Aerodynamics is a fundamental part of a Formula 1 car. the flow of air through the car is crucial in generating downforce which every team wants to achieve. It can also get very complicated! This page is here to simplify things a bit
F1 cars have very complicated aerodynamics for one reason only. To provide DOWNFORCE. This is ultimately how much the car is pushed into the floor, giving more grip and therefore allowing the car to go round corners faster. Downforce is the opposite of lift for a plane. Just like aircraft engineers want to generate lift, F1 engineers want to generate as much downforce as possible. They do this is in a number of ways including wings (also like a plane), diffusers and ducts. These will be explained in more detail later on these specific pages:
Firstly let's go over how air interacting with the car components can produce downforce. It all comes down to PRESSURE.
On the right is a very simple diagram of a purple wing. Air hits the wing from the left and some air flows over the top of the wing travelling upwards. Some air also goes under the wing at a much more extreme angle. This air is squeezed between the wing and the air below it travelling in a straight line (see red circle).
This is where the VENTURI EFFECT comes into play. This is where a fluid (like air or water) is squeezed into a smaller volume, it's speed increases. An example of this is where you hold the end of a hosepipe; constricting the exit and all the water spurts out at much quicker. Now because the air below the wing is being squeezed together, due to the Venturi Effect, the air accelerates.
Faster moving air is also at a lower pressure than slower moving air (This is more complicated to explain, if you want to learn more about why; look up Bernoulli's Principle). The main point is that air wants to move from an area of high pressure to an area of low pressure. Just like air will fill a vacuum (0 pressure) because it wants to reach an equilibrium. This means that the air above produces a higher force downwards on the wing; therefore creating DOWNFORCE.
You can see on the right picture of a computational fluid dynamic CFD simulation that the blue and green areas are very low pressure and the red areas are higher pressure.
Also, just as importantly, the air leaves the wing travelling more upwards than when it met the wing horizontally. This means the air has been pushed upwards by the wing so the air will also push downwards on the wing. This is due to Newton's 3rd Law where every 'action has an equal and opposite reaction'. This also creates downforce.
It is also important to note that aerodynamic forces vary with the square of air speed; therefore, vertical forces exerted on the tyres vary enormously because of the speed range of an F1 car.
That's it. That is how all racecar wings work. Now if you go to our wing page you can learn about how the front and rear wings of an F1 car are designed in more detail.