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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Why Formula 1 Cars Are So Ugly This Year

SCA holds record in polishing Formula One car
SCA holds record in polishing Formula One car (Photo credit: SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget)
The 2014 Formula One season is gonna be one of the most exciting in years. A slew of new rules and technology promise to turn the sport, and the standings, upside down. They might even be enough to knock Red Bull from the top of the podium. Well, maybe not. One thing’s sure, though: The new rules have made the cars, well, let’s say aesthetically challenged, and packed them with tech you might one day see in your own car.

The biggest change is visual — aerodynamic tweaks to the front of the car to improve safety and minimize the chance a driver is injured in a crash. The nose is much lower than before, to keep cars from being launched into the air in a collision. Out back, the exhaust is directed upward, diverting hot air away from aerodynamic components and denying engineers of a trick they’ve used in the past to increase downforce. This could lead to decreased rear grip, and therefore lower speeds through corners. Teams also get less fuel to burn; last season, most teams used 160 kilogram tanks. This year they’ll be limited to just 100 kilograms per race. Fuel economy will be more important, which is where the new engines come into play.

“This is gonna be a seriously challenging year for every team. Everything’s different,” Mercedes driver and former F1 champ Lewis Hamilton told Sky Sports F1. “We have this new braking system, brake-by-wire, at the moment not the best thing to use. That makes it much more tricky. We’re trying to fine tune that. New dashboards on the steering wheel, we’re trying to fine tune those. Turbo, KERS, all these new things.”

Hamilton goes on to say that the raft of changes for this season are, “so complex, far, far, far beyond what we’ve had before.

He’s not kidding. Looking past the new aero requirements, the engines are the biggest change in F1. 

The 2.4-liter V8 engines, which wailed like banshees as they reached 18,000 RPM, are being replaced by turbocharged 1.6-liter V6 engines that rev to around 15K. The turbo spins at 100,000 RPM and produces a distinctive high-pitched whistle as the turbine continues spinning to generate power for the hybrid system.

The engines are as cool as the noses are ugly. Let’s just say that now. This year’s crop of cars look like anteaters. Or proboscis monkeys. And the Ferrari makes us think of an aardvark. Those drooping snouts are a response to the FIA’s new rule that the nose can’t be higher than 185 millimeters. The goal is to minimize the risk to drivers in T-bone collisions. The new reg posed a challenge to F1′s designers and aerodynamicists, who prefer to keep the nose elevated to maximize airflow under the car. Trying to meet these two goals has led to an array of hideous schnoz designs, and Caterham has to be the worst.

Another change in the rules requires removing one of the two wing elements at the back of the car, directing exhaust flow away from rear aerodynamic elements so it can’t be used to increase downforce, and making the front wing narrower to reduce the possibility that it is damaged if one car sideswipes another.

Here’s a closer look at some of the changes to this year’s F1 racers.
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