The rise and fall of bargeboards in F1

  • F1 News

Ross Brawn, together with F1’s technical working group, immediately singled out the complex aerodynamic solution as one of the changes required in order to reduce the aerodynamic wake created by the cars and help produce closer racing in future.

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

The bargeboard had humbler beginnings, so perhaps it’s time to reflect on how they began in F1 and how they evolved over time.

The McLaren MP4/8 was the first F1 car to appear with what we consider a bargeboard, a simple, single-piece affair that was mounted between the front suspension and sidepods. However, while these appendages featured on the car at 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 made a return for the European Grand Prix at Donington, the scene of Ayrton Senna’s wet weather masterclass, where the Brazilian driver, starting in fourth, lost a place at the start but finished the first lap in the lead, having overtaken Michael Schumacher, Karl Wendlinger, Damon Hill and Alain Prost.

But although McLaren had innovated early, Benetton also arrived at Donington with its own bargeboard design – although McLaren believed that its rival team’s design was not exactly within the legalities of the rulebook.

Former McLaren aerodynamicist Henri Durand told Autosport in 2020: “My best satisfaction would be the MP4/8, when we go to South Africa with a barge board – and one race later Benetton has copied it! Frankly, there was a little debate. The interpretation of regulation with ours was totally legal, absolutely, because if you looked at the car from below, there was no hole, the contour of the various shadowplates etc. There was no hole between the rear tangent of the front wheel and the front tangent of the rear wheel.

“Benetton didn’t do that. They had their fixing front and back, which means that if look at the car from below, there was a big hole, which I was a bit cheesed off that Charlie [Whiting] had let that happen. But anyway, we saw that we had been very, very innovative – and then one race later we have Benetton copy it. And a few races later, everybody’s copying it. That was very satisfying.”

The bargeboards didn’t appear again until Monaco and would make one more appearance at the Hungaroring, suggesting that the team were using them at tracks that required a slightly different aerodynamic configuration – notably at the higher end of the downforce range.

The bargeboards helped position the airflow around the rear of the car differently, turning the flow ahead of the sidepods and the floor for improved performance at lower speeds.

The MP4/8 had what we consider to be a traditional bargeboard, but it could be argued that there were examples prior to this, with teams using a shorter wheel-wake deflector behind the front wheel during the ’80s.

Following on from McLaren’s use of bargeboards in 1993, it didn’t take long for the other teams to see the merits of exploiting this region of the car as a means of improving the overall aerodynamic performance.

For example, Ferrari looked to overcome some issues with the original design of the 412T1’s sidepods, it also incorporated bargeboards within their design to help tweak the…

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