As the Formula 1 season gets ready for its first winter test, the teams have launched their new 2017 challengers in the face of some of the most radical regulatory changes in decades. The new 2017 regulations were intended to create more aggressive, better looking cars with a wider track, wider tires and lower, swept-back wings.
The excitement that normally accompanies the car launches became slightly, if not largely, muted as fans stared in stunned silence at the new cars. It wasn’t that the teams missed the swept-back wings, wider tires, wider cars or even the lowered rear wing, it was the inclusion of a massive, unsightly vane just behind the roll hoop extending all the way back to the rear wing that caught them off guard. This design element has been referee to as a “shark fin” or simply “fin” and it’s given rise to a new hashtag, #BantheFin.
The Fin is a aerodynamic element that is no stranger to F1. It appeared back in 2010 when the series was toying with the F-duct concept but disappeared when F1 approved the loathsome DRS element to the rear wings of the cars.
Now, the fin has returned with a vengeance on most of the cars, Mercedes withstanding. The Fin is designed to control and clean the airflow over the roll hoop and back to the rear wing. As the rear wing is much lower this season, getting clean and controlled air to the wing improves the efficiency of the wing and that’s critical to creating downforce. A rear wing likes uniform, direct airflow over its leading edges and if the air is crashing into its working edge from different angles willy-nilly, it becomes grumpy and less compliant.
The Fin is designed to clean the air and control its path in a more uniform and direct flow over the rear wing. The regulations allow for the Fin but fans aren’t so sure about its aesthetics and put simply, why would the FIA go to all the effort to make the cars look much more aggressive and seriously more appealing than last year’s car only to miss the inclusion of a shark fin that completely ruins the sightline and curb appeal of the F1 car?
Mercedes got it right
Perhaps that’s why most fans feel that Mercedes got the design right. They had a slightly extended cowling but no massive shark fin on their car. They did, however, toy with a small area just ahead of the rear wing that allows for something the teams are calling the T-Wing and both Mercedes and Ferrari were testing these elements. The T-Wing will have the same mission, clean and control the airflow over the rear wing.
Interestingly, it’s not only the fans who feel Mercedes got it right, even McLaren’s chief engineer Peter Prodromou says that Mercedes did the best job of it, “The car that has impressed me so far is the Mercedes,” he said. “Clearly Mercedes has put a huge amount of man hours into the car. “That’s the one that stands out.”
When the chief engineer of another team says your car is the best of the lot, that’s a big endorsement and perhaps a critical indictment of McLaren’s efforts. Again, why would teams go to such great lengths to primarily improve the visual appeal of F1 cars in 2017—and don’t kid yourself, that was the biggest reason for these regulation changes—and then completely cock it up by allowing for an eyesore like the shark fin?
Fans are calling for a ban of the Fin and in my mind, if the teams can show a massive aerodynamic reason they need them in order to make their cars work, then I agree with the mobocracy in removing the shark fin and getting these cars back to their original intent…a slight retro style akin to the era of low, mean, aggressive cars that moves the pendulum back toward to center where the driver has an equal impact on the speed and pace of the F1 car.