Formula 1 Tests Prototype Wheel Arches for Improved Wet Race Visibility

Formula 1’s ongoing efforts to improve visibility and reduce spray in wet races are set to take a significant step forward as prototype standard-specification wheel arches will be tested on track for the first time following the British Grand Prix. The FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) announced last year that they were working on evaluating the use of wheel arches as a potential solution to the visibility issues caused by heavy spray during wet races. While these wheel arches would not be a permanent addition to the cars, they could be easily attached whenever wet conditions arise, either before a race or during a red-flag stoppage.

The decision to pursue this project stemmed from the desire to avoid a repeat of the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix, which had a result declared based on a single lap under the safety car with reduced points awarded. The FIA’s head of the F1 technical department, Nikolas Tombazis, expressed the importance of preventing such situations that leave scars on the sport. Initially, there was hope that the wheel arches could be introduced as early as the end of this year, but it was always more likely that they would be implemented in 2024, pending the effectiveness of their design.

Extensive research and development have been dedicated to understanding not only the wheel arches’ ability to contain spray but also their interaction with the ground-effect Formula 1 cars’ airflow wake characteristics. This is crucial, given that the wheel arches will be a standardized part, meaning they must produce a consistent effect across different cars. The research work conducted so far has primarily utilized simulation tools like computational fluid dynamics (CFD). Therefore, the upcoming test at Silverstone will mark the first opportunity to trial the wheel arches on actual cars and gather real-world data.

The test is scheduled to take place on July 13th, following the post-British Grand Prix Pirelli tyre test. This will also serve as the final opportunity to run the prototype blanketless slick tyres before a potential vote on their use in 2024. Mercedes has offered to provide a car equipped with the wheel arches for the test, allowing data to be collected to validate and supplement the simulation work conducted thus far. McLaren will also participate in the test, with Oscar Piastri behind the wheel, running the car in standard trim to gather control data for comparison with the Mercedes setup.

The test will focus on a single straight track, artificially soaked to replicate wet conditions. By doing so, the aerodynamic data collected during the test will help evaluate the impact of the wheel arches and inform the ongoing research and development program. Pirelli’s 2023 wet tyres will be used during the test, further ensuring that the conditions closely resemble those encountered in wet races.

The introduction of prototype wheel arches in Formula 1 signifies a significant step towards enhancing visibility and reducing the impact of spray in wet races. By conducting real-world tests and gathering data, the FIA and participating teams aim to validate the effectiveness of the wheel arches and ensure they produce consistent results across different cars. The sport is determined to avoid situations like the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix, where adverse weather conditions led to a compromised race outcome. The wheel arches, if proven successful, could be easily attached to cars whenever wet conditions arise, providing a more level playing field for drivers and a safer racing environment.

The upcoming test at Silverstone holds great importance as it allows the sport to transition from simulated research to practical implementation. By running the wheel arches on actual cars, Formula 1 can collect valuable real-world data, which will be instrumental in fine-tuning the design and optimizing its performance. The collaboration between Mercedes and McLaren in this test further highlights the commitment of the teams and the sport as a whole towards fostering innovation and improving race conditions.

With the single straight track soaked to replicate wet conditions, the test will closely simulate the challenges faced by drivers in wet races. The resulting aerodynamic data will provide insights into the impact of the wheel arches on spray reduction and overall performance. By using Pirelli’s 2023 wet tyres, the test aims to create a realistic environment that aligns with the conditions encountered during wet races, ensuring the data collected is both relevant and reliable.

As Formula 1 moves forward with its quest for improved safety and fairness, the introduction of prototype wheel arches represents a significant milestone. The collaborative efforts of the FIA, participating teams, and tire manufacturer Pirelli demonstrate a shared commitment to advancing the sport while addressing the challenges posed by adverse weather conditions. The upcoming test at Silverstone holds the promise of valuable insights that will shape the future of wet racing in Formula 1, with the ultimate goal of providing a thrilling and equitable experience for drivers and fans alike.

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