Technical F1: Goodbye to stepped noses

Technical F1: Goodbye to stepped noses

24 January 2013 – Formula 1 is entering a transitionary year in terms of the regulations, with significant rule changes set for introduction at the end of 2013. To kick-start a new series of technical features, GPUpdate.net takes a look at the optional removal of 'stepped noses', with teams now permitted to place a panel over the unpopular design trait.

The history of Formula 1 noses
The nose height reached the level of the front wing before 1991, but in that season the Benetton team (now known as Lotus) launched the first modern F1 car with a raised nose which allowed the front wing to hang under the nose cone via two vertical pylons (Tyrrell was the first car to have a raised nose in 1990, but with a single pylon to the front wing). Since then, nose heights have become higher and lower and vice versa, with variations depending on technical regulation changes from season to season.

In 2001, new regulations forced an increase of the front wing height from ground level by a total of 10cm, hypothetically suiting a higher nose. However, this was only in theory, because the spoon curved front wings surpassed the need for a high nose, instead favouring the shorter ‘banana’ designs.

Ferrari and Sauber were the two teams who pioneered the spoon feature, while Minardi presented the so-called ‘dolphin’ or ‘crocodile’ nose which started as a thick design but later became very thin at its tip. The ‘dolphin’ nose was a promising feature, one which McLaren chose to adopt some years later.

2012: Birth year of the stepped noses
In 2009, new technical rules stripped the car body of aerodynamic add-ons and restricted the diffuser volume; this forced the teams to develop a more aggressive design philosophy, building a higher chassis to the upper limit of the regulations.

Such an approach raised safety concerns, because the higher noses could potentially penetrate the cockpit and cause harm to the driver in an accident. Governing body the FIA soon reacted to the situation and made technical changes which forced the teams to adopt lower noses in 2012. This gave birth to the so called ‘stepped noses’.

Click to view full size
The nose starts at 450 mm wide (Point A) and gets narrower where the nose box meets the chassis (Point B, also called the bulkhead), which is only 300 mm wide. The nose then drops down steeply to meet the maximum height of 550 mm over a distance of 150 mm from Point B. After Point C, the nose becomes wider until its tip in order to allow the maximum amount of airflow under the front of the car.

Almost all of the teams adopted the ‘stepped’ design ahead of the 2012 season, with only McLaren and Marussia choosing to follow the path of the lower ‘banana’ nose. However, McLaren took it one step further by introducing a higher hybrid nose later in the year. The advantages and disadvantages of each design are summarised below:

Stepped nose
Advantages: Greater flow of air under the chassis and thus better aero efficiency.
Disadvantages: Increase in centre of gravity (COG), uncomfortable driver position.

Banana nose
Advantages: Better front suspension geometry and thus enhanced mechanical grip.
Disadvantages: Poorer airflow under chassis, negative interaction with the front wing.

Hybrid nose
Utilises the strong points of each design.

2013: A goodbye to 'ugly' noses
To improve the aesthetic appeal of the cars in 2013, the FIA reached a compromise with all of the teams and it was ultimately decided that a non-structural fairing of prescribed laminate could be fixed on the nose surface to cover the stepped element. The new article, coded 3.7.9. in the sport's rulebook, dictates that the fairing should consist of a single part and outlines the allowed dimensions and characteristics.

Article 3.7.9:
'With the exception of an optional, single piece, non-structural fairing of prescribed laminate (whose precise lay-up may be found in the Appendix to the regulations) which may not be more than 625mm above the reference plane at any point, no bodywork situated more than 1950mm forward of rear face of the cockpit entry template may be more than 550mm above the reference plane.

'The external surface of any longitudinal or lateral cross section taken through the above fairing may contain no concave radius of curvature less than 50mm.'

The fairing is placed on top of the stepped area and may extend down to the nose tip. The adjacent images demonstrate how the panel will be fitted.

The fairing is simply aimed at improve the "beauty" of the cars, and any attempt to create aerodynamic advantage is discouraged. Additionally, the fairing is optional and not obligatory for the teams. However, important details about how the fairing is placed on the nose cone and its internal structure are still grey areas. Designs such as Sauber’s, which feature a nose hole, may be enhanced by these fairings.

In terms of fixing the fairing on the nose, the FIA should monitor the situation closely to guarantee safety. Multiple crash tests should be carried out to examine the effects of a fairing detachment during a collision. A detached fairing is an obvious danger and we need only look back at Felipe Massa’s accident in 2009 to see why, when his helmet was struck by flying suspension debris from Rubens Barrichello’s car in Hungary.

Technical analysis conducted by Michalis Kaplitzoglou for GPUpdate.net

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