There are a few regulations already included for the 2012 technical regulations, in the small section added to the end of the 2011 tech regs are a few brief lines that will irreversibly alter an F1 cars appearance. Plus significantly affect the aerodynamics.
The move towards lower noses has been one of the safety aims of the Technical Working Group (TWG). It’s long been feared a car striking another with a high nose will likely make any accident worse. Both in the case of nose to wheel contact or a nose T-boning another car. So a lower nose will help prevent cars flipping or being penetrated in these instances.
A secondary benefit could also be improved visibility for the driver, as the front of the chassis and nose will be lower, obstructing the view far less than the very high humped noses of late.
A supplementary benefit is that the already limited space to aerodynamic devices under the raised chassis will be further eliminated. This area still housing turning vanes and flow conditioners, even after the drastic 2009 aero rules changes.
So to achieve their aims the TWG and FIA have agreed a two step reduction on nose height. When we talk of noses there are two elements to this. Firstly the nose tip, this is the very visible, end of the nose cone structure. Then secondly the front bulkhead (referred to by the FIA as section A-A), this is where the nose cone mounts to the chassis.
This reduction in height starts in 2012 with the nose limited to a 55cm height and then in 2014 the nose tip must fit into a zone just 25cm high.
Currently there are few practical restrictions on nose height; the 2009 aero regs did prevent bodywork being added high up to the top of the nose, such as the bridge wings and antler horns we saw in 2008.
What is controlled is the overall height and the size of the key bulkheads on the front of the chassis forming the footwell area. This area is defined by two pairs of dimensions affecting the front bulkhead (FIA section A-A) and the dash bulkhead (FIA section B-B). Further controlling their placement is their distance from the cockpit opening, they must be vertical and the taper between them must be linear.
These bulkheads need to be a minimum depth of 27.5cm and 40cm respectively. Both of these bulkheads cannot be higher than 62.5cm above the reference plane. Drawn literally the front of the chassis could be a flat topped section from the dash bulkhead all the way forward to the nose tip. Teams tend to have an angled upper surface to the nose cone and a “V” cross section to the front bulkhead, to make the surfaces a more efficient aerodynamic shape. The rules specify a 25mm radius that can be aplied to the edges of the chassis. Its these, that teams exploit to get the smallest possible cross section at the front of the car.
Height and cross section in this area is critical as teams want a minimal cross section in between the front wheels and as much space underneath to fit bodywork to direct airflow to around and under the sidepods. So teams will tend to raise these bulkheads as high as they can go.
For 2012 two regulations will limit these very high front chassis designs. The front bulkhead can still be 62.5cm above the reference plane, But an area ahead of that (shaded yellow in the above picture) must be no higher than 55cm. There being a 7.5cm drop between these two surfaces, with some 15cm in which to merge the step created inbetween them.
Taken to the limits of height and minimal cross section, a 2012 nose will be an ugly proposition, the flat topped nose cone at 55cm meeting the front bulkhead at 62.6cm high. This footwell section of monocoque extending all the way back to the dash bulkhead.
Smoothing the transition between the nose and chassis is the radiussed “V” shape. the rules simply specify a 25mm radius to each edge of the chassis, but teams have exploited this radius. So rather than a 90-degree arc, they take the radius around 180-degrees and then again at 90-degrees to form the bulged shoulders of the chassis. Red Bull have been one of the most prominent exponents of aplying this radius. By appliying this radius, the actual cross section of the nose is reduced to less than the 275mm x 300mm rectangle its supposed to form. The FIA have made efforts to prevent this practice becoming any more extreme, so the front bulkhead must not be any less than 22cm at any point in the middle 15cm of the structure.
Its likely teams will still opt for a minimum cross section and maximum height section in between the front and dash bulkheads. But the nose cone design will be the biggest variable, this will be dependant on their approach in creating the onset flow conditions for the floor and sidepods. To alter the flow they have just a few small areas of body to influence the airflow; the front wing itself, the wings mounting pylons, the space directly under the nose cone and the area above the splitter.
Front wing design will continue to follow the ever more sculpted path we’ve seen this year. As will the front wing mounting pylons, which will probably continue to lengthen within the tight definitions of their cross sectional area.
Space under the nose cone is limited, teams will no doubt sculpt the structure of the nose cone to maximise space beneath it, in a similar fashion to what Mercedes have achieved this year. Then making use of that space means probably two directions will be tried.
Firstly, a relatively high nose tip feeding a small pair of conventional turning vanes. This will be a downscaled version of what most teams do this year.
Or secondly, go for a snow plough device under the nose. This was first used by Williams in 2009 and adopted by McLaren since 2010. Again with a relatively high nose tip, a horizontal curving vane sits below it, this both creates downforce and creates the powerful wake to direct airflow towards the floor. Is interesting to note Force India did a lot of testing in Friday practice with this format nose, but have never chose to race it. Perhaps they were evaluating ideas for 2012?
Just as in 2009 teams found they had less space for undernose turning vanes, so they made use of the free space above the splitter. This could either be with small vertical vanes, their outswept shape both diverting the airflow around the car and also sending a vortex towards the floors leading edge, to maximise pressure for more downforce.
We’ve also seen that idea turned sideways, such as Brawns 2009 snowplough, also copied in 2010 by Williams. A curved transverse vane is fitted across the splitter. This is a blunt solution, as the vane catches the airflow literally like a snowplough, sending a strong vortex to increase the pressure ahead of the floor.
With some smoothing and optimisation the front end, 2012 cars should not need to look like my first literal drawing of the nose. But we will see some old ideas reinvented and a lot of variation in team’s interpretation of the new rules.