We use radar observations from the Jicamarca Observatory from 1968 to 1992 to study the effects of the F region vertical plasma drift velocity on the generation and evolution of equatorial spread F. The dependence of these irregularities on season, solar cycle, and magnetic activity can be explained as resulting from the corresponding effects on the evening and nighttime vertical drifts. In the early night sector, the bottomside of the F layer is almost always unstable. The evolution of the unstable layer is controlled by the history of the vertical drift velocity. When the drift velocities are large enough, the necessary seeding mechanisms for the generation of strong spread F always appear to be present. The threshold drift velocity for the generation of strong early night irregularities increases linearly with solar flux. The geomagnetic control on the generation of spread F is season, solar cycle, and longitude dependent. These effects can be explained by the response of the equatorial vertical drift velocities to magnetospheric and ionospheric disturbance dynamo electric fields. The occurrence of early night spread F decreases significantly during equinox solar maximum magnetically disturbed conditions due to disturbance dynamo electric fields which decrease the upward drift velocities near sunset. The generation of late night spread F requires the reversal of the vertical velocity from downward to upward for periods longer than about half an hour. These irregularities occur most often at ∼0400 local time when the prompt penetration and disturbance dynamo vertical drifts have largest amplitudes. The occurrence of late night spread F is highest near solar minimum and decreases with increasing solar activity probably due to the large increase of the nighttime downward drifts with increasing solar flux.