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.
Hat Tip: AUTOSPORT