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EXPLAINER: What's a Tow in F1? How Does it Work and How it Helps a Driver?

Charles Leclerc (Image: F1 Twitter)

Charles Leclerc (Image: F1 Twitter)

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc following an impressive pace and a little bit of tow from Lewis Hamilton went on to claim his second pole position in as many races.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc claimed pole for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix after a crash-laden, red-flagged qualifying session in Baku on Saturday. There were as many as four red flags – following crashes for Lance Stroll, Antonio Giovinazzi, Ricciardo and Tsunoda – which ties the 2016 Hungarian Grand Prix for the most red flags in a session.

This was Leclerc’s second pole in as many races and the 23-year-old clocked the fastest time after Q3 was halted with a minute remaining after Yuki Tsunoda, crashed at turn three, with Carlos Sainz in the following Ferrari taking quick avoiding action, locking his wheels and smashing into a safety barrier.

Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton was the quickest at the end of Q1, while Max Verstappen clocked the best in Q2. Leclerc clocked 1m41.218s in the third and before anyone could improve on that, the race director waved the red flag. The Ferrari driver set the benchmark after picking up a tow from Hamilton, who was the second quickest just over a tenth behind Leclerc.

“I got it right. A little bit of luck, a little bit of thinking"

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When asked how pleased he was to catch Hamilton and get the tow, Leclerc replied: “Yeah, definitely. “I mean, it looked positive anyway. I think without the tow we would have been thereabouts, but this helped us a little bit. I saw that Lewis was having a prep lap so I tried to anticipate a little bit, more or less, the gap that I would need for him to give me the tow when he would start his lap. And I got it right. A little bit of luck, a little bit of thinking behind it, but probably a bit more luck.”

What is a Tow or slipstreaming?

It is a driving tactic used by drivers to stay close to the car ahead to benefit from a reduction in a reduction in drag (the aerodynamic resistance experienced as a car travels forwards.) over its body and hopes to achieve a superior maximum speed as the low pressure created by the first car draws the following car towards it.

How Does it Work?

As air passes over a Formula 1 car’s aerodynamics, it produces a wake of turbulent air behind the car that hampers the aerodynamic flow of cars directly behind it. This wake – nicknamed ‘dirty air’ – can be of benefit to the following car on the straight, as the car in the front effectively punches a hole in the air and does more work.

Dirty Air vs Slipstreaming 

Dirty Air and Slipstreaming are effectively the same phenomena with one major difference. You don’t want to catch a Dirty Air while cornering, on the other hand, getting tow or catching the slipstream is beneficial in overtaking in a straight strip. Dirty air’ is created by the odd vortices of air spinning off the back of a leading car and reducing the efficient airflow over the wings of the following one, giving it a performance disadvantage by reducing downforce. Clean air is when a car is out on its own, with a nice, undisturbed airflow passing over its wings, providing good downforce.

Here’s an explainer 

Slipstreaming Overtake

EXPLAINER: What’s a Tow in F1? How Does it Work and How it Helps a Driver?

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first published:June 06, 2021, 17:47 IST