Let’s talk about something that stirred up quite a bit of controversy – double diffusers. They were a big deal for a while in F1 racing until they got the red flag. Let’s explore what they were, their impact, and why they were eventually shown the exit door.
What’s a Diffuser on an F1 Car?
A diffuser is like a magic trick for F1 cars. It’s at the back of the car and helps air flow out smoothly, pushing the car down hard onto the track. Think of it like an upside-down wing that keeps the car glued to the track, creating a lot of downforce without slowing the car down. The bigger the diffuser, the more air it can handle and the stronger the downforce.
How Did Double Diffuser Work?
The double diffuser was like a regular diffuser but with a clever twist. It had an extra level that helped control the air even better. This was important because, in F1, you need just the right balance of downforce at the front and back of the car. If you get it wrong, the car either doesn’t turn well or slides around too much.
The 2009 rules tried to limit diffuser size, but the wording left a loophole that teams used to create the double diffuser, which was bigger and better at controlling the airflow.
Not everyone was a fan, though. Some teams thought double diffusers were the best thing since sliced bread, while others cried foul play. There was this huge debate about whether they should even be allowed.
The 2009 Season: The Turning Point
The main idea behind the new rules was to cut down on how much downforce the cars could make. This meant less turbulent air behind the cars, making it easier for them to follow each other closely and spice up the races.
These changes also ramped up the safety of drivers with a bunch of new safety features.
At the same time, the world was dealing with a big economic crisis, which hit the Formula 1 teams hard. Honda, for instance, got the worst of it and had to pull out of the competition because they just didn’t have enough money. But then, something interesting happened – Brawn GP was formed for just £1 by Ross Brawn, saving the Brackley-based team from going under.
Brawn GP didn’t have a lot of cash, making them the underdog team that year. But that didn’t stop them from keeping their team together and building a car that won the championship.
Back in 2008, engineers were already trying to figure out how to make their cars faster for the next season, especially since they had to work with fewer aerodynamic parts. They had to focus on every little detail to keep the downforce high.
A young Japanese aerodynamicist at Honda spotted a loophole in the diffuser’s size while reading the new rules in his language. The rules had this specific clause that talked about how you should view the car’s bodywork from underneath and how everything should line up.
He realized that you could legally add extra openings on some vertical car parts. This loophole let engineers create an extra diffuser that started further forward on the car, increasing its size and, in turn, the downforce it created. This means more grip and stability, especially in corners.
The team at Honda, which later became Brawn GP, did something really smart. They designed the diffuser in a way that kept the airflow smooth and uninterrupted. This design pumped up the downforce, making their car super fast and stable.
But here’s the twist: Brawn GP wasn’t the only team that kicked off the 2009 season with a double diffuser. A bunch of Honda engineers had moved to other teams, like Toyota and Williams, and they brought the double diffuser idea with them. So, these three teams were the first to hit the track with it.
What made Brawn GP stand out, though, was how their diffuser worked with the rest of the car’s aerodynamics. Right from the first race in Australia, it was clear that the Brawn GP car was the one to beat. This led to some legal drama from the other big teams, but they didn’t win that battle. The double diffuser was declared totally legal.
Of course, other teams started to catch up and added the double diffuser to their cars, but it took them a while.
Driving for Brawn GP, Jenson Button took advantage of this early on. He snagged six wins in the first seven races! But as the season went on, Brawn GP’s tight budget meant they couldn’t develop their car as much, and other teams started to close the gap.
Despite this, Jenson Button clinched the driver’s title, and Brawn GP came out on top as the best team that year.
Why Did Formula 1 Ban Double Diffusers?
It all boils down to these clever devices making the cars too fast, almost like the speed levels we saw back in 2008. The whole idea behind the changes to the rules in 2009 was to slow the cars down a bit, make the racing tighter, and hopefully, more exciting.
In 2009, teams really invested a lot in these double diffusers, so F1 let them stick around for the 2010 season. But the goal was still to reduce how much downforce cars could generate and to cut down on the turbulent air that comes off the back of the cars. This turbulence, also known as the wake, made it hard for cars to follow each other closely on the track, which wasn’t great for overtaking.
Basically, the double diffuser was a big reason why the 2009 aerodynamic changes didn’t really do what they were supposed to. So, for the 2011 season, F1 tightened up the rules about diffusers to ensure the double diffuser was a no-go.