The current configuration of Formula 1 cars was developed to improve overtaking opportunities. When one car follows another, the air turbulence thrown off by the rear wings reduces the ability of a following car to attain adequate downforce to maintain grip. This makes close racing, and overtaking, very difficult. To mitigate this “dirty air” problem, front wings were enlarged and rear wings reduced.
But car designers immediately sought workarounds. One method of recouping lost downforce was through double diffusers, introduced last year. This year, “blown” diffusers, which channel engine exhaust through the diffuser ducts, were introduced. While the cars have regained some of their lost downforce, these diffuser tweaks have also increased the dirty air problem.
Now, as a means finding downforce that will make the cars less dependent on wings, Formula 1 teams have been discussing a proposal bring back ground effects. Ground effects ducting, which channels air beneath the car in such a way that the car is literally sucked downwards towards the track, was first developed for Formula 1 during the 1970’s (Mario Andretti won the world championship in a ground effects Lotus in 1978), but the technology was eventually outlawed during the 1980’s.
Ground effects would seem to be an obvious solution. Not only to they produce downforce with very little drag, but they do not have the sensitivity to dirty air that wings do.
And there is another revival from the 1980’s in the pipeline: turbo-charged engines. A proposal currently being weighed would call for 1.6 liter four cylinder engines that produce 650 bhp.