WHEN FORMULA ONE CARS WORE SKIRTS
Like almost everything extreme, excessive and crazy about the 70s, Formula 1 ground effect cars took aerodynamics and engineering to and over the edge.
Over the past few revolutions in Formula One, cars, especially before the start of 2009 and 2014 seasons, went slower rather than quicker around most circuits than their predecessors, watching Lewis Hamilton beat the lap record at Suzuka during last weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix made me realize the great stride Formula 1 took this year in tweaking the regulations to allow for more mechanical grip and though the championship was effectively sealed, it was nice to see the Mercedes driver set a new benchmark around a track where the aerodynamic package plays a big part on whether a team is competitive or not.
One of the biggest technological revolutions that have a significant impact on today’s modern Formula 1 cars can be traced back to roughly 40-years ago when British engineer Colin Chapman, the man behind the brilliance of Lotus, introduced the Formula One community to a concept called ground effects. Now during this time, engineers focused on streamlining their cars and reducing drag as much as possible. This, in turn, created something known as aerodynamic lift (think aeroplanes) that made the cars extremely unstable to drive especially through high-speed turns. What Chapman and his crew of engineers set out to achieve was to create a car that was for all intents and purposes an inverted wing that would keep the car glued to the track instead of creating lift, especially through high-speed corners. Using inverted wing shapes within the sidepods and large side skirts that created a phenomenal amount of downforce. The Lotus 78/79 was the class of the field in the 1978 season (reliability was a major issue in the previous year) winning 8 out of the 16 races, with Chapman continuously evolving the concept through the year. In fact, the car was so good that it led Mario Andretti to comment, “Its like it’s painted on the road.”