Formula 1 is a sport that involves high-speed racing and cutting-edge technology, with teams constantly seeking ways to gain an advantage over their rivals. One such advantage is the use of the ground effect, a phenomenon that has been utilized in F1 for several decades. Ground effect is the aerodynamic force that is generated when a car travels at high speeds close to the ground, creating a low-pressure area underneath the car, which in turn generates downforce.
In recent years, ground effect has become an increasingly important factor in F1, with teams using it to improve their cars’ performance and gain a competitive edge on the track. This has led to a renewed interest in the science of ground effect and how it impacts F1 racing.
In this blog, we will delve deeper into the concept of ground effect and its significance in F1. We will explore the science behind it, how teams use it to improve their cars’ performance, and how it impacts the overall racing experience. We will also look at the history of the ground effect in F1 and how it has evolved over time. By the end of this blog, you will have a greater understanding of this fascinating phenomenon and its impact on one of the world’s most exciting sports. So fasten your seat belts and get ready for a deep dive into the world of ground effect in Formula 1.
Science Behind The Ground Effect
The concept of ground effect in motorsports is a fascinating topic that has been used to increase downforce for elite vehicles. When the speed of air flowing beneath the underside of a car increases, it creates a reduced distance between the vehicle and the track, leading to the ground effect. This effect is commonly applied in cars with high-end features to create high-pressure zones on top and low-pressure zones on the bottom. Unlike a spoiler, which adds significant aerodynamic drag, the ground effect enhances cornering and grip by circulating atmospheric pressure above the car and not below it. The result is a vehicle that is closer to the ground and generates more downforce, making it easier to overtake.
The use of ground effect technology in motorsports has a rich history, with Chaparral Cars being one of the pioneers of this technology in the North American Can-Am championship. However, it was only definitively and successfully implemented within the Lotus Formula 1 team in the 1970s. This blog will delve deeper into the ground effect phenomenon and its impact on Formula 1 racing. We’ll explore the science behind it, its advantages and disadvantages, and how it has evolved over time. So buckle up and get ready to learn more about how the ground effect has impacted Formula 1 racing.
Emergence In Formula 1
In Formula 1, the ground effect will always be associated with the genius of Colin Chapman, the man responsible for developing and enhancing it.
Over the years, many fascinating prototypes wanted to explore and take the ground effect to its full potential. Thanks to this phenomenon, the mythical Lotus was able to secure the constructors’ and drivers’ championships in 1978.
Chapman and his team came up with the idea of placing skirts to seal off the low-pressure zone and prevent surrounding air from entering the circuit.
Furthermore, to ensure that the air circulated through the floor and energy was not lost when escaping through the sides, they placed a diffuser system in the aft, responsible for producing a depression that sucked the air to the rear.
This way, the floor, and diffuser would work simultaneously and make it the part of the vehicle that generates the most downforce, much more than the ailerons.
The impact of this innovation was so extraordinary that the rest of the grid started to create their responses to the ground effect but it quickly became clear that safety was compromised.
Bans And Deadly Accidents
All good things come to an end quickly. After a while, the ground effect became controversial, resulting in the being canceled from the sport.
The first situation occurred with the prohibition of an air suction cup underneath the car. Shortly after, the side skirts were also discarded. In 1982, the FIA banned any type of curved bottom in single-seaters.
All these bans were the outcome of various accidents that occurred between the late 1970s and early 1980s. The speed and forces acting on cars with drivers taking corners at historic maximums sometimes resulted in fatal accidents.
The most known episodes happened with Patrick Depailler in 1980 and Gilles Villeneuve in 1982. Afterward, the novelty of the effect lasted several years, during which five drivers from four teams were champions.
Reintroducing The Ground Effect
In 2022, the ground effect has returned nearly forty years after being abolished due to safety concerns in Formula 1. The FIA was intent on having more balanced races and competitive overtaking.
The ultimate goal is to equalize forces much more so that almost any team can win races and even fight for the championship. It would also allow teams to build more impressive cars and reduce costs.
The new approach to aerodynamics has little to do compared with the 1970s. Times have changed, and since then, there has been an increase in security measures both on the circuits and in the cars.
Ground effect was trending again last year, as now single-seaters have larger channels and oversized diffusers than in previous years.
This also made it possible to simplify the wing and reduce the aerodynamic elements of the car. Higher top speeds are achieved compared to vehicles with heavily loaded wings.
The modern airflow form makes the car generate less turbulence for the driver who comes right behind and gives a new look to the car’s downforce.
Turbulent air will move upwards, thus generating a clear zone and allowing cars to approach each other without stability loss or overheating of the engine and tires.
Between the gains, it also has the finest performance in curves. When saying that the car will be better when going through them, it is because now the ground effect combined with the adequate distribution of the car weight, the center of gravity makes the vehicle stick to the ground.
Without a doubt, this renewed ground effect is yet another incentive for the spectacular show of Formula 1 to continue to be the king of motorsport.