A Guide to Understanding F1 Aerodynamics

A Guide to Understanding F1 Aerodynamics
May 28 10:03 2018 Print This Article

What’s the difference between a winning car and an also-ran? Aerodynamics. Put simply, a racing car needs to create downforce for superior cornering and to minimise the drag that slows it down.

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The Wing Principle

Since the 1960s, when designers started experimenting with wings or aerofoils, the concept of creating the most aerodynamic car possible has been the holy grail of race car designers.

Like aeroplane wings in reverse, car wings use the Bernoulli Principle to create downforce. Basically, the air travelling over the wings moves at different speeds depending on the contours of the wings, and this creates a difference of pressure. The wing gravitates towards the area of low pressure and creates the downforce that literally sticks the car to the road.

A modern race car is theoretically capable of driving upside down thanks to the 3.5g of lateral cornering force it develops. In practice, the early wings were responsible for some spectacular accidents, and in the 1970 season rules defining the specification of wings were introduced. With a few tweaks they still hold true today, although designers find loopholes to adapt a car’s aerodynamic profile to suit the race circuit.

Going Underground

When Gordon Murray designed the Brabham BT46B, he built on the Lotus cars of the mid-70s that cleverly designed the underside of the car to create monstrous downforce. In fact, Murray’s car was so successful it was withdrawn after just one race.

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Since then, designers have worked within ever stricter parameters to create an aerodynamic advantage for their cars. And with every extra kilogram of downforce equating to vital milliseconds on the track, it’s little wonder they use every advantage they can, including computational fluid dynamics and wind tunnel testing – the biggest weapons in the aerodynamicist’s arsenal.

Getting an Edge

Interested in aerodynamics? Then it’s worth joining an organisation like the F1 Paddock Club France – for more information go to https://edgeglobalevents.com/f1-paddock-club/france/.

In the paddock, you’ll notice that in a modern F1 car as much attention is paid to managing airflow and reducing drag as it is to downforce. Helmets, suspension links and diffusers are all designed to create the perfect balance between downforce and slipperiness. Many innovations are banned instantly. Others, like the Drag Reduction System rear wing, push the envelope and increase straight-line speed.

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Clare Louise
Clare Louise

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