From something that makes the most noise in an F1 car (the engine) and someother stuff that arguably gets the least attention among people (the tyres), we’re off to something that gets noticed by everyone. The aerodynamics of a Formula 1 car. Aerodynamics is the science of studying the behaviour of air when it passes over a moving object. The object can be anything from an aeroplane to a motor bike. If there’re applications that utilize aerodynamics to their absolute maximum, well, in that list, Formula 1 is there. The front and rear wings are the most visible aerodynamic components of an F1 car to the by-stander. But, you can rest assured that they are not the only ones.
The role of the aerodynamic components in a F1 car is to give it added grip. This added grip is beneficial to the car during acceleration, braking and most importantly cornering. Aerodynamics is not the only solution for providing added grip. More weight (physical weight) added to the rear of the car can give the added grip for better acceleration. More weight (again, physical weight) added to the front of the car can, again, give more grip for better braking. The same holds true for cornering too. But, this is not the best solution. That’s because, more weight affects the power to weight ratio (the amount of power that’s available, to move thousand kilograms) of the car to the worse and consequently acceleration is lost in the process. Added weight equates to more kinetic energy that the brakes have to convert to heat energy that naturally decreases the braking efficiency. Finally, the stability of the car gets affected while cornering due to additional mass.
Aerodynamics, in direct contrast, is very flexible. It adds weight when it’s needed. When it’s not required, voila, the extra weight vanishes. Instead of adding physical weight (in the form of ballasts), the air moving over an F1 car is utilized in adding more weight. The aerodynamic components are so tuned that it will be only after some speed that the aerodynamic forces start having their influence (read as, start adding more weight) on the car, in the process making sure that any extra weight is not there when it’s not needed. The tuning varies for each track’s characteristics. This is commonly referred to as the downforce package. A high downforce package simply means that the aerodynamic forces start to have their influence at comparitively lower speeds compared to the speeds that is required to be attained for a low downforce aerodynamic package to work.
F1 TECHNOLOGY :: AERODYNAMICS (Part 2) will throw light on the aerodynamic components and the aerodynamic downforce packages that’s in use in F1.