Many Formula One teams have chosen to adopt the 'stepped nose' design on their 2012 cars; so far Ferrari, Caterham, Lotus and Sauber have all revealed cars with the controversial nose.

The stepped nose is most obvious on Ferrari's F2012 and has been branded as ugly across the board, but why have teams chosen to design their cars in this way?

Ferrari F2012
Credit: Ferrari

In recent years teams have raised their noses as a higher front end means increased airflow under the car, this creates more downforce, which in turn gives more grip in high speed corners.

But, the high noses were believed to be dangerous in the event of a side impact; if one car drove into the side of another than the nose was at a height that could potentially intrude the cockpit and cause injury to the driver. To minimise this risk, Formula One's governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) introduced a new ruling for the 2012 season, forcing teams to lower their noses.

The area immediately in front of the cockpit can still be 625mm high, but it must fall to 550mm over a distance of 150mm just after the front suspension.

F1 stepped nose
Ferrari's stepped nose. Credit:

This rule has led to the stepped design adopted by the majority of 2012 cars, except McLaren, who believe they have found a work-around to abide the rule without an obviously stepped nose.

Sauber team boss Peter Sauber said that "for reasons of aerodynamics, this step in the nose is almost inevitable," while Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemolo conceded that his team's car looks "ugly".

McLaren has opted for a different design with the MP4-27

The ugly design might not last for long, however, as a proposed rule change for 2014 would mean cars with noses no higher than 25 centimetres from the ground; this is likely to change the car's designs yet again and force teams to come up with a better option than the current work-around.