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F1: Would You Welcome Back Ground Effect Aerodynamics?

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F1: Would You Welcome Back Ground Effect Aerodynamics?
The British Grand Prix was a timely reminder of what F1 spectacle is all about amidst all the negativity surrounding the sport of late. With some convincing moves taken upon the future when Strategy Group met at Biggin Hills on the Wednesday before the race, there were proposals put forward for teams to come up with effective innovations towards what believed to be a radical shake-up in 2017.

That would mean prominent diversity in the aesthetics of the cars from what we are used to seeing in the current generation as they are expected to be more ‘aggressive’ in nature and dimensionally wider with bigger wheels. One of the crucial aspects being assessed are the ways in which downforce can be increased and it would certainly have significant impacts from nose to tail.

F1 cars are notoriously ground-hugging beasts in which aerodynamics play an integral part in ferocious speed through corners. Despite clampdowns are often mandated by the governing body to slice off any advantages acquired through loopholes, be it during the season or before it, innovations never stumble courtesy of some of the cleverest minds on board in the paddock.

For example, in 2015 the cars are faster even though little corrections were made to the rule book compared to last year. The regulations strictly prohibit any movable aero bits and pieces on the bodywork of the car as the constant strive to improve downforce does have its flipside: when racing it will be increasingly difficult for the cars run closer to each other due to the air turbulence generated.

Thus in order to make cars go faster without compromising the on-track racing a recent proposal has been considered to reintroduce ground effect aerodynamics pioneered in the late ‘60s and saw intense developments through the ‘70s and early ‘80s in the sport’s own backyard. Back in the days, cars had sealed flexible side skirts and underbodies that channeled the pressurized air to create venturi effect and are entirely separated from on-the-surface aerodynamics.

The first successful ground effect car that took Mario Andretti to the championship was Lotus 78 designed by Peter Wright and Colin Chapman after Robin Herd experimented wings into the sidepods of the March 701 and several other trials from renowned designers including Gordon Murray’s Brabham BT46 Fan Car. Current regulations heavily limit the effect of ground effect aerodynamics, an effective means of creating downforce with the penalty of less drag.

The underside or under tray must be flat between the front and rear axles with titanium skid blocks facilitated down the middle of the cars to prevent them from running too close to the track surface. For 2017, FIA has invited teams to come up with ideas that would make cars several seconds per lap quicker without jeopardising aerodynamic performance when two cars follow in close proximity with one another.

The primary downforce generators in today’s cars are the intriguing front wings, rear diffuser and rear wing. Red Bull are believed to have proposed an idea to modify the ratio in which downforce is generated between wings and the underbody. However, tunnel section seen underneath currently in GP2 cars is also under consideration to improve downforce without mitigating aero performance.

Suggestions of spec floor around which the cars should be built are also being looked upon to hinder teams from taking massive advantages of ground effect aerodynamics, the same reason for which it had been outlawed in the early 1980s. However all these proposals are still, as Red Bull’s Christian Horner said, at an ‘embryonic’ stage and subjected to further discussions at the upcoming Strategy Group meetings.

So, would you readers welcome ground effect aerodynamics back in F1 if wheel-to-wheel racing is still assured and cars are driven much faster?
(Suren M)

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