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Aerodynamics in Formula One Racing

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Formula One racing is progressing every day and has come a long way with new rules in 2014 and the use of computational fluid dynamics systems used in optimizing aerodynamics modeling of sports cars. Aerodynamics performance is one of the most important factors in the designing of a car, and understanding and optimizing the flow of air around and on the car defines win or loss in Formula One.

Use of computational fluid dynamics to understand aerodynamics of a car model

In computational fluid dynamics or CFD, a detailed digital 3D model of the entire car or a specific part is created, and then the model surface and the immediate space around it is divided into minute cells and then the data put into a computer that produces a simulation of airflow around the object. However, the quality of mathematics, logic and formulae used in computing the aerodynamics matters because each team in Formula One cannot use more than a specific number of computers.

Calculating aerodynamics of cars before CFDformula-one-car

Before computational fluid dynamics was available and transformed aerodynamic designing of Formula One cars, engineers used to test aerodynamics in actual wind tunnels. It was hugely time consuming and expensive, and used nowadays only for final testing.

Hybrid calculation of aerodynamics using sensors

Rather than relying entirely on CFD data in artificial environments, aerodynamics engineers are also combining data made available through sensors on running vehicles. Hundreds of sensors are used on tires, brakes, and other parts for post-race analysis, and also to help drivers with real-time alarms.

Changes brought in by new rules in 2014

The new rules for Formula One 2014 have brought in changes where other factors like fuel efficiency, energy recovery, and going green have assumed importance and though aerodynamics still has the highest attention of engineers, a great amount of focus has shifted to other priorities in order to adjust to the new regulations.

Certain portions of the new regulations have a huge impact on aerodynamics of Formula One cars because they are going to impact throttle drag and downforce. Twin exhausts are no more allowed and Formula One cars will now have a single exhaust pipe with fixed dimensions and angle of protrusion. Generating downforce by propelling exhaust gases to the rear diffuser is now impossible.

The tip of the nose now has a max height of 185 mm, and this will compromise airflow beneath the chassis and the nose. There is a ban on horizontal mounting beams and reduction of the width of the front wing will be affecting airflow and efficiency. The DRS gap is now 65 mm up from 50 mm and this will also help to reduce drag. Also the minimum weight of cars has been increased to 691 kg from 642, thus creating advantages and disadvantages associated with increased weight. But more than other things, the new turbocharged engines have far greater torque and this will have a significant impact on the designing of new cars for Formula One.

Overall, we believe the new rules will put new challenges before aerodynamics engineers who design for Formula One teams.