F1’s 2017 mission? Better looking cars…then why the ‘Shark Fin’?

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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.


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Tom Firth

Got used to the huge fins in LMP cars, as much as I hated them to start with. It just becomes normal to see them on the cars eventually. Same as will with F1.


I disagree.

Tom Firth

Far more concerned about the fact half the cars have huge empty spaces were sponsors should be, rather than something as trivial as this.

Negative Camber

When it’s function over form, technology folks tend to miss the point on pure high design. When it is form and function, some folks get both sides of the equation. Good design is good business and good performance and happy customers. F1 is no different. IF the group were writing the regs to make better looking cars, then these experts clearly should have known the fin would be used given their regulations didn’t prevent it. This is writing regulations to lead to better design. What this tells me is that when they wrote the regulations, they felt the fin would… Read more »

Tom Firth

They’ve got them on GP2 cars, have them on Super Formula cars, have them on LMP1 cars… had them on F1 cars. I don’t see how its an issue in the design of the car when its become almost standard in single seater cars. It looks slightly odd from a full side view, sure… but that’s an angle which television rarely picks up anyway. The rest the angles, I don’t see the issue.

Negative Camber

We’ve certainly had them before and fair enough, it’s not a deal-breaker by any means, what I’m more intrigued by is that those cars were all using function over form trying to extrapolate the most out of the regulations and I completely understand that. I’m intrigued that the 2017 regulations were mainly focused on making a far better “looking” car with wide tires, wide track, lower wings, mechanical grip and swept-back wings. Why, if this is the mission, would you allow for a giant fin running half the length of the car? It doesn’t matter to me that we’ve had… Read more »

Tom Firth

No. The sole purpose of the regulations as far as the FIA was concerned is to make an better ‘looking’ car that’s quicker. That’s not the sole point of the designers and engineers. The designers and engineers sole purpose is to make a car that wins. They don’t care whether it looks good or not, as is obvious by the design solutions they’ve come up in the past decade. If the FIA wants to be that explicit on what cars look like, then they would have to draw an actual design and give it to the teams and we’d have… Read more »

Negative Camber

As I said above, i get it. I understand why the fin is there, I’m not arguing to entire notion of regulatory exploitation. What I am puzzled by is that the regulations allowed for it in the first place. The point I might disagree with you on is the concept that the FIA would need to draw a design and then tell teams their cars need to look like that. There is a reason the cars all look very similar coming from completely different makers. The regulations are tightly written on all aspects of the chassis so there is limited… Read more »

Tom Firth

Yeah I never saw any renders from F1 publications with a fin either and yes that is what the press releases etc spoke about, then again they said a lot of good things about the 2014 regulations too in press releases and magazines and we know how well those were received when reality happened.

Anyway lets leave it at that :-) I’ll go back to watching the WSBK season opener from Phillip Island for the second time. it was THAT good :-)


Wsbk has started? Damn SKYNZ! They must have dropped the coverage

Salvu Borg

what will people say if a car looks pleasing and more aggressive but is a donkey on track? all the car designer is interested in is extracting the most aero down force from his design and not the looks of the car.

Negative Camber

I understand that. I get the entire notion of exploiting every angle you can to extract performance. I’m not new to F1 ;) What I am saying is that the visual appeal of the car was a big factor for them. The Fin removes some of that appeal for many fans and I’m not sure why they didn’t anticipate that it would given that the goal was to make a more visually appealing car with quicker lap times.

I understand why the fin is there, I’m not sure I understand why the regulations allowed for it.

Salvu Borg

the regulations wanted a much smaller and lower rear wing, there was no way for a designer to get the desired aero effect with the rear wing as specified.

Negative Camber

Right, I think that’s perfectly legit as to why a fin would be desired in order to try to clean the air up at the leading edge of the rear wing. I agree on that point for sure although I’m no engineer. Here’s a bit of a counter argument or perhaps justification for not allowing this space to be exploited by THE FIN! ;) So the rear wing gets some splashy air over it instead of a controlled and direct airflow? Is that a bad thing as it may mean less aero downforce on rear wing meaning less dialed in… Read more »

Gaetano Colosi

The term you are looking for is laminar flow. The shark fin helps polarize the flow in one plane to try and achieve this … only 1/2 way there. The ‘t-wing’ helps polarize the flow in the other plane. Looks like Ferrari got it right and Merc are playing catch-up. The angle of attack is important on a wing. The shark fin does nothing to adjust that angle, all it does is ensure airflow is directed longitudinally along the axis of the car. Would need to study stacks of CFD data to see how this helps, but it obviously does.… Read more »

Negative Camber

there you go, good to have someone that knows what I’m trying to say. :) While you’re here, is there any thought as to if the fin would be as relied upon if the underfloor was longer? My hunch is it wouldn’t matter but there again, I’m no engineer.

Gaetano Colosi

I can’t answer that. My guess would be that if it did make a difference then the designers need to rework the diffusers.

Tom Firth

Lets put it this way. Are far more ugly elements to single seater racing car designs around the world than this, and to closed cockpit cars.

Salvu Borg

the FIA cannot ban anything because of taste in the looks of cars, the design shape of everything on the car is driven by aero needs, those concerned opted for more aero (projected + 200kg of down force), now that results in the shape/looks of the cars presented, in short, this is what they have asked for. some F1 followers (me included) argued that F1 needed less aero and not more of it. now all those that were so exited about the new aero regs are screaming bloody murder as regards the looks of the cars.


Me too

Junipero Mariano

Ban the fin…and the button noses…and the super wide front wing…

As far as asthetics go, Mercedes got it right by far. They even sought to hide how wide the front wing was by painting it black where it sat in front of the tires.

I understand that you need wide wings to direct the airflow around the tires, but if you’re aiming for good looks, it’s got to be closer in width to the rear wing.


I don’t mind the width of the front wing – what I really don’t like is its complexity. With their ever-expanding number of elements they look like absurdly convoluted contraptions hanging off the nose of the car. I’d love to see a rule mandating no more than 2 horizontal and 2 vertical elements in the front wing.

Junipero Mariano

“As far as asthetics go, Mercedes got it right by far.”

But then I saw the STR12…


As long as you’re not asking to #BanTheFinn, then I agree, F1 would look better without these (and the T wings). However I do take Brawn’s point, that such changes should not be knee jerk reactions, but considered approaches. He has talked in the past of having a longer term view of the sport, planning changes for three years time, rather than three weeks time.

The only saving grace for such a structure would be if the teams were forced to put the driver’s race number there in numbers a foot high (30cm for those born more recently).


These fins weren’t explicitly banned in the previous regulations, so it must be the lower rear wings benefit more from having these structures than the high narrow wings we had before.

Negative Camber

I was thinking it was because they approved DRS and they didn’t need the fins then, that’s why they were absent from car design but now that rear wing is lower, they have a use again. Just my hunch.


The fins were banned from connecting with the rear wing, which is how they were used for F-ducts. With higher rear wings & no need to clean up the airflow onto them, the fins no longer served a purpose to justify their extra weight.

I’m with you though, I think they should be banned and furthermore that the maximum wheelbase should have been shorter than it is. The cars are wider now, but many of them have lengthened as well & have pretty much the same proportions as last year’s. Without a fin these cars would look like stretch limousines.

Salvu Borg

Correct, the rules never banned shark fins/sails, the only part that was banned was the connection to the rear wing by the fin/sail in 2011, which left the cars with then with a slightly shorter fin/sail.


If it were up to me, I’d ban the fins in a heartbeat – they make the cars look pig ugly, and especially when they haven’t even tried to disguise them. Sauber at least tried, but the Williams? What is that? However… we can’t go on banning technical solutions just because we think they’re ugly. There has to be a valid technical or sporting reason to ban them, otherwise it will just be another exercise in monkeying with the rules for “the show”. But if it can be shown that they defeat the purpose of some of the 2017 technical… Read more »

jiji the cat

Butt ugly. The merc looks great but I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that they have designed a shark fin into there system that they will test in Barcelona.
These cars are creating a feeling of hurling. Either hurling up my food or hurling something at someone

charlie white

The Merc is supposedly get the shark fin or engine cover sail sometime during the Barcelona pre-season test. And if the other cars around are as fast or uncomfortably close to it, we’ll see it in Melbourne a month later.


Yes, I’ve read that they only left the fin off because it was too windy at Silverstone.

Chris C

Aesthetics are second to the teams to performance. It’s reverse to the league. The league somehow didn’t realize the teams would use the unsightly fin which is why none of the original pictures projecting the 2017 cars included it. It was an unfortunate oversight. The solution is actually pretty simple. Raise the wing height regulations back up. The car will still look more aggressive than 2016, as will the wider wing, despite its height.


Thanks for taking this on. Really disappointing since the launches started as the fin which only a marketing guy could love and the return of the ugly nose that Mercedes countinues to eschew then beats their brains out with a better looking car.
I only hope the cars are competitive and close.


Frankly Mercedes had such a power advantage that they could have won without any nose. This year Renault have apparently improved their engine with the Red Bull predicted to be best car aerodynamically. Consider that with the fact that Red Bull were all over Mercedes by the end of the season, it should be easily a RB walk over this year.


Sorry, I respectfully disagree. It’s not that I don’t think RBR will walk over Merc this year. They might, but I can’t predict the future. In reading between the lines, you seem to give Merc no credit for continuing to produce great looking, fast cars. It’s just the engine right? But on the other hand, the great Mr. Newey’s designs could win with little more than a lawn mower motor. Somewhere Aldo Costa is laughing his a$$ off right now. I wish he was still at Ferarri.

Gaetano Colosi

I disagree. Merc have not got it right. They are trying anything and everything. Looks like a mess to me. Guaranteed in Melbourne half that stuff hanging off the car will have disappeared. And what’s with putting a ‘T-wing’ on a stick? Looks amateurish to me. Looks like they spotted the Ferrari solution and thought “damn … we missed that loophole in the rules”. I am not a fan of the shark fins, but if you really want to make the cars look better look at the front and get rid of those ridiculous wings. There should only be 2… Read more »


Ban both and that fugly nose while there at it.


The shark fin is shagnasty. Out of all the changes I like the lowered back wing the most, makes the cars look low and fast. The Merc is a good looking ride.

Paul KieferJr

Why does this remind me of endurance racing (IMSA, ELMS, etc.)?


Just go back to 1991 rear wing heights, those looked the most aggressive of all the F1 decades, and it will remove the need for a fin.


it’s too high

Steve Wyant

It doesn’t really matter. Ever since aerodynamics really took hold in F1, the cars have always been ugly.

Salvu Borg

The shark fin/sails makes the car look taller. the shark fin/sails negates the effect of lowering the rear wing height.
The real question THOSE so upset by the looks of the cars out to ask is: was the aerodynamics benefit really so crucial for SOME to insist upon its return?.
Aesthetics never was an issue with F1 engineers, F1 is a speed competition
and not a beauty pageant.


Yep, I don’t disagree with your analogy but NC’s point is, why change the rules to ensure a more appealing, faster car, when the solution results in something just as bad? At least they could have used 70 inch flat screen tv’s for the fin so we would have something interesting to watch during the races.


More importantly, are the tyres now too wide for drivers to sit on? Drivers have been noticeably absent from the launch publicity shots of these cars, with only the Renault drivers making an appearance (although they seemed to have come straight from a fishing trip and didn’t get the time to remove their waders before the photographs).

J Cotter

Hahaha… nice one! my Dad had some trousers like that – he was a maintenance electrician in the docks and they gave him some like that for when he had to work outside in bad weather! Knew it reminded me of something! lol.

Negative Camber

Always ruining something for somebody. comment image


Isn’t there an obvious solution to satisfy both the aerodynamic end-game for a shark fin allowable and effective for performance in the current 2017 tech regs… as well as reverence to the aesthetic appeal of the look of the 2017 cars? Transparent solution. I mean… there is little of highly structural of nature in the Shark Fin design needs. The fin is really onlt thick enough to be self supporting and keep a symetrically divided air flow. So… make the fin from a transparent material. Make the fin essentiaĺly ghost away from any solid visibility. Polycarbonate or similar. KISS principle.… Read more »


Does this mean that we’re going to see “Shark Fins” on production road cars in the coming years?

You’ve got fins to the left.. fins to the right..

Tom Firth

The Jaguar D type had a stabilising fin in racing in the 60s, and the recent Bugatti vision Gran Turismo concept featured one so the answer is yes… Maybe.


transparent plexiglass shark fin would work?

Zachary Noepe

I think Sauber should put Tatiana Calderon on the grid if this is the priority. The car with her in it is going to be better looking than any of last year’s entries.

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