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The Overtaking Problem - Limit turbulence 
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Limit turbulence.

An idea that I have been toying with in the back of my mind is that turbulence - not downforce - should be outlawed, or at least regulated. If teams were allowed to maximise downforce all they want provided that they leave behind a disturbance that will not affect the aerodynamics of a following car we will be most of the way there.

My only concern is: How can this be policed?

The only way I can see is that a model (probably 1/3rd) will have to be made and subjected to a wind tunnel test to ensure that turbulence is below the maximum allowed. Teams will then not be allowed to change any turbulence influencing aspect of the car without subjecting it to the same test.

This may sound like an expensive exercise, but if you consider that virtually all teams are already using models of that size in their current wind tunnel development, the only additional cost would be that of passing muster.

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Siegfried R from Belgium adds,

I don't think turbulent air isn't really the problem, because it's only generated when the car is driving at a higher speed, in slower sections of the track the car generates a smaller turbulent area behind the car but that doesn't matter for the following car because here only mechanical grip counts, driver skills and brake power. (see monaco) 
And at at high speed sections when somebody tries to slipstream the suction effect will be greater with turbulent air, than an in a laminar airflow. 
My suggestion is to allow a moving ground plate so the stream over the car can be greater and drag is reduced. That explains the success of the F2002. The FIA allowed traction control when they thought teams were using it.

The Heretic replies,

Thank you for your comments.

What you are suggesting is that they allow some ground effect, which was outlawed back in Allan Jones’ days. It is a valid point but it will give more grip at higher speed with less drag – I suspect that speed will go too high to be regarded by the FIA as safe.

Ian B from Australia adds,

It seems to me that we might be missing the point. In the 'Good Old Days' when memory tells us overtaking was more common (though never really as much as we think) part of the reason was the variation between the cars and drivers. Some cars were fast in a straight line, some had really good brakes, others cornered better, some were quicker out of corners. All of these combined with drivers of different styles, abilities, courage and even background to make the grid much more varied than it is now after seeming endless testing to obtain the smallest gain. Here is the idea- allow variations in the rules to bring back the difference. What do I mean? Things like allow bigger brakes with a power (rev) limited engine or smaller slick tyres with a fully flat floor (no diffuser) or ground effects without front and rear external wings! I know that the teams would eventually find the ideal combination but at least different car/drivers would perform better at some tracks than others so there would be more variety and interest. What do you think and what combinations would you think might work

The Heretic replies,

I have often wondered what would happen if wings were limited to inboard of the wheels within current car height limitations. With the exception of under body or ground effect downforce, it would be a lot harder to get the same extreme downforce in the turbulent area over the body of the car.

Bill from USA continues:

Lets look at the subject this way. Which racers seem to have no or minimal problems passing. Well for starters, motorbike & pedal bike racers. Clearly they rely 100% (for argument sake) on mechanical grip and minimal aerodynamic force to enhance grip when cornering. And passing is unrestricted. They do however "bore a hole" in the air that a following racer can ride into & get a "tow" from & slingshot past if he is carrying a high enough gear & has enough horsepower. Even though the following racer who is trying to pass is in a turbulent low pressure "bubble" (which is now helping him as he has less drag to contend with, hence the term "getting a tow") his ability to pass is unrestricted as he has no inherent loss of aerodynamic downforce to contend with when following in the "bubble" of turbulent air. I believe long term fans will remember that passing was not generally a problem in F-1 or sports car racing till ground effects cars came into wide use. In previous days "catching a tow" was a common way to pass. Yes, there was severe turbulence behind a car you were trying to pass, but it didn't make any difference, in fact it helped you get around the car ahead of you as you could catch a "tow". Clearly if the passing car, or motorbike wasn't generating any aerodynamic downforce he wouldn't have any downforce to lose by lack of laminar flow over his vehicle as he drives into the turbulent "bubble". He would get the pass via mechanical grip essentially.

Today the situation has gone to the other extreme. Cars still have mechanical grip, but their real grip is aerodynamic grip. The down side of A/G is that presently it generates huge amounts of "wash" or turbulence behind the offending vehicle & car trying to pass loses downforce due to lack of laminar flow in the "wash". Good for the car ahead & not good for car trying to pass.

Band-Aid fixes (wider tires, slicks, bigger front wings, re-designed circuits etc, etc. cannot solve the problem (If you accept my hypothesis) as they do not address the problem of minimizing the bubble or, wake of turbulent flow off of the car ahead and keeping laminar flow attached for max aerodynamic downforce on the following car.

1. The FIA could mandate a progression of reduced % of "wake bubble" over a benchmark, over a certain period of time (years).
2. A better solution in my estimate would be for FIA to stay out of picture as much as possible thus avoiding such insane solutions a narrower & grooved tyres, course design changes etc... which don't address the real problem, which is minimizing the  "wash zone"

FIA should provide an incentive (carrot) big enough to encourage teams to solve problem themselves. Reward could be a guaranteed place on grid if the team could reduce bubble by X %, or whatever is enough to provide an incentive.

As you point out, this is possibly the biggest stumbling block, but not necessarily impossible. The teams are probably best qualified to address this question as there would be much incentive to insure some other team didn't cheat on achieving the % of "wash bubble" reduction mandated.

Possibly size of bubble could be quantified with smoke photos in wind tunnel at max downforce (easily verified with telemetry). If car was found to have exceeded max allowed downforce in post race data exam impose a suitable penalty.

If it was thought necessary to confirm max downforce, or bubble size onsite at a race (a protest e.g.) perhaps offending car, or all cars would be required to demonstrate bubble size via a test, such as quantifying size of "bubble wash" with smoke, or thermal imaging camera as cars pass a background with a grid on it.

I know you seemed sceptical, but there are some very smart people in & about F-1 that could work out the kinks & make it happen. Provided the incentive was sufficient, of course. Chapman's old Lotus type 86/88 concept? ground effects car may have been an idea before its time if it achieved adequate aerodynamic downforce without much of a turbulence backwash. Maybe the Brabham fan car was a step in the right direction if it provided more downforce with less trailing turbulence.

p.s. American Stockcar racing is bumper to bumper with much passing. Having minimal downforce they just bore holes in the air & following car gets a nice tow & slingshots past for a nice safe pass as lead car breaks wind for them.

Heretic's reply:


I fondly remember the days when slipstreaming was an aid rather than a deterrent to overtaking (in fact many years ago when I raced production cars it was often the only way to overtake). This was possible because mechanical grip was indeed the major way of staying on the island and aerodynamics were ignored or on the most sophisticated vehicles, spoilers to counter the negative aspects of airflow over the body of the vehicle.  

Coefficient of drag was the buzz phrase in those times because power was always in short supply (getting 300hp at the back wheels out of 3.5 litres was already an achievement) so reducing the effort of punching a hole through the air was the total focus of aerodynamics. Now far more power is produced leaving a surplus not needed to propel the car. That surplus is used to gain aerodynamic grip, increasing turbulence as a consequence of a huge increase in CD and creating a car that does not function well in a slipstream (even though it implies a huge improvement in aerodynamic “towing”).  

We do not know for sure but I suspect that more than 50% of total power is now used to gain aerodynamic grip. 

A long way of saying that if aerodynamics are changed to reduce turbulence it will also reduce drag correspondingly and top speeds must increase dramatically. In turn this would make the vehicles too dangerous and the FIA will have to make big changes again – probably in engine capacity. 

What about allowing ground effects back? At least ground effect downforce is not affected that much by turbulence and, as it increases drag at probably the same rate as wings, will have to be traded for wing size, therefore reducing turbulence accordingly. This will give a double benefit – less turbulence and less dependence on clean air. 

I take your point on the calibre of FIA officials and stand corrected – they are good enough to determine an easier way of measuring the wake, but the side effects of higher natural speeds will create havoc. 

What do you think? Your thinking out of the box is helping me a lot with my out of the box thinking – so please keep it coming.

Bill from USA adds:

I think it from your aerodynamics discussion that the culprit inhibiting passing is clearly turbulent airflow or "wash" behind the offending car. If I were a F-1 designer one of my priorities would be to maximize this "wash" so that any following car would enter a zone of maximum turbulence & therefore be severely impeded in his passing attempt as he would clearly be losing downforce as he entered the "wash" zone.

So what to do? Rather than have the the FIA "wizzos" come up with "iffy" bandaid fixes, why not leave it up to the team experts to solve the problem with appropriate motivation?

What if the aerodynamicists were encouraged via a suitable "carrot" to work at reducing the zone of turbulence behind the car to virtually nil. Clearly those having the most success at minimizing the wash should get the biggest carrot. Success in this area of design should increase passing opportunities by allowing cars to close up entering braking zones especially for very fast corners as they would not be entering areas of turbulent air

flow resulting in lost downforce.

What kind of "carrot" might the teams need? Say if a team was able to show in a wind tunnel that the bubble of unstable turbulence was reduced by 25% (or whatever %)compared to the previous year they would be given an entry grid spot for the next season of racing. Or perhaps a team achieving a certain % of bubble reduction should be given bonus points or # of seconds reduced from their qualifying time.

This scheme would take the onus of solving the passing problem off of the FIA (who are probably unqualified to solve the problem & put it back to the designers who now have a reason to minimize the zone of turbulence rather than maximizing it.

With a suitable incentive perhaps the dreaded zone of turbulence could be reduced to a problem of the past

Heretic's reply:

I have been thinking along these lines as well.

You are perfectly right that not one of the teams will be motivated to reduce the wash or turbulence behind their cars. In fact the opposite applies: they will want to increase it to ensure that they prevent overtaking (of their cars anyway).

But that is where my thinking stopped.

One option is to restrict the drag coefficient, as I believe that there is a
strong correlation between CD and turbulence.

Another is to measure the turbulence itself, as you suggest.

The problem is that this will have to be done during scrutiny, which is at the race track where there is no access to a wind tunnel. A further  problem is that a full sized wind tunnel will be required if you want to test/measure on the actual cars - not very practical as, to my knowledge, there are no full sized wind tunnels being used in the design of these cars, so one is not even available.

Practically speaking, it would be almost impossible to police as each car will have to be tested just before or after a race. Ignoring the logistics of providing such a large wind tunnel, I believe that set up in a wind tunnel is quite a lengthy process so there just will not be any time to do this.

In theory your suggestion has merit, but until technology catches up I do
not think it could be applied.

Marc D. from Canada adds:

No, testing a 1/3 model could not work because the wings are adjustable in many ways and although certain settings may prove to be turbulence free, different settings of the same car could produce major turbulence. There are to many possible combinations to check them all unless several benchmark settings could be established.

However, I do find the idea of regulating turbulence to be potentially the best suggestion so far. Lets not forget that F1 racing is also a test of engineering between teams, there must be room for innovations. It is good from time to time to challenge the teams with changes in the rules. It forces them to go back to the drawing table, gives a fighting chance to all teams and the resulting efforts are part of the race.

I therefore believe that it is a better suggestion to impose regulations that prevents affecting other cars then regulations that limit to much the possibilities of development. The FIA did a good thing by changing the rule with regards to the height of the front wing, because it forces the teams back to the drawing table so that they can try to figure out what to do to restore downforce to its original efficiency. It makes F1 racing this much more interesting.

What we must find are ways to prevent a car from affecting negatively another car on the circuit. Regulating turbulence is I believe the way to go. How to police this regulation... not an easy one to answer but worth pursuing.

I do not know if the 1/3 model testing could work with several benchmark settings. It might be impossible to set test settings because the values of the settings may mean different things between designs.

If there is any Aerodynamics expert out there, would it be possible to have some kind of FIA sealed device attached to the end of the car, close to the ground, that could measure turbulence ???

My comment also applies to the other suggestions. We should be careful not to limit the variations that can exist between cars. After all, F1 racing is also a competition between constructors.

Heretic's reply:

Yes, the more I thought about it the more I realised that using a particular setting on a model (or even the actual car) will only give you data for that particular set up.

You are also right that whatever is dreamt up must not constrain innovation as this is what is keeping F1 at the forefront (although where Prost is at the moment can hardly be described as the forefront). Change that and we may end up with a formula that does not distinguish it from F2 or F3.

Difficult issue. No wonder the FIA seems powerless.

If it is at all possible it would be great if there was some mechanism that would eliminate or at least diminish the impact on following cars (for example, I suspect that diffusers are designed to maximise the effect of turbulence).

This is where it becomes hard. It seems that the turbulence is felt most around two or three car lengths back. Measuring (even if it was possible) that far behind a car seems impractical.

I am also starting to wonder if comparing F1 to any of the other formulas is valid. Several readers (and I) have commented that this does not seem to be a problem with CART races, but I am now starting to wonder how long it will be before the top CART teams get wind tunnels. If that happens we may see the same problems develop there too.

As there is a direct correlation between Drag Coefficient and turbulence the way to go may be to limit the C.D. of cars with wings set at maximum downforce. That at least can be measured from a model or even an actual car. I am adding this to our list of suggestions.

I would also like to explore the concept of regulating (or even outlawing) the negative impact on another car on the circuit. Rubber dust (or marbles) and turbulence comes to mind immediately.

This is not a new idea. All formulas that I know about have to vent sump breather outlets into a secure container to minimise oil on the track when a motor blows.

Thank you for your considered response, we need many more like that

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