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Tech rewind: When Formula 1’s launch season turned ugly

Formula 1’s launch season has been known to throw up some big surprises – be it individual design ideas like the F-duct or an unwelcome trend like shark fin engine covers.

The McLaren Mercedes MP4-29

But with the countdown now well under way to the unveiling of the 2024 cars, it is a good moment to reflect on that moment 10 years ago when F1’s regulations opened the door for perhaps the ugliest cars we had ever seen.

It was the start of the much vaunted hybrid engine era, where the introduction of the sport's most technologically advanced powertrain should have been the focal points.

Instead, we found ourselves questioning why F1’s cars all looked so weird thanks to their horrendous noses.

Will Stevens, Caterham CT05 Renault

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Will Stevens, Caterham CT05 Renault

A regulatory misstep

The design trend had occurred due to a sizeable shift in the regulations, as the FIA had attempted to overcome a design feature that had become prevalent during the former rules era.

This had been of designers lifting the nose tip as high as possible to improve the airflow’s behaviour downstream. This had triggered another aesthetic nightmare, when the step nose blighted 2012’s machines.

It was something the governing body had hoped wouldn’t be repeated…

But as the FIA moved to stamp out that problem, it created another – as McLaren, Force India, Sauber, Toro Rosso, Williams and Caterham all presented nose solutions with a narrow, elongated tip section that looked quite ridiculous – but clearly had some performance advantages.

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari F14T, Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari F14T

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari F14T, Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari F14T

This side-by-side view of the previous year’s Ferrari F138 and 2014’s F14T illustrates how much of a difference the proposals were designed to have, not only to the profile of the nose but also how that would influence other aspects of each car’s design.

The FIA sought to lower the nose tip on the grounds of safety and attempted to enforce a lower nose tip section within the regulations.

The rules required the lower edge of the tip to be no higher than 185mm from the reference plane and project no more than 250mm above it, while at a point 50mm rearward of the tip further volume constraints were added.

The seven teams who all went down the ugly nose route had seen these dimensional requirements and quickly realised that they could mitigate some of the associated losses by creating a slender nose tip section, which would provide a more desirable passage beside it for the airflow. 

The only challenge now posed was being able to pass the crash test with a structure that was essentially much shorter, given that the elongated nose tip wouldn’t provide the same deceleration as a wider alternative might.

A grid packed with inelegant solutions

Romain Grosjean (FRA) Lotus E22 leads Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren MP4-29.

Photo by: Patrik Lundin / Motorsport Images

Romain Grosjean (FRA) Lotus E22 leads Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren MP4-29.

McLaren’s nose design was similar in approach to the previous set of regulations, with the main body raised high and the elongated tip more of a facade to fulfil the requirements posed by the regulations. It made changes during the season to further maximise flow around the assembly too, with the brow of the nose flattened out, whilst a more squared-off profile used for the channels beside the tip and the front wing pillar shape altered.

Force India’s original nose design featured a tip section that fulfilled the requirements of the regulations and then tapered inward and upward to create more space in behind.

Nico Hulkenberg,  Force India VJM07

Photo by: Sutton Images

Nico Hulkenberg, Force India VJM07

The VJM07’s nose was given a refresh during the season, with the nostril section beside the tip pushed back and the front wing pillars redesigned.

Toro Rosso made improvements to its nose design during the course of the season, with a more contoured brow utilised, while the channels beside the droopy tip featured a more arched outline to improve flow around the assembly.

Max Verstappen, Scuderia Toro Rosso STR9

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Max Verstappen, Scuderia Toro Rosso STR9

Further changes were made in the closing stages of the season as Toro Rosso made the switch to a design more akin to Red Bull’s solution.

Williams had its nose tip extend out over the front of the mainplane but didn’t extend the channels beside it as far upwards as some of its rivals.

Sauber had a similar design to Williams, albeit with a more bulbous tip section that reached back under the main body of the nose.

Robin Frijns, Caterham CT05

Photo by: Alastair Staley / Motorsport Images

Robin Frijns, Caterham CT05

Caterham had perhaps the ugliest variant of these nose solutions, as it opted for a very narrow pair of front wing pillars that connected to the underside of the elongated tip. This also allowed the team to simply create a wedge section in the rear portion of the nose, rather than having to incorporate the pillars, as its rivals had.

Caterham would tidy up its nose design later in the season, as it used a vanity panel to improve flow characteristics and the aesthetic appeal.

The sublime and the ridiculous 

The remaining teams had their own ideas about how to deal with the constraints laid out within the technical regulations, with Mercedes and Ferrari the closest to what the regulations intended.

Meanwhile, Lotus ploughed its resources into another wild solution that it hoped would help it to steal ground on its rivals – as is explained in the gallery below...

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W05, leads Nico Rosberg, Mercedes W05, Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing RB10 Renault, Fernando Alonso, Ferrari F14T, Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing RB10 Renault, Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari F14T, Nico Hulkenberg, Force India VJM07 Mercedes, and Kevin Magnussen, McLaren MP4-29 Mercedes, at the start

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W05, leads Nico Rosberg, Mercedes W05, Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing RB10 Renault, Fernando Alonso, Ferrari F14T, Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing RB10 Renault, Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari F14T, Nico Hulkenberg, Force India VJM07 Mercedes, and Kevin Magnussen, McLaren MP4-29 Mercedes, at the start

Mercedes' nose might be more like what the regulations were looking for but that’s not to say that it didn’t push the boundaries on what was intended, as the Silver Arrows created a U-shaped tip section to raise its profile. 

Following its initial success in this direction, the team modified the design during the season to increase the nose tip’s height further still. it also used a quirk in the regulations in regards to the camera housings height to use a handlebar style design, with the attachments providing their own aerodynamic effect.

Ferrari’s design was similar to the Mercedes, but the tip resided much lower, resulting in a steeper bridge to its nose. The F14T also featured a handlebar-style mounting for the camera housings.

The Lotus E22 featured a strikingly different approach to the regulations, with its solution, dubbed the twin tusk, comprising two elongated nose tips, one which sat further forward than the other in order that the longer one fulfilled the criteria imposed by the regulations.

Pastor Maldonado, Lotus F1 and Esteban Gutierrez, Sauber C33 Ferrari collide on track

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

Pastor Maldonado, Lotus F1 and Esteban Gutierrez, Sauber C33 Ferrari collide on track

The E22’s interesting asymmetric quirk at the front of the car was also followed up at the rear of the car too, as the team offset its exhaust outlet and rear wing pylon.

Red Bull took quite an interesting approach to the regulation change, as it still aimed to allow the airflow safe passage under the nose assembly. But rather than having a solid and elongated nose tip like its rivals, it opted for a hollow box section to fulfil the dimensional criteria posed by the regulations. A U-Shaped inlet could be found in the tip to help capture airflow which would then exit behind the box section, which also tapered to a point beneath the nose.  

Red Bull also sneakily provided a space within the nosecone for FOM’s camera to be placed and added a window in the bodywork to provide a sightline for the camera. It would later replace this with the handlebar-style approach seen on the Mercedes and Ferrari.

Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing RB10

Photo by: Daniel Kalisz

Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing RB10


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