The Challenge Behind F1’s Endeavour for Rain ‘Spray Guards’

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Regrettably, the inaugural track testing of the prototype wheel arches, or ‘spray guards’ as they’ve been dubbed, did not yield immediate success.

Still, as an initial venture and with regard to data collection and analysis, the exercise proved beneficial. It offered the FIA a crucial starting point to address an issue that was highlighted during the Belgian GP of 2021 which was cancelled due to adverse weather.

“We had hoped for an immediate solution that could have been implemented as early as October,” conveys FIA’s single-seater director Nicolas Tombazis. “That wasn’t the case, but we remain fully committed to this project because we understand the importance of its success. A spray guard could make the difference between canceling a race or not.”

The infamous Belgian event where cars were left trailing behind the safety car due to poor visibility spurred efforts to decrease spray and enhance visibility.

The goal was to design a device that could be attached to cars when rainfall is so heavy that normal running conditions would be impossible.

Developing these prototypes, which were tested at Silverstone, required substantial effort. Each prototype is comprised of two sections that cover the top of the wheel and a side element resembling a bargeboard positioned close to the ground. The entire setup is affixed to the upright, moving along with the wheel.

Mercedes supported the test by modifying a W14 for Mick Schumacher to drive on a drenched section of Silverstone, equipped with the new devices. Simultaneously, McLaren’s Oscar Piastri provided a reference for the regular spray volume from a typical car and shared feedback on visibility after trailing the Mercedes.

The objective of the day was to accumulate data on the behavior of water kicked up by an F1 car. This would aid the FIA’s aerodynamic team in cross-referencing their findings with real-world conditions.

FIA’s head of aerodynamics, Jason Sommerville, along with his team, encountered unique difficulties, as modeling water droplets is no simple task. Road car models proved helpful, although the process was far from easy.

Tombazis explains the difficulty, stating, “It’s not as simple as just attaching a device and hoping for the best. CFD simulations are complex, especially when simulating water particles. It’s a complicated physics problem.”

The key challenge was to create a device that could function within an F1 setting with minimal disturbance to aerodynamics, while also safely staying affixed to the car at high speed.

Despite acknowledging that the Silverstone prototypes had little effect on spray reduction, Tombazis insists that the experiment was a worthwhile initial test. “There’s still a lot of exposed wheel, and we haven’t validated the concept yet, but it’s too early to rule it out.”

One complex aspect is evaluating how much spray is created by the diffuser, which the spray guard program cannot rectify. Tombazis remains optimistic, stating, “Sports cars have less of this issue. So, until we can properly quantify it, we need to continue the R&D program.”

The next version is expected to take several more months, and scheduling another test akin to Silverstone will not be easy. Once a device has been successfully tested and approved, practical considerations will also need to be addressed.

“All F1 teams are supportive, and everyone understands the potential disaster of another Spa 2021 situation or worse,” says Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin. “It’s a problem worth solving because teams and fans despise the thought of a race being cancelled due to challenging conditions. It’s FIA’s project to decide where that goes next and what happens in the future.”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about F1 Rain ‘Spray Guards’

What is the purpose of the F1 ‘spray guards’?

The ‘spray guards’, or wheel arches, are being developed to tackle issues of poor visibility and unsafe racing conditions during heavy rainfall in F1 races. They aim to reduce the amount of water spray thrown up by the wheels, which can obscure drivers’ vision.

Were the initial tests of the ‘spray guards’ successful?

The first tests of the prototype ‘spray guards’ at Silverstone did not yield an immediate solution. However, they provided valuable data and a crucial starting point for the FIA to further develop the technology.

How were the tests of the ‘spray guards’ conducted?

The tests were conducted with the support of Mercedes, who modified a W14 for Mick Schumacher to drive on a specially drenched section of Silverstone with the new devices fitted. McLaren’s Oscar Piastri provided a reference for the regular spray volume from a standard car and shared feedback on visibility changes.

What are the complexities in developing the ‘spray guards’?

Developing the ‘spray guards’ is challenging due to the complex physics involved, particularly when it comes to modelling and simulating the behavior of water droplets in a racing environment. There’s also a need to ensure minimal disturbance to aerodynamics and secure attachment of the device to the car at high speed.

What is the next step in the development of the ‘spray guards’?

The next step is to continue the R&D program. The next iteration of the ‘spray guards’ is likely to take several more months to develop, and practical considerations such as device attachment and removal during a race will also need to be addressed once a device has been successfully tested and approved.

More about F1 Rain ‘Spray Guards’

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PaulJackson July 22, 2023 - 2:54 pm

Really interesting read, these spray guards sound like they could be a game changer. Just hope they get them right soon. Weather has always been a pain in F1…

RaceJunkie July 23, 2023 - 2:03 am

Yeah I remember that Belgian GP, was a disaster. Anything that stops something like that happening again has got to be a good thing right?

MaverickWheel July 23, 2023 - 7:14 am

This tech stuff is way over my head lol, but if it helps the drivers and the race then im all for it! Keep up the good work guys.

Speedster67 July 23, 2023 - 7:18 am

Not surprised it didn’t work straight away. These things take time, and this isn’t exactly a simple issue to solve. We’ll get there eventually though, keep pushing FIA!


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