This BBC Documentary Is A Fascinating Look Into The World Of 1980's F1

Welcome to Sunday Matinee, where we highlight classic car reviews or other longer videos I find on YouTube. Kick back and enjoy this blast from the past.


The early 1980s were a weird time in Formula One. Every racing team had just spent the last half-decade learning how to use an aerodynamic principle known as "ground effect" on their cars, which effectively made them stick to the ground so much they could simply power around many corners. And then it was banned, causing teams to learn how to re-work aerodynamics all over again.

Ground effect is a pretty simple principle, really. It basically involves shaping the entire car into an upside-down airplane wing, creating a giant low pressure zone under the chassis and sucking the car to the road surface. Skirts would extend from the sides of the body and scrape along the ground, keeping the airflow nice and tidy.

The Lotus 78, introduced in 1977, was the first ground effect car and it revolutionized the sport. Cornering speeds became dangerously high and extremely dependent on aerodynamics, and a small breakage in the seal underneath could send a car shooting wildly off the track. By the time the skirts were banned, they ensured up to 70% of the downforce on an F1 car.

The documentary that you see here, entitled Gentlemen – Lift Your Skirts, follows the Williams F1 team throughout the 1980-1981 off-season as they struggle to get a car working without those scraping skirts. It not only has a great name but also does a remarkably good job of explaining difficult concepts in very simple terms, including not only ground effect but also the sponsorship system and even how you start up one of those monsters .

And the pacing is fantastic as well. Go ahead and watch it, it's only about 47 minutes long and you'll be happy you did.


Parker Kligerman

ahhh when racing was just plain cool. Testing in a F1 car and it's only driver + engineer discussing changes. Not multitudes of computers, data validation, or simulation runs. Just a crazy car, a crazy driver , a couple smart blokes and a race track, all trying to just go "faster".