Sometimes it takes a while for a new idea to be fully understood and implemented. This was the case when Colin Chapman introduced the idea of ground effect into F1 in 1977.
His first attempt at using the effect was the Lotus 78. It was a strange beast, with bulges and intakes in odd places, but it did demonstrate that Colin was on to something. Although it did not sweep all before it, some of the teams began to sit up and take notice.
In 1978, Chapman revealed the Lotus 79, the car that made full use of ground effect theory, and this proved unbeatable. Lotus ran away with the Constructor’s and Driver’s Championships that year.
Notice how much better a design is the 79 than the 78. It is cleaner, simpler and the wings, at the front especially, have been slimmed and flattened. Ground effect was providing so much downforce that there were suggestions that wings might disappear entirely.
Naturally, everyone climbed on the bandwagon then and designed ground effect cars for 1979. Most went the route of the Lotus 79, producing cars that were almost identical to it in looks, and the car to beat that year was one of these, the Williams FW07.
But Arrows, in a quest to get ahead of the rest, decided to take things to their logical conclusion. They produced the Arrows A2 which was immediately dubbed the “Buzz Bomb” upon its unveiling. It looked extremely odd but I could see the reasoning of its designer and I “kinda liked” it.
Theoretically, the A2 should have blown away the competition. The front wings had disappeared and stubby winglets appeared above the front suspension instead. The bodywork was basically a box extending right to the back of the car and incorporating the rear wing, thereby maximizing the area of low pressure under the car. Intakes and protuberances were kept a minimum. It really ought to have stuck to the road like a giant sucker.
In practice, it scared the drivers silly. Yes, it had plenty of downforce but this varied according to the ground clearance under the car, so that every bump in the road altered the car’s handling. The area of maximum downforce wandered around too and the car would porpoise down the straights, alternately sucked on to the track and then released.
It became clear that positioning and control of downforce was more important than masses of suction. The designers went back to the drawing board while the drivers, Riccardo Patrese and Jochen Mass, struggled on with the A2, finishing the year with only 5 points between them.
Yet it was a brave failure, a bold attempt by a small team to leapfrog to the front. The Buzz Bomb is largely forgotten now but I store it in my memory as one of those “might-have-beens” that I love so well.