The new Formula 1 technical regulation brings back the wheel covers that were banned in the sport since 2010, after the solution was introduced for the first time at Monza in the 1990 Italian Grand Prix on the Ferrari 641 revised and corrected by Enrique Scalabroni and Steve Nichols.
Thirty-two years after that first appearance, the FIA and the FOM have decided to even make wheel covers mandatory to prevent the designers from using the corners of the wheels to seek aerodynamic advantages.
Ferrari’s solution was used at Monza only in qualifying to reduce drag and improve top speed. It could not be used in the race because it would have literally destroyed the braking system without adequate cooling. The carbon lenticular cover, among other things, also closed the tightening nut with a sort of cap, making any tire change terribly more complicated.
The concept, therefore, was discarded but had been taken up in the inner part of the rims, along the lines of what John Barnard had experienced the previous year only at the rear in the Mexican GP. With the fairings inside, Ferrari competed in qualifying for the Japanese GP.
The topic had somehow returned to being discussed in 2005 when on the single-seaters there was a proliferation of wing appendages on the brake grip that had been taken into consideration, so much so that in the middle of the season, after a meeting of the F1 Technical Working Group, a less restrictive rule was approved.
And, once again, it was Ferrari that interpreted the rules in the most extensive way, sparking controversy in the paddock already in the 2006 Bahrain GP. The rear wheels of the 248 F1 featured a carbon ring of about 5 cm visible on the outer edge: the idea was to facilitate the extraction of hot air from the brakes and reduces the turbulence generated by the wheels themselves.
The solution was heavily attacked because it was believed to be a mobile aerodynamic element. In reality it was a storm in a glass of water because the Maranello technicians had submitted the idea to the FIA commissioners who had considered it legal.
Having failed to ban Ferrari’s carbon solution, the other teams began to copy the concept: at Imola Toyota had introduced a similar solution on the TF106.
A door had opened: the Toro Rosso on the STR01 proposed the carbon solution at the French GP, which was then revised for Silverstone. The curiosity of the team from Faenza was that the rim cover showed a Red Bull slogan: Gives you wings.
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Ferrari made a qualitative leap again, as in Istanbul for the Turkish GP, the Maranello team had ventured into an even more advanced evolution of the much larger ring, sponsored by BBS, the company that in 2022 obtained the mono supply of the F1 rims. Historical appeals then followed…
The Scuderia in 2007 had revived the concept of wheel covers at the front: at the Monaco GP on the F2007 a circular carbon ring appeared, while from the British GP an almost total fairing of the wheels was observed which remained fixed and did not follow the movement of the circle.
In addition, the large slit visible at an angle of 27 degrees with respect to the ground was not lost, which allowed the hot brake air to be extracted, conveying it to the low pressure area immediately upstream of the tire, feeding the flow that was going to energize the air destined for the rear diffuser. The carbon lenticular part was not flat flush with the rim, as at the rear, but had a rounded shape to avoid the generation of harmful vortices.
The Ferrari “philosophy” in 2008 was accepted by other teams: the McLaren on the MP4-23 had been experimenting with air intakes outside the rim cover but had never been seen in a GP: the front extension had the function of reducing the turbulence of the wheel in motion.
If Ferrari, McLaren and BMW had opted for vents that blew downwards, Honda and Red Bull blew towards the rear.
On the rear wheels, Toyota had presented wheel covers with fan-like vanes, with the aim of extracting the air around the wheel hub and cleaning up the most harmful vortexes.
BrawnGP, world champion in 2009, in addition to having the highly contested double-diffuser, had a very advanced rim cover. In that season the fairings created dangerous situations that made tire changes at pit stops more difficult.
The FIA, in fact, has banned the use of fans since 2010. This prohibition, together with the smaller section of the front tires had significantly affected the front aerodynamics of the single-seaters. To overcome the prohibition of wheel covers, Ferrari had introduced a rim equipped with a ring that had clear aerodynamic functions.
With this year’s ground-effect single-seaters, the wheel covers are once again the center of attention: they have already been modified to allow mechanics to grip the 18-inch wheel during pit stops and the screwdrivers are also modified precisely to avoid problems in the delicate maneuver of the tire change.
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