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What Are Sidepods On F1 Cars? (Simple Explanation)

One surprising element of the 2022 F1 cars that has been unique between each team is the design of the sidepods. Each team usually differs somewhat in their approach to this key component of the car, but 2022 sees some very unique designs that may leave fans wondering what sidepods actually are.

Sidepods are used to guide air inside F1 cars to provide cooling for the engine, but they also serve an aerodynamic purpose. The radiators are built into the sidepods and the openings on the sides of the car are used to catch air, which is fed into the radiators to cool the car’s internals.

However, the cooling systems in F1 cars are complex, and the sidepods are just one component. But the 2022 regulation changes mean the sidepods on F1 cars provide an extremely important aerodynamic function too, which we’ll look at in more detail below.

What Is A Sidepod In F1?

A sidepod on an F1 car is the bulge in the body of the car at either side of the driver, moving back to varying degrees alongside where the engine sits inside the car. Sidepods are used to cool the internal components and guide air over the car towards the rear.

Sidepods have been around for years in Formula 1. We’ve seen them in all kinds of different shapes and sizes. However, we haven’t seen a truly unique sidepod design for many years. For the past decade or so the sidepods have remained largely the same.

The sidepods on a Formula 1 car are largely used to cool the engine down. However, it’s more than just the engine that needs cooling, as there are several other elements such as oil cooling, water cooling and the intercooler that benefit from the sidepods. But how do the sidepods provide a cooling effect?

How Do Sidepods Help With Engine Cooling?

Sidepods help with engine cooling as they direct airflow into the internals and the radiators. In order to keep the engine cool (along with various other hot components), the radiators need air to be funneled onto them, just like radiators in your average road car. Sidepods do this funneling.

Road cars have their radiators placed directly behind the grill on the hood of the car where it can catch as much fresh air as possible. Radiators provide an interface for cooling fluid within the radiator with air outside the radiator. Coolant flows through and around the engine, absorbing some of the heat energy, and then it flows back through the radiators.

How A Car Radiator Works In Simple Terms

The cool air passing over the radiator when the car is travelling at speed absorbs some of the energy from the coolant within the radiator, and the large surface area of radiators allows for a relatively large amount of heat transfer from the hot coolant to the cool air outside.

This allows the coolant to remain “cool” (relatively speaking) and continue to perform its job – keeping the engine temperature within an ideal operating window. The radiators in F1 cars do the same job as radiators on your average road car.

F1 Car Radiators

However, there is no space for radiators on the front of a Formula 1 car. That’s where the aerodynamic, downforce producing front wing goes. In addition, the engine sits at the rear of the car right behind the driver. It’s always better to have the radiators as close as possible to the engine, which is why they are built into the sidepods.

In the past, complex bargeboards were used to funnel the air into the sidepods in order to cool the engine. Teams can no longer use bargeboards, and the front wing and the wings over the tires now perform some of the funneling instead. This has led to teams having to adapt their sidepods accordingly, but dealing with the hot air is another reason big changes have been made to the sidepod designs.

Ejecting The Hot Air

The air that rushes into the sidepods cools the engine, but quickly heats up due to the high engine temperature. That air still needs to be sent out of the car to prevent it from overheating the engine. Most of this hot air is sent through the exhaust pipe which ejects the hot air out towards the back of the car, like the exhaust on your average road car.

Ever since the 2009 F1 season, F1 cars have only used the exhaust pipe to channel the air toward the back of the car. This is because large gills, or “louvres” as they’re often called, have been banned in the sport since the end of the 2008 season. These gills/louvres are essentially cooling slats on the sidepods, and the 2022 F1 regulations brought them back to the sport.

How Do Cooling Slats Work On F1 Sidepods?

The cooling slats on F1 sidepods help to cool the engine by giving the air a chance to escape the internals of the car before the exhaust, so that it doesn’t have to travel all the way through the exhaust to exit at the rear of the car. This hot air needs to be managed for aerodynamic reasons.

The hot air that will be ejected from these cooling slats has a lot of energy which means that it can be extremely disruptive to the aerodynamics of the rear of the car if it is not carefully controlled. With hot air being sent out of the cooling slats, it poses a risk of disrupting the airflow over the rear of the car.

The Beam Wing

However, with the 2022 rule changes, there is a huge focus on using the beam wing at the back of the car to generate downforce. This beam wing will not only help push the rear of the car into the tarmac, but it will also kick the dirty air up and over the following car.

Managing the hot air that comes out of the sidepods when teams use cooling slats is therefore a very important aspect of the 2022 F1 car designs. However, the sidepods also vary a lot in their overall shape, with one such shape involving something called scallops.

What Are Scallops On F1 Sidepods?

Scallops on F1 car sidepods are essentially areas of the sidepod that dip down to create a depression in the sidepod, reflecting the shape of a scallop. These “scooped out” sections serve a purpose of redirecting airflow in various ways over the rear of the car.

The first example of scallops on F1 car sidepods under the new regulations came when Ferrari first released images of their 2022 car. The Ferrari’s sidepods were sort of “scooped out” and curved as the sidepods run towards the rear of the car.

The scalloped sidepods are used to direct the airflow inwards towards the beam wing. With all the hot air being directed at the beam wing, the car is able to make use of more rear grip and stability, while limiting the amount of hot, dirty air that interferes with other aerodynamic components at the rear of the car.

So, we have scallops and cooling slats on the sidepods of the 2022 F1 cars. But another key talking point regarding their shape is known as the undercut.

What Does Undercut Mean On F1 Sidepods?

Undercuts on F1 sidepods are essentially areas where the sidepods are cut out below the radiator intake, or towards the rear of the sidepod. This results in a shape where the sidepod is narrower towards the floor of the car, as if the underside of the sidepod has been cut out.

Many teams are using an undercut sidepod in the 2022 Formula 1 season. Mercedes have one of the most obvious undercut sidepods of all the current cars, essentially meaning there is a clear difference in the amount of sidepod that has been “cut away” underneath. This essentially leaves a narrower section closer to the floor of the car.

Each Team Has A Unique Design

How teams structure their sidepods has a major impact on the cooling of the internals and on the airflow over the car. With teams using different engines, gearboxes, chassis and other parts, different cooling requirements and chassis dimensions mean teams must use unique sidepod designs.

This means some teams must run larger air intakes on their sidepods, and we’ll often see various shapes that are more rounded or more square. Some teams may not opt to use cooling slats, while others may require them depending on their engine and other internals.

The chassis dimensions may also require sidepods to be of various shapes, sizes and overall designs (such as scalloped or undercut designs), in order to maximize downforce and properly channel the air over the car.

As such, we see varying degrees of undercut sidepods, depending largely on how the rest of the car is designed. But the amount of undercut we see isn’t the only difference between the sidepods of the 2022 F1 cars, as there is also the overall shape, from front to back, that varies greatly. This shape is often referred to as the coke bottle shape.

What Is Meant By Coke Bottle Shape In F1?

The coke bottle shape on F1 cars is the rough shape that an F1 car takes, usually looked at from the front wing of the car serving as the base of the coke bottle, with the sidepods being the bulge in the middle, which slope inward towards the rear, mimicking the narrowing towards the bottle’s lid.

With the unique designs in bodywork that we’re seeing all across the 2022 Formula 1 grid, you may hear the term “coke bottle shape” quite a lot. Basically, when you look at a Formula 1 car from the top-down view, you will notice that the widest area is where the engine is located as the sidepods bulge outwards.

The Coke Bottle Design

The bodywork of the car then tapers inwards towards the gearbox and the rear crash structure. This shape of going from wide to narrow resembles that of a traditional coke bottle, which is where this area of the car gets its name from. It wasn’t mentioned much in previous seasons as most teams had the same set up in this area, so it wasn’t really a design focus.

However, the 2022 regulations have allowed teams to produce very different sidepod designs, which means the entire sidepod shape, from the air intakes at the front all the way to the very rear of the car, differs greatly between each team. This effectively means all the F1 teams have cars shaped like very different coke bottles!

Final Thoughts

Sidepods on F1 cars serve two very important purposes. The first of these is to funnel airflow into the radiators to cool the engine and other internal components. The second purpose of F1 sidepods is to very precisely control the airflow over the car, for aerodynamic reasons.