Log In | Subscribe | |

F1: Here's our 2020 vision to revitalise the sport - 3

Bryan Edwards

While aero helps the car at the front of a queue to remain stable both in a straight line and under braking, and it helps the car behind to go faster using less power, that's the only good news. Aero creates a range of problems for both cars and, if there are others behind the second car, those problems are compounded.

In Part 3 of Bryan Edwards' look at a 2020 vision for F1, aero is both hero and villain.

As we saw yesterday, air has mass and when something travels through the air, it has to move that mass out of the way. We talk about the air moving over the car but, mostly, it's the car moving through the air and the air stays relatively still, so still in fact that it's still trying to get back to where it came from long after the car has gone.

So, from that it's obvious that when the next car comes along, the air isn't where it's supposed to be and, to complicate matters, is moving in directions that it otherwise would not be.

Designers create cars using computerised modelling and finalise aero packages in the wind tunnel. This shows them how air is forced over, under and around the car. As the car forces its way through the air, some of it is needed for cooling.

Aero designers make miniscule changes, adding a tiny wing here, a bit of a lip there, even adding a mini-wing to the back of the drivers' helmet - there is some debate as to whether that's to hold the helmet in place or to push air into the intake above and behind the driver's head. Those tiny changes direct the air onto another wing or, in many cases, into air intakes because racing cars run at extraordinarily high temperatures.

So far, so good.

But it only works at its optimum performance if the air is where it's supposed to be.

As cars get closer together, the air from the one in front is unpredictable (of course, there are models that create parameters within which the air should be under a range of conditions but those conditions are, themselves, almost infinitely variable).

This means that the car following does not have clean airflow under, over or around its body. It also means that it doesn't get air at the correct flow or density through the intakes so cooling is compromised (i.e. reduced) for both power unit and brakes.

It used to be that cars travelling up to one second behind another car would suffer disturbance and that would cause instability which makes it difficult to overtake. The simplistic (but technically complicated) solution to that was to allow a movable wing to be flattened at certain points around the track, so reducing drag, like changing the pitch on a fan blade. But only the following car got that benefit and only if it was already within one second of the car in front. The much derided DRS (Drag Reduction System) helped in another way: the third car was in cleaner air because the second car's rear wing did not cause so much disturbance. So there was a cumulative effect where cars were in a line.

But this year, it is is said, the disturbance from a car travelling at full speed is somewhere between four and seven seconds. That leads to excessive tyre degradation because the car is not travelling as designed and the tyres are taking the strain.

It also upsets the downforce, in some cases to the point where there is more lift than ideal. While the cars don't flip (on their own), they do become so light that the mechanical grip is insufficient to keep them on track at high speed, resulting in a number of unexpected visits to the gravel trap or wall.

Also, increased tyre "deg" creates more small piece so rubber that result from wear. These are called "marbles" and on some tracks they create a narrow racing line and that, of itself, causes an even bigger problem.

More on that in part 4 next week.