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How teams use F1 aerodynamics to win

Today’s Formula 1 cars are some of the fastest in F1’s history. In 2020, Lewis Hamilton set the record for the fastest average speed 264.36km/h (164.27mph) during a lap in Monza. Although previous cars have reached higher top speeds, Hamilton’s record highlights the impressive cornering speeds of modern F1 cars.

To maximise speed in the corners, you need to increase tyre grip. In F1, the majority of this grip comes from the downforce generated from the aerodynamics package. This load forces the tyre into the track’s surface, increasing the tyre’s contact patch and available grip.

CFD image showing total pressure clouds on an F1 car
CFD simulation showing total pressure

Without downforce, F1 cars only have enough grip to corner at lateral accelerations of around 1.5G. Whereas, a high downforce set-up can achieve up to five times more at 7G. This allows drivers to push much harder in the corners, resulting in much higher cornering speeds. It’s this hunt for downforce that has led to large wings, complex underfloors and intricate winglets.

Unfortunately, the first rule in aerodynamics is an increase in downforce leads to an increase in drag. It’s the job of the F1 aerodynamicist to design legal parts that extract downforce yet minimise drag.

Our F1 aerodynamics online module took place on 10th July

Want to learn more about F1 aerodynamics from real F1 engineers? 

Expert tutors provided exclusive technical content along with interactive polls and Q&A sessions. Delivering a comprehensive learning experience whatever your level. 

Contact elinor.morris@the-mia.com to register your interest in our 2022 module.

Willem Toet Aerodynamics specialist at Sauber Aerodynamics
Willem Toet

Aerodynamics specialist

Aerodynamic fundamentals

  • Understand how air molecules behave and interact with each other to generate downforce and drag
  • Learn about Reynolds number, Bernoulli principle, Strouhal number, Brownian motion and much more
  • Master concepts such as ground effect, boundary layer, flow separation and how these are applied in F1
Dominic Harlow
Dominic Harlow

Head of F1 Technical Audit

F1 aero devices

  • Discover the theory behind F1 wings, underfloors, diffusers, bargeboards, brake ducts and much more
  • Find out how teams extract the maximum performance from these devices
  • Understand the strategies teams use to exploit brake cooling and wheel rims for aero gains
Jack Chilvers Aerodynamicist at Williams Racing
Jack Chilvers


Optimising aero performance

  • Discover the aerodynamic behaviour driver’s want during corners and the tactics teams use to achieve it
  • Get exclusive insight into how teams use CFD, wind tunnels and track testing to improve performance
  • Find out the development cycle of optimising parts and the role aerodynamicists play
Paul Crowhurst Director at Evolution Measurement
Paul Crowhurst


Measuring aerodynamics

  • Master how pitot tubes, pressure scanners, kiel probes, pressure rakes and other aerodynamic sensors work
  • Discover how F1 teams install these devices to minimise the impact on airflow but maximise accuracy of the measurement


"Really engaging and enjoyable. The F1 specific content put the principles into context and everyone who answered questions were very knowledgeable. The large chunk of Q&A was very useful and I'm glad a lot of time was dedicated to it. Thanks!" 

"Thank you everyone, it was a really interesting module that allowed me to learn more about F1 aerodynamics, through technical information and practical examples that I couldn't have found anywhere else." 

"As a fan of F1 and an engineer working in the automotive industry, I found this module absolutely valuable as it creates an opportunity to meet with professionals in the sport and ultimately bridges the gap for people outside the F1 bubble. It has really fuelled my interest for looking at an opportunity in motorsports. Looking forward to the next modules!" 

The power of CFD

To optimise aerodynamic performance, teams run wind tunnel programmes, CFD studies alongside track testing. However, to control costs, the Aerodynamic Testing Restrictions (ATR) limit the amount of wind tunnel and CFD time a team can utilise in every eight week period. For 2021, this equates to a maximum of 400 wind tunnel runs and 6.0 Mega Allocation Unit Hours (MAUh) of CFD. Find out the latest ATR limits in the FIA Sporting regulations.

‘In F1 there’s a very public battle that goes on at the track, but every day at the factory there are competitions happening,’ says Jack Chilvers, Aerodynamicist at Williams F1. ‘CFD is just one example of where we’re trying to beat our competitors. As a team, we’re always trying to develop the technology and improve the accuracy and efficiency of our CFD simulations.’

Coefficient of total pressure CpT slice of an F1 car
Coefficient of total pressure CpT slice of an F1 car

CFD is a vital tool in analysing and improving the external aerodynamics of an F1 car. But arguably a more important application of CFD is internal aerodynamics. Evaluating brake cooling, sizing radiators and improving the flow of internal fluids are all essential to the car’s health. After all, a driver can finish a grand prix with half a front wing, but not if the brakes overheat.

One of the major benefits of CFD when compared to the wind tunnel is turnaround time. Modern computing power alongside optimised processes means that teams can now run complex CFD simulations within a day. CFD also allows engineers to interrogate flow fields in much greater detail then with physical testing.

However, CFD is fundamentally a mathematical model based on the Navier stokes equations. Therefore, modelling complex phenomena such as turbulence and vorticity will lead to inaccuracies. These can be improved but this often requires more processing time. Teams constantly have to balance the accuracy of CFD with the efficiency of the simulations all within restrictive regulations.

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