Aero upgrades: the F1 development story


The ‘balloon effect’ states that, by squeezing a balloon in one place, you don’t reduce its volume, you merely increase that inflation elsewhere.

It’s the same with Formula 1 aerodynamics.

When 2009’s technical regulations banned many of the flicks, flaps and wings that had proliferated, they didn’t curtail aero development, they just intensified the effort to maximise those few remaining areas left open to exploitation. 

Which is why all teams pay huge attention to a few very specific areas on the car. And, with power unit development largely limited by the token system, teams don’t tend to make large developmental aero strides in-season, but instead make dozens of tiny, incremental steps on a race-by-race basis.

So what’s actually being developed and changed? McLaren-Honda’s engineering director Matt Morris is your guide…


Front wing

What does it do?
“In terms of importance, the front wing, nosebox and front brake ducts are the most influential aerodynamic areas on a modern Formula 1 car.

“And that’s because their development largely affects the rest of the car – it’s not merely about finding front downforce, it’s about finding performance downstream on the rest of the car.

How long does it take to make?
“The front wing assembly is very complicated – it’s a mixture of composite structures, non-structural composite parts, and metallic parts. About 200 components in all.

“It’s also a complete bonded assembly, so you can’t just bolt things on and off, except the adjustable flap. In terms of concept to track – it takes between six to eight weeks.

“We’ll make two or three wholesale changes to the front wing during a year. We’ll bring our second front wing iteration of the year to Barcelona.”

Rear wing

What does it do?
It’s the major influence on creating rear downforce.

“The rear wing is a much simpler structure than the front. The regulations are a lot more restrictive, so you’re more limited on shape and development.

“The only development there tends to be if you are pushing to load it a bit more, or you’re developing a low-downforce special for Spa and Monza.

How long does it take to make?
A low downforce rear wing also requires all-new endplate as they have to correspond with the revised mainplane profile. From initial study to final design takes around six to eight weeks.

Front brake ducts

What do they do?
“Ironically, most of their job is not to cool the front brakes! Although, obviously, they do have to do cool the caliper and the disc, they’re more about managing the aerodynamic wake off the car – either flowing over and around the tyre, or through the wheel itself. The heat from the brakes goes into the wheel, so every team uses them to manage tyre temperature.

How long do they take to make?
“Secondary to front wings, the complexity within the front brake ducts is extreme. You have to manage disc cooling, caliper cooling, airflow management, tyre temperature management, and electrical cooling of the electrical control boxes.

“That’s five things to get right – while also designing around the upright structures, the wishbones and the bearing. There’s probably 100 parts in each corner, and we’re making little updates to them almost every race.

“A wholesale concept change is four to six weeks. If it’s just little bits, you can change them between races.” 

The floor

What does it do?
The floor channels airflow beneath the car, effectively delivering it to the rear of the car and its diffuser, where it produces downforce. 

“It’s a very complex piece – it has loads of little modular bits, and, like (Only Fools & Horses character) Trigger’s broom, it’s changing all the time. In 2016, we’re still using ‘Floor Three’, but it’s already had a few new front bits and some new back bits – it’s been a few incarnations.”

How long does it take to make?
“It’s probably on the same lifecycle as the front wing – so, two or a maximum of three wholesale changes during a season. It takes six to eight weeks to conceive a whole new floor.”


What does it do?
Like the front wing, the nosebox plays a key role in dictating airflow over the rest of the car. It’s also a deformable crash structure (progressively deforming in the event of impact), meaning that it must be tested and approved by the FIA before being allowed to race. 

“The nosebox is quite difficult to develop – now that every team has gone to these super-short noseboxes, it’s really hard to pass the FIA’s crash test. So you’d only really choose to embark on a new nose concept if you’d found a pretty substantial aero gain.

How long does it take to make?
“Once you’ve made the decision on the nose, you design the rest of the car around it. After that, it’s not really worth changing, and the rules have matured enough for there to be little incremental benefit in making a change.”