Deadly Tech: What fans ought to know & how it’s not going to solve F1 today (PT2)

Ground Effects – F1’s Deadly Technology PART 2


But there was trouble on the horizon for ground effects. As teams understood the dynamics better and made more and more effective use of the technology, they started to see dangerously high corning speeds. And in 1980 there was an escalating number of accidents caused by drivers losing the ground effect in corners and spinning wildly off track. Then sadly we saw the first driver death that was principally caused by ground effects, when Patrick Depailler testing an Alfa, lost ground effects at the Ostkurve in Hockenheim and went into the guardrails.

Depailler’s death triggered a political war in F1 with Ferrari, Renault and Alfa Romeo and FISA on one side and Bernie Ecclestone and FOCA (Formula One Constructors Association) on the other. FISA wanted an outright ban on ground effects, while FOCA made up mainly of the British privateers saw it as a way to level the playing field against the manufacturers, especially as the FOCA teams knew that Ferrari and Alfa Romeo were testing turbo engines ( Renault already had one) and they would be stuck with the under-powered Cosworth’s. Without ground effects the FOCA teams knew they’ be sitting ducks. Eventually a compromise was worked out. For 1981 the underneath of the car could stay as it was but the side skirts had to go.

In F1 rules are made to be circumvented, and the teams soon found a way around the ban. Gordon Murray at Brabham figured out a way to lower the skirts on the track and raise them in the pits when they were being scrutineered. The rest of the teams followed. The Cosworth powered teams had another lease on life. FISA realizing how easily the skirt banned had been circumvented and still fearful that FOCA might leave F1 over the issue relented and dropped the skirt ban all together for 1982. But there was a bigger problem ahead – ground effects and turbo’s.

For 1982 fours teams would run turbo powered cars. Renault, Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Brabham. A lot of people knew that ground effects and turbo cars were a recipe for disaster, and sadly they were to be proved right.

The published horsepower of the 1982 Cosworth DFV was 495. For the turbo’s, Ferrari Tipo 021/2 610 HP, the Renault EF1 590 HP and the BMW M12/13 620 HP. The turbo cars were producing on average 20% more HP than a Cosworth. That extra HP translated into a 15 mph – 20 mph advantage on many long straights. That’s actually more of a speed differential than this year when comparing the McLaren Honda to Mercedes or Ferrari. That extra horsepower coupled with again full ground effects immediately showed itself.

The turbo cars won the three of the first four races, leaving the Cosworth’s in their dust. Then Belgium. Villeneuve touched the back of Mass’s March, lost the ground effect and was launched into the air, the Ferrari then hit the ground nose first and threw Villeneuve across the track where he died. Four races later at Zandvoort, the suspension on Arnoux’s Renault collapsed due to the extra downforce the turbo car created, plowing into a tyre barrier and just coming short of going into the crowd. Even the Cosworth powered cars were having frightening accidents when they lost their ground effects. Baldi and Mass tangled and both went flying into a crowd enclosure and narrowly missed hitting spectators. The next race in Germany saw almost a repeat of Belgium. Pironi touched the rear of Prost’s Renault, went airborne and then the nose plowed into the ground. Luckily Pironi remained in the car, but his legs were crushed and he never drove in F1 again. FISA had seen enough, ground effects were banned, flat bottomed cars were made mandatory for 1983 and onward.

More recently ground effect was on the table again courtesy of a suggestion from Red Bull and Adrian Newey, a few years prior to the current aero regulations we have today. At the time Jenson Button was on record admitting that this could help reduce the 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.”

This re-engineering of fundamental F1 aerodynamics clearly whetted Newey’s appetite.

As true then as it is today, the issue of cost control was never more than one suggestion away from any new idea. At the time, Max Mosley advocated that if teams agree to cap their spend, they may be given greater freedom in this area of development.

Horner was 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 had suggested standardising the new ground effect floors. Unsurprisingly, Christian Horner believed this was 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”.

Some experts say it would be possible for modern single seater racing cars to employ ground effect but modern safety standards would demand enormous compromises if they were left unrestricted. Even bigger run-off areas would put spectators a long way from the action, further ruining the experience for those that pay to watch races at the circuit. Street racing would be out of the question and drivers would very likely need G suits similar to those used by jet fighter pilots.

So there you have it. It’s unlikely we’ll ever see an effective cost cap despite Liberty Media’s intentions and should pandora’s box, that is ground effects, be opened – a run away development situation would surely occur. Today we have F1 cars that produce around 1000HP, close to double that of 1982 – the last occasion we had full ground effects. While the safety of today’s cars is far ahead of those in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the physics haven’t changed. One engineer wrote that full ground effects in a 2017 F1 car could at some bends / corners, Paribolica at Monza being one, create G force’s so high drivers could potentially blackout. Even without ground effect, the high downforce 2017 cars we have now have been known to physically tear up track surfaces.

Ground effects is an interesting subject to read about as part of F1’s history, and that’s where it should stay – part of the sports history and not its future.   @CavallinoRampa2

19 responses to “Deadly Tech: What fans ought to know & how it’s not going to solve F1 today (PT2)

  1. article has so much bullshit it is ridiculous.
    Villeneuve and Pironi’s crash had nothing to do with ground effects. Their crashes had everything to do with touching wheels with another car and going airborne. That would happen with any car, GE or non-GE. Patrick Depailler’s crash was caused by suspension failure. The stiff suspension may have contributed to the crash but no one knows for sure. Suspension failure can occur and has occurred in non ground effects cars too. As for ground effects they don’t need skirts and they don’t need excessive downforce. The overall downforce level can stay the same as now. They just need less from the wings and more from the floor. Like I said this article is skewed to cast a bad light on ground effects. GE with active suspension is safe. Don’t believe the crap uniformed scaremongers will hope you swallow.

      • You have to understand that what you are stating perpetuates the incorrect notion that ground effects is not a solution to the current problem afflicting close racing and overtaking in F1. Ground effects is misunderstood by many people, including the media, and when articles like this are published it drives everyone into a frenzy. It reinforces inaccurate stereotypes.
        Ground effects has the best most efficient downforce to drag ratio. GE is not as affected by turbulent air because it compresses ALL air, dirty and clean, in order to produce the low pressure suction downforce. Wings do not work in turbulence. An aircraft wing is no different to an F1 wing other than one is inverted and produces downforce rather than lift. BOTH are rendered useless in turbulence. Anyone who has been in an aircraft and flown through turbulence knows the results. The science of ground effects is better understood today because of the hard lessons learned from F1 history. Proper floor ground effects and active suspension have never been used together. The Venturi floor GE cars of 1978 to 1982 had no active suspension. Colin Chapman realized before his untimely death that GE cars needed active suspension to control and manage the downforce. Had he not died in 1982 he and Peter Wright may have finished their revolutionary work in introducing active suspension to F1. It would have solved the problem of stiff springs that afflicted the 1981 & 1982 GE cars. Williams perfected hydraulic reactive active suspension in 1992 and 1993. Any F1 car, GE or non-GE, that has stiff springs will bounce off a kerb uncontrollably. It has nothing to do with “letting go”. They also now know how to improve on that AS system. Ground effects with active suspension does not mean automatic doomsday excessive downforce that can cause drivers to black out or tarmac to be ripped up. This is sensational fiction.The overall downforce levels can be designed to maintain current levels of downforce but just transfer more of the DF contribution to the floor and less from the wings. A simple standard venturi floor can achieve much more effectively and efficiently what millions of Euros are taking in pursuing wing and top side aerodynamics. We would get better racing too.

        • “Wings do not work in turbulence.” Wings do work in turbulence – if they didn’t planes would be falling out of the sky everyday.

          And thanks again for the comments – you’ve made your personal views clear.

          • Wings do not work in turbulence. That’s why they shake shudder and lose altitude if they stay in the turbulent air long enough. You would know that if you knew what you are talking about. But you don’t. That’s the problem I have been trying to make.

          • My thoughts exactly.

            Sorry, but if someone can write _that_ and click ‘post’ without realizing it’s blatantly wrong, then I don’t feel you or I or anyone needs to waste energy on the rest of that mishmash of agitprop.

            Nice articles, Cavallino. I enjoyed reading them.

          • Btw, I happen to be a physicist, and _do_ know what I’m talking about.

            Wings work in turbulent air. If they didn’t, planes would stall. There is no discussion. Period.

            Turbulent air does influence aerodynamics, making the system even more nonlinear than it already is. Which is why aerodynamicists in racing, aeronautics, etc. are paid so much, and tend to by extremely intelligent within their field.

          • This is for conzo77. Wings do not work properly in turbulent air. Every aerodynamicist knows this. Every pilot knows this. Every F1 driver knows this. As soon as the front wing hits the wake turbulence of the lead car the following car loses downforce. That happens because the wing doesn’t work properly in turbulent air. Why do you think planes shake violently in turbulence and can lose lift? Your statement makes no sense at all.

          • No answer Professor Conzo?
            OK, you and cavallino can digest this. Aircraft don’t “fall out of the sky” because “atmospheric turbulence” is generally mild to moderate and occurs at high altitudes and generally for brief periods of time. Aircraft do lose lift performance in turbulence and usually lose 10 to 20 feet. In some cases of severe turbulence it can be 100 feet. The significance is that the turbulence is short lived and at high altitude so the safety of the plane is not in question. Conversely turbulence at low altitude is dangerous. “Wake turbulence” is completely different. It is much more dangerous in that the duration is longer and the effects more intense. If an aircraft had to traverse wake turbulence the results can be far more deadly. There is a reason why aircraft wait before take off and avoid flying in the wake of another aircraft. The turbulence affects the performance of the wing. It affects lift because it affects the high and low pressure zones above and below the wing. Which brings us to F1 wings. F1 wings do not contend with atmospheric turbulence. They have to battle with wake turbulence. Just as in aircraft wings it affects wing performance. In the case of an F1 wing it is downforce rather than lift. The big difference is that an F1 wing has to sit there in the wake turbulence for as long as the car follows another car. Wake turbulence and the complex vortices that are generated are totally different to atmospheric turbulence. Aircraft and F1 cars operate in different conditions. However the effects of turbulence is the same. It has a negative effect on wing performance.

  2. Major props on the two articles there, cav. Nice work.

    I wholeheartedly agree with the overall thrust of what you said. Letting the big spenders of F1 loose on ground effect now would be bonkers. The cars back in the day became frightening very quickly with primitive development tools. Modern CFD would take the cars’ capabilities into beyond-human realms loooonnnng before designs ever became prototypes. A quick-n-dirty pre-feasibility study would kill the idea.

    TBH, I was even a bit surprised when DRS became a reality. Moveable (i.e. failure-able) aerodynamics that contribute to higher top speed and then effectively assisted braking seemed a tad risky to me at the time. I had visions of cars spearing off at the ends of straights when the “air-brakes” failed to deploy and they couldn’t make the corner. Fact is that the DRS-effect isn’t that large in absolute terms, so my concerns were voided. No doubt the F1 tech guys designed DRS to be just effective enough but not dangerous.

  3. I suggest that ground effects is a misleading term here. Today’s cars have ground effects–that’s why there is a diffuser at the back… Isn’t this article really about tunnels under the car? Shifting the aero balance so a higher percentage of total down force comes from ground effect.
    I would argue that we have already seen what is needed to improve the racing: larger front tires. Go back and look at 2012. The tire changes pirelli made that year resulted in front tires that were comparatively larger than previous years, and more durable than the rear tires. The cars were difficult to set up and balance, but they could follow closely because of the extra front mechanical grip.
    Other things to improve the racing:
    –No fuel flow limits in qualifying. Fuel flow is currently limiting rev’s and limiting boost. Eliminate fuel flow in qualifying, and we will see qualifying monsters- perhaps at the expense of reliability. It will shake up the grids. Award one championship point to the top 3 qualifiers.
    –Standardize the MGU-H and battery hardware. Those are both hugely expensive items, and advantages gained there are invisible to the fans (and therefor boring). Equalize it among the teams–F1 still gets to claim green, but cost is better managed.
    –When a motor fails in a race or qualifying causing a DNF or DNQ, the replacement motor does not count against the number of allotted motors. The DNF or DNQ is penalty enough.
    –Simplify the aerodynamics–there are way too many strakes, fins, slots, slats, vortex generators, flow directors, barge boards, etc etc hanging off of today’s cars. That level of aero fine tuning only benefits the top teams, and I suspect makes the cars more sensitive to dirty air.
    Are you listening Ross?

    • The article is quite clear that what we are discussing are the “grounds effect” concepts pioneered by Lotus in the mid – 1970’s and ultimately banned in 1982 and why they shouldn’t be brought back as some fans wish. You are probably correct that a diffuser might fall into the ground effects category – but it isn’t full ground effects where most / all of a shaped floor creates a vacuum under the car sucking it onto the ground. And thanks for the comment – it was very interesting.

  4. Your mention of extreme G-forges reminded me of the time CART had to postpone the race Texas race back in 2001.
    Apparently the drivers were experiencing over 5Gs for 18 of the 22 seconds per lap and after about 10laps were beginning to pass out.

    • Thanks for bringing that up – the race you are referring to was the 2001 Firestone Firehawk 600 at the Texas Motor Speedway

  5. love the article and respect your opinion! I may be a bit off on this, but was F1 also grappling with early radial tire construction and the tendency to break loose “unexpectedly” compared to bias ply tires??

    regardless, aero knowledge today allows teams to somewhat imitate skirts with vortices (sic) from upstream appendages.. the 2018 IndyCar spec body design has attempted to address many concerns of dirty air/lack of passing/cooling/tire deg/etc. by increasing ground effects downforce to above 50% and reducing top-side downforce to below 50%.

    of course, it will take a season of actual racing to verify this theory, but all the test drivers and teams on all the various test tracks seem pretty gung-ho on the package. of course, this is a unified aero body which is likely never to be part of F1 DNA, but should it verify over street/short oval/road course/super speedway races in 2018, it would go a LONG way to convincing many that indeed, ground effects dependent cars can improve the show in F1, with or w/o active suspension…

    the “passing out” or “needing to wear “G suites” is a no brainer when all one needs to do is limit total downforce to X degree or Points”…

    “more mechanical grip” is always a laughable statement to me. yeah. a bit more front end mechanical grip can be had by lowering the chassis mount A-arms with HUGE aero loss efficiency and overall grip. so, wider tires/more roll/pitch resistance/softer compounds immediately come to mind – all with their own set of negative results.

  6. Interesting comment about tyres. Radials were relatively new, having been introduced into F1 by Michelin in 1977. By 1982 there were actually four suppliers – Michelin, Goodyear, Pirelli and Avon. So it’s very likely there were significant performance differences across each brand.

  7. One thingthat needs to be taken into account if you are going to compare HP today vs th eground effects days, and that is CoD today vs then. F1 cars today have rediculously high CoD, easily double what street sports cars run, even hypercars. I would dare to say that todays F1 car has double the drag that a ground effect car had. This plays significantly on what that 1000hp can produce speed wise. One thing that will eventually come out when someone from Mclaren writes their book, the Honda is no longer significantly down on power, and hasnt been for quite some time. But they run so much DF to let their star look comfortable and defend or dare fight in the corners, that it significantly effects them in the straights. Williams strategy is the opposite, they consistently run lower DF (comparatively) cars and are slower in the twisty sectors yet run high trap speeds, attempting to defend and attack in DRS zones.

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