Technical A history of F1 technical innovations


Hans Heyer
A history of F1 technical innovations

1954 – Mercedes W196 – Fuel Injection
The early years of Formula 1 were a largely amateur affair, with Alfa Romeo using pre-war cars, and several ‘garagistes’ like HWM and Talbot-Lago. Even Ferrari were being safe, 1952 and ‘53 saw little need to push the boat out as Ascari sailed to two easy titles. Enter the big budgeted Mercedes team, one half of the pre-war German powerhouses, who introduced direct injection. The technology was developed on WW2 fighters, where the fuel was forced under high pressure into a spray-like state, and combined with air in the inlet manifold, before entering the cylinder. The old carburettor engines could not compete with Mercedes, and it romped home to two titles winning 9 races out of 12.

1954 – Mercedes W196 – Streamlined bodywork
Despite the power advantage Mercedes chose to increase their top speed even more at Monza and Reims, with a lightweight aluminium body that covered the wheels and any other pointy sections of the car. It did have a detrimental effect to handling as Mercedes discovered at Silverstone, but on faster tracks the straight line speed far outweighed the handling cons. They can hardly claim to have discovered air resistance, but this smooth body is unique in Formula 1 history.

1955 – Cooper T40 – Mid-engine
A quiet first appearance for F1’s first massive technological advancement came at the 1955 British GP, where Brabham qualified 27 seconds off the pace, and 14 seconds away from the next driver. Cooper stuck at it, and hit the sweet spot in 1958 with two early season wins. The better weight distribution and light Climax Straight-4 made the car exceptionally nimble, and it romped home to four titles in two years. The last front-engine win was at the farcical 1960 Italian Grand Prix.

1958 – Ferrari 246 – Disc Brakes
Disc brakes already featured on Ferrari’s sport cars, and some road cars (Citroën DS!), but finally the prehistoric drum brakes were done away with as other teams quickly took them up. The disc brakes didn’t suffer from brake fade anywhere near as badly as their drum predecessors, and didn’t self-servo, so the driver could modulate the brake much better.

1962 – Lotus 25 – Monocoque chassis
Colin Chapman had the idea to build the chassis so that the load went through the bodywork as oppose to the scaffold-like tubing that currently existed. It was a huge success; the chassis was reportedly three times stiffer and weighed only half as much. The new cars could now be built in the iconic cigar shape, so cockpits shrunk, and the drivers went from sitting upright to lying on their back in the car.

1967 – Brabham BT24 – Dive Planes
The little blocks that appeared on the Brabham at the tail end of 1967 were preliminary inventions to the wings. Their intention (like the wings that occasionally had appeared as early as the 30s) was to counteract the lift that the nose of the car experienced.

1968 – Ferrari 312 – Wings
The next monumental leap forward was pioneered by in F1 by Ferrari. In the previous year’s Sportscar championship Charrapal placed a massive wing on the back of the 2F, and it was dominant in qualifying. Unfortunately transmission failures plagued the team all year and they only sorted in out with just the BOAC 500 to go, which Phil Hill easily won. When the wings appeared on Amon’s car at Spa he was on pole by four seconds, and a further two from his wingless teammates. Amon retired, but it was clear that this was the way to go, and at the next race the Lotus’s turned up with dive planes at the front, and a completely original wing configuration at the back. It was so successful because aerodynamics gives the effect of pushing weight straight down into the wheels, whereas regular weight goes in the direction of travel, and leans the car out wide creating understeer.

1968 – Lotus 49B – Movable Wings
At the Canadian Grand Prix Lotus fitted a device to the now massive rear wing that caused it to move into a more streamlined shape when the driver pressed down a pedal. It was a fantastic idea, all the benefits of downforce, but without the loss of straight line speed. However the next year saw the ever larger wings being mounted on the front and back on very thin struts. After both Lotus’s suffered massive failures at Montjuic Park they were outlawed for over 40 years. In 2011 the FIA allowed the rear wing to move unlimited in qualifying, but only in a certain zone in the race when 1 second behind another car.

1970 – Lotus 72 – Side-mounted radiators
Until the Lotus 72 the air intake was on the nose of the car, which created a problem for aerodynamics. The Monaco-spec Eagle-Weslake in particular had a huge air intake, which created biblical amounts of drag. Lotus had the idea of putting two radiators in two sidepods and having the front of the car in a slippy wedge design. The new shape gave the 72 an extra 8mph on the straights, whilst losing no performance in the corners. In Rindt’s hands it won all four races it finished.

1971 – Firestone – Slick Tyres
Impressed by their performance in America, Firestone introduced the slick tyre for the Spanish Grand Prix, armed with statistics about improved traction. In the race however the Firestone shod Ferrari’s remained about the same pace to the Goodyear-shod Tyrrell’s as they were in South Africa. Goodyear quickly rolled out their slicks which allowed Stewart to cruise to a second title. Slicks remain the weapon of choice in the dry up to today.

1977 – Renault RS01 – Turbo-charging
Turbo’s had been legal in the 1966 regulations that were unchanged, but all teams had preferred a 3L naturally aspirated engine to a 1.5L Turbo charged engine. The turbine is powered by exhaust gases, and it is connected to an air pump which compresses air in the inlet manifold and the increased pressure theoretically should give more power. At first the engine was hopeless, but Renault persevered and by the famous 1979 French GP the Turbo stood on the top step of the podium. Quickly other manufactures brought in increasingly powerful engines, up to 1300hp before the FIA tightened the net with pressure and fuel limits. They were finally banned in 1989, only to be reintroduced for 2014.

1978 – Lotus 78 – Ground Effect
Lotus once again pioneered another technology, once again originating from Jim Hall’s Charrapals, this time ground effect. Skirts placed on either side of the car forced air to accelerate under the car and sucked the floor of the car into the ground. The BT46B went even further by using a fan to generate more air speed. The car was very quick, and despite sand-bagging all weekend the other teams put pressure on Brabham and the FIA to remove it. Eventually cornering forces of 15G, and drivers complaining of blurred vision led to its banning.

1982 – Lotus 91 – Active Suspension
As electronics became more sophisticated, the idea of using computers to keep the tyre perpendicular to the road, and thus optimizing grip came about. It took five years for Lotus to perfect the system and win in 1987, and it was refined even more for FW14B that carried Mansell to the 1992 world championship.

1980s – Unclear – Traction Control
In essence traction control just modulates the throttle for the driver when the wheels are not all travelling at the same speed. Again this cumulated with the FW14B, before being banned in the electronic purge of 1994.

1989 – Ferrari 640 – Semi-automatic Gearbox
John Barnard developed the semi-automatic, where the driver only needs to press a paddle to up or down shift, and there are no H-Shifters or clutches required. Various electronic sensors predict the torque required for the shift, and so no clutch pedal is needed. The gear is then seamlessly deselected and the new one selected in under 50 milliseconds.

1990 – Tyrrell 019 – High Nose
Harvey Postlethwaite began to wonder if more downforce could be generated from the floor and diffuser of the car. The principle remained from ground effect that if there was more air, the air would accelerate under the car faster, and create more downforce. By raising the nose the volume of air under the car increased, and more downforce was generated.

1998 – McLaren MP4/13 – KERS
The principle of KERS is that a motor generator sits on the transmission system and converts the kinetic energy into mechanical, and then stores it in a battery. It was immediately banned in 1998, but the FIA saw potential as an overtaking aid and it was reintroduced in 2009.

2000 – Ferrari – ‘The System’
At the turn of the century Ferrari invested big money into their F1 programme. They hired the biggest talent on the grid, with a capable, but inferior stooge for a teammate. Then Byrne and Costa with their endless supply of money and Schumacher constantly testing new parts round Fiorano, built a beast of car and fitted it with a beast of an engine. Even the tyres were tailor made by Bridgestone to cater for Schumacher’s driving style. The result was 11 world championships in six years.

2010 – McLaren MP4/25 – F-Duct
McLaren’s controversial system was in part a cockpit cooling device, but when the driver covered the hole, the pressure change sent air onto the rear wing, changing the angle of attack, and stalling the rear wing. This reduced drag without any negative effect to the cornering grip. It was banned following Alonso's no-handed exploits.

2011 – Red Bull RB7 – Off-Throttle Blown Diffuser
Blowing exhaust gases into the diffuser is an old trick; increasing air flow creates more downforce as per the high noses. However in 2011 complicated engine maps meant that off-throttle air was still exiting the exhaust into the diffuser. Some teams injected fuel into the engine which ignited in the exhaust and the hot air passed through the diffuser. The practice is largely illegal, although some loopholes exist.
Chaparral was the single most innovative marque in history (vying with Lotus), in my opinion. The 2A model of 1965 had a semi-auto gearbox, the 2E of 1966 had high variable-incidence, rear-hub-mounted wings and hip-mounted radiators (the nose inlet was where a variable-incidence wing was located). The 2J of 1970 had fan-generated, sliding-skirt-assisted downforce. The 2A was also a GRP monocoque!

What surprised me at the time was how slow Formula 1 was to adopt their innovations!
With Charrapal's littering the side of racetracks worldwide you can hardly blame F1 designers for looking the other way!

What race team of that era was reliable--Lotus?ROFL

The fact is that what was essentially a team (1 or, at most, 2 cars) of home-builts took on the factory powerhouses of the time and usually led until they broke, or they won. The 2A won Sebring in 1965, beating team Ferraris legendary P3s and Ford's equally famous GT-40s. They won at Nurburgring (the REAL Nurburgring, all 14+ miles of it) in 1966 with the 2D, again beating Ferrari P3s and Ford GT-40s and MkIIs, and the 2F won at Brands Hatch in 1967, besting P4s, one driven by a certain Jackie Stewart, as I recall, Ford GT-40s and Lola T70s.

If that speed wasn't worth emulating, what was?

One dictum of racing is that it is easier to make a fast car reliable than to make a reliable car fast.
While raising a hat to Jim Chaparral's trail blazing designs, the bulk of the credit for the design of ground effect in F1 should go to Tony Rudd who designed an outstanding and forward looking car for BRM in 1969 which included the bulk of the features that would later find their way onto the Lotus 78. The car was so advanced in design that Rudd knew the team leader at BRM ( a certain John Surtees) would never let them proceed with the design as it would be seen as far too radical. The Owen family allowed Rudd to set up a design group outside of the main BRM offices so they could carry on in secret. When Surtees eventually found out what was going on he told the team to stop the design work or he would leave the team (all this is quoted in Rudd's biography "it was fun"). As a result Rudd left the team in disgust and joined Lotus.

It's not well known but the Lotus type 77 in which Mario Andretti won the 1976 Japanese GP at Mount Fuji, ran with side skirts for the latter part of that season to test ideas that would form an effective seal between the car and track and this contributed to the improvement in the cars performance over the course of that season. The 78 was ready to run by mid-76 but Chapman did not like the idea of giving his rivals a head start over the off season to design something similar of their own.

Below is a picture of the BRM that never went any further than a wind tunnel model.

The March 701 also had "wings" on the side but without side skirts they didn't really have much of an effect.

I fail to see how you mark it as innovation when it's really just a technology nicked from another application, sometimes with little or no modification. You've already mentioned disc brakes which, AFAIK, first were used on the 1902 Lanchester automobile. Malcolm Lougheed (founder of Lockheed Aircraft) added hydraulics in 1918. The limited production 1954 Austin-Healey 100S had 4-wheel Dunlop-built disc brakes (the Citroën DS was front wheels only).

General Motors first sold turbocharged production automobiles in 1962 with the Oldsmobile F-85 Turbo Jetfire and the Chevrolet Corvair Monza Spyder. And FWIW, the turbos in the 2014 F1 V-6Ts will be single stage with fixed pitch impellers, the same basic design as used by GM in 1962. So much for bleeding edge technology.

Buick sold a primitive traction control system on their production cars in 1971. Ford had hoped to feature it in their 1976 LeMans racer but it burned during testing too soon before the race to be repaired. Williams also was the first F1 team to run ABS but Jensen automobiles had beat them the punch by almost 30 years.

Aeroplanes have been built using monocoque construction fuselages since 1912 and rudimentary streamlining (engine cowlings and such) since WWI. By the 1920s, aero racers were truly streamlined from stem to stern. And there were streamlined automobiles (which, granted, were more about the swoopy looks than any true improvement in CD) built in the 1930s.

And a system that injects fuel into the manifold is not "direct" injection. Direct injected fuel is shot directly into the firing chamber at a few thousand PSI (which guarantees instantaneous atomization) after the intake valve has closed and the compression stroke is well advanced.

Each of these developments might have represented and advantage over the F1 competition but they were not necessarily innovative in an absolute sense.
Blog Zbod, the title is a bit wrong, but I discovered very few of the innovations are completely original, so kept all of them that I thought marked a big change in Formula 1. 4WD which wasn't original to Formula 1 either is excluded as it was little more than a distraction for Lotus, McLaren and Matra. Nor Is the Carbon fibre chassis from the MP4/1, which I thought was an just an evolution, albeit a very important one.

And yes its not Direct injection on the W196, just plain fuel injection. I'll edit it.
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