Don’t be surprised if you see some of this year’s F1 cars with an unsightly bulge on their noses. They haven’t been in a crash – or gotten their snouts broken in a fight – but are instead adhering to new rules about the maximum height of the nosecone.
The change is inherently based on safety, primarily to lessen the chance of one car’s nose intruding into the cockpit of another in the event of a side-on collision, as this forward part of these single-seater racers has been raised ever higher over the years to achieve greater downforce and traction.
The new rule affects the aerodynamics of these superfast cars and has resulted in this drastic design change ahead of the 2012 season. To date, eight of nine teams that have launched their cars – Ferrari, Mercedes GP, Red Bull Racing, Force India, Lotus, Williams, Sauber and Caterham – feature versions of the stepped nose, while McLaren has gone the opposite way with a smooth nose and lower chassis.
F1 watchers have, unsurprisingly, called the stepped nose ugly, while teams and drivers have also commented on the design. Mercedes GP team boss Ross Brawn, for one, called the slope on the F1 W03 an “acquired taste”, while Ferrari chief designer Nikolas Tombazis defended the F2012’s design, saying, “Ultimately, as far as I am concerned, an ugly car is one that doesn’t win and a beautiful car is one that does win. So, for now, I want to believe it is a beautiful car and we will have to review that after the first few races.”
Double World Champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull Racing, meanwhile, said the RB8’s nose “doesn’t look that nice, but people will get used to it”, but thought the feature would not be permanent. “It’s obviously a way to get around the regulations this year. I don’t think it will stay like that for a long time.”
Predictions are difficult, of course, especially when the benefits – or disadvantages – of the stepped nose have yet to be proven. Results during test sessions are often inconclusive, as teams may not want to show their pace too soon.
Some of the cars have also made other changes to their design, with Red Bull Racing, for example, incorporating a scoop into the bulging section of the nose, and Ferrari going with a pull-rod suspension instead of the customary push-rod.
So it’s all down to the first race of the season at Albert Park, Melbourne for the shake-down of frontrunners and laggards, while the second race, here in Sepang, will most likely offer a clearer view of the pace we will see throughout the 2012 F1 season.
Whether you like it smooth or bumpy, you should definitely be at the Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix to see how the teams do in their choices.