It is no secret that Formula One is one of the most technical sports out there. A driver can only do so much on the track which affects the outcome of a race, and arguably races are often won off the track back in the franchise garages and engineering rooms.
Lewis Hamilton won seven world championships but with the advent of new rules ahead of the 2022 season, the Briton hasn’t been able to win a race since the end of 2021. It wasn’t that he suddenly lost all his talent, but the changes Mercedes made to their car have put them far behind their competitors in terms of pace.
To achieve success in an F1 car, you have to be the fastest and to be faster you need power but not additional weight. There is also a limit on how much power you can put to the ground and to increase this limit, force to ground must be applied on the wheels. So while additional weight can do this, the extra weight will make handling worse or will mean the car requires more power.
Therefore we need some virtual weight and this is downforce which comes from the airflow around the car. Here is all you need to know about downforce in an F1 car...
What is downforce?
In a sentence, downforce (or negative lift) pushes the car onto the track. Downforce has to be balanced between the front and rear, left and right, and while balancing can easily be achieved from left to right, it is much harder to achieve it from the front to rear.
Flow in the front of the car greatly affects the flow in the back and vice versa. Downforce must be adjusted according to the race track and behaviour of the car. If you have too much front downforce, you can induce oversteer while if you have too much back downforce, this can induce understeering. In current motor racing competitions, F1 included, aerodynamic downforce plays the most important role in the performance of the cars.
On the rear of a car, the main sources of downforce are spoilers, wings and diffuser. On front of the car, the main sources are front spoilers (often called dam or splitters) and canards or vortex generators. Spoilers are simple plates placed somewhere on the car body so it can interfere or ‘spoil’ the flow around the vehicle.
Diffusers are, after wings, the most commonly seen devices which generate downforce in the rear portion of the car and Canards are small fin-like attachments to the front corners of cars and the inclination of these plates create downforce on the front of the car, though in small amounts.
How much downforce can an F1 car produce?
Downforce is measured in g-force and when a Formula 1 car is going at maximum speed, it will produce around 5gs of downforce. This is five times its weight pressing it down onto the track.
Following basic laws of physics, aerodynamic forces increase with the square of speed, which means twice the speed and four times the force. There has been a lot of talk about downforce generated by F1 cars but none of the modern cars generate as much as the best cars did in 1994.
Having said that, cars do still generate many times their own weight in downforce at speed and equal their own weight by just under 100mph.