I know single seater cars have wings, but what do they do?
Few people actually understand why race cars have wings usually positioned at the rearmost point of the car and the front most point of the car; actually understanding the effects they have on a race car can dramatically improve your ability to get the most speed out the car as you physically can. As they say knowledge is power (or speed in this case)…
Wings are also known as ‘spoilers’, few people understand that they do exactly what their name suggests; they spoil and disrupt the airflow over the surface of the car, which in turn creates downforce.
I understand they affect the air but how does this ‘downforce’ help me drive the car?
The greater amount of downforce that a car has the greater amount of load you have on your tyres. In simple terms load is the same as weight, the more weight you have pressing down on your tyres the more grip you are going to have, because the car is being pushed into the track surface, this effect is most obvious when cornering; when taking slow corners there is very little airflow pressing down on the car’s wings and therefore you are more prone to sliding and spinning whereas during high speed flowing corners you have high levels of downforce due to the amount of air pressing down on the car; this is why engineers will frequently tell you to go faster around corners that you already find difficult to control the car in.
No. In some cases having greater levels of downforce is highly beneficial such as around Monaco due to constant corners and very few straights, whereas at Monza you would sacrifice cornering speed for straight-line speed.
So overall it is key to remember that dependant on what track you are driving that is how to plan your wing setup.
Now I understand that down force is beneficial and generated by the wings on my car, how do I know what wing to alter when applying setup changes?
When applying setup changes to your car it is key to know how the front and rear wings differ in how they affect your cars handling.
Having a steeper gradient applied to your front wing will generate stronger front-end grip which can be used to cure oversteer and understeer. This will however increase drag levels, which will cost you top speed down the straights. As with any setup changes your goal is to find a balanced setup that will work in your favour around corners and on the straights. Be warned that adding too much front wing will cause too much oversteer and needs to be balanced by the rear wing.
The rear wing is usually much larger than the front wing on a race car, this means that changes made to the rear will have a much more dramatic effect that changes that are made to the front of the car. A steeper gradient on the rear wing will offer far greater levels of grip at the rear of the car but will generate high levels of drag down the straights; this will compromise the top speed of your car and needs to be balanced depending on what track you are on.
I understand what the wings will do for my car now but what is drag?
Drag is simple to understand, the purpose of wings is to create downforce, but having too much downforce will slow your car down in a straight line. This is known as drag. Therefore when adjusting your wing setups it is important to bear in mind that you may be causing too much drag down the straights; to avoid this you need to find the perfect balance between cornering grip and straight line speed.