Simon Pagenaud, Penske, Indianapolis 500, 2019

F1 adopting IndyCar-style ground effects in 2021 “makes complete sense”

2021 F1 season

Posted on

| Written by

Senior technical figures in Formula 1 believe the sport is doing the right thing by following IndyCar’s lead on aerodynamics to improve racing in 2021.

Concept drawings of how F1 cars could look following sweeping changes to the technical regulations indicate the sport’s owners want to use the car’s floor to generate a greater proportion of total downforce than its upper surfaces. This has been a trend in IndyCar racing for several years, notably when the championship introduced its new aero kit last season.

“Moving towards more of a ‘ground effect’ car going forward, I think that definitely comes from the north American series,” said Racing Point technical director Andrew Green. “Which, if we’re looking at trying to have the cars race closer together, then I think that’s the right thing to do, that makes complete sense.”

However Green believes F1 must retain the cutting-edge technical which is part of its identity. “We need to keep Formula One at the pinnacle,” he said. “It needs to be a technological amazement really.

“That’s where I think the sport needs to be, it’s not just about having cars that are close, it’s about a bit more of a wow factor and we need to make sure we don’t lose any of that.”

F1 2021 'India' concept
How will F1 revolutionise the racing in 2021? Its new concept car analysed
Red Bull chief engineer Paul Monaghan agreed F1 “can learn from other series” like IndyCar. “I think in that the way they generate their downforce is of interest to us.

“The question becomes can they run closer, can we still maintain differentiation between the cars as opposed to stock bodywork as they would call it over there?

“So I think you keep an open mind and you look and you learn and you don’t assume that you have perfect knowledge. I think that open-mindedness will serve us well.”

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

2021 F1 season

Browse all 2021 F1 season articles

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

19 comments on “F1 adopting IndyCar-style ground effects in 2021 “makes complete sense””

  1. Didn’t F1 move away from ground effect for safety reason?

    1. @ruliemaulana – I don’t have depth of historical knowledge here, but what I briefly know is this:

      You’re right that F1 moved away from ground effects for safety, because losing the “seal” for ground effect (e.g. by hitting a curb while cornering at speed) could severely unsettle a car previously due to the loss of downforce. With the heavier cars that are running, that might be expected to be lesser of an issue.

      I’m not sure if advances in safety (tub, halo, circuits) has also given the FIA the confidence to re-evaluate the use of ground effects.

      Personally, I’d like to see this happen, simply since it lets us de-emphasize over the car aero, which is a big problem today.

    2. That is correct but you have to remember that when they were banned – very late on for the 1983 season – many teams were still basically 20 guys in a shed doing aero by trial and error. Even Lotus screwed up ground effects with their 1979 Lotus 80. Between this, poor understanding of chassis loading, largely aluminium/steel chassis that flexed like crazy and massive increases in cornering speed it was probably a sane response at the time but nowadays it would be unlikely to be such a danger.

      1. Aaa123, I’m not sure that I would fully agree with the whole “basically 20 guys in a shed doing aero by trial and error”, as that does rather underplay the rate of development that was taking place in the sport by the late 1960s and early 1970s, let alone the 1980s.

        By the 1970s, rolling road wind tunnel testing was pretty commonplace, with institutions like Imperial College (which was one of the favoured places for British teams) and Southampton University, or the University of Stuttgart (for continental teams) being frequently used.

        When you look at it, the introduction of what we would recognise today as a ground effect car was not an instant event, but the result of about a decade of research and development by many different parties in F1. As far back as 1969, Tony Rudd was already carrying out wind tunnel tests on a ground effect car for BRM in the Imperial College wind tunnel, only for John Surtees to screw things up by getting the project cancelled (it’s suggested that this would have been called the P142, a designation which was later given to one of their engines). Rudd did, however, take the wind tunnel test models from those tests with him to Lotus, where Colin Chapman had already produced his own independent technical papers on the application of ground effects to racing cars.

        Quite a few racing cars of the 1970s were already beginning to exploit ground effects – cars such as the Brabham BT44 were already being fitted with flexible Lycan sliding skirts to increase underbody downforce, and Forghieri, at Ferrari, was also cottoning on to the idea of ground effects during his wind tunnel tests on the 312T series, even if that was also only partially acting in ground effect.

        In some ways, what Lotus did with the 78 – the 79 might get the attention, but the 78 was actually the first Lotus ground effect car – was almost more of a case of combining the various different parts of the ground effect idea that many different teams were working towards (the sculpted underbodies, combined with more durable flexible moving skirts), which was in part why other teams were able to then soon start developing their own variants later on.

        For the larger teams of that era, it wasn’t quite so much of a “trial and error” approach to racing, but a more scientific approach to developing their cars.

        1. Thanks for your considered response, anon. As true as it is that some teams were actually using wind tunnels and pushing on towards full professionalism, you must also remember that the era from let’s say 1975 to 1990 was, to varying degrees, an era of F1 still replete with garagiste squads – AGS had a team of maybe 10 guys total doing everything, often as said, by trial and error – and that right up to 1991 or so. Go back a decade or so from there and you have teams like Merzario actually making the grid with virtually no real pro input on the cars, which were often quite shady – even the two Loti you cite had huge issues with flex due to them not really understanding just how the forces acted on the cars. Lotus actually sold a prototype 79 to Hector Rebaque who ran the car under his own banner with pretty much zero success despite the car in theory being somewhat competent in 1978/9 simply because knowledge of how the car worked wasn’t widespread.

          That said, my point overall is that the spirit of that era in F1 was pretty incompatible with anything that made massive advances in cornering possible, and it eventually told, particularly between 1980-82 with a spate of accidents culminating in that of Villeneuve at Zolder and arguably Pironi at the old Hockenheim. In both these cases the chassis itself wasn’t up to coping with the forces they were capable of actually attaining and the results were rather grim, and not likely to be seen again in modern F1 should it go back somewhat to allowing ground effect cars.

      1. Ground effect was severely limited after the side skirt era, but it was still in use and believed to have contributed to Senna’s fatal crash. That’s when the undercar plank was introduced to stop teams running cars so low to the ground.

        Even so, current cars continue to use ground effect to generate downforce. That’s what the floor and diffuser do, in a broad sense. They’re talking about altering a balance of wing and undercar downforce that aalready exists.

    3. Yes they did because of the extreme speeds they were cornering at and the potential for bumps or kerbs to unsettle the cars so badly they would fly of the track into fences at high speed.

      However these days, with cars having far more safety features (including things like Hand and fuel safety cells), very few tracks that don’t have miles of run off and the fact that cars these days probably corner at much faster speeds than they did back then, there’s very little to prevent the use of ground effects.

      Other things like variable suspension, mass dampers, and even moveable wings should be back on the table.

      What would be great is if Ross and his team would actually start giving us some idea of where they are heading. Their attempt at improving the ability to follow this year has proved to be completely useless so hopefully something that really can have a major impact is on the cards. Not counting on it just hoping.

      1. It would be nice if F1 went for high tech active aero on all surfaces. Seems like static wings are outdated.

        1. +1. I agree with active elements and I think it would be good to use active (aero) elements (no DRS) to decrease the following car’s disadvantage in the corners.

  2. It would be good if we could hear something about the new (2021) technical rules. (size, weight of the car, aero etc)

  3. Gee, thank goodness the Americans came up with this idea, none of us would have thought of it.

  4. From the races I have seen the past couple years the move towards using more ground effects hasn’t really made the racing in indycar any different to how it was in the past. Most of the passing is down the there move towards gimmick tyres and push to pass rather than because cars are running closer or overtaking naturally.

    And a few races have been made worse due to the cars not producing much of a tow anywhere which has made slipstreaming less effective.

    Not to mention that those cars have been getting airborn easier which was a concern with ground effects not just in F1 but also the group c cars of the day.

    And the Indycar are also 14+ seconds slower than F1 at COTA and looked noticeably slower, more sluggish and less exciting in the high speed corners where aero was more important.

    1. @roger-ayles, I do recall that some IndyCar drivers have noted that increasing the proportion of the downforce being generated by the floor has had some negative effects, with the cars now being much more prone to sudden shifts in handling balance and having much more unpredictable behaviour when close to or on the limit – they’re now much more prone to sudden spins and losing control because the grip level are prone to changing suddenly and in slightly unpredictable ways.

      As you note, it does also have the issue of making the cars quite a bit more pitch sensitive – if the underfloor area chokes at a certain ride height, it can take a lot longer for the airflow to restabilise when it rebounds – so it is the case that some of the negative aspects are sometimes overlooked.

      1. anon
        Another negative aspect of ‘ground effects’ was demonstrated circa early/mid ’80’s when in Japan a Sports Car spun at huge speed while entering a corner. It spun 180° so that it was travelling backwards in a straight line, still at colossal speed. Of course, the car had exactly the opposite of its intended purpose occur; the air entering the GE tunnels compressed & lifted the car off the ground and it flew into the outside of the circuit, destroying itself and killing the driver.

    2. Completely disagree! Yes IndyCars are slower, but they look faster as they are sliding and moving around so much with the low downforce aero package. The drivers have to works their tails off with no power steering.

      1. Don
        I’d also like to point out that I would far rather see slower racing as long as it assured the ability of any and all cars to race nose to tail for sustained periods of time, especially if that be an entire GP.
        I could think of nothing more glorious than a dozen or more cars flash across the finish line, after 80 or 90 minutes, separated by one or 2 seconds.
        The present ‘governors’ need to learn the reason the 1971 Italian Grand Prix is still considered by many as the best GP that has ever been run.

  5. Somehow Indycars show a better technical envelope.
    They can follow each other on long turns at 200mph.
    F1 cars can do that.

    1. ‘F1 cars can do that.’
      Does this need editing to being ‘F1 cars can not do that.’?

Comments are closed.