The Rise and Fall of Bargeboards in F1

Ross Brawn, along with F1’s technical working group, immediately cited the complex aerodynamic solution as one of the changes needed to reduce the aerodynamic aftermath created by the cars and allow for a closer race in the future.

In recent years, driven by the openness of the regulations in that region, bargeboards had become increasingly complex – and by the end of 2021 they had been provided with the most intricate details.

The bargeboard had humble beginnings, so maybe it’s time to think about how they got started in F1 and how they’ve evolved over time.

The McLaren MP4/8 was the first F1 car to appear with what we think of as a bargeboard, a simple one-piece case mounted between the front suspension and sidepods. Although these fittings were on the car during the first race of the season, in Kyalami, they were absent when the team arrived at the second round of the championship in Brazil.

They returned for the European Grand Prix at Donington, the scene of Ayrton Senna’s wet weather masterclass, where the Brazilian driver, who started fourth, lost a place at the start but finished in the lead on lap 1. Michael Schumacher had overtaken Karl Wendlinger, Damon Hill and Alain Prost.

But while McLaren had innovated early on, Benetton also arrived in Donington with his own bargeboard design – although McLaren believed its rival team’s design was not exactly within the legality of the rulebook.

Ayrton Senna, McLaren Ford MP4/8

Photo By: Sutton Images

Former McLaren aerodynamicist Henri Durand told Autosport in 2020: “My greatest satisfaction would be the MP4/8, if we go on a barge to South Africa – and one race later Benetton copied it! Frankly, there was a little discussion. The interpretation of the arrangement with ours was perfectly legal, absolutely because when you look at the car from below there was no gap, the contours of the various shadow plates etc. there was no gap between the rear tangent of the front wheel and the front tangent of the rear wheel.

“Benetton didn’t. They had their confirmation front and rear, which means when I look at the car from below, there was a big hole, which I was a little bit startled by Charlie [Whiting] would have let that happen. Anyway, we saw that we had been very, very innovative – and a race later we let Benetton copy it. And a few races later everyone copies it. That was very satisfying.”

The bargeboards only reappeared in Monaco and were due to make another appearance at the Hungaroring, suggesting the team used them on tracks that required a slightly different aerodynamic configuration, particularly at the higher end of the downforce range.

The bargeboards helped reposition the airflow around the rear of the car, redirecting the flow in front of the sidepods and the floor for better performance at slower speeds.

The MP4/8 had what we think of as a traditional bargeboard, but it could be argued that there were examples of this, with teams using a shorter wheel guard deflector behind the front wheel in the ’80s.

After McLaren’s use of bargeboards in 1993, it wasn’t long before the other teams realized the benefits of using this part of the car as a means of improving overall aerodynamic performance.

For example, Ferrari tried to fix some issues with the original design of the 412T1’s sidepods, it also incorporated bargeboards into their design to help adjust the passage of airflow around them (above).

Ferrari 412T1

Ferrari 412T1

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

In the period that followed, teams developed their bargeboard solutions in line with the evolving face of aerodynamic development and the ever-changing regulatory landscape.

Perhaps the most controversial moment of involving bargeboards was in 1999, when Mika Hakkinen battled Eddie Irvine for the drivers’ title in a duel that would last until the last race of the season at Suzuka – but only after the FIA ​​made its own decision from the previous race in Malaysia.

Both Ferrari drivers were disqualified from the Malaysian Grand Prix when a post-race check found that the bargeboards of their F399s did not comply with Article 3.12.1 of the technical regulations.

The Ferrari bargeboard that caused their disqualification

The Ferrari bargeboard that caused their disqualification

Photo By: Sutton Images

3.12.1 All suspended parts of the car which are more than 33 cm behind the centerline of the front wheel and more than 33 cm in front of the centerline of the rear wheel and which are visible from below, must form surfaces lying on one of the two parallel planes, the reference plane or the step-by-step plan. This does not apply to visible parts of rear-view mirrors, provided that each of these areas does not exceed 90 cm² when projected on a horizontal plane above the car. The stepping surface must be 50 mm above the reference plane.

This requires that every part that can be seen below the car between the dimensional criteria is on the reference or step planes, meaning that no part can exist above those planes if they are not shaded below. In the case of Ferrari, part of the bargeboard footplate was missing from the reference plane, and viewed from below, the main vertical surface was visible.

Ferrari F399 floor and bargeboard detail

Ferrari F399 floor and bargeboard detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Ferrari argued that this was a manufacturing defect and that it was not intended to undermine the regulations for performance gains and further questioned the FIA’s methods of measuring legality, arguing that these were within the tolerance of +/- 5mm mentioned in article 3.12.6 of the rules, instead of the 10mm suggested by the stewards.

How bargeboard has evolved over time

In the years that followed, the designs became more complex as teams looked for ways to unlock the performance of the surrounding structures, as well as the bargeboards themselves, and optimize them in harmony with each other.

When Formula 1 entered a new phase in 2009, the sport had looked at ways to shape the regulations to facilitate closer racing and improve overtaking. The small technical working group responsible for doing this had very limited resources, especially if we compare it to those working on the 2022 regulations.

Nevertheless, they identified key areas of the car that needed to be changed, with the dimensional criteria of the front and rear wings changed drastically, significantly curtailing the aerodynamic furniture that had grown around the rear of the car and removing the bargeboards.

However, the teams drew the line here and intervened when some rule changes were made, including a box region that allowed them to continue harnessing the power of the bargeboard, albeit in a much more limited way.

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The BrawnGP BGP001 was the standout car of the season as Jenson Button won the Drivers’ Championship and the team took the Constructors’ crown. While resources were scarce during the campaign, the bargeboards did receive some attention, with the slightly higher, triangular element (stake) being traded in for the stepped and shorter version later in the season.

When F1 entered the hybrid era in 2014, the regulations underwent another transformation, but with some aerodynamic changes to the regulations and the removal of blown diffusers, the cars’ overall downforce levels were reduced.

In addition, an increase in weight associated with the introduction of the powerplants had resulted in that generation of cars being significantly slower from a lap time point of view.

To counter these issues, the FIA ​​has put in place plans that would help the teams recoup lost lap time, with the new regulations coming into effect in 2017.

When bargeboards went wild

Bargeboards were one area where the FIA ​​had decided to loosen the noose on the designers as part of the regulations overhaul, with a much larger box region available in which to fit bodywork.

This led not only to much larger bargeboards, but also to much more complex shapes and connecting structures, as the teams looked for ways to connect the bargeboards to the surrounding physical structures, such as the rotary vanes and the expanded sidepod deflectors, so that they could work more harmoniously. …

Red Bull RB14 bargeboards, 2018

Red Bull RB14 bargeboards, 2018

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Many of the teams started using a trick that allowed them to add slots in the surface of the body on the reference plane, making for a much more aggressive and detailed lower element.

To achieve this, they added slots in the surfaces above, which meant they couldn’t solve the same problem Ferrari had in 1999, when they looked up from under the car, the alignment of the slots in each of the surfaces meant that they complied with the rules.

To keep the teams in check a bit, the FIA ​​made some subtle changes to the regulations for 2019 and again bargeboards were on the agenda, although it could be argued that they didn’t go far enough with the changes to provide a quantitative reduction in their performance.

By reducing the allowable height of the assemblies by 150mm, the governing body gave an additional 100mm of freedom in the area where the bargeboards could start in 2017-18.

And while some are happy that the FIA ​​has finally done away with bargeboards for 2022, it’s hard to argue that they would be out of place if hung in a gallery of other fine artwork…

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

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