What is ground effect?

The aerodynamic regulations of 2022 brings back ground effect for Formula 1 single-seaters. But what is ground effect? Without wishing to reduce to a simplistic explanation the effect venturi and the beginning of BernoulliJust remember the experience of the Lotus engineers back in 1977 in the wind tunnel: as the floor of the car got closer to the asphalt, by means of appendages that facilitated it, the downforce shot up and the car was sucked down by the forces it generated intrinsically. This peculiarity allowed him to reach much higher speeds in the curves.

The Lotus 78 swept in 1979 with Andretti Y Peterson, champion and runner-up of that campaign. The technical resource was quickly developed and incorporated by rivals (Williams or Brabham they improved it) in a generation of cars remembered for their speed, history and beauty, but also for a high accident rate. The ban was inevitable after the death of Gilles Villeneuve in the GP of Belgium 1982 and the very serious accident of another pilot of ferrari, didier pironi, during the German GP of that year because of the dense ‘spray’ that they generated in the rain. “Dangerous technical escalation of Formula 1”, then listed this newspaper, descriptive: “A touch and fly!”. Pironi missed the last four races and still finished second in the World Championship, after Keke Rossberg; he passed away in 1987 in a watercraft competition.

A reinterpretation of the ground effect

The ground effect of cars F1 will not be as extreme as the one that disappeared 40 years ago. They will only have a series of ducts that modify the air circulation under the chassis instead of the huge skirts of the time and the aggressive designs of the flat bottom, which was not flat.

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Behind this decision there are sporting motivations. The 2021 cars, and earlier, generated a flow of dirty air behind them that prevented the chasing driver from getting close without giving up a significant percentage of performance. It is not voluntary, “manufacturers could make cars with less dirty air”, said the technician from the FIA, Nikolas Tombazis, “but they wouldn’t be as fast” over one lap, in clear air. It is estimated that a driver lost 35% of the downforce at 20 meters from another car, and up to 46% at 10 meters. In these circumstances, the tires overheat and lose their qualities after a few laps. It is not worth fighting against an equal and only perfect cars can overtake with some ease, Mercedes or Red Bull.

With the cars of 2022, it is expected that at 20 meters the head loss will be 4% and at 10 meters, around 18%. That will facilitate the fights on the track and will prevent that after a lap, in the vast majority of circuits, there will be more than a second difference between each of the drivers. In the factories though, engineers will be looking for imaginative solutions to take advantage of every loophole in the rule book. All thanks, among other things, to the ground effect pardon. The idea sounds good; the result, in Bahrain GP (March 20).

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