Getting a grip on slippery Hungaroring

No matter how slippery the surface, Formula One cars always remain on track thanks to sophisticated aerodynamics and high-tech tyres. There are three things Formula One drivers can't get enough of: winning, engine power and grip. When their tyres...

No matter how slippery the surface, Formula One cars always remain on track thanks to sophisticated aerodynamics and high-tech tyres. There are three things Formula One drivers can't get enough of: winning, engine power and grip. When their tyres grip well, drivers can gradually increase their cornering speeds to find the limit. If the grip isn't there, though, they risk spinning off the road and making unwanted visits to the gravel beds. The Hungaroring, near Budapest, is one of Formula One's more slippery circuits, and is frequently covered with dust and sand at the start of the race weekend.

Spectators love the Hungarian Grand Prix because there's a fabulous view of the undulating circuit from almost every seat -- and because a trip to the grand prix can be combined with sightseeing in the sensational city of Budapest. For teams, though, it's less than ideal. Every year, they complain about the low levels of grip. And they battle to make the best of a bad job by tinkering with set-up and tuning throughout race weekend, paying particular attention to tyres and aerodynamics.

Grip is generated in two ways. Mechanical grip is a product of chassis design, suspension set-up and tyres. Aerodynamic grip comes from the air stream that presses the car down on to the track. The interaction between these two forms of grip expands the limits of modern F1 -- where cars can withstand centrifugal forces of up to 4 g in corners without spinning off the asphalt. To achieve optimum grip, teams maximise their use of wind tunnels in developing their car's chassis, and spend hours in testing and at grands prix adjusting the set-up of aerodynamic components.

Front wing:
The front wing generates approximately 25 percent of a car's total downforce. The closer the wing is to the track, the more effective it is, although regulations closely govern minimum ground clearance. The shape of the wing is designed to maximise downforce without adversely affecting the airflow around the rest of the car.

Rear wing:
This accounts for the largest share of the total downforce, about a third, and presses the car down on to the track. The rear wing also accounts for the greatest air resistance, and thus is the single most variable aerodynamic component of a racing car.

Air deflector shields:
Positioned in front of the air intake on the side pods or between the front wheels, these reduce air turbulence behind the wheels.

Consisting of several channels, the diffuser leads steeply up from underbody at the back of the car, generating underbody downforce.

The exhaust has to be fed into the rest of the air stream in such a way that the car remains stable.

These are small supplementary wings fixed to the main chassis of Formula One cars. They can sit on the engine cover or on top of the side pods.

Teams may modify all the aerodynamic elements of their cars within the framework of the FIA regulations. The trick is to find the ideal set-up for each racing circuit. This is best illustrated by changes to the rear wing, which is equipped with so-called slats and flaps. These mini-wings allow for millimetre adjustments, and for circuits like the Hungaroring (a slow circuit with lots of corners) the various wing elements are set at extremely steep angles. This reduces speed (through increased drag), but correspondingly increases downforce and grip. This allows higher speeds in corners.

Tyres are the link between the car and the road surface. Because aerodynamic expertise is distributed fairly equally among the personnel of the top F1 teams, tyres have acquired a decisive significance.

Tyres suppliers Michelin and Bridgestone provide two compounds for dry surfaces and three wet-weather variants for every grand prix. Harder compounds are preferred for the Hungaroring, although softer tyres would offer better grip on the slippery circuit. High track temperatures and other factors on the circuit, however, cause very high levels of tyre wear and no team wants to risk an additional tyre change during the race. So they prefer to rely on a high downforce setting.

Ultimately, there is considerable debate among engineers and drivers as to the ideal compromise between downforce and speed. At some point, after all, even the cars with the best set-up spin off the track. Knowing where this limit lies and getting as close as possible without exceeding it is what makes a perfectly tuned car.

Spectators watching wings and tyres being changed in Formula One might think that they could equip their own roadcars in the same way to improve grip on slippery tarmac. But in fact there's no need to 'improve' your car's grip with exotic spoilers and fat tyres. Designers of standard roadcars cars take grip into consideration from the outset. Using the same aerodynamics expertise and wind tunnel testing used in F1, engineers design modern cars to offer the best possible grip and control on the road. Additional wings and spoilers only make sense for sports cars that are tuned exclusively for speed, because they have to grip the road surface while cornering at speeds that normal cars would never attain.


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Series Formula 1