By 1981 the ground effects cars were so efficient and so fast that the drivers were suffering from the tremendous g-forces involved in cornering and braking. The FIA banned the moveable skirts fitted to the bottom of the cars' sidepods that were vital for achieving consistent ground effect and regulated a mandatory ground clearance of 6 cm, in the interests of driver safety. The Brabham team were the first to circumvent the rules using hydropneumatic suspension systems which compressed under aerodynamic loading and lowered the Brabham BT49 onto the track. This had the side effect of rendering the car without any sort of suspension, causing the driver to be buffeted even more than before. However, the performance gains were such that other teams were soon following suit - although most had difficulty in replicating the Brabham system and used a simple switch to lower the car. Chapman had other ideas.
The earlier Lotus 86 had been designed at the time when skirts were still legal, in the same layout as the 88 but only one prototype had been built. The performance gains were relatively small but significant over conventional ground effects cars. When the skirts were banned, Wright studied the car and its performance without skirts. The loss in... Read More