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F1: T-wings debut in 2017 F1 testing
Nearly every time the F1 bodywork rules change, there is a gap left in the zones where bodywork can be fitted, teams leap upon these free zones and check if something useful can be added to that area. This year it’s been the so-called T-Wing, fitted in a gap left behind by the old rear wing regulations. For 2017 new bodywork rules were put in place; the rear wing was lowered, widened and moved rearwards from its old location. Apparently the first published version of the rules did this move cleanly with no loopholes, but a subsequent update missed out a small zone previously occupied by the front of the old rear wing. So, exploiting this zone is totally legally and potentially beneficial to the teams.
All the teams will have spotted this, as the first job of the design team is to map out in 3D where bodywork can and cannot go. It wouldn’t have been long before the obvious gap was seen and teams sought to test aero solutions in this narrow box. Being ahead of the rear wing, there were two things the teams could have done with the T-wing zone, either seek to make the rear wing more effective or make down force directly. My initial thought was that the winglet improves rear wing efficiency, by either directing the airflow down towards the rear wing, or by using the T-wings tip vortices to reduce the induced drag created by the rear wing's tip.
However, looking at the solutions that have come out so far, with Mercedes, Ferrari, Williams and Haas, the aim in each case is to create downforce directly, so the T-wing is a cambered aero foil and creates downforce which is passed down through the shark fin (or pillar in Mercedes case) into the chassis. With the new regulations aimed at improving cornering speed, something that adds even more downforce could be worth it. However, these gains do not come for free, the T-wing will add drag, so the team have to weigh up if the extra load is worth the drop in top speed. Also, the “T” wing will create upwash behind it, this will actually make the rear wing lose a little downforce. Of course, all these effects are measured in the wind tunnel\CFD and then simulated around a lap, to see if the pros overcome the cons. For many teams this payoff is worthwhile and we can expect to see more of these “T” wings in ever more complex and powerful solutions.
Mercedes have already demonstrated this with a double decker T-wing on the second day of testing, while Williams have added another T-Wing lower down.
There are calls to ban these wings (and shark fins) but there are no grounds for the FIA to do so, the bodywork zone is clearly set out in the rules and as yet there is no safety implication. This leaves no reasonable case to ban them, unless all the team agree, which is unlikely.