Hope for genuine wheel to wheel racing and real overtaking in the future

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Hope for genuine wheel to wheel racing and real overtaking in the future Empty Hope for genuine wheel to wheel racing and real overtaking in the future

Post by dyrewolfe on Mon Mar 20, 2017 11:30 pm

While the new regs for this season don't promise much, beyond a faster version of what we have seen in previous seasons, F1 fans needn't despair.

There is recognition of the need to do something drastic, regarding the aerodynamics of the cars, to reduce the wake turbulence they create, enabling cars behind to follow more closely, without their performance being degraded.

Alex Wurz, Chairman of the GPDA has referenced his experience in Le Mans and also observed that IndyCars are able to race closely, despite having similar levels of downforce to F1 cars. The trick? To use the floor of the cars to create the bulk of the downforce, with minimal front and rear wings for "fine tuning".


This isn't a new concept - it was first tried as far back as the late 1970's, but was eventually outlawed, due to some designers getting overly creative and producing cars with flexible side skirts (creating a "seal" between the underbody and track). Brabham even went as far as fitting a fan to the back of their car, to extract air from the underside of the car.

Hope for genuine wheel to wheel racing and real overtaking in the future 800px-2005_A1GP_Brands_Hatch_Katsuake_Kubota_Lotus_78

Hope for genuine wheel to wheel racing and real overtaking in the future 800px-2001_Goodwood_Festival_of_Speed_Brabham_BT46B_Fan_car

Since then, F1 cars have depended on their front and rear wings, plus various devices on their bodywork (shark fins, barge boards etc.) to generate the majority of their downforce. However these create huge wakes of disturbed air, which play havoc with the aerodynamics of following cars, making it that much harder to overtake.

An F1 car needs clean airflow to work at its best. Put it in turbulent air - such as that created by another car - and the finely tuned airflow that starts at the front wing and cascades backwards over all those pieces of bodywork along the sides of the cars is disturbed. And the downforce is dramatically cut.

"Now the turbulence is easily twice as powerful coming out the back of a car," Hamilton says. "It magnifies the issue we had before. Let's hope the racing is fantastic, but don't hold your breath."

F1 is under new ownership this year and Ross Brawn, the former Mercedes team boss now in charge of shaping the sport's future direction, has said he wants to get rid of DRS.

But that is one tiny part of negotiations, that are just starting, about what F1's future might look like. Overtaking will be part of those conversations. For Wurz, the issue is less overtaking per se, more whether the design of the cars allows for close racing.

"Some say overtaking is so important for fans to be attached to F1," he says. "From the beginning, I have said - and I believe - that is not the answer. It is maybe not even true.

"Generally, I believe the most important thing is competition - and not just between two team-mates but between a few teams - and that the races are close. So I think it is fundamental that the aerodynamic philosophy should change so it is not so sensitive driving behind each other. And that can be achieved."

Not only is Wurz the GPDA chairman and a former F1 driver, he is also a two-time winner of the Le Mans 24 Hours and spent the last few years of his career in the World Endurance Championship.

The cars he raced - the so-called Le Mans Prototypes from Porsche, Toyota and, until last year, Audi - had even more downforce than F1 cars, but can be raced close together without problem.

"In a Le Mans car," Wurz says, "following someone in a 150mph corner, never at any point do you have to think you have to keep your distance because otherwise you are going to slide wide without control.

"You almost touch his bumper and your car will generate the same grip as when you drive by yourself. So all your focus can be solely on the guy in front, to find a little gap or a little mistake and you are close enough to strike.

"In an F1 car, when you go behind someone, you are always thinking: 'OK, I am that close, so I must enter the corner a little bit slower because otherwise I am going to slide too wide in the mid-corner and apex and I am going to lose too much time or even make a mistake.'

"Unless you have much fresher tyres or he makes a mistake, you cannot think: 'OK, I am that close now, I will strike.' And by nature in F1 not too many people make mistakes."

The explanation for this is to do with how the car generates its downforce.

An F1 car's aerodynamics are focused on the front wing. Even the airflow through the diffuser - the back of the car's floor, which is so crucial to overall performance - fundamentally comes in from the sides of the car having been accelerated around it in a process that starts at the front wing.

In an LMP1 car, the downforce is generated almost entirely under the floor - just as was the case with F1 cars when the era of aerodynamics properly started back in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Take a look at a car from, say 1982, and you'll either see no front wing, or a very small one used only for fine-tuning. Like WEC cars, IndyCars in America use this philosophy now, so cars can race closely at 220mph and more on oval tracks.

Changing this philosophy in F1 would not be easy - there would inevitably be resistance from the leading teams who best exploit the current rules, even though, as Wurz puts it, "if you're the best before, you'll be the best after".

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