Formula 1 Insight

The Ages of Formula One

Keith Collantine of F1 Fanatic has written a fascinating post on the 2008 Monaco Historic GP, accompanied by some excellent photographs. These illustrate most effectively a change in the appearance of GP cars from 1968 to 1970 that was probably greater than the move to rear engines (1959/1960) and the exploitation of ground effect (1979/1980).

Tyrrell P34
A failed attempt at change - six-wheeled Tyrrell P34

Take a look at the oldest cars in Keith's array of photos, the pre-war Auto Union and the Ferrari 312. Both are coincidentally rear-engined but resemble the front-engined cars of the first half of the 20th Century in being essentially a metal tube with a hole cut out somewhere near the middle for the driver and a wheel at each corner.

The Ferrari 312B2, together with the BRM P33, are most interesting in this context in that they are cars that bridge the interim period between the "tube" era and the winged age. The wings are very obviously just additions to an existing design - almost afterthoughts to an outdated philosophy.

Then look at the McLaren M23, one of the first cars to include wings in its initial design. Suddenly the wings seem an integral part of the look of the car and we know that, were they to be removed, we would be left with a very odd-looking beast indeed. Part of the reason for this is the accompanying fashion for sidepods. They had been tried before in various ages but now they become essential to the look of a F1 car, combining with the integrated wings to create a new basic shape that is with us still.

And that is what strikes me most forcibly when looking at these pictures; the main reason why old fogies like myself are laughed at when we suggest getting rid of wings has nothing to do with aerodynamics at all. The idea is anathema because it would alter the archetypical appearance of the F1 car so radically that we would be in a third age of the sport. We are conservative creatures and never so happy as when our environment is comfortable and secure because we know it so well.

I should warn you, however. Somewhere out there is a Colin Chapman who will introduce an idea to F1 so ingenious, so radical and so surprising that it changes the shape of the cars. Perhaps it happens only once in a century but it happens, of that you can be sure. It may not come tomorrow or even in the next decade, but it will come, sooner or later, it will come...

Oh, I do enjoy setting cats among pigeons!


Steven Roy
The first thought that struck me when I read Keith's article was that we would not have anything like as many young inexperienced drivers in GP cars if they were still like the awesome Auto Union.

That generation of Nazi financed cars from Mercedes as well as Auto Union were the most powerful GP cars until the turbos of the late 70s/early80s. They had primitive chassis, primitive brakes and nothing in the way of safety devices.

I have often asked what GIlles Villeneuve would make of modern F1 but I would love to know what Bernd Rosemeyer would make of it.
Date Added: 14/05/2008

Bernd would probably laugh, Steven. ;)
Date Added: 14/05/2008

Given the list of things that are banned right now, and knowing what is about to be both taken away from and forced upon teams in the future, it is very difficult to imagine what the Grand Prix car of the future will look like. (This is a "where's my flying car?" rant that people my age will do sometimes.)

Formula 1 has gotten something right where Indy and Nascar have failed: the typical car looks very different from what it did as recently as four years ago! I disliked the recent CAD picture that Keith posted of the future A1GP car because it already looks too old. (That, and it seems to lack the ground effect that A1 needs to be what it is, at least at a simple glance.)

Nascar had this "car of tomorrow" farce where they hooked wings and splitters up to a regular stock car in the interest of capturing the imagination of people my age, who are accustomed to the look of touring cars as portrayed in a certain famous line of Sony videogames. They've failed, because my generation have already decided if they like Nascar or not, and they've now given me a reason to hate on people that call their current specification the "Car of Tomorrow".

IRL are asking for a new spec from some students in a design school in Detroit. I consider it an extremely wise move because Indy cars have looked the same since sometime around 1988, and need to show some evidence of progress besides saying "the other series blinked first," and I really, really hope the winning design isn't a glow-in-the-dark aluminum tube chassis.

When movies and videogames depict "futuristic racing", you get cars with crazy jet engines and tracks with ramps and upside-down barrel rolls and all sorts of nonsense that FIA would never allow.

F1 regs say that a car must have four tires, and an internal combustion engine with a certain amount of pistons and cylinders. You cannot take advantage of ground effects or aerodynamics. You cannot adjust your wings from inside the cockpit. Your car must be controlled by a specific computer and contain a specific type of kinetic energy recovery, and run a specific kind of fuel.

Where can the development come? An early guess is in suspension components, but even that is mandated quite a bit. You can't look into making pieces lighter because the car must weigh a certain amount.

Yet, if there is a slight vagary, any hole in the regs that can be exploited, somebody in F1 is going to do it, it's just a matter of how and when. Therefore, I agree with the final statement, though I wonder, to be honest and not quite pessimistic, if Formula 1 is the place where this new kind of Grand Prix car will come.
Date Added: 14/05/2008

I have actually written articles about the "Where's my flying car?" thing, Chunter! You're right, we feel cheated, :D

The final statement was written in the hope and supposition that a certain FIA president would soon be taking his peccadilloes elsewhere and F1 would enter a new era of freedom from "freezes" and strangling restriction. Even were this not to happen, there would be someone who would find sufficient a loophole to change the look of the cars but, if and when it does happen, the change will be the greater. Perhaps our flying cars are not that far away, after all.
Date Added: 15/05/2008

Rob Ijbema
Clive,i was brought up with the cars of the 70's and still like those shapes the most,lots of character and every car was different.
but i say take away the diffusers and get rid of the wings and have some close racing again...give the sponsors a big fin on the back a la Red Bull and Reno,to keep them happy!
After nearly 40 years of wings it is time for a change,
besides action on the track is more important than aesthetics
you will get used to the cars,believe me.
Date Added: 15/05/2008

Steven Roy
I ike Rob's point about the fin. One of the reasons given for hanging on to wings is that sponsors like them but surely they would prefer a big flat surface like the fin rather than working out exactly how they want their name an logo to look on a wing only to be told that the wing will be a different size and shape for every race.

Diffusers should be banned.

If sponsors control Max to the point where they won't let him bin the wings then take the end plates off. Wings without end plates are utterly inefficient. All that is needed is a large radius on the edges to stop them damaging tyres. That could be done now on safety grounds if Max was remotely interested in safety.

Look at the reaction to Lewis Hamilton's move on Massa in Turkey and it is obvious people want to watch great overtaking moves. The cars should be designed to make overtaking much easier.
Date Added: 15/05/2008

Yes, I like Rob's suggestions too. And he is absolutely right that we get used to whatever changes there are to the look of the cars. Someone wrote in a recent comment elsewhere that all F1 cars are beautiful and I agree with the basic sentiment - although I have to make an exception for that early March with the rounded nose and frisbee stuck on top!

Perhaps when Max has disappeared into the sunset, some of our ideas will begin to filter through to the FIA. I'm hoping so, anyway.
Date Added: 15/05/2008

rob ijbema
i loved that march of '71!

Date Added: 15/05/2008

I think I remember hearing someone joke about the big shark fin after Briatore commented that Reneault have plenty of money, the joke being that the money comes from the three gigantic letters behind the driver's head.

If wings were replaced with ground effect, you'd still have a wide, flat car to put adverts on. Furthermore, jokes aside, I think Honda have the future of advertising on cars: a single website URL takes you to their full list of sponsors. Nice and easy, and without that earth sticker thing now their cars look traditional and clean, Chapman stripes in green that harken back to their old name of British-American Racing... except for those things that stick up from the nose, is that an antenna to keep the radio from going out? Are other teams having that problem? (Anybody ever figure out what part of the Super Aguri car is the "chicken"?)
Date Added: 16/05/2008

Alianora La Canta
I think Super Aguri's chicken might be the splitter on the leading edge of the sidepods, but Super Aguri's explanation to Red Bull magazine (an annotated illustration of a chicken, which unfortunately I can't find) raised a fair few laughs...
Date Added: 17/05/2008

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