Formula 1 Aerodynamics: A Closer Look

The 2013 Formula 1 World Championship is in full swing and heading to its second race of the season in Malaysia this weekend. With that, we here at Boldride wanted to take a closer look at one of the most important aspects of the pinnacle of motorsport, aerodynamics. How did it get its start? How has it evolved? Think of it as a brush up for the veteran F1 fans and a crash course (pardon the horrible pun) for the noobes. 1960s A decade that began with wingless cars and ended with the first race cars to use aerodynamics. The skills required to manhandle high horsepower racecars with no aerodynamic aid had the drivers rated among the gods. The introduction of fixed wings on a car by Colin Chapman at Lotus opened up the sport to the dark arts of downforce and the exponential increase in cornering speeds… and danger. Coincidence?

Formula 1 Aerodynamics: A Closer Look

1970s A deeper understanding of airflow and the effect it has on the car was growing. Side skirts were introduced to more stream lined cars that effectively caused a vacuum under the car. Ground Effects, as they were deemed (not to be confused with cheap neon lights you see under civics at swap meets), increased cornering speeds further. Development in safety standards on the cars also increased in this era. Again, coincidence? 1980s In the turbo crazed ‘80s, the FIA, the sport’s governing body, effectively banned ground effects. The new regulations on the cars also demanded slimmer cars as well as completely flat bottoms for the first time. Stringent aerodynamic restrictions pushed the guys in lab coats to find any possible surface that could be utilized for aero aid.
Formula 1 Aerodynamics: A Closer Look
Photo Credit: LAT Photographic
1990s In the ‘90s F1 teams started using active suspension, which is just a smart way of electronically keeping the car at the right height for the right amount of downforce. But the FIA being the buzzkills that they are quickly banned the innovation. Restrictions on the electronic aids on the cars lead to the guys in lab coats to slap winglets on any possible surface they could think of.

Formula 1 Aerodynamics: A Closer Look

2000s The early to mid- 2000s saw the peak of aerodynamic wings. In 2009, Buzzkillington the FIA set out to simplify the cars aerodynamically. In a bid to make overtaking a more common occurrence and to help level the playing field for the smaller teams wings that produced downforce were limited to the main ones in the front and back. F1 teams continue to find ways around the regulations in more clever ways each season with the FIA closing the open loop holes in the regulations in return. Catch the entire 2013 F1 Championship on NBC sports from now until the season-ender in November.

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