Exploring the Science Behind Formula One’s New Car Designs

Physics class was never this exciting

Formula One race
Spectators are seen behind a large Formula One F1 logo ahead of the Formula One Hungarian Grand Prix at the Hungaroring race track in Mogyorod near Budapest on August 1, 2021.
AFP via Getty Images

Yesterday, Aston Martin unveiled the design of the car with which it would be competing in the 2022 Formula One season. It’s part of a larger array of design changes coming to the racing series this year — one that ESPN’s Laurence Edmonson described as “one of the biggest regulatory shakeups for decades.”

But what do those changes translate to in practice? At Sky Sports, Ted Kravitz offers a good breakdown of what they amount to, and does so in a way that someone who’s neither an expert in automotive design nor a physics professor can understand. It’s one thing to read about these changes; it’s quite another to see them broken down with models, illustrations and some handy household objects.

Kravitz notes that other recent car design changes have been related to safety. This year’s changes have a different purpose in mind: they involve altering the cars’ designs in ways that make for better racing. This includes reduction of “dirty air flow,” which in turn makes it easier for cars to overtake other cars.

As for what specifically could be changing, Kravitz cites the cars’ rear wings as one example. These changes, he explains, cause there to be less turbulent air; that changes where the down force is coming from. As he explains this, Kravitz breaks out his Dyson vacuum cleaner to demonstrate some of the physics behind the design changes. Ground effect, Kravitz says, will play a significant role in determining this year’s winners; this video helps explain why.

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