Take a cursory look at the Lotus 81 pictured at the Monaco Historic Grand Prix, and compare it to a contemporary F1 car. Especially a McLaren or a Red Bull. The difference is stark, with the contemporary machinery having a large a gap between the floor and the ground. The grip generated by modern F1 cars is almost all down to the aerofoils glued to them, whereas those from the late 70’s and early 80s generated most of their grip from the shape of the underside of the car. Heck, Niki Lauda’s Mclaren MP4/1 didn’t even have a front wing! That’s because of something called “Ground Effect”.
Modern F1 drivers have long bemoaned the inability to follow other drivers closely due to the lack or aerodynamic downforce created while driving at close-quarters. That’s because the air thrown from the back of the car in front upsets the air flowing over the car behind. Upset airflow means less downforce, means an inability to drive the car as quickly once you’re in overtaking range. But remove the aerofoils and shape the underside of the car like an upside-down wing, and the car is less sensitive to the turbulent air from the car in front.
Ground Effect was outlawed due to safety concerns of the increased cornering speeds, but that is all about to change. Liberty, and specifically Ross Brawn, have been working on new aero regulations to bring back close-quarters racing, and the ground effect is at the top of their agenda. It’s a good few years away yet, but we’re already looking forward to it!
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