The dirty air effect

Welcome to my first F1 explained post, a new series I’m starting to help you understand the concepts and engineering behind Formula 1.


As such, I thought I’d start off with something that been fairly prominent throughout recent seasons, dirty air. This is to do with the new aero regulations that were introduced for 2017.

First some backstory, the 2017 aero regs made the cars wider and with much more aggressive aero packages, including a swept back front wing and lowered rear wing, with the intention of making the cars up to 5 seconds quicker per lap.

To understand what dirty air is you need to understand who the aerodynamics work.

Aerodynamics is one of the integral parts of an F1 car, without it the cars would be nowhere near as fast as they are now and until the 60’s it didn’t even exist on cars. The way it works is that air moves over the wings and other aero parts and creates a pressure difference which pushes the car down towards the ground, this is called downforce. In order for this to work efficiently, the car needs to have clear/smooth air in front of it

This is similar to how the wings on an aeroplane work except they create lift to push and keep the plane up (this is why downforce is also known as negative lift).

As the air gets to the back of the car it becomes turbulent and messy.

This means the car doesn’t get the clean air it needs for aerodynamics to work properly.

In a straight line, this is actually a benefit to the following car as the drag caused by downforce is also reduced and so you can achieve a higher top speed. This is commonly known as slipstreaming or drafting.AP-1VNDNRJY11W11_hires_jpeg_24bit_rgb

However, when the slipstreaming car comes to a corner they have the same turbulent air in front of them meaning their aero don’t work properly and they can’t follow the car in front.

This is where the issue with overtaking has come from. If cars can’t follow each other in the corners they can’t get close enough to overtake and only the cars with powerful engines can make up the gap in the straights.

As such the FIA has approved a series of regulation changes for 2019 which will simplify the aerodynamics use on F1 cars. It is hoped this will make the cars less reliant on aero and reduce the dirty air effect.

These changes include a wider and simplified front wing, ban on using winglets on brake ducts, modified bargeboards, lower and wider rear wing and few other tweaks.

These changes will definitely have an effect on the overall downforce of the cars and therefore the dirty air they produce. But as ever teams will likely find a way around the changes and in any case, so long as the cars are in any way reliant on aerodynamics there will always be some form of dirty air as it is is just a natural consequence of aero.


What do you think about overtaking and dirty air in F1?

What should be done help improve overtaking?

Let me know in the comments and please share.

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