Downforce is the opposite of lift on an airplane. It’s mostly used in car design to create extra grip with the road.
Similar to airplanes, if the car goes faster then it will continue to gain more downforce. The perfect aerodynamic mixture creates tons of downforce without adding unnecessary weight or drag.
In car racing, the winning teams often have the best balance of these aerodynamic forces. For example, even if your car doesn’t have the fastest engine, if it can sustain speed and control through corners then it can be the fastest on the track overall.
At the peak of aerodynamic design are Formula 1 cars. Their max speed is around 250mph. They also have such intense downforce it’s said they could drive upside-down inside a tunnel. When their drivers let off the gas the downforce is similar to if you slammed on the brakes in your car.
During a race it’s common to see F1 cars zoom through turns like a rocket. Turns which normal folks like us would putter around with white knuckles in our Prius. Yet they’re going over 200mph with the accelerator pushed flat to the floor, and it’s just another day at the track.
Confidence that the car will hold steady, and a little bit of adrenaline craziness, allows these drivers to push through these corners at an absurd speed.
I’ve begun to think about the ways we can create “downforce”, of a sort, in how we work. I don’t need to be the fastest. But I want to have confidence that we can push harder and still hold on. That the systems we design will keep us close to the ground. Not floating away.
And yes, occasionally F1 drivers lose grip and crash into a wall. That’s part of the sport. Pushing yourself to the limit will always be joined with risk.
But sometimes… they push so hard and hold on so tightly and make it through that it’s absolute beauty.