Today’s Formula 1 cars are meticulously assembled with every aspect foreseen. From the shape of the nose and wings to the pilot placement, the entire design of the car gears towards optimising aerodynamics. Such attention to detail directly impacts a team’s performance, as aerodynamics plays a crucial role in the ultimate performance. With plenty of components at their disposal, engineers work tirelessly to achieve a uniform design that will give their team a competitive edge. Among the most vital aspects of car design is precisely floor work. In this article, we investigate how floor work in Formula 1 impacts performance on the race track.
Floor Work Concept
In the Formula 1 context, the car floor is a crucial component that significantly impacts the overall performance. It is imperative to understand the concept of floor work to ensure it can achieve high speeds and maintain stability on the track. The flat and smooth surface of the floor, along with the intricate designs underneath, creates a low-pressure zone that helps the car stick to the ground.
The floorwork shall work conjointly with the other aerodynamic components, such as the front and rear wings, and must comply with the regulations set out by the FIA. Out of all the parts, the plank holds the utmost importance. It is composed of composite materials and must have a flat yet polished surface to minimise any drag.
Aerodynamics and Performance Impact
In Formula 1, the design of the car’s floor plays a significant role in the overall aerodynamic performance. The floor section features a complex series of channels and tunnels that work together to create downforce and reduce drag. This downforce helps to increase the car’s grip on the track and allows for faster cornering speeds and better overall lap times.
However, the floor design is not merely just for creating downforce. It is also about managing the airflow around and under the car to reduce drag. The less generated, the faster it can go, as it requires less power to maintain a given speed. Hence, teams spend countless hours in wind tunnels and use CFD simulations to optimise their floor designs for maximum performance.
It is worth highlighting that the floor alone doesn’t do everything on its own. To take advantage performance-wise, engineers work on parts such as directing the air from the front to the floor and controlling this flow, both under and over the piece, to generate the energy as expected.
Moreover, the rules and regulations surrounding floor design are closely monitored by the FIA to ensure that there are no gains or unfair advantages. However, as teams push the boundaries of what is possible, they often find fresh ways to exploit loopholes in the regulations to gain an edge over their competition.
A component that has always been indispensable but has gained even more value from the recent regulation amendments is the floor. This aerodynamic concept emerged at the end of the 1970s after some teams brought inspiration from other championships to the category.
Due to the high number of accidents, the FIA forbid designers from overusing the ground effect. For that purpose, from 1983 onwards, the regulation required the floors to be flat. Almost a decade later, in 1994, they introduced a board positioned in the central part underneath the single-seaters that helps it to check if the models are riding too low.
After nearly 40 years of changing floors, the organisation reverted the decision. For the 2022 regulations, the ground effect became a solution to reduce the turbulence caused by the aerodynamic elements of the car’s top section, such as the rear wing, and thus allow the drivers to pursue their opponents closer to the corners.
For the current season, the directories decided to adopt some alterations not only for safety reasons but also to close loopholes that were being well-spotted by some sides. Thus, the rears now have a slightly higher minimum height to avoid the porpoising effect. In addition, the measures of the board stiffness under the car changed, as some teams managed to circumvent the previous protocol and thus produce flexible floors.
This is possible by mounting the rear part of the floorboard to make it flexible when racing. In this way, the car rides closer to the ground, without hitting the ground, as the board flexes and returns to its original thickness, without suffering wear. In any case, teams continue to invest heavily to understand the best way to use the ground effect in their cars and thus seek a balance that provides a model with good responses and speed in the curves but also with tempo on straights.
Innovations in Floorwork Technology
The technology surrounding the design of the floor work has advanced significantly through time. Computer simulations and wind tunnel testing are now the tools to test and develop the floorwork design. Using advanced materials, such as carbon fibre, has also improved the performance of the floor work.
With the newer regulations, the engineers abandon the outdated flat floors and draw paths for air passage on the piece under the cars. Such designs are Venturi Tunnels, which produce an effect of the same name. When airflow passes through one of these tubes, with the asphalt underneath, it creates a closed system. These paths vary in width, and as a result, they accelerate this airflow.
When this air accelerates under the car relative to the air above, it produces a low-pressure zone that generates a suction effect. This way, the car is pulled down and glued to the ground. Furthermore, it permits to gain an aerodynamic grip, which contributes decisively to the drivers taking corners faster. The advantage over the past regulations is that now they do this causing less turbulence for those behind, which allows the cars to ride near each other.
Another set of recent innovations is active floorwork. Active floor work uses sensors and actuators to adjust the shape of the floor work in real time. Through this, the floor work adapts to changing track conditions, such as changes in temperature or humidity.
To wrap up, the floorwork of a Formula 1 vehicle plays a crucial role in its design as it affects the aerodynamics and universal performance of the car. The floorwork has to generate downward force, minimise air resistance, and enhance traction. Creating floorwork is a coordinated effort among the designers, engineers, and drivers, and it must be tailored to meet the unique requirements of each track.