Opinion: Formula 1's 'back to the future' path could change the sport
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It looks like those much-talked-about new rules and regulations for the Formula 1 of the future might be creeping, slowly, out of the shadows.
Many subjects are covered and will be discussed in the coming weeks (or months) but it seems one tenet is to reduce the aerodynamics and to make the cars more easily able to overtake by using “ground effect”.
So, what is this mysterious “ground effect” of which they speak?
Modern management of the airflow all around a racing car was first exploited in the 1960s by an American named Jim Hall and his “Chaparral” cars, including one with motorised fans to suck the air from underneath a car.
Many engineers took the concept further, especially one Colin Chapman, the owner and designer of Lotus F1 cars, who pushed the “venturi” type technology into Formula 1 during the late 1970s.
After many experiments, the underside of a Lotus car became, in effect, an inverted wing and that concept was further enhanced by the “diffuser” tunnels towards the rear of the car, encouraging the air entering underneath the car at the front to try to fill a much larger volume at the rear, as the tunnels widen, and produce a much greater low pressure area.
This then “sucks” the car to the ground.
As the early benefits of ground effect became more understood, it wasn’t long before another step was introduced and that was the dreaded “skirts”.
Sliding panels that moved up and down over the road, underneath the side pods and effectively sealing the underside of the car from any air other than that entering at the front. The resulting ground effect was enormous and made the cars handle as if on rails.
The major problem of course was that the track is not a railway and whenever one of the skirts stuck in the “up” position, after going over a kerb or just by wear and tear, the car lost all of that hard-earned sucking effect and proceeded to immediately lose adhesion.
Some accidents were terrifying and occasionally deadly.
Skirts were eventually banned in 1983, mainly on safety grounds.
However, now it seems that an officially sanctioned ground effect is set to be reintroduced.
The main advantage to the system is that cars can still follow — and perhaps overtake — as ground effect is much less susceptible to the “dirty air” coming off the car in front, making the downforce of the following car greatly compromised and the handling capability reduced.
As with all things F1, when there is a rule introduced the best engineers in the world try to find ways to manipulate that rule to their teams own advantage.
To try and counteract that, the FIA will be introducing a new “black ops” group of its own engineers to try to work out, and hopefully head off then close, any loopholes that arise.
They will turn from FIA gamekeepers to temporary poachers.