Over the last three articles, we discussed race car pure performance in terms of how drag, downforce and cornering sensitivities affect its performance. In today’s article, we will discuss one less advertised aspect which hugely affects performance – the level of confidence a driver has in the aerodynamic performance of a car.

Drivers face huge challenges in terms of “guessing” how much grip is available at specific parts of the circuit. The grip will be related to the car aero performance as previously discussed, but also to other aspects such as tyre temperature, tyre wear, and changing tarmac conditions (rubber, debris, oil, rainwater). In a race, they face the additional challenge of having to predict the total downforce and balance of their car when following another competitor.

Therefore, confidence in the car’s behaviour can translate into significant lap time because a confident driver will be willing to take the car closer to its performance limit, braking later, carrying more speed through corners and accelerating earlier. This performance benefit will be amplified in changing conditions related to rain, wind or temperature.

Examples of aerodynamic performance responses which will negatively affect the driver’s confidence include excessive aerodynamic balance shifts across the operating map, particularly during braking; sudden performance “drop-offs” related to riding height changes or yaw, for example, diffuser stall in low rear ride height, rear wing separation at moderate yaw angle, high sensitivity of flow structures at moderate yaw angles or moderate flow curvature; poor ride characteristics resulting in high variability of the car ride height over bumps and kerbs.

In the next article, we will discuss aerodynamic performance predictability and its effect on the team’s ability to optimise the aerodynamic performance.