FORMULA 1 RETRO
Some F1 teams want greater
aerodynamic freedom. Others would
prefer standard parts: floor, beam wing
and crash structure. FIA race director
Charlie Whiting has suggested lowering
(from 2 to 1in.) the current floor’s
stepped plane, in use since 1994 – which
would also increase the effectiveness of
the retained rear diffuser arrangement.
“My fear is that nobody has defined
the objectives,” says Wright. “They’re
talking detail before working out what
the trade-off between technical
development and entertainment will be.”
Wright knows of what he speaks.
Not only has he been an FIA technical
consultant for 20 years, but he was also
in on the ground floor with ground effect
at Lotus some 40 years ago. Not only did
he summon the ground-effect genie –
a eureka! moment born of desperation
and inspiration, modeling clay, card and
adhesive tape – but he also watched
powerless as it become a political football.
(By the way, he wasn’t as sad as you
might think when it was kicked out of play.
Moral? Be careful what you wish for...)
In 1975, with designer Ralph Bellamy,
Wright was charged by inspirational Lotus
boss Colin Chapman with reviving the
team’s flagging fortunes by rethinking
the racecar from first principles.
Wright had already conceived a
one-piece inverted-wing car for BRM
in 1969 – “it was quite a good way of
packaging fuel and radiators with no drag,
but didn’t produce any downforce” – and
spent much of his four years at body-
builders Specialised Mouldings assessing
the undersides of racecars and
hydroplanes in a wind tunnel he created.
He’d pored over Prof. John Stollery’s
paper – “there was no mention of skirts” –
describing “increasing downforce on a
streamlined body as it approaches the
ground,” in this case Donald Campbell’s
Bluebird Land Speed Record car, and
studied the “hovercraft in reverse” that
was Chaparral’s 2J Can-Am car of 1970.
Yet there remained a crucial disconnect.
“Once we discovered the functioning
of skirts, we felt slightly stupid,” admits
Wright. “With its fans [taken from a
battle tank and powered by a two-stroke
snowmobile engine] it was easy to
envisage how the Chaparral worked. What
we didn’t realize was that if you sealed the
sides of a venturi it would generate very
low pressures [without fans].”
Early sessions in the quarter-scale wind
tunnel at London’s Imperial College were
spent deciding what to place ahead of the
“[Colin Chapman would] spot
something significant, even if
he didn’t know the answers,
and put resources behind it”
(LEFT) The 1970
Chaparral 2J reduced
pressure under the car
by sucking it out with
fans. Ground effect did
a similar thing by
using a venturi tunnel
to speed the air flow
under the car.
Credit to them for
trying, but 1979’s
Lotus 80 (ABOVE)
was a step too far
when it came to
pace with the theory.
The concept was
downforce by making
the whole car one
system. The sidepod
venturi tunnels were
the rear wheels,
while a smaller
venturi tunnel was
built into the nose.
flex and jammed skirts
made it a porpoising
nightmare to drive.
The Ligier JS19
(BELOW) went a
similar route in 1982,
with similar results...
1977’s Lotus 78 wasn’t perfect – its
rear suspension compromised the
venturi tunnel exits and its forward
center of pressure required a large,
draggy rear wing to balance it– but
it proved that ground effect worked.
LOTUS 78 PROVING THE CONCEPT
JUST A LITTLE
BIT TOO FAR