Button for ground effects, the Fancar lives!

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Perhaps you’re a fan of Jim Hall and his innovation using ground effect for his Chaparral cars in the 1960’s and his “sucker car” in 1970. Perhaps you’ve been a long-time fan of Gordon Murray, Shawn Buckley, Colin Chapman or Robin Herd and you’d like to see their original efforts continued.

Perhaps you’re just ready to see some sort of change in Formula 1 that isn’t a construct or cheap additive for a spicy show recipe. Regardless of your motivation, the notion of a ground effect car has some fans contemplating the reality of good racing under this format for 2017.

One of those fans is 2009 World Champion, Jenson Button:

“It’s good to see a lot of new ideas for the future – I wish they were next year rather than 2017,” Button said.

“I like the idea of making the cars lighter – they become more nimble, they become less lazy; more mechanical grip is always good for racing, because it doesn’t hurt overtaking.

“And if you’re going to work with downforce it should come from the floor rather than the wings, because you can race closer and fight, and you don’t have as much dirty air from the wings for the car following.”

It’s easy to see how the possibility of racing close together without the “dirty air” impact of current aerodynamic design would be appealing to any driver or fan. But could it be a reality?

Ground effects were banned in F1 in the 80’s and the focus on perfecting the theory in cars was largely replaced with aerodynamic development in the wings and on the body of the car. The days of porpoising ground effect cars, when variable speed and ride height impacted the cars rocking them back and forth, has surely been improved to minimize the effect.

Could we see a return of the Bernoulli effect? A return the Lotus 78? Perhaps few cars were as popular in the annals of history than that of the Brabham BT46 “fancar” and couldn’t we all use some of that innovation in today’s F1? Ok, maybe not a literal fan but the impetus that drew Gordon Murray to the drawing board to build a large fan on the rear of his car.


The Brabham BT46 was really an effort to accommodate a more powerful engine in the Alfa-Romeo flat 12. The engine was delivering more power and torque than the popular Ford DFV at the time but it was heavier and used more oil and fuel. It used a lighter 6-speed gearbox by Hewland.

Murray decided to build an aluminum alloy monocoque and he used flat plate heat exchangers that were flush to the surface of the bodywork in place of conventional water radiators. These didn’t work out too well and Murray was resigned to placing more traditional radiators in the nose of the car which then upset the balance and efficiency.

The BT46B Fancar

The BT46 was really the launching pad or core design for the BT46B Fancar. Murray had taken his cue from the Chaparral 2J sucker car with its two fans. Instead of having independent motors, Murray used a complex system of clutches that ran from engine to the fan. The fan drew large amounts of air out from underneath he car creating serious ground effect. No surprise that like the Chaparral, it was duly banned in F1.

The ground effect car, unlike conventional wings, meant that the increased cornering ability was not compromised by a decrease in straight line speed and this created large amounts of lateral loads on the drivers. The driver who first ran the BT46B was none other than Niki Lauda who complained of the lateral G-loads and said the car was unpleasant to drive due to the physical effort to withstand such loads.

Imagine what the engineers and designers of today would do with ground effect cars! Imagine Adrian Newey’s innovation in this particular area and then imagine the amount of money they would spend on perfecting this type of aerodynamic design.

Maybe we shouldn’t bring the Fancar back but the innovation and type of thinking that begat the Fancar is appealing nonetheless.



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peter riva

good article, very.

Patrick Chapman

You forgot to give an honorable mention to Harvey Poselthwaite. (don’t know how to spell it) Colin Chapman owed a lot of his design genius to Harvey.

Negative Camber

Harvey does deserve honorable mention indeed. Very key element.

Patrick Chapman

If my memory serves me, Niki Lauda was instrumental in having ground effects banned. He complained loudly that the lateral G forces experienced during cornering made his neck sore and he generated quite a following with the rest of the drivers. However, if you compare the lateral forces generated on the modern F1 car, it is far in excess of what the old ground effect cars of yesteryear were able to generate. Ground effect was banned on the grounds of safety as it was said that in a spin, you would lose the low pressure zone underneath the car and… Read more »

Richard Bunce

I believe the issue was unlimited ground effects downforce and the state of materials science that resulted in the ban. If the FIA placed a maximum downforce (limited to the weight of the car or some percentage thereof?) from any source and with the massive improvement in the materials that could be used today I think it would improve the racing significantly. We need some billionaire F1 fan to get a hold of a couple recent open wheel race cars, hire the best aerodynamics team, and modify the cars and run some tests.


A big part of the reason the ge cars were so punishing on the drivers is that to minimise ride height changes and resulting fluctuations in downforce (and unstable porpoising behaviour) the cars ran with virtually no suspension and very stiff tyre sidewalls. Blurred vision and bleeding kidneys were among the effects drivers faced.
This lead lotus to develop the twin chassis 88, which fed the ge forces from the downforce chassis directly onto the wheel hubs and had the driver, and engine in a separate suspended chassis (brilliant but banned, booo!)

Brett Jaffee

Keep in mind that ground effects don’t have to be as extreme as they were in the last F1 iteration of them, with sliding skirts and what not. During the glory days of CART/IndyCar for example (before the split), the cars used ground effects with a venturi floor. They weren’t as overly sensitive or critical to ride height changes as the F1 incarnation of GE was.


I think that is the opportunity Brett, use ground effects instead of wings so the downforce is less affected by other cars but not unlimited downforce. A shift to lower profile tyres will help as the cars will be less prone to undamped bouncing and hence porpoising, so the ge downforce can be more stable.
I wonder how well the current power units could be configured to allow for a big venturi duct running the length of the car?


If you have ground effects there is no point to DRS. I’ve always been for it (hence the name) becuase since the cars are so wing and under body sensitive to dirty air, older cars with simpler aerodynamics could follow nose to tail without issue. DRS just gives back that performance a passing driver has always had before this modern aero era. With ground effects (hopefully combined with small, single-plane wings) you can have the safety of grip without the aero problems. Make it so number one.


I agree, done right ground effects would take away any justification for DRS, that has to be a huge positive.
Do any of the F1B community know how the ‘overtaking committee’ came out with DRS rather than ground effects as a solution? -are we missing something important in our cries for ground effects?


My guess? Faster race cars kill drivers and marshalls. Ground effects make for a faster car. If bianchi was driving a ground effects car he may have gone into sutil and the marshalls at 110 instead of into a tractor at 80.

(He could also have missed them completely, or not lost control at all. I dont want to pretend to be Miss Cleo)


I wonder if it was that or an aesthetics thing, to do with F1 cars being expected to have big wings?


I’ve heard Gordon Murray interviewed about the fan car, he is very insistent that it was never banned and was 100% legal. Bernie Eccelstone as team owner decided to withdraw the car to keep peace with the other teams as he was in the process of forming the F1 constructors association and taking over F1.


Can confirm never banned…… just responded to threats

Tom Firth

“The greater good” or not dependent on how you view it I guess.


Now that would be an interesting thread, how would F1 have developed without Bernie?


I would really like to see more downforce generated by ground effects. However, as iterated below lets not go crazy mad. It would also be very interesting to see how the current crop of whippet thin drivers would go. Given the physique of the drivers during the previous ground effect era I In suspect that we would see a rapid changing of the guard to those who have a lot more upper body strength. However, don’t get too hopeful about closing up on the racing. If we retain the same rules around in season testing and restrictions on development I… Read more »

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