Monday, March 23, 2009

Physics of Formula 1 cars

It has been brought to my attention that I missed an important point in my last post. The Brabham BT46 is able to achieve the impressive downforce due to a fan that is located at the rear of the car. The fan actively cools the engine while providing a pressure downwards. The downforce pushes the car downwards, as implied by the name. This is important because in order to attain fast speeds, the car must be aerodynamic. For those who are familiar with Formula 1 cars, they have a certain form to each car. In order to drive fast, the downforce must be able to keep the tires of the car on the ground. Normal F1 cars make use of "wings" and a nose cone to provide downforce, while minimizing air drag. The front and rear wings both create a downforce, while the nose cone allows for more aerodynamic movement, and also providing less drag. The wings on a F1 are exactly the opposite of airplane wings. Airplane wings generate lift, while Formula 1 wings generate downforce. The front wing directs air over towards nose cone, and under the car. The front wing is also designed to have endplates which stop air from going towards the rotating wheels, which will slow down the car. Underneath the car there is a diffuser, which just sucks the air from under the car and out the car. Removing the air under the car causes a change in pressure which creates a downforce as well. All this just for a downforce which will allow for greater speeds, and plays a role in turning.


Purple Puppy said...

Of note is that the downforce serves primarily to increase the normal force between the tyres and the ground, thereby improving grip and allowing for cornering at high speeds without skidding. In fact, the lower the downforce, the higher the speeds you can reach on straight sections of track. The higher the downforce, the higher the aerodynamic drag (consequently the lower the top speed).
F1 cars are not very aerodynamic... the balance between downforce and drag coefficient is a compromise. Since F1 circuits are full of turns and twists, high downforce is more important than high top speed.

In addition, when you said, "The front wing directs air over towards nose cone, and under the car" is not very accurate. In fact, the less air under the car, the better, so the wings aim to get as little air under the car as possible. That way the pressure under the car would be lower than the pressure above it, thereby causing downforce. The diffuser at the back of the car "sucks" out the air by increasing the velocity of air under the car. By Bernoulli's equations, we can surmise that speeding up the air under the car will lower the pressure underneath.

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