Is significant ‘ground effect’ about to make an F1 comeback?


New proposals are emerging for the future F1 car design regulations, one of which should find favour with both purists and those looking for excitement from an F1 race.

The most significant problem with the current F1 cars is their inability to follow each other closely. The aerodynamics of the current cars which is used to create extra downforce and ultimately make the cars go more quickly, creates a large wash of turbulent air for a car close behind. An analogy to illustrate this would be the effect of the blast produced by a jet engine.

Formula One is determined to make the cars travel 5-6 seconds a lap faster than at present, thus leading to suggestions like re-fuelling which will lighten the cars and increased BHP from the engines.

Neither of these solutions solve the ‘dirty air’ problem, so a car even 1-2 seconds a lap faster than the one ahead cannot make its aerodynamics work efficiently and effect overtaking.

This was the reason for creating the Drag Reduction Systems, a moveable aerodynamic device allowing cars to temporarily ditch some downforce and drag and increase their top speed to make a pass. For the purists, this solution has been persistently criticised for creating ‘fake’ passing manoeuvres.

Enter stage left, ‘the ground effect solution’. This was an aerodynamic principle originally devised by American Jim Hall for his Chaparral cars.

Hall’s 1961 car design utilised a shaped external underside/floor in an attempt to create negative air pressure and suck the car to the ground. Though it wasn’t until 1970 when his Chaparral 2J “sucker car” properly exploited this technique.

The car had ‘skirts’ around the bottom of the external bodywork, with a minimal gap between the car and the ground which sealed this space creating a vacuum kind of effect.

Meanwhile Formula One designers were working on ground effect too with differing levels of success. The most notable design came in 1978, Gordon Murray’s Brabham BT46B Fancar. When the BT468 engine was revved -even at a standstill, the car visibly squatted as the fan sucked the air out from underneath the sealed underskirts.

Murray’s fancar raced just once with Niki Lauda at the wheel and comfortably won the Swedish GP. At one point during the race, oil was spilled across the circuit, yet as others slowed approaching this sector, Lauda fact accelerated with perfect grip due to the enormous downforce created with the rising engine speed. Niki won the race hands down and uproar ensued.

Lauda said the car was difficult to drive due to the enormous G-Force loads he experienced and F1’s regulatory body acted swiftly and banned the BT468. That said, the car was perfectly legal and the result of the Swedish GP was not overturned.

At this time, ground effect cars suffered significantly from ‘porpoising’, and were incredibly sensitive to pitching issues. The danger with ground force cars became evident too; when travelling at high speed around a corner, should the ‘vacuum’ sucking it to the ground somehow be broken – the car would literally take off sideways – leaving the driver at the mercy of the distance between him and the restraining walls.,

F1 cars utilising significant ground force concepts were regulated out of Formula One during the early 1980’s. This is still the case as the design rules state the floors must be predominately flat.

However, a small amount of ground force is still part of the modern F1 car design, and air vortices are created at the front of the car and used to partially seal the gap between the sidepods and the track. Though the advent of lower noses has made this more challengine.

But ground effect may be making a comeback to Formula One, courtesy of a suggestion from Red Bull and Adrian Newey. Jenson Button believes this could help reduce the current issues with turbulent air. “If you’re going to work with downforce it should come from the floor rather than the wings, because you can race closer and fight, and you don’t have as much dirty air from the wings for the car following.”

Of course as downforce is increased by ground effect, a trade off can be made with upper body work aero parts – and thus reduce the ‘dirty air’ effect.

This kind of innovative approach to re-engineering the aerodynamics of an F1 car clearly whets Newey’s appetite.

The issue of cost control is never more than one suggestion away from any new idea, and as Max Mosley advocates, it could be that teams agreeing to cap their spend may be given greater freedom in this area of development.

Horner is against this proposal, explaining, “There has been a proposal for a budget cap but complete freedom of wind tunnel use and testing but that’s a bit like putting an alcoholic in a wine cellar.”

Another team has suggested standardising the new ground effect floors. Unsurprisingly, Christian Horner believes this is also a bad idea. “The regs are pretty tight as they are, so we wouldn’t want to go anywhere near making it standard.

“It wasn’t a proposal from Red Bull. I don’t think it would do anything, the cost of the floor is pretty marginal at the end of the day, the floor around your gearbox and engine installation has to be unique”.

Partisan disputes aside, re-introducing of more significant ground effect solutions for the 2017 cars is surely a must for the F1 Strategy Group. This will allow the regulators to reduce downforce from the rear wings which creates the ‘dirty air’ and should allow cars to follow each other more closely.

17 responses to “Is significant ‘ground effect’ about to make an F1 comeback?

  1. “Hall’s 1961 car design utilised a shaped external underside/floor in an attempt to create negative air pressure and suck the car to the ground. Though it wasn’t until 1970 when his Chaparral 2J “sucker car” properly exploited this technique.”

    The 1961 Chaparral wasn’t designed by Hall nor did it have a shaped floor. The 2J didn’t have a shaped floor either. The “ground effect” that the 2J created was entirely dependent on a two fans that ran off a small two stroke engine.

  2. Thanks thejudge13, Newey, … finally someone that understands what’s hideously aerodynamically wrong with F1 today. F1 cars have 2 times the drag coefficient of WEC cars. That’s a huge wasteful difference. Drag reduction will also allow higher speeds and more power. Sounds more exciting to me!

    • I agree. The crazy thing is this issue was clearly understood when DRS was conceived… WTF? The speed of F1 decision making is from the stone age

  3. Slowly but surely we are going back to the ‘heyday’ of F1. Prost was a master of lift + coast within turbo fuel limits. Senna in qually spec fast laps. Now ground effect at last and we will have 79-82 once again! – Driver uncertainty – GE era. Car uncertainty, Return to power and development of wings, long term trends going towards the Cosworth era (‘equal engines’).

  4. Ground effect was proposed by the overtaking workgroup and it is a good solution.
    Unfortunately, DRS was invented by McLaren via the F-duct. And then F1 took the short cut. Such a shame.

  5. One fascinating thing about this year’s LMP1 competition in WEC is that these prototypes can apparently follow closely and attack each other lap after lap without “dirty air” or other aero effects being an issue. Someone told me that apparently this has to do with the ground effect. If this is the case, I think it would be cool if F1 considered adopting the same design.

  6. Hi guys,

    Just a question to the experts. With regards to the positioning of the exhaust basically pointing to the air intake of the car following it, does it have a significant effect on engine power due to air being hotter and lesser oxygen? Or is the effect negligible? Thanks!

  7. If the goal is to reduce aero sensitivity of the wings by relying more upon ground effects, why not consider the alternative approach by eliminating wings completely. Should save a lot of aero development wind tunnel time too!

  8. Pingback: Hamilton jibe at Mercedes' design officer James Allison - The Judge 13 - Savit52·

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