Formula One has decided to do something radical in its new 2021 regulations: bringing back ground effects. Yeah. But how the hell is the series going to make sure we don’t all make the same dangerous mistakes that teams made back in the 1970s and ‘80s? Chain Bear F1 and Autosport have teamed up to talk it out.
At its most basic, “ground effects” is the way we describe the manipulation of the underside of a race car to create low pressure zones that suck cars down to the ground—aka, the production of downforce. This was done via something called the Venturi effect. Instead of letting air flow straight through the underside of a car, engineers created a choke point, which forced air to move through it at a faster rate. A low pressure zone was created, the cars were pushed to the ground, and you could send your car around a corner faster than you ever could before.
But that’s dangerous as hell. If something goes wrong mid-corner that disturbs the air flow and thus the pressure, suddenly your car is careening toward the wall at high speed. That is extremely bad news!
F1 learned its lesson, though. The regulations dictate ground effects that will be way safer and far more controlled than they were the last time around:
If you’ve watched a modern F1 race, you know how absurd the aerodynamics on those cars have become—full of little bits and pieces that result in such a disturbed airflow that it’s tough for one car to follow or pass another. Re-introducing ground effects is intended to simplify the aero and make following a lot easier, especially since the modern-era cars are so much safer.
The new floor of the 2021 car will be more rounded to encourage airflow the length of the sidepods and back to the diffuser. Turning vanes will direct the initial airflow, and vanes running the length of the diffuser will replace the 70s- and 80s-era skirts. Those diffuser vanes will seal the air from the floor and push it through the diffuser, but Chain Bear notes that they appear to be part of the rear brake ducts, which will keep them level with the tires and not with the chassis. That means air flow will be more reliable than before.
With all that underbody downforce, the aero on top of the body is refreshingly simplified. Wings are streamlined to reduce airflow backsplash, while vanes and wheel covers smooth airflow and direct it into the turning vanes.
People seem confident that this will improve the overall quality of racing by making it far simpler for cars to run close together. Whether that’ll pan out remains to be seen (there is, after all, plenty of time for this basic design to change), but I have to say—this is the most excited I’ve been about an F1 regulations change ever.