by Chris Hwang
A Boeing 737, a passenger jet with a weight of over 75,000kg, takes off at speeds of 250km/h. A Formula 1 car, weighing just 740kg, races at speeds faster than 320km/h. Ridiculous, right? And so, how exactly does a F1 car stay stuck to the ground?
Ironically, its rear wing. What sends a plane into the air, keeps a F1 car on the ground (No, wings on cars aren’t just there to look “cool”). This is because instead of creating lift like the wing of a plane, the wing of a F1 car creates an aerodynamic effect called downforce.
The Aerodynamics of a Wing
Air pressure can be defined as the amount of force exerted by the air on a surface. The downward-curve shape of an airplane wing creates a region of high pressure on the bottom and low pressure on the top. Thus the force exerted on the bottom becomes much greater than the force exerted on the top of the wing for an overall upwards force, creating lift. A F1 car, flips the wing of an airplane upside down. Instead of curving downwards, it curves up. As a result, the top of the wing becomes a region of higher pressure, pushing the car downwards.
But, perhaps more important than the air pressure, is the direction of the air after it leaves the wing. Due to the upwards curve of the wing, the air is forced upwards. In response, the air forces the wing and the car downwards. This effect is explained by Newton’s Third Law which states that for an action, there is an equal but opposite reaction. For example, if you push on a wall with a certain amount of force, the wall will exert the same amount of force on you. Ultimately, this creates downforce, allowing for Formula One cars to travel around corners at extreme speeds, stuck to the ground.
Of course, the rear wing isn’t the only part of the car that gives it downforce, but it does play a big role in it. Made up of thousands of parts, the engineering behind a Formula One car is truly captivating. Full of astonishing technology, it is just one of the reasons to love Formula One.