F1 TECHNOLOGY :: AERODYNAMICS (Part 2)

Before reading, click here to read the first part of F1 TECHNOLOGY :: AERODYNAMICS if you haven’t already done so. 

The list of aerodynamic components in an F1 car will easily run to pages when listed out. To start with, the front and rear wings. The front wings have 2 or 3 flaps that are connected at the ends by what is called as the wing endplates. Some teams like McLaren use additional curved profiles that either span the entire length of the wing or that are just two separate profiles that connect each endplate with the sides of the nose cone. The aim here is to increase the front downforce even more. The sides of the endplates have small flaps that serve to cleanup the air flowing into the radiators through the barge boards. The rear wings have just 2 flaps (as is required by the Formula 1 regulations) that produce dollops of downforce. They are kept in place by two carbon fibre supports that connect to the monocoque. Some teams use just one fat pillar instead of two.

Moving behind the front wing, we’ve the barge boards. They are placed on either side of the car just below the driver’s thighs, if you would like. Barge boards on their own do not produce any downforce. However they sit just in front of the most important part, the radiator. The radiator needs a lot of cold air flowing into it to cool the engine down. The cold air will best serve the radiator if it’s not turbulent. But, the tyres and the suspension components that sit in front of the radiator and the barge boards make sure that the radiator does not get its share of clean undisturbed air. The barge boards hence serve to clean up the turbulent air in the process splitting the on coming air in to two streams. One flows directly into the thirsty radiators while the other stream flows smoothly around the sides. Job done.

Above the barge boards sit the radiator covers. They are there to cover the radiator and other engine ancillaries from the outside. But, in F1 nothing is left free. So there you have the cooling chimneys & gills and the numerous T-flaps. While the chimneys and gills are not aerodynamic components strictly, the T-flaps most definitely are. They are scoops that just push the central part of the car a bit when air wooshes past it. In the process the air that passes over it goes directly to the rear wings aiding the flow over it. The rear wing endplates have slots to reduce turbulence.

When all these components listed produce about 40 % of the total downforce, there’s one other component that just effortlessly puts out the rest. It’s not visible to the by-stander. In direct contrast to the other components, it resides beneath the car. When the other aerodynamic components develop downforce by pushing the car down, this component develops it by sucking the car down. It’s called the diffuser. The diffuser is visible when the rear-end of the car is given a close look. It’s basically a channel for the passage of air. What this channel does is, it accelerates the velocity of air flowing through it. When velocity increases, the pressure underneath the car decreases. This creates a pressure differential between the upper and the lower portion of the car. Consequently, the car gets sucked down. The downforce that a diffuser produces through the above explained process is just huge. Just huge. Well, imagine this. If your street is smooth enough for an F1 car to run and if it happens to contain a man-hole and you in case want to pry it open (!), then you’ve an useful tool. Just race the car over it. By the sudden loss of pressure created above the man-hole (under the car) due to the diffuser, the man-hole will simply pop out of its place!

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