A History of Nose Cone Design

A History of Nose Cone Design

The nose cone of a Formula 1 car plays a crucial role in aerodynamics by redirecting airflow to the sides of the car rather than into the cockpit. This design not only aids in cooling the vehicle but also enhances its overall efficiency.
The 1970s brought significant innovation, with landmark models like the Ferrari 312T showcasing distinctive "shovel" nose designs. This period was characterized by increased aerodynamic research.

There have been many different types of nose cone designs however in this article we deal mainly with the High F1 Nose Cone era. Tyrell then introduced the first car with a High F1 Nose Cone (namely the Tyrrell 019) in 1990, the car was not at the top of the field and raised a lot of questions about its efficiency.

It was however a primitive type as several important points of a high nose design were not yet thought of. Things would change as everything evolves with time.
As each season evolved, the mechanical parts became smaller and smaller, increasing the advantages of a small and high nose. By 1997 all low nosed cars had disappeared in favour of the higher alternative. The design is one thing, but optimising it is another.

The last front running low nosed car was designed by Williams F1 in 1994. The year before, Alain Prost won the 1993 championship with the Williams FW15C. Relying on this success, the 1994 Williams FW16 still featured a low nose, but the car was usually outpaced by Benetton's Michael Schumacher who took his first championship, and the first for a high nosed car as well. Williams F1 aerodynamic mastermind Adrian Newey who soon realised that the high F1 Nose Cone was the way to proceed, and the team came up with the Williams FW17, their first ever high nosed design that continued the team's strong form of the nineties.

High F1 Nose Cone Advantages

In order to see the benefits of a high F1 nose cone design, you need to look at the bigger picture and see the nose as a part of the entire Formula One car. As is evident on the Williams FW15C and the Williams FW16, even low noses were designed more and more to get air to flow at each side of the car, rather than direct it over the nose and onto the helmet area. Aerodynamicists realised that it was no use feeding air to the helmet area, as it's a turbulent zone that negatively affects the rear wing's efficiency.

Exactly as with the high nose designs that followed, the F1 Nose Cone was now designed to help feed air into the sidepods to aid cooling, while on the other hand increasing airflow around and underneath the car. With more air flowing underneath the car, the flow through the diffuser also increases, enhancing the suction effect on the car towards the ground. This effect is highly desired by designers as downforce generated this way comes with less drag compared to front or rear wings.

One additional advantage of high noses, as illustrated on the Red Bull RB1 of 2005 is that the front wing can span over the car's entire width, rather than be separated by a low nose. It used to be possible to generate downforce in this middle section as well, but regulation changes in 2009 mandated an aerodynamic neutral section in the middle of the wing.

Later regulation changes that limited the diffuser's size further pushed designers into raising the nose to increase under-car airflow, up to a point where it restricted driver visibility and created a security hazard in case of side impact collisions. To curb this, yet another regulation change in 2012 lowered the height of the nose cone, and a further change effective in 2014 further lowers the height of the nosetip while still mandating a 'high' nose - leaving room under the nose for a full width front wing.

Built to Crash

Apart from its obvious aerodynamic purpose, F1 nose cones could not even be left out if a team wanted to, as it's a mandatory car component to ensure safety in case of a crash. As such it must comply with several strength and measurement rules that are set by the FIA.

Not only must it absorb energy in the case of a head-on collision, but it must also be strong enough to support the front wing.

Made of carbon fibre sheets impregnated with resin, the structure is manually laminated to provide the most effective energy-absorbing properties. During its construction, individual plies of carbon fibre are layered and staggered so that the car's deceleration is controlled progressively.

"The beauty of composite construction is that you can put plies exactly where they need to be to optimise the load-bearing requirement," explains Matthew Jeffreys, Senior Project Engineer, McLaren F1 Racing. "The component's function as the frontal energy-absorbing structure is regulated by Formula 1's governing body, the FIA, with its length being influenced by the amount of energy and deceleration it must sustain."

Each new F1 nose box design must pass two mandatory tests, one a static side load test and the other an impact test. In this, the F1 nose cone is fitted to a monocoque, complete with driver dummy, mounted on a trolley and crashed into a wall.

To pass the test, all the energy must be absorbed by the nosebox, with no damage incurred to the monocoque or dummy. Such test includes pushing a nose into a solid wall at 14 metres per second to verify its absorption properties.
"People often comment that the test speed of 14 metres per second (around 50km/h) is not very fast compared with the speed at which a Formula 1 car travels," says Jeffreys. "But during the test the car is in effect hitting an immovable brick wall, whereas on the circuit the crash barriers take some of the energy so not all of it is absorbed by the nosebox itself." Upon impact, the carbon fibre will turn to dust.

"Generally the smaller the particles you are left with, the more efficient the structure has been," he explains. Another of the F1 nose box crucial functions is as the supporting structure for the front wing assembly, which is mounted by two aerodynamically shaped wing hangers" - as mandated by the regulations.
Recent Evolution

Generally, F1 Nose Cone design is only limited by the strength and dimension requirements, even though regulations also stipulate it is not allowed to change it during a race with a heavier version.

Moving elements inside the nose are also banned as they are likely to be considered as moving aerodynamic devices, as Renault found out in 2006 after its tuned mass damper was found illegal.

Recent Developments

One of the more recent developments in F1 nose cone design has been to make the part flexible such that the front wing can bend downward under high loads while still making sure the front wing itself can pass the flexibility tests.

Red Bull Racing appears to have initiated this trend as a response to FIA's ever increasing tests to limit front wing flexiblity.
In conclusion, the nose cone is a vital component of Formula 1 cars, balancing aerodynamics, safety, and regulatory compliance. Its evolution from the early high nose designs to the sophisticated structures used today highlights the continuous innovation in Formula 1 engineering.

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