What Is A Bargeboard In F1? (In Plain English)

There are many different components on an F1 car designed to take advantage of aerodynamics and the effects of downforce. These include visible parts of the car, like the front and rear wing, but there were also parts called bargeboards that played a key aerodynamic role in F1 cars before 2022.

Bargeboards were components of F1 cars before 2022, and some other open-wheel race cars, which help to redirect air flow and make the car more aerodynamic. They were located between the front wheels and the sidepods of the car, and they also helped cool internal components through this redirection of air.

To get a full understanding of what a bargeboard is, without going too far into the technical side of things, it will be helpful to gain a basic understanding of aerodynamics. I’ll go through this below to help you better understand why bargeboards were used.

Note: Complex bargeboards were outlawed with the 2022 aerodynamic regulation changes, and so a lot of this article applies to older generations of cars.

Some F1 Aerodynamic Basics

Aerodynamics is a complex discipline, but there are some simple concepts within it that make understanding how an F1 car works and achieves such high speeds much easier. We will avoid the complex physics, and so it won’t be a complete explanation. However, it will be more than enough for you to get to grips with the bargeboards and general aerodynamics of the car.

Essentially, aerodynamics involves manipulating the airflow around the car. Aerodynamics are not exclusive to F1, as even your road car will have some elements of aerodynamics built into it to make the car more fuel efficient. This makes sense when you think of air as a fluid, which although it technically is, it can seem quite difficult to do when we usually think of fluids as liquids.

Air As A Fluid

But it is the way that air molecules behave that makes air act like a fluid, rather than its physical state. The air around you is a mix of moving air molecules, and the goal of F1 cars is to be able to move through these molecules with as much ease as possible (on the straights at least, more on downforce later). Teams achieve this by building them to be aerodynamic, to allow them to move through the air easily.

Imagine sitting in the passenger seat of your road car and putting your hand out the window. If you put it flat against the direction you are driving as if you are high-fiving the air, you will feel it being pushed back towards the rear of the car. If you then shape your hand like a fin, with fingertips pointing straight forwards, you will feel much less resistance as if you are cutting through the air.

Cutting Through The Air

This is basically what F1 aerodynamics aims to achieve. With the cars shaped in certain ways, and with various different aerodynamic components, they can cut through the air in order to go faster. Usually this involves minimizing the surface area of the car that is in contact with the air, allowing it to ‘slice’ through the air without being held back too much.

Note: This is a major generalization, and clearly aerodynamics are a lot more complex than just “cutting through the air.” However, for the sake of this part of the article, that’s how you can think of it.

Three types of air play key roles in F1. The first is called clean air. This is air that is not being disturbed by the car or any other cars. This is the kind of air that the leader of the race will drive through ahead of the others, and the kind of air that any car with a big enough gap in front of it, usually around 5 seconds or more, will also be driving through.

Dirty Air

The next type of air is turbulent or dirty air. This is the kind of air that cars generate at the sides and out the back of them due to the way that their various components interact with the air around them. We will talk more about why this happens in a moment, but essentially as the air travels over and through F1 cars it gets very jumbled up and ends up moving around unpredictably.

This air is difficult to drive through as the car behind cannot generate much downforce due to the turbulent nature of the air molecules moving around. This kind of air can be diverted away from the body of the F1 car using the third ‘type’ of air, which is known as a vortex, with the plural being vortices. These are controlled spirals of air that can act as a barrier to dirty air, and manipulate airflow over and around the car.

Downforce Is Key Too

It is not just other cars that generate this dirty air though, as the tires of every car will also generate some as well. But avoiding this kind of air is important for another reason. This is the other side of the aerodynamic coin – downforce. Although being aerodynamic will allow you to go faster, it is downforce that gives F1 cars the grip they need to take corners at high speeds.

The Basics Of Downforce In F1

Aerodynamics allow the cars to move through the air with ease, but there is also the concept of downforce to consider. Downforce is exactly what it sounds like. It is the force on the car generated by the air above it that pushes it down into the ground. This pushes the tires into the ground and therefore gives them more grip, allowing the car to take corners very fast.

Note: This again is a major generalization, and we have covered the topic in more detail in our article dedicated to downforce in F1. Given ground effect was less of a focus when bargeboards were being used on the cars, we haven’t discussed that at length here either.

Extra Grip

Downforce is a very useful force as it allows the car to make use of extra grip without adding weight to the car, which would also push the car into the ground. Extra weight wastes power, which means the car would end up losing speed everywhere else. Downforce works through a pressure difference between the top of the car and the air underneath.

Things like the front and rear wings generate this pressure difference by passing air over the top of them at fairly low speeds, and then the air underneath the wings travels much faster. The slow-moving air generates an area of high pressure, and the fast-moving air generates an area of low pressure. The high-pressure area at the top of the wing pushes down into the low-pressure area below it.

Note: From 2022, the ground effect became much more important, which relies on creating a suction effect under the car using Venturi tunnels

What About Drag?

Downforce pushes the car into the ground and gives it more grip. Various other components on the car do similar things, taking advantage of pressure differences above and below them to generate downforce. However, there is a third concept we need to consider as well, known as drag. This is the enemy of aerodynamics and comes along with downforce generation.

Drag is the force that you feel with your hand out the window in a high-five position. The wings and various parts of the car generate drag by default, and minimizing this is what aerodynamics is all about. But in order to generate enough downforce, the wings and other components needs to be able to generate pressure differences above and below them.

This often means they create a bit of drag as well. This is where things like DRS come in. When DRS is closed, the car generates a lot of downforce in the corners, but a fair bit of drag on the straights. When DRS is opened, it temporarily reduces the drag effect of the rear wing, allowing the car to be more aerodynamic before it closes again for the next corner.

The Balance

Finding the balance between aerodynamics and downforce generation is key, and components such as the bargeboard were used to do this before 2022.

Bargeboards In Formula 1

The bargeboard was first introduced by McLaren in 1993. It is an aerodynamic component that sits between the front wheel and the sidepod, which contains the air intakes for the internal components of the car. The bargeboard has to deal with all three types of air, with the clean air coming across the front of the car being directed into these large air intakes for cooling purposes.

The turbulent air that comes off the front tires is redirected away from the body of the car by the vortices created by parts of the front wing as well as some extra parts of the bargeboard itself. These are called turning vanes, and they help to generate vortices that act to create a vortex seal around the base of the car, preventing any dirty air getting underneath and messing up the balance.

Bargeboard on the side of an Alpine Formula 1 car showing how complex the structures were.
You can see how complex the bargeboards got in the end, with this being an example of the bargeboards on Alpine’s 2021 challenger

Complex Structures

Over the years bargeboards got very complicated, and teams were constantly evolving their own designs for maximum aerodynamic effect and minimal drag. However, they are essentially used to redirect airflow in favorable ways, both to keep the car aerodynamically stable and to cool the internal components as well.

Bargeboards would direct turbulent (dirty) air from the front tire wake away from the central bodywork of the car, allowing it to work more efficiently. They would do this by creating vortices, producing an outwash effect. However, it also produced a downwash effect, and this helped push airflow over the floor and over the diffuser.

This made the diffuser more efficient at producing downforce. This downwash effect also generated a lot of downforce at the front edge of the floor. However, the large amounts of outwash and associated dirty air meant the 2022 regulations, which were designed to make the cars easier to follow by reducing dirty air, removed the bargeboards from F1 cars.

Final Thoughts

Bargeboards were common to all F1 cars from the 1990s until 2022. They were used to redirect air into, underneath and around the car to maximize the aerodynamics. They also redirected air into the air intakes that allow the radiators to keep the engine cool. Bargeboards were banned with the 2022 aerodynamic regulation changes.

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