Slipstreaming or Drafting

The dark art of slipstreaming or drafting has long been a staple of motorsport as well as many other sports such as cycling. But what is actually going on when it happens and why doesn’t it work for F1 cars?

The Science Bit

The principle is actually quite simple. As a car moves through the air it creates a pocket of lower pressure behind it. This partial vacuum will allow another car to move with less air resistance.

The lower resistance will allow the second car to move faster but also to move using less power, which means less throttle and less fuel. The principle is the same in water and for any object moving through any medium.

There is, however, an advantage to the front car too, in some cases. By filling the vacuum behind the lead car, the amount of air pushing down on the rear of the lead car is also less. This, in turn, can help the lead car move more efficiently too.

NASCAR

If anyone in motorsport is asked for an example of drafting, they’re highly likely to say NASCAR. The long tracks and relatively simple shapes of the cars make it a perfect place for it. It was actually “invented” at the Daytona 500 in the 60s.

You can easily see long lines of cars all bunched together in NASCAR races. It may look like close racing but they are actually all using each other to increase the overall speed and reduce fuel use and pitstops. Of course, at some point each driver has to pull out and make a leap for the lead, and this is where it can get very exciting.

F1

If you watch F1, you will hear a lot of talk about running in dirty air. It often seems like being behind a car is really bad and goes totally against the principles discussed above. There is, however, a reason for this.

While drafting can help in straight lines or long, banked high speed corners, it does not help in tight twisty bits of track. It also causes issues when cars have very complex aerodynamic systems. F1 cars are very delicately set up and though in one instant they may get a bit of help being behind another car, the minute it comes to a corner it all goes wrong. The vacuum changes shape and the aero is negatively effected by the “wash” from the car in front changing direction.

The 2017 Mercedes cars were designed to lead; they worked best in clean air so if Hamilton fell behind and got stuck trying to pass someone, it made the car handle very badly.

Having said all of that, on the straight the slingshot pass still works in F1. This is where the following driver will gain extra speed in the vacuum behind the lead car and then move out rapidly to overtake and slingshot past them. Of course, this is increased with the use of DRS and the like but the principle is still important.

If you race in any kind of motorsport, then get in touch to find out more about our fire suppression systems. We supply and fit fire extinguisher systems to classic cars, track day car and even F1 cars!

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