Aerodynamics: reaching limits, but taking into account safety

As I already mentioned in some previous blogs aerodynamics play a large role in several sports, like cycling, the comments of Tim Steensel concerning the Red Bull Air race, but also Formula-1. Formula-1 is in my opinion by far the most technical sport where engineering plays a very important role. I won’t say the riders aren’t athletes, a F1- rider has to be in top shape when you take into account that they are dealing with forces five times greater then the force of gravity!

But the downside of the sport is the fact that the teams with the best engineering and scientific knowledge delivers the best racing machines. For this reason it is Merceds who leads the ranks for the moment. Their dominance is quite impressive.

In general the research and engineering domain of a F1-car can be dived in two main parts, the active parts like engine, suspension and so one. On the other hand there are the passive parts like the geometry and body of the race car. It is especially in this last domain where aerodynamics is crucial for developing a fast, great steering vehicle.

The main purpose of the aerodynamics is to reduce the drag force acting upon the F1-car. The drag force can be seen as the force which counteracts the motion due to the resistance of a fluid, in this case the incoming air. Designing the body with a very low drag coefficient is the goal they try to achieve. But only taking into account the drag led to strange results. The car encountered an upward force and started to actually lift from the ground and ‘fly’. This was a major problem concerning safety. Dealing with those speeds it is unthinkable that the car would eventually take off.

Therefore there is another important force which need to be taken into account, the lift force.
The lift force is the component of the force that is perpendicular onto the incoming fluid.
Most of the time the goal is to find an optimum to create the least drag as possible and enough downforce to establish stability and great steering performance of the vehicle.

For this they used the already well known research of the airplane wing.
In the application of an airplane the wing is designed to create a positive, upward lift force.
In contrary to the airplane the same design of the wing is used in F1-cars, but upside down to create enough downforce on the race car.

The thing I wanted to show you is the fact that with the aid of aerodynamics you can design more efficient and faster race cars. You can achieve certain limits. On the other hand aerodynamics also takes care of safety. My question is: Can you come up with some other technologies, domains were the technolgy led to an magnificent improvement and where it also was used in assuring the safety of the application.




  1. An example can be the bridge of Millau. I made a GIP about this bridge, which is the highest bridge in the world. Aerodynamics were very important because of the heavy winds, so windtunnel tests were necessary to investigate the aerodynamic behaviour of the different elements of the structure exposed to that wind like piers, deck, pylons and temporary piers to reduce the amount of vibrations.
    Safety during construction and during commissioning of the bridge was only possible with the study of the aerodynamic behaviour of this bridge.

    recommended if you are interested in megastructures.


  2. A very good example indeed. I haven’t seen such a megastructure before, didn’t know it existed. It’s quite impressive! It is clear that aerodynamics plays an important role in creating this bridge at that height. It is important to know the structure of air and phenomena of turbulence which occur at these heights to develop a safe structure. Besides investigating the effect on several shapes independently it is of great importance to simulate the whole structure due to intereference phenomena which might occur.


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