Formula 1‘s recent car changes have ushered in a new era for the sport, with the emphasis on exploiting the ground effect from the floor. The move was aimed at making it easier for drivers to race each other by reducing the turbulent air behind cars. The new regulations also aimed to stop any one team from gaining a significant edge over the rest of the field. While teams thought the rules were quite restrictive before the new models touched ground, they have since discovered a lot of potential for innovation, especially in the new floor development avenues that they can pursue.
According to Andrea Stella, team boss at McLaren, they didn’t anticipate the technical possibilities for exploiting the ground effect. Teams are no longer afraid of the regulations being restrictive, and the new regulations allow for a lot of innovation. “If you see the level of sophistication of the geometries, you may see on some cars, especially in the parts facing the ground, so not necessarily very visible, and the complexity of the flow field, and the vertical structures that you want to generate under the car, then these went beyond what the regulations would have expected. That’s from a technical point of view, a fascinating journey,” says Stella.
The complex floors have rewarded teams that got it right. Red Bull, for instance, has a significant advantage on the rest of the field in 2023, thanks to their innovative suit. Teams that can do better at exploiting the ground effect can gain a consistent, competitive advantage beyond what could have been anticipated, according to Stella. There are technical reasons for this, and it means that there’s a premium for those who do a better job than others, all the more exciting for F1 fans.
With the new regulations in place, F1 had hoped for a much closer grid. While it seems to have affected the midfield more than any other team, the notion that F1 would become like a spec series has been debunked. Instead, teams are finding plenty of potential to make a difference, with various development avenues to pursue. Red Bull and Ferrari, for example, came up with their floor and sidepod designs, which proved to be quite competitive, while Mercedes went for a radical design that they will now have to abandon.
It’s necessary to note that the technical possibilities of exploiting the ground levelling effect from the floor have been a pleasant surprise. McLaren‘s Stella thinks that the new era has offered teams a fascinating journey to explore these new possibilities, with the innovative suit of Red Bull as evidence of the rewards that come with doing it right. Ultimately, this has introduced another level of competition and excitement to F1, and fans can’t wait for what’s in store in years to come.