SHAPING F1’S FUTURE
AWARE OF THE CHALLENGES FACING THE SPORT, F1 IS KEEN TO INCREASE THE SPECTACLE OF THE COMPETING CARS BOTH ON AND OFF THE TRACK
SHOULD Formula One focus on excitinglooking cars, or exciting racing? It will be a mixture of both, according to plans revealed by Ross Brawn, the managing director of motorsport for Liberty Media, F1’s owners.
As a former engineer and technical director with – among others – Benetton, Ferrari and his own F1 championship-winning team, Brawn is ideally qualified to understand and attempt to cure the problems presently inhibiting close racing. The Englishman sees the forthcoming regulation change due in 2021 as the ideal point to introduce radical steps embracing not only the current technical issues, but also improve the appearance of a Grand Prix car.
The two are connected insofar as the ingenious exploitation of the current rules has led to the sprouting of numerous and unsightly aerodynamic flicks and flaps increasing the performance of a car but, paradoxically, hindering it while running in close company with another. The aero package – particularly the absurdly complex front wings – may assist the efficient passage of air across and around the car, but the resulting turbulence in its wake has an adverse effect on the car following, to the point where a driver cannot get close enough to attempt a passing move; the very essence of what racing is supposed to be about.
The current cars lose up to 50% of aerodynamic performance behind another car. The target with the 2021 car is to reduce that figure to just 20%. It’s a big ask since Brawn and the F1 rule makers are fighting against the voracious pursuit of a major goal in every F1 drawing office.
The core objective of any designer is the creation of downforce; the performance phenomenon that anyone not in thrall of the sport’s technical fascination sees as a curse that cannot be “uninvented”. For proof of its damaging effect on the spectacle, it was only necessary to look at this year’s Italian Grand Prix, followed by the race in Singapore.
Monza, with its predominance of long straights and full throttle for 70% of the lap, called for the absolute minimum of drag-inducing downforce as cars reached in excess of 335 km/h (210 mph). As a result, drivers were able to attack and attempt to overtake in the manner the passionate Ferrari fans expected.
Two weeks later in Singapore, 23 corners – many of them tight – meant large rear wings and plenty of downforce to aid consistent braking on entry and maximum traction coming out. The race was a procession lasting almost two hours. Not only did the cars look overburdened with aerodynamic appendages, they were going nowhere. Despite a spectacular setting for this night race, it was a lacklustre advert for F1 and, by association, the dynamic sport it is supposed to represent. The rule change scheduled for 2021 is an ideal opportunity to apply essential correction on several fronts.
“I see no reason why we cannot have exciting-looking cars,” said Brawn. “It frustrates me when a car in a video game looks better than the car we are racing out on track. That is not to say we pay total homage to what will look great in a video game. It has to be a great racing car.
“The primary purpose is to produce raceable cars; ones which battle in close proximity. We see it in other forms of racing but they are often categories with fixed designs
and everyone races the same car [Indycar and F2, the support formula to F1]. You don’t have the extreme designs like in F1. Formula Two cars can lose less performance when they are racing together and the new Indycar is great in that respect.
“We’ve been sharing some info with IndyCar on their experiences. I’m pretty optimistic we will produce great-looking cars and they will be able to race each other much more effectively than in the past. It is the first time F1 has majored on these aspects. But I want exciting-looking cars.”
The most noticeable change at first glance is a welcome reduction in the intricacy of the nose wings; just two planes instead of several layers of carbon that may be fascinating as a work of detailed art but ought to have no place place on a racing car. Added to which a team faces a bill in excess of $100 000 (roughly R1,5 million) within seconds of the start when their driver snags a nose wing against the back of another car, eliminating both for no reason other than the following driver cannot see the low-mounted aero cluster hanging off the front of his car. Nose wings will still be present in 2021 but the proposed concept makes them less intrusive and, hopefully, less susceptible to what ought to be smaller amounts of dirty car spilling from the vehicle in front.
Brawn said that F1 has worked through three stages of its concept vision, with windtunnel testing playing a vital part.
“Teams are now involved in this,” explained Brawn. “All of the teams not only have models that we have initiated, they are looking at them and feeding back information. All 10 teams are working towards
“WE WILL PRODUCE GREATLOOKING CARS RACING EACH OTHER MORE EFFECTIVELY”
finding the best solution we can for 2021, so there are regular reviews for all the teams. They have a limitation on the amount of aero testing they can do but the FIA has granted them extra time to work on this project, so there is a great incentive to find the best solution. What they are finding from their models is similar to what we are finding.”
In certain respects, F1 is backtracking on changes introduced in 2017 to make the cars faster. Wider cars with significant aerodynamic influence have indeed increased the cornering speeds and lap times, the overall aim having been to make the cars look more aggressive as well as presenting more of a challenge for the drivers. The downside has been an increase in difficulty when trying to overtake. As a temporary measure, there will be a simplified front wing – but only in the definition of the end plates and not the entire wing – for 2019.
“The cars are pretty impressive now [in terms of speed and performance],” said Brawn. “But if they continue to develop at this rate, I think we will need to pull it back. I think the 2019 regulations will be a step back again. There will be an adjustment but, as inevitably happens in F1, that will creep up again. The absolute downforce will probably be less but I think it’s the type of downforce and how it behaves which is more critical than the absolute levels.
“It’s interesting that, in Indycar, they have reduced the levels of downforce substantially and, at least on the road courses, the drivers are positive about the style of racing. They have some issues on the ovals but that is a pretty unique environment. But, on the road circuits, it is a positive feedback from the teams and drivers, even though they have substantially less downforce than they used to have.”
Brawn says the effect of the changes due in 2019 will provide a better understanding of the goal for 2021.
“In doing this project, we recognised features which immediately gave some benefit in terms of the sensitivity of the car. The benefits come from the nature of the flow coming off the car in front and the sensitivity of the car behind.
“So, next year’s car is a step in the right direction and I think it’s an important barometer for us to see how much impact it has on the ability for cars to follow. Next year, we will be able to measure the impact and so it’s the first step and it will be a very interesting check on making sure we are going in the right direction before we do the bigger change.”
Given the fertile minds of F1 team technicians pursuing even the tiniest loophole, the concept unveiled in Singapore in September is by no means final and will be changed – perhaps dramatically – by the time the cars roll onto the grid for the first race in 2021.
This concept car has already been played down by some of the teams, Ferrari's Maurizio Arrivabene saying it was a “good exercise and I was asking our engineers what they thought about it. They said it’s a bit underwhelming in their opinion.”
Paddy Lowe, technical director at Williams, tended to agree. “[Looks are] an important part and you do need to try and guide it in some way,” said Lowe. “Essentially, the regulations set out the dimensions the teams can work within, but the sort of details that make the 2021 concept car look so attractive – or the sorts of details that could potentially ruin that look – are hard to police. While it’s difficult to imagine the cars looking exactly as they have been drawn, I don't think we want all the cars to look identical anyway.”
That may be true but the primary goal has to be to make F1 cars raceworthy, regardless of how they look. If that is achieved, the most significant part of the job will have been done.
The numerous aerodynamic icks and aps increase the performance of an F1 car but, paradoxically, hinder it while running in close company with another car.
le At Monza, with its long straights, the vehicles had less drag and the racing was exciting. That's in sharp contrast to Singapore ( opposite), where downforce needs meant stunted racing as the cars oen stayed in the same order. 2021 CONCEPT
ITALIAN GP 2018