What Are Those Weird Horns On New F1 Cars?

Photo: Joan Monfort, AP

Formula One cars can look like some pretty wild Frankenstein-like creatures during pre-season testing. Whether they’re outfitted with giant grates or fluorescent neon paint, the cars can start accumulating some pretty strange looking additions while they’re getting ready for the new season. One of the more recent ones to pop up today? Horns. (Or winglets. Or fins. Jury’s out on the proper terminology.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? Take a look at these odd contraptions below:

Weird, right? Only Mercedes and Alfa Romeo have outfitted these bad boys so far—but what are they supposed to do?

Here it is in the words of Craig Scarborough, a formidable repository of knowledge on all things technical in racing:

They’re used for what’s known as downwash. Basically they direct air flow downwards towards the sidepods. They will create some lift (inverse downforce) in the process but will help the aero overall.

Basically, they’re directing air flow. Mercedes in particular showed up with a ton of new upgrades that are intended to push the air flow out around the rear tires instead of up over them, and Alfa Romeo seems to be following suit in a much less advanced way.

The big horn in the middle of the front chassis splits the air and pushes it out to the sides. The horns on the side are positioned right at the exit of the S-ducts, the area between the nose and the chassis that spits out the airflow that’s channeled underneath the front wing. They’re there to correct the flow backwards and out to create the downwash Scarborough was talking about.

This implies that Mercedes and Alfa Romeo detected some unpleasant balance issues during the first round of testing, which they’re trying to correct with all these additional bits and bobs, like the ones below:

It’s unclear exactly how these aero pieces are going to play out when it comes to actual racing. As it currently stands at the writing of this article, Mercedes is fourth fastest in testing with a time of 1m18.941s, which is 1.797s slower than the current fastest time on the leaderboard (a time that was set by a McLaren, so... don’t get too excited).

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