Saturday, April 11, 2009

Formula 1: Much ado about diffusers

Talk has been abuzz about the rear diffusers of Brawn, Toyota and Williams F1 design. I didn’t realize how such a small piece of design on the rear end of a Formula 1 frame could cause so much controversy. But isn’t racing supposed to be about brute torque and horsepower? Not so. A rear diffuser channels air under a Formula 1 car and when designed properly helps generate downforce (the force of air that keeps a Formula 1 car hugging the ground instead of flying- to put it simply) especially during cornering. In effect, an ingeniously designed rear diffuser maximizes a race car driver’s lap times in a blink of an eye per lap. Actually, that’s a tenth of a second per lap where in this premier sports racing event, milliseconds separate drivers. (Above: Toyota's rear diffuser design)

Technical analysts from Ferrari, BMW-Sauber and Renault ING reveal that Brawn Mercedes, Toyota and Williams Toyota have rear diffusers whose designs are beyond technical regulations giving it an aerodynamic advantage. The FIA, the world governing body regulating motorsports racing, is set to hear arguments from 8 teams this week prior to the Chinese Grand Prix on April 17th. If the FIA rules that Brawn, Toyota and Williams’ designs are legal, expect a few more races with either team in the podium as Ferrari, BMW and Renault play catch-up with 15 races to go. If the rear diffusers are ruled illegal in design, the upcoming event in Shanghai will be an exciting race to watch.

Stay tuned.

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