Could a fixed-downforce approach be the way forward?
Formula One racings governing body, the FIA, has called into question the way in which aerodynamics are regulated, suggesting that a whole new approach may bring greater long-term benefits.
In a letter to the teams published on Wednesday concerning the future use of technology, the FIA said: We believe there may be a case for placing a limit on the amount of downforce a car can generate (ie a maximum of x newtons) rather than constantly regulating to restrict the aerodynamics in the hope of containing performance. Research would then be directed to reducing drag, possibly useful to the car industry.
While top aerodynamicists and designers are among the highest-paid people in Formula One racing, the FIA suggested that changing to a maximum downforce rule may allow their skills to be used in far broader and more relevant ways.
We believe there is a strong case for putting the emphasis on useful technology as a means of gaining performance in Formula One, it said. At present, much of the technology is sterile. For example seeking the best lift/drag ratio within the confines of very restrictive bodywork regulations whose only purpose is to limit cornering speeds is arguably not the best use of talented aerodynamicists working in very expensive and sophisticated facilities. Techniques for generating massive amounts of downforce from the bodywork of a single-seater racing car have limited practical application.
The FIA went on to suggest that a maximum downforce rule could pave the way for the legalisation of moveable aerodynamic devices: If we have a fixed but relatively low maximum permitted downforce, why would we need to continue to ban (them)? Could we not allow them at least under braking? Or perhaps forward of the front wheel centre line to help aerodynamic balance when following another car closely? We would have to have an accurate and reliable means of measurement, but I am told this will be much easier with a single tyre supplier. Moveable devices might also be useful for safety.
The FIA invited immediate feedback on its suggestions with a view to possible inclusion in the 2008 Technical Regulations, which are due to be finalised by the end of this year. In the longer term it also proposed setting up a small committee from the major manufacturers and perhaps some academics to advise on possible car and aerospace technologies for use in Formula One racing.