Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis
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Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis

The rise and fall of bargeboards in F1

An all-new Formula 1 car design for 2022 means it’s the end of the road for the bargeboard, which has been a major aerodynamic element in the sport for decades.

The rise and fall of bargeboards in F1

Ross Brawn, together with F1’s technical working group, immediately singled out the complex aerodynamic solution as one of the changes required in order to reduce the aerodynamic wake created by the cars and help produce closer racing in future.

In recent years, driven by the openness of the regulations in that region, the bargeboards had become increasingly complex - and by the end of 2021, featured the most intricate of details.

The bargeboard had humbler beginnings, so perhaps it's time to reflect on how they began in F1 and how they evolved over time.

The McLaren MP4/8 was the first F1 car to appear with what we consider a bargeboard, a simple, single-piece affair that was mounted between the front suspension and sidepods. However, while these appendages featured on the car at the first race of the season, in Kyalami, they were absent when the team arrived at the second round of the championship in Brazil.

They made a return for the European Grand Prix at Donington, the scene of Ayrton Senna’s wet weather masterclass, where the Brazilian driver, starting in fourth, lost a place at the start but finished the first lap in the lead, having overtaken Michael Schumacher, Karl Wendlinger, Damon Hill and Alain Prost.

But although McLaren had innovated early, Benetton also arrived at Donington with its own bargeboard design - although McLaren believed that its rival team's design was not exactly within the legalities of the rulebook.

Ayrton Senna, McLaren Ford MP4/8

Ayrton Senna, McLaren Ford MP4/8

Photo by: Sutton Images

Former McLaren aerodynamicist Henri Durand told Autosport in 2020: "My best satisfaction would be the MP4/8, when we go to South Africa with a barge board - and one race later Benetton has copied it! Frankly, there was a little debate. The interpretation of regulation with ours was totally legal, absolutely, because if you looked at the car from below, there was no hole, the contour of the various shadowplates etc. There was no hole between the rear tangent of the front wheel and the front tangent of the rear wheel.

"Benetton didn't do that. They had their fixing front and back, which means that if look at the car from below, there was a big hole, which I was a bit cheesed off that Charlie [Whiting] had let that happen. But anyway, we saw that we had been very, very innovative - and then one race later we have Benetton copy it. And a few races later, everybody's copying it. That was very satisfying."

The bargeboards didn’t appear again until Monaco and would make one more appearance at the Hungaroring, suggesting that the team were using them at tracks that required a slightly different aerodynamic configuration – notably at the higher end of the downforce range.

The bargeboards helped position the airflow around the rear of the car differently, turning the flow ahead of the sidepods and the floor for improved performance at lower speeds.

The MP4/8 had what we consider to be a traditional bargeboard, but it could be argued that there were examples prior to this, with teams using a shorter wheel-wake deflector behind the front wheel during the ’80s.

Following on from McLaren’s use of bargeboards in 1993, it didn’t take long for the other teams to see the merits of exploiting this region of the car as a means of improving the overall aerodynamic performance.

For example, Ferrari looked to overcome some issues with the original design of the 412T1’s sidepods, it also incorporated bargeboards within their design to help tweak the airflow's passage around them (above).

Ferrari 412T1

Ferrari 412T1

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The period that followed saw teams develop their bargeboard solutions in-line with the evolving face of aerodynamic development and the ever-changing landscape of the regulations.

Perhaps the most controversial moment to involve bargeboards came in 1999, as Mika Hakkinen battled Eddie Irvine for the drivers’ title in a duel that would go down to the last race of the season at Suzuka – but only after the FIA overturned its own decision from the previous race in Malaysia.

Both Ferrari drivers had been disqualified from the Malaysian Grand Prix, when in post-race scrutineering it was found that the bargeboards on their F399’s did not comply with article 3.12.1 of the technical regulations.

The Ferrari bargeboard which caused their disqualification

The Ferrari bargeboard which caused their disqualification

Photo by: Sutton Images

3.12.1 All sprung parts of the car situated more than 33cm behind the front wheel centre line and more than 33cm forward of the rear wheel centre line, and which are visible from underneath, must form surfaces which lie on one of two parallel planes, the reference plane or the step plane. This does not apply to any parts of rear view mirrors which are visible, provided each of these areas does not exceed 90cm² when projected to a horizontal plane above the car. The step plane must be 50mm above the reference plane.

This requires any part that can be seen beneath the car between the dimensional criteria to be on either the reference or step planes, meaning that no part can exist above those planes if they are not shadowed below. In the case of Ferrari a section of the bargeboard’s footplate was missing on the reference plane and when viewed from beneath, the main vertical surface was visible.

Ferrari F399 floor and bargeboard detail

Ferrari F399 floor and bargeboard detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Ferrari argued that this was a manufacturing defect and no intent had been made to subvert the regulations for performance gain and further called into question the FIA’s methods for measuring for legality, as they contested it fell within the +/- 5mm of tolerance cited in article 3.12.6 of the regulations, rather than the 10mm the stewards had suggested.

How the bargeboard evolved over time

In the years that followed, the designs became evermore complex, as teams searched for ways to unlock the performance of the surrounding structures, as well as the bargeboards themselves, optimising them in harmony with one another.

As Formula 1 entered a new phase in 2009, the sport had looked at ways to shape the regulations in order to facilitate closer racing and improve overtaking. The small technical working group tasked with doing so had very limited resources at their disposal, especially when we compare it to those working on the 2022 regulations.

Nonetheless they identified key areas of the car that needed to be changed, with the dimensional criteria of the front and rear wings altered dramatically, significant curtailment of the aerodynamic furniture that had grown up around the car's rear end and the removal of the bargeboards.

The teams drew the line here though and intervened as some changes were made to the regulations, including a box region that allowed them to continue to harness the power of the bargeboard, albeit in a much more constrained manner.

 

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The BrawnGP BGP001 was the standout car of the season, as Jenson Button took the drivers’ championship and the team the constructors’ crown. Although resources were stretched thin throughout the campaign, the bargeboards did receive some of their focus, with the slightly taller, triangular shaped element (inset) exchanged for the stepped and shorter version later in the season.

As F1 moved into the hybrid era, in 2014, the regulations once again underwent a transformation but, with some aerodynamic changes made to the regulations and the likes of blown diffusers removed, the overall downforce levels of the cars were reduced.

Furthermore, an increase in weight tied to the introduction of the power units had led to that generation of cars being considerably slower from a lap time point of view.

In order to counteract these issues, the FIA set out plans that would help the teams recoup the lost lap time, with the new regulations coming into force in 2017.

When bargeboards went wild

Bargeboards were one area where the FIA had decided to loosen the noose on the designers as part of the regulation overhaul, with a much larger box region available in which bodywork could be placed. 

This not only led to much larger bargeboards but also much more complex shapes and connecting structures, as the teams looked for ways to connect the bargeboards with the surrounding physical structures, such as the turning vanes and the expanded sidepod deflectors, in order that they worked more harmoniously...

Red Bull RB14 bargeboards, 2018

Red Bull RB14 bargeboards, 2018

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Many of the teams began using a trick that allowed them to add slots into the surface of the bodywork on the reference plane, making for a much more aggressive and heavily-detailed lowermost element.

In order to accomplish this they added slots in the surfaces above, which meant they couldn’t fall foul of the same issue that Ferrari had in 1999, as looking up from beneath the car, the alignment of the slots in each of the surfaces meant that they complied with the regulations.

In order to rein in the teams a little, the FIA made some subtle changes to the regulations for 2019 and once again the bargeboards were on the agenda, although it could be argued that they didn’t go far enough with the changes to have a quantitative reduction in their performance.  

Reducing the assemblies’ allowable height by 150mm, the governing body gave 100mm of additional freedom in the area ahead of where the bargeboards could start during 2017-18. 

And while some are happy that the FIA has finally done away with bargeboards for 2022, it’s hard to argue that they would be out of place if hung in a gallery with other fine works of art...

 

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

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