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The Importance of Aerodynamic Efficiency

Aerodynamics is one of the most important influences on an F1 car's performance.
Engineers can determine a car's aerodynamic efficiency by studying how airflow will
pass over, under and around the vehicle. The car will perform best, and move fastest,
when it disturbs as little air as possible.

Specifically, aerodynamicists measure three variables: downforce, drag and balance.
Downforce is the amount of downward pressure that keeps the car on the track at
high speeds. Drag is airflow that slows a car down because of aerodynamic
inefficiency or friction caused as air flows over various surfaces of the car. Balance
is a change in the pitch of the car, such as when a car brakes suddenly, which
changes the way air flows over the car.

One of the most important high tech tools for measuring aerodynamic performance in
today's racing is Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD).



Simulating Race Car Design with Computational Fluid Dynamics

CFD is a computer-based technology that studies the dynamics of all things that flow.
In Formula 1 racing, CFD involves building a computer-simulated model of a race car
and then applying the laws of physics to the virtual prototype to predict what the
downforce or drag may be on various components of the car or how the car will
respond in various wind conditions, changing environmental conditions or on different
road surfaces.

Aerodynamicists can use CFD to better visualize and enhance their understanding of
how various designs will perform. It also allows them to experiment with more design
variables in a shorter amount of time until they arrive at optimal results.

CFD allows engineers to use computer software to divide components of a race car
into specific cells or grids. For each of those cells, supercomputers are then used to
calculate mathematical equations that compute the velocity and air pressure of the
wind as it rushes over, under and around the specified components of the race car.
Aerodynamicists can use the resulting data to compute the downforce, drag and
balance the race car will experience, depending on different environmental and road
conditions and different design variables. When the calculations are finished, the
aerodynamicists can analyze the results either numerically or graphically.


Other Steps in the Race Car Design Process

Typically, F1 teams use CFD as the first step in their design and testing process,
since it allows them to experiment with more design variables more quickly than
building a physical model. The second step is to build a physical scale model of the
car and place it in a wind tunnel, where the teams can conduct further research and
continue to assess the car's aerodynamic efficiency. After these two steps are
completed, the final step is to test and assess the car on the track itself.

In the ongoing race to shave hundredths and thousandths of seconds off a race car's
time, Formula 1 teams seem set to continue their focus on advanced technology to
accelerate their design efforts.

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