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The Secret Underside Of A Modern Formula 1 Car

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The machine you see here is Nico Rosberg’s 2012 Mercedes AMG F1 W03, a carbon-fiber monster with a naturally aspirated 18,000-rpm V-8 producing over 700 bhp. Amazingly, that engine isn’t the W03’s most impressive feature. Like all modern F1 cars, the Mercedes is both defined and dominated by its aerodynamic aids.

Topside, Rosberg’s car uses multi-element wings to produce downforce, but peer underneath and you’ll find a cocktail of mind-bending vortex generators and what F1 designer Nick Wirth calls a “horrific assortment of [interconnected] parts and pieces.”

Wirth, 46, began his career as an aerodynamicist at March and later served as technical director for Benetton and Virgin Racing. Because the bottom of an F1 car is almost never seen, we asked Wirth to parse it out.

“A Formula 1 car produces much of its downforce from [its underside],” he says. “Think of each component as a link in a long chain. Change one without altering the rest and everything is then out of alignment-the car’s aerodynamics simply won’t work as intended.”

1. Mercedes’ “Double DRS” system uses channels in the body to route air from the rear wing to the car’s nose. When the car’s DRS system is activated, the flap’s motion exposes holes in the rear wing’s endplates. Air enters these holes and is then routed forward to the front wing, where it exits on the bottom side to stall the wing, decrease front downforce and boost top speed… Read Full

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