“The Car with the best Aerodynamics is the car that will win” -David Coulthard.
Sure Enough, The Journey of Aerodynamics in F1 has been interesting and Exciting.
Aerodynamics in F1 has been very much evolving. Not long ago the F1 cars were purely dependent on Automobile Engineers, As times change people with little background in Automobile field are being hired. If you are good at designing fighter jets, you will surely find a place in this sport then your own industry. The state of the Art is this sport is such that if you turn an F1 car upside down it is capable of being driven on the ceiling, And it is such that the modern F1 cars resemble fighter jets then road-cars.
It is important to know the following data before going further
Airplanes function on Bernoulli's principle, While F1 car operates on its reverse principle.
Downforce refers to downwards thrust while drag refers to the Air resistance.
Diffuser is an extension of the floor at the back end of the car. Its purpose is to reduce drag by providing a channel for the air going through the underside of the car.
In 1968 the Ferrari 312 was the first car to feature a front wing. It was a time when people stopped depending hugely on engine to boost speed and look for alternatives to increase the speed of the car, The need for speed has not died down among the designers and in the coming years the cars used more of Aerodynamics to maximum effect as the hunt for shear speed was at its peak, And this was the worst time in F1 as 11 drivers lost their lives. This era saw the coming of strong Aerodynamics concept like ground effect,movable wings,six wheels and even a fan at the rear. F1 tried many unique concepts and some of them were amazing unique to study and watch
The modern regulations has been considerably improved to prevent the use of ground effect, With a regulation stating that a 10 mm thick wooden plank must be there at the bottom to prevent the car from running as low as possible, But in 1978 when the ground effect regulations were not overly imposed, the Lotus 79 also named as black beauty was first of the car to feature a proper design in the underside by shaping it perfectly to accelerate the air passing under it thereby reducing the air pressure which is relative of air the above. It simply meant that due to low air pressures at the bottom of the car, the tyres were pushed down closer to the track. This black beauty featured sharp aero lines long the car for smooth air flow. In the same year the Brabham BT46 the B spec car featured a fan which the Team announced that it was for cooling but actually the car sucked air from the beneath the car and it pushed the suspension down when the driver opens the throttle but this concept was later withdrawn by FIA. A couple of years before this, Tyrrell P34 featured 6 wheels of which four of them were a 10 inch wheels placed at the front. The idea was pretty simple as it was one of the easy ways of the reducing the drag at the front but again FIA was against this idea and it was then mandatory that teams used four wheels. The Williams FW07B driven in 1980 was one of the pioneers of ground effect and it was so effective that it didn't require a front wing for more downforce.
The Major overhaul of Aerodynamics was done in 2005 when there was a need to cut speed for some reasons, The front wing was raised, the rear wing was brought forward and some tweaks were made to diffusers and this saw the raise of fins, horns and other type of winglets in a bid to find more downforce out of all possible locations. In 2009, the rules were further modified in a bid to allow more overtaking, wider front wings and narrow rear wings was the order of the deal, The double diffuser story at the start of 2009 season was a innovation that was later banned. The concept of double diffusers was based on a loophole in the regulations, which allowed the holes along the underbody which simply meant that a channel was created just above the original diffuser allowing in increased downforce. At the start of 2009, Three Teams exploited this loophole but only for other teams to catch up before the end of the season, As of now multi layer diffusers are banned in F1
During the current winter break, Couple of Teams were said to be working on adjustable ride height which was said to be bringing up considerable Aero gains. But before I go into that, It is important for us to know couple of things, The lower the car the better the gain of downforce. Several Teams have tried unique solutions before and most of them were of a similar way of getting the car closer to the track there by reducing the drag and increasing the downforce. The second thing is that any part that is said to bring in aero boost to the car must be secured to sprung part of the car. And that must remain immobile in relation to the sprung part. The sprung part of the car refers to a part with absolute zero degrees of freedom. Two Teams used a further interesting system with one of the Team claiming that the work has been done on the system for more then two years and the FIA had approved it then only to ban it now as it breached the rules. It is understood that the Teams developing this particular system has told the FIA that it was part of the suspension solution and did not offer much aero performance. Well, if you wondering what the system is. It goes under the name of reactive ride height. By angling the entire car down to the nose down period, Known as rake, few teams worked on few different degrees of rake in order to get the front wing lower and which directly meant that the diffuser will sit a bit up above the track. But lowering the front wing closer to the ground will mean that at high speeds or when there is a unexpected significant amount of dive, The front wing can touch the ground which will mean that there is a chance of sparks which is bad for the car as well as it is illegal. So to work on this the problem, The solution was to use interlinked suspension where by displacing hydraulic fluid at one end of the car, it made sure the other end is stiffer which meant that there was no significant dive. This solution when coupled with brake torque solution prevented significant dive. Under braking when a torque reaction develops at the brake caliper, it simply extends the pushrod geometry making sure there is no significant dive. Much of this has been banned now and although this solution like the multi deck diffusers can be copied, it would have taken significant amount of time and money to get it right.
The major chunk of Aero performance has been regulated by the FIA in a bid to cut speed and increase the safety. The Teams nevertheless have been working on to eliminate the drag to minimum degree. DRS is one such official concept from FIA which was introduced to promote overtaking. Drag Reduction System allows the opening or closing of a flap in the rear wing which can be controlled by the driver. DRS was said to bring in 10-12 km/h on the straights and this came as a mixed response from the crowd and the teams as it meant artificial racing.
The journey of Aerodynamics in F1 over the time has been interesting and exciting, Teams have found this as a medium for the perfection of the car and nowadays a car with good aerodynamics is a key contender to championship, Gone are the days when the engine or other parts were a key to success.