Gil de Ferran, Hall, IndyCar (CART), 1996

F1 must be careful following IndyCar’s lead on aerodynamics – De Ferran

2021 F1 season

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Formula 1 should take care when following IndyCar’s lead on altering downforce levels to encourage overtaking, McLaren sporting director Gil de Ferran has said.

Last week F1 motorsport managing director Ross Brawn revealed concept designs for new-look cars from 2021 which he indicated have taken inspiration from IndyCar’s 2018 aero kit. The revised IndyCars generate a greater proportion of downforce from the underbody than the upper surface and have been credited with producing better racing on road and street circuits.

But De Ferran, a two-times champion in Champ Car and twice winner of the Indianapolis 500, pointed out some of the American series’ previous attempts to alter the cars to improve overtaking had backfired during his time in the sport.

“In my opinion this is more delicate than just a level of downforce,” de Ferran said. “It’s also got a lot to do with how the downforce is generated, the type of wake that the car generates and so on and so forth.

“I remember years ago when we came up with the infamous Handford device that package had very little downforce but nevertheless made the cars very hard to follow in oval racing. So in my opinion it’s a little bit more delicate than just a level of dowforce.

“Throughout my career in IndyCar, for example, they changed a lot the rules over the years about the size of the tunnels and this also affected a lot the ability that you had to follow or not. So it’s a complex subject.

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“I think the variables that you have, not only the aerodynamics, but the weight of the cars, the grip of the tyres, the power of the engine, there’s a lot of variables that affect this whole thing, not just the level of downforce.”

Josef Newgarden, Sebastien Bourdais, IndyCar, Sonoma, 2018
New-style IndyCars look good and race well
De Ferran believes F1 is doing the right thing by addressing the aesthetics of the cars but pointed out they need to look different from each other as well.

“When it comes to Formula 1 in particular I think it’s important first of all that the cars look exciting,” he said.

“Even before I came here my personal opinion was the previous generation of cars did not look particularly exciting. I like going to the edge of the track and watching the cars and I thought they looked OK but not particularly exciting.

“I think this generation of cars they look exciting, they look difficult to drive, they look fast. And I think it’s important that Formula 1 cars maintain that DNA.

“The other part of the DNA is the differentiation. You look at our cars and some of our competitors’, they look different, they are unique cars, and that’s a pretty broad subject. It’s to do with the relationship of the teams and so on and so forth. What I think is important is that Formula 1 maintains that DNA, that each car has its own constructor, there is some differentiation in the ways that the cars look at a car and say it’s a McLaren or another car and so on.”

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26 comments on “F1 must be careful following IndyCar’s lead on aerodynamics – De Ferran”

  1. Precisely what I’ve pointed out as well, that it’s how the downforce is generated rather than the amount of it that really matters concerning the ability to follow another car closely. Furthermore, I couldn’t care less about the aesthetics-aspect of the cars as long as they’re both fast and follow-able/race-able.

    1. @jerejj
      “it’s how the downforce is generated rather than the amount of it that really matters concerning the ability to follow another car closely”
      Jere can you please elaborate on this comment a bit please. I have been watching F1 for a long time but the hardest thing I have never fully understood is the aero and downforce- cheers mate.

      1. As I understand it, downforce is a consequence of difference in air pressure. When a car is stationary the air pressure above the car is the same as below it, so the net air pressure difference contributes nothing to the grip the tyres have on the road.
        There’s a law of physics called Pascal’s Law … ummm nope … Boyle’s Law … umm nope … Bernoulli’s … Principle… Yep! That’s the one. It says increasing the speed of a fluid, or in our case air, causes the fluid or air pressure to decrease. As you can guess, the trick with an F1 car is that as it moves along, and especially when it is going very fast, is to make some bits of air move faster than others. If we were to make the air on various lower surfaces go faster than those on upper surfaces we should get a decrease of air pressure under those surfaces compared to above, so our net force on is negative, or downwards.
        Aerofoils do this by making the air on one surface travel further than on the other. I’m sure you’re familiar with aeroplane wings, and an F1 aerofoil is an upside down aeroplane wing.
        Another way the air move is to squeeze the air, so then the air rushes to a place of lower pressure. So the front of an F1 car is shaped to catch some of the air and direct it underneath the car. This creates higher air pressure. Behind the car, because it is moving, is an area of low air pressure, and as you can guess, air loves to move from high pressure to low pressure. So the air moves backwards compared to the ground underneath the car and in doing so creates a negative air pressure under the car compared to that above the car.
        Hence we now have more air pressure above the car than underneath it = downforce.
        My apologies, but I don’t have time to go into Vortex’s.

        1. @drycrust, I presume that you are being a little facetious when referring to Bernoulli when talking about aerofoils, because ascribing the lift effect of an aerofoil to Bernoulli is, at best, over simplistic, and there is a strong argument that it is wrong altogether (the Kutta-Joukowski theorem is usually considered to be a more reasonably approximation, but in reality we don’t quite fully understand what is truly happening when an aerofoil generates lift).

          1. My thanks for correcting me.

      2. @garns I would elaborate on it a bit more had @drycrust (below) not been quicker in doing so. I just wasn’t fast enough, LOL.

    2. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
      22nd September 2018, 11:23


      it’s how the downforce is generated rather than the amount of it that really matters

      Well… mmm not sure. Yes how the downforce is created does matter but how much? Does it matter a bit or as you say, does it really matter?

      We know the current cars are an example of aero that is pretty bad when it comes to one car following another closely in corners. We know cars with no aero such as F1 cars of the early sixties or formula ford cars of today are examples of aero that do allow this. The obvious conclusion is the less downforce that is created, the less effect the loss of some of it has. We know for sure this works. We either go in that direction or attempt to find a way to produce downforce cleanly (as you suggest is possible) and prove it works.

      I’d be interested to know if a technical study has been done to explore this principle. It would need to show that mathematically or by a physical test of two cars in line within a wind tunnel, that downforce can be created without causing a significant of dirty air. Anybody know of one?

      1. @drycrust – thanks appreciate that, makes a bit more sense

  2. Fia should make the cars look like those 90s/early 2000s Champcar. Look at that yellow penzoil car, that’s a great looking open wheeler. Great racing in that era.

    1. For sure. Still love JV’s blue Players CART cars to this day. I even took a 1/18 scale diecast model of it and applied the proper Players markings on it since it couldn’t be sold with cigarette sponsorship on it. When I had an opportunity to meet Jacques he signed the Players car as well as his WDC winning Williams that I had put the proper Rothmans decals on.

  3. It seems de Ferran is not really talking about the aesthetics of the cars themselves but rather the look of the cars in motion—the dynamics of them, whether they appear impressively fast and difficult to drive.

  4. I don’t think De Ferran is saying anything Liberty and Brawn aren’t already well aware of, and I have no concern at all about them taking much if anything from Indycar, other than to just observe what less downforce has done for closer racing there.

  5. Formula E has also gone with an underbody driven downforce design for the new cars. Seems to be the trend.

    1. Not sure one can compare to Formula E though. They simply would not have the range they do if they had gobs of downforce like F1 does, creating drag with all that force pushing down. To me anything electric in racing or in domestic application has always been all about light as possible and sleek as possible.

  6. Man, look at how good that car looks.

    Summary: in addition to the aerodynamic research being conducted to facilitate close racing, hopefully Ross Brawn and his team are analysing all of the great looking open wheeled cars from the modern era – including this one – to come up with a template that they never deviate from that consistently produces great looking Formula One cars. For many of us, aesthetics and ‘cool factor’ are one of the major attractions of F1. As such, the looks and sound of the cars should be a priority, not an afterthought.


    Great aesthetics, like style, is timeless and this car shares a few simple things in common with most of the other great looking cars of the modern era:

    – almost perfect proportions from all angles – not overly long like today’s F1 cars or rear-end heavy like the hideously ugly previous-to-current generation Indycars.

    – a simple, elegant front wing as low and wide as the rest of the bodywork that extends just a bit beyond the inner edge of the front tires, unlike today’s front wings, which while works of art from an engineering detail standpoint, ruin the aesthetics of the car by being too wide and busy.

    – simple, smooth flowing bodywork and sidepods that run ~75 % of the distance between the wheels. Nelson Piquet’s Brabham BT52 – without doubt one of the most beautiful F1 cars ever – is a notable exception, probably because it’s so hard to get the aesthetics right, especially from a front top view which is what we most often see while watching on TV. If you image search the BT52 notice how important the arrow shaped paint scheme and front wing are to getting the car to look great.

    – a simple iconic paint scheme like the JPS Lotus, Marlboro McLaren, Parmalat Brabham etc.

    – and finally, a big-ass rear wing and rear tires that are visibly wider and taller than the front wheels. Almost every 5 year old boy on earth knows that the rear tires on a race car should be much bigger than the fronts – simply because it looks cool – but it took F1 over 20 years to get a clue and revert back to decent sized rear rubber smh.

    Speaking of kids, I’m almost certain that if you showed 100 young race fans pictures of the above Indycar and any 2018 flip-flop adorned F1 car and asked them which one looks better the vast majority would pick the Indycar.

    Ross Brawn is a smart guy. Hopefully the “Make F1 Cars Look Great Again” team that he’s assembled have pictures on their computers and office walls of all the great looking open wheeled cars of the modern era that they are analyzing the hell out of to create a simple rules based template that year after year consistently produces great looking cars.

    Once they come up with it, they should never deviate from it unless it is a definite improvement. To put it another way, every potential technical change must be analyzed in terms of the effect, if any, it will have on the looks or sound of the cars. No change should ever be introduced that will make the cars look or sound worse. ‘Status quo’ is the minimum, ‘better’ the ideal.

    One of the unique selling propositions of open-wheeled racing is that, along with motorcycle roadracing, it is the coolest, most aesthetic sport on the planet. As such, cars that look and sound awe-inspiring should be prioritized, never, EVER compromised or left to chance.

    If I’m right about that, then the fundamental question of whether F1 should prioritize cutting edge technology or maximum fan entertainment answers itself; if you chase two rabbits, at least one will escape.

    1. Boris, are you, perchance, a man in his late 30’s to early 40’s? It’s just that the current IndyCar was deliberately designed to look like a 1990s IndyCar because they were hoping to tap into the rather strong “motorsport nostalgia” movement, so it is geared towards your particular set of biases, prejudices and preconceptions of motorsport.

      They have produced is a car that is designed to look like the sort of car that was around in the childhood of somebody who grew up in the 1990s in an effort to maintain the audience they have. It may be why it works so well with you – because it fits into your belief of what a racing car should look like, since it sounds a lot like that is what the racing cars of your childhood looked like – but I am not sure if it really is good for the sport to fixate on what people thought was so awesome in their childhood when they seem rather disconnected with younger individuals today.

      1. I’m closer to 50 but I get what you’re saying. According to the nerd on ‘Criminal Minds’ there’s even research showing that musically speaking, most of us have the strongest emotional attachment to songs we heard when we were ~14 years old. That’s certainly true for me; although I love many songs from the 90s and later, most of my favorite songs are from the early 80s – but I digress.

        On further reflection, I will concede to no longer being certain that, in terms of looks, the average young race fan would pick the Indycar above over a 2018 F1 car. The fact that many F1 fans don’t consider the halo to be an absolute eye sore is proof that aesthetics aren’t important to everyone.

        I’m only certain that most fans, regardless of age, for whom aesthetics are extremely important would choose Piquet’s ’83 Brabham BT52, Senna’s ’85 JPS Lotus, or De Ferran’s ’96 Pennzoil Indycar over any 2017 (non halo but small rear tires) or 2018 (big rears but halo shod) F1 car. It would be interesting to find out the results of an actual poll to see how preferences correlate with age.

        Thanks for helping me clarify my thoughts.

      2. It would also be interesting to see the results of survey involving people of various ages who are not fans of open wheel racing who would have little to no idea of the eras that the aforementioned cars belonged to.

        That would virtually eliminate age bias and focus exclusively on the aesthetic aspects of the cars.

      3. Thinking more about my potential for age related bias, I think I’m relatively objective because IMO, there are so few production cars from the 80s & 90s that have stood the test of time from a looks standpoint. Aside from the first generation Acura NSX, Lexus SC400, Mitsubishi 3000GT vr4, and a few others which still turn my head the rare times I see them, most of the rest just look so wrong, dated and even tacky – especially the ‘supercars’. The old NSX still sounds great though, as do many of the other normally aspirated sports cars from that era.

        Overall though, by a wide margin, I much prefer the looks of today’s cars.

  7. I wish people would stop using the word “DNA” all the time. It is so grating.

    1. Sorry @broke84, it’s embedded in the deoxyribonucleic acid tongue of F1 PR-speak.

      What I understand from De Ferran’s caution is that McLaren are good at designing high drag, medium downforce cars. Why spoil a mediocre thing?

  8. This web site REALLY needs to have a serious discussion about why F1 & not just an upgrade of F2. At Monza the F2s were 10 sec. a lap slower; with better tires let’s say 7 sec. & the actual racing if FAR better. what is the point of the mega F1 budgets & ma$$ive complexity for 7 secs.? I, personally prefer to watch F2 as the racing is much better; am I alone in this? Frankly, other than the “factory” teams, I really don’t understand the business case for the insane expenditure on F1, when the F2 (and F3 as well it must be said) is a far better racing series.
    tell me I’m wrong –

  9. Since we’re talking about a e s t h e t i c s and performance, what would be the performance difference between a car with an airbox and a car without one?

  10. F1 cars (and others) need air for different reasons. It needs air for combustion, which needs to be pushed into de combustionchamber. It needs air to cool the engine and brakes. It needs air combined with aerodynamics for generating downforce. However it is not pushed to the ground but in fact sucked to it. The other thing is speed. The air has to flow at a certain speed over the cars bodywork to get the job done. Driving close behind another car you experience wake turbulence. Even a Jumbo jet can crash in wake turbulence. That the reason planes have to wait for take off if they are to take off after another aircraft. So this turbulance destroyes everything that the constructors have figured out in the wind tunnel. Therefore being in front is a huge advantage as shown by Ham. Conclusion: close racing is very difficult at the moment. Iow more downforce and higher speeds creates the infamous trains which we so often see.

  11. Add: it is important theat the air flows faster under the car than over it to let the diffuser do its work (Creating a vacuum under the car) which is 40% of the downforce.

  12. Here’s a radical thought to new rules.
    There are only three rules
    Rule No. 1 – Do whatever you want – engine configuration, wheel configuration, chassis configuration etc.

    Rule No.2 – Engines must be hybrid to reflect climate problems with an increasing switch to full electric power.

    Rule No 3 – You can spend up to a maximum of 150 Million Euros.(Excluding Driver).

    That’s it bring back innovation to formula 1

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