy that in normal circumstances it would not be possible to run.
It took a lot of work to create the devices that were trialled at Silverstone. Essentially, the prototypes are in two parts, with the top of each wheel covered, and a secondary element that looks a little like a sideways bargeboard located close to ground level. The whole arrangement is attached to the upright and thus moves with the wheel.
Wet weather package
Photo by: FIA
Mercedes provided assistance for the test by making modifications to a W14 car, which Mick Schumacher drove on a specially wet area of Silverstone while using the newly installed equipment.
McLaren’s Oscar Piastri provided a reference for how much spray a normal car produces, while also following the Mercedes and offering feedback on the impact on visibility.
The primary objective of the day was to collect information on the behavior of water when it is thrown up behind an F1 car. This data would assist the FIA’s aerodynamic team in establishing a connection between real-world observations and their research.
FIA head of aerodynamics Jason Sommerville and his colleagues faced an interesting challenge, as modelling water droplets is not easy. Models developed for road car use – how rain behaves around mirrors and so on – provided a useful starting point.
Tombazis explains that it was not a simple task.
“He says that after initiating this project in the latter part of the previous year and conducting numerous CFD simulations, we quickly realized that it was not as straightforward as merely implementing something and expecting immediate success.”
The CFD simulations can be challenging as they involve simulating water particles. Additionally, the presence of water droplets within a flow field adds complexity to the physics involved.
“And furthermore, even in that case, correlation is still necessary as we lack complete understanding of the amount of water extracted from the ground and the quantity discarded by the tires.”
“I cannot reword”
The big challenge was to develop a device that could work in an F1 environment and cause minimum disruption to aerodynamics, while also staying safely attached to the car at high speed.
Photo by: Erik Junius
Tombazis states that they aimed to avoid significant performance loss and excessive disruption to the cars’ aerodynamics.
While certain aspects are unavoidable, the aerodynamic force exerted on these large mudguards (or whatever they are referred to as) would be significantly increased if they were completely covered. Consequently, the supports on the uprights would need to be strong enough to prevent them from detaching at a speed of 300kph.
Tombazis gladly acknowledges that the Silverstone prototypes had limited success in reducing spray.
“I had doubts about the effectiveness of the devices as they were quite small and only covered small sections of the wheels,” he expresses. “I questioned whether they would be sufficient and have a noticeable impact.”
“And it appears that they did not have a noticeable impact. However, we did acquire a significant amount of correlation and data that we can now correlate with greater confidence. Therefore, I believe it was a valuable initial experiment.”
We were extremely appreciative of the teams that collaborated with us on this. Additionally, we demonstrated that our track setup, specifically the measurement process, was not as straightforward as it may seem but still performed effectively. Hence, we had a satisfactory method of evaluating the situation.
However, we have not yet achieved the desired configuration. Therefore, we must make another attempt. It is rare for engineering projects to be flawless on the initial try, so we simply need to invest more effort.
There is still a significant amount of visible wheel, so to speak. We have not definitively validated the idea yet, but I also believe it is premature to conclude that it is ineffective.
Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB19, Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23
Photo by: Patrick Vinet / Motorsport Images
One complicated aspect is assessing how much spray is generated by the diffuser, which is something the spray guard programme can’t address.
“I cannot reword”
The upcoming iteration is expected to occur several months from now, and organizing another test similar to the one held at Silverstone will not be a quick task, especially considering the upcoming series of races in Singapore where teams and cars will be traveling.
If and when a device is successfully trialled and approved, there will also be practical considerations.
Tombazis states that once we have achieved a noticeable decrease in spray through a tangible solution, we will proceed to define the shape, establish it as a technical regulation, and engage in further discussions.
If it is designed correctly, it will only require 5-10 minutes to install. If you envision it being delayed due to heavy rain, once all the necessary items are collected, individuals would need to install them.
The F1 teams, on the other hand, continue to show their support. It is widely recognized that it would be catastrophic for the sport to experience another Spa 2021 incident, or even worse, a day where the cars are unable to participate in the race.
Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin acknowledges that there is further work required in addressing these issues. However, finding a solution would be beneficial as it is frustrating for both teams and fans when races are unable to proceed due to challenging conditions.
Currently, they are not prepared for implementation and adherence to regulations. Therefore, there is undoubtedly work that needs to be done. Although they enhance the dispersion of spray from the tires, a significant amount still originates from the diffuser due to the force exerted by the rear wing, which is quite influential.
However, the initial progress is intriguing, and we are offering the necessary resources and components to facilitate that advancement. The future direction and outcomes of this project will be determined by the FIA.