The key details to look out for when F1 launch season begins

Formula 1’s launch season is now within sight, with teams having already signed off on the specification of cars that will be revealed to the public next month.

But while some of the design elements spotted in that period will be smoke and mirrors, and sometimes even just flat-out something not being run in 2024, we should get a pretty good idea of the main concepts that will be raced.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the trends that have emerged over the last two seasons and could play a critical part in the technical battle that will develop over the forthcoming season.

With the FIA having been deliberately restrictive in closing down on areas where teams are free to make their own choices, there are some interesting avenues that have opened up to be exploited for extra performance.

Creating front wing outwash

The regulations regarding front wing designs were tightened considerably heading into 2022 to reduce teams’ ability to create outwash.

However, as expected, it didn’t take competitors long to find pockets within which to operate and leverage performance that would otherwise have been left on the table.

Mercedes had one of the more aggressive design solutions in this respect, carving out the lower rear section of the endplate and flap juncture, which required it to utilise a semi-detached flap configuration.

For 2023, the German manufacturer paired this with a cluster of cascade winglets on the inner face of the endplate. This was a feature also adopted by Red Bull, Haas and laterly Ferrari, as they too looked to influence the airflow’s behaviour in this region.

The shape of the endplate, along with its camber, has also been an area where we have seen the designers make changes during this ruleset, whilst the outer canard is also tweaked accordingly.

Pushing on with downwash

One area of the car where we saw the most variety under these new regulations when the cars first appeared was the design of the sidepods, as each team arrived with their own design concept.

However, we quickly saw teams converging on the downwash ramp-style solution, with several teams, including Aston Martin (pictured) pursuing a central gulley too.

Ferrari and Mercedes tried to stick it out for 2023, retaining their bathtub-style and zeropod solutions respectively initially, but both made the switch during the course of the season.

Evidently, the downwash ramp-style sidepod isn’t solely about the bodywork being sloped toward the rear portion of the car, because there are many other design factors to consider.

The sidepod’s width is probably at the top of that list, as teams have all started to move in a design direction that results in a high, wide-shoulder position.

In Red Bull’s case, a team that had the downwash ramp-style solution from the off, it opted to refine the internal cooling characteristics of its car, leading it to favour a design with a much shallower inlet.

Multiple updates were added during 2023, as it looked to maximise the RB19’s performance in this respect, whilst others also took notice and began incorporating similar features.

Playing with the wingtip vortex

Two new rear wingtip solutions appeared in 2023. These appear similar on the face of it, but have subtle differences that will also result in a performance differential.

Amazingly they appeared simultaneously on the Alpine A523 and Aston Martin AMR23 at the Monaco Grand Prix but have since been taken up by other teams.

Both solutions take a swipe at the intent of the newer endplate and flap arrangements, which were introduced as part of the new rules package to reduce the amount of control the designers had over the wingtip vortex.

This was a continuation of what the sport had done in 2019 when teams were no longer able to utilise the forward endplate louvres they had been employing for over a decade.

These new open-ended solutions work in unison with the tip section and the rear endplate cutout to deliver the desired effect, with the Alpine variant having the metal support sat inboard of the endplate’s outer edge, revealing a full shedding surface on the tip section’s edge.

Aston Martin’s variant idea (seen on the Mercedes, above) sees the metal insert adding enough support to increase the rear cutout’s dimensions and allowing the shape of the tip section to be altered.

Safety push impacting ideas

In terms of regulation changes that might spark interest at the car launches, there won’t be a great deal to feast your eyes upon as the rulebook is pretty much identical.

However, one of the changes that could impact how teams find performance in 2024 relates to the design of the floor’s edge.

The FIA has instructed teams that they will no longer be able to use metallic components or inserts in the outer perimeter of the floor, including the fences and edge wing, aside from any brackets and wear protection that are already allowed within the regulations.

This change has been forced through on safety grounds because of concerns about the potential danger of these metallic parts coming loose in the case of an impact.

Designers could well be forced into a rethink about some of the more complex geometries that they’ve been able to utilise up until this point, which could have an impact on performance as this is such a critical area for generating downforce.

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