Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

Farcical front flap adjustments // The device to encourage overtaking has barely made a dent

Published by Mr. C

For the best part of the season we have bemoaned the look that is a 2009 spec Formula One car. Heck, we were complaining about the fugly high rear wing and boxy lines from the moment the first Williams hit the test track a year ago. Things didn't improve when the likes of BMW followed suit.

After witnessing a whole season of modified bodywork in action, I'm still not sold on the revised profile. I'd prefer it if we could just pretend the changes didn't happen and roll back to something far sexier and dare I say, more "normal". It would of course have helped if the changes, introduced to solve the distinct lack of overtaking in modern F1, had achieved anything of note.

Flap your wings

My favourite regulation debut, has to be the concept of adjustable bodywork. Enjoy this prime example of such a device at work.

[Video no longer available]

In case you missed the vital moment, you're watching Barrichello's front wing enter the main straight in Brazil, and six seconds into the video you might just catch he lowers his front flap, before raising it again four seconds later. Don't blink and don't be surprised if you can't see it, only Steven and Iaian spotted it at the time. I'm also pretty sure this was the only time anybody in the live comments saw a front flap move the whole season.

Once.

We watched 85 sessions this season, and that clip is about the sole difference it made to our enjoyment of F1.

It gets pushed down, it gets pulled up again

Introduced with the aim of allowing cars to run closer together, to facilitate overtaking, adjustable bodywork could and should be considered a dismal failure. Did it improve the racing? Not in the slightest. Was it a waste of money and effort? Almost certainly.

Formula 1 went cost-cutting crazy this yet, yet managed to spend time and investment creating one of the most pointless developments the sport has seen in a long while. The majority of casual fans likely don't know about it, and even the drivers, who should feel the most benefit, don't appear that interested. In an interview with Maurice Hamilton, Alonso was brutally honest in his conclusions.

I never touch it! So far, nine races, I never use it. It's not useful at all. KERS, the aerodynamics, they are two new regulations that didn't work this year.

- Fernando Alonso, F1 driver

A rip roaring success all round then.

The salient points from the 2009 technical regulations define movable flap as:

3.18 Driver adjustable bodywork

...

is allowed to change incidence while the vehicle is in motion within a maximum range of 6°, provided any such change maintains compliance with all of the bodywork dimensional regulations.

...

a maximum of two adjustments may be made within any single lap of a circuit.

Therein lies the likely culprit for problems with this devices implementation. As seen in the above video, six degrees is a tiny amount of adjustment, how could it ever hope to make a significant difference to passing? Similarly, why mandate such a restriction as two adjustments per lap? In the above video Rubens was seen making and down and then an up selection. He used it at the first corner, and again at the last corner, during the rest of the lap it remained static. Additionally, there was no way of communicating the position of said flap to TV viewers or those in the grandstands.

What a complete waste of time.

All of a flap

At best the motor mechanism enabling movement added some much needed weight to the front of the car, but this in turn raised further questions about the sense in situating tiny moving parts directly in front of a driver. Is that a wise thing to do given the likelihood of a head-on accident occurring at some point.

As Christine pointed out back in August, the Overtaking Working Group haven't been forthcoming with an apology for mistakes made in defining this years regulations. Taken at face value, and lacking any form of defence from teams, drivers, fans or the FIA, the adjustable front flap must be up there with the most pointless aerodynamic devices of all time.

Changes might be considered, improvements made, and in future we may think about the idea differently, however article 3.18 is still present and unchanged in the most up-to-date technical regulations available on the FIA website.

For me, adjustable bodywork was a waste of time, space and money this year. What do you think?