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Flow Viz Paint: The Colorful Way Formula 1 Tests Aerodynamics

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Max Verstappen in Red Bull
Photo: Jake Archibald

We’re all familiar with the image of a car in a wind tunnel, with wisps of smoke trailing over its contours. It’s a great way to visualize aerodynamics, showing engineers which features work and which need revising. This process is especially critical for race cars, since racers are always eager to shave seconds off their time. But colorful Flow Viz paint goes where a wind tunnel can’t — onto the twists and turns of the race track, where the rubber meets the road.

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What is Flow Viz?

Flow Viz consists of a fluorescent powder mixed with a light, oily substance, like paraffin or kerosene. It has the consistency of skimmed milk, allowing Formula 1 teams to slop it on potential problem areas like front wings, diffusers, and bargeboards. Before the paint can dry, the car takes off, zipping across the race track. Since it’s quite watery, the wind can spread the Flow Viz around, leaving visible evidence of the airflow patterns that manifest across the car’s surfaces.

How does Flow Viz work?

With the patterns revealed by Flow Viz paint, engineers can uncover the mysteries of a misbehaving chassis. So how do crews interpret that smeared paint? If a painted surface has a smooth, pinstriped appearance, it’s performing well. But if the paint turns into a muddled, scribbled mess, then it’s indicating turbulence. It’s worth noting that Flow-Viz doesn’t yield precise data — it’s just a quick-and-dirty way to check a racecar’s aerodynamics. Nevertheless, it’s a helpful way for F1 teams to test out designs and get real-world feedback on how to streamline each component of a car.

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Pictures of Flow Viz-coated cars are hard to come by. Since Flow-Viz helps reveal the vehicle’s aerodynamic strengths and weaknesses, F1 teams try to keep that data under wraps. If you’d like to see Flow Viz paint in action, check out the video below.

Source: Formula 1