Technical A Technical Matter?


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In the recent FOTA questionaire one of the questions was "do you believe that Formula one should be at the technical pinnacle of motorsport?". I can't see how the answer to that question could be anything other than yes. The trouble is that our attitudes to technology within the sport have changed radically over time.

Over the years I believe the level of protests between the teams over new technology has increased sharply and this has affected the way that we as fans look at the sport. It would seem that when new developments are introduced we tend to roll our eyes and look upon it as an exploited loophole that will cause another technical arms race or worse still we level accusations of cheating.

Colin Chapman always called it "looking for that unfair advantage" and by that he didn't mean that his cars were illegal it just meant that it gave his already great drivers an additional advantage over the rest of the grid. The trouble is that these days we tend to look at an unfair advantage and take it to mean just that.

Maybe all developments that have been introduced into F1 could be said to have been as a result of a loophole in the rules. Turbo engines for example only came about because there was an equivelency rule still on the books by the mid 70's and Renault realised that with modern technology a rule that hadn't been updated for over 10 years meant that a turbo engine would be far more powerful that than the DFV.

The flip side is that since the early 80's the FIA have been using technical regulations initially to control speeds and improve safety and more recently in a bid to "improve the show". It could also be argued that they have been using these same regulations to prevent one team from getting too far ahead of the others. This has made finding those technical developments harder and harder and making the results of finding one more rewarding for an individual team. Brawn's double diffuser being the best example of this.

So we find ourselves in a mix up. On the one hand we all want to see technical excellence in the sport and on other we all want to see close racing and we frown upon anything that would give one team too much of an advantage over the others.

So how technical should F1 be? I believe most people feel that the current regulations are too tight but we must except that by lifting the lid off the box we start another technical arms race where the rich get richer and the poor remain poor. The other option will lead to a spec series which lovers of tech would look at with disgust. Can there be a happy medium with room for manouver within a defined set of technical regulations? or is trying to control technical development a bit like trying to fight a forrest fire where as soon as you put one area out the fire just spreads to another part of the wood?
This is a very tricky matter. While I love technology, the cost of it is a killer. For those of you too young to have had the pleasure of seeing it, the Can Am series of the 60s and 70s was conceived as a series without any restrictions on technology. While the results were glorious, with the cars usually being faster and quicker than the F1 cars of the day, it inevitably led to ever-increasing budgets. It was ultimately killed off when the Porsche factory entered the picture with a budget 4 times that of the previously all-conquering McLarens. By the way, if you want to see true cutting-edge cars, research the Chaparral cars of the day.

Maybe the best way to proceed is to loosen up the technology restrictions, but impose and stricly enforce budget limits. That way the teams could pick and choose what areas to spend their limited resources on, but the cost would not rival the price of a defense program. Runaway costs would, in all probability, kill off F1 as surely as it did the Can Am.
The point of all forms of motor racing is, in theory at least, to develop things which eventually find their way onto road cars, isn't it? F1 should be the pinnacle of motor sport but, from my perspective, has long ceased to be because of the restrictive rules. It's now more about high speed advertising hordings than racing - I'm sure the sponsors were chuffed to bits when the cars sprouted the sharks fin as the area they could plaster their names across increased by about 20%.

The FIA could improve the spectacle in F1 very simply by enforcing both the letter and spirit of it's rules - double diffusers, F ducts, variable ride height controls, multi-element front wings etc, etc, rather than looking to change the rules again; but they don't. I see more relevance in sports car racing to road car development than F1 so how about some more simple options to allow the engineers to gain a legal advantage?

There are things which could be introduced which which wouldn't be too expensive e.g. turbo diesel engines - the cars may not accelerate quite so quickly but they will carry less fuel so may be quicker. Racing diesels work rather well in sports car racing and it would be interesting to see cars produced in very different technical directions racing one another rather than the "spot the difference" competition that we currently have when the cars sit on the grid - look, the Red Bull's "flick fin" is 5mm longer and has a 2° tighter radius than the Mclaren, yawn!

Oh, and some in season testing might be a good idea to help the slower teams catch up. How about a results weighted testing programme based on grid position and race finishes? The better your grid slot and finishing position the less testing you are allowed to do.
FB said:
The point of all forms of motor racing is, in theory at least, to develop things which eventually find their way onto road cars, isn't it?

Is it? I'm not so sure, you know. Isn't it the instinct of man to race anything at speed, whether it be chariots or on horseback in times gone by - the internal combustion engine simply allowed an extension of that desire?

Quite apart from which, most single-seater racing these days is done to a highly restrictive template with no design or build whatsoever - truly a billboard formula.

For me, the fascination of F1 lies in the interaction between the car and driver elements - but neither to the exclusion of the other. So I welcome the limited freedom that is allowed by the current regulations for teams to come up with new solutions to the problems posed by the laws of physics, even if the governing body are more inclined to rule them illegal than they may have been in the past.

The difficulty is that the FIA have positioned themselves, wrongly in my view, as the controllers of expenditure in F1. Consequently whenever a new technology appears, rival teams' complaints that it will be highly expensive to implement (whether true or not) oblige the FIA to give them a hearing and take them seriously. I would sooner see the FIA take a stance that they have successfully reduced teams' key essential costs with testing and engine restrictions and suchlike, and if teams want to spend over and above this level then, providing it is spent on things that are legal and safe, that's their business.

However I do feel a line has to be drawn where the car is running itself without the driver's input. In this respect I am glad the so-called driver aids have been banned, and would also like to see automatic gearchanges consigned to history, if possible.

Perhaps the question is whether current levels of downforce, providing huge amounts of grip, constitute a "driver aid". Certainly the Lotus, Virgin and HRT drivers are putting in a lot more work at the steering wheel than the drivers of teams with more downforce are.

Ultimately there has to be a balance between innovation, entertainment, safety and cost control. We could all identify things that we'd do differently if we were in charge, but I don't honestly think they're too far wrong at the moment. Any changes need to be implemented in a considered way, on a base of evidence and with the input (and ideally, support) of all the key parties involved.
I have to agree with Galahad about the point of racing. Maybe large manufacturers justified their presence in F1 by claiming that the technology would trickle down into road car use but I really don't think that is the case.

I watched the re-runs of this weekends BTCC and it just highlighted the current problems with technology in racing. There are several types of engine running in the series now including Petrol, Diesel and LPG. All three types of car ran together with very little difference in speed. Part of the reason for this is that the BTCC rule makers have worked extremely hard to ensure equivelency across the board. This makes you wonder why teams spend so much money on developing race versions of these cars in the first place and maybe why so many works teams have now pulled out of touring car racing.

Another problem as I see it is that motorsport is basically folding the paper in half everytime it comes up with a new development. By that I mean that go further back in the sports history and each design gets more radical. So as you travel forward in time the design changes are smaller and offer less improvement for the investment in it. I.E. Front engine to Rear Engine, Monocoque Chassis, Engine as a stressed part of the car, Wings, Side Radiators, Ground effects, Active Suspension, Driver Aids, Turning vanes, high noses, diffusers, X-wings, Aero parts, mass dampers, shark fins, F-ducts. As you can see every change gets smaller and more expensive as it time passes until it gets to the point where you can't fold the paper anymore.

The F1 rulebook as been developed over 60 years with constant tweeks and additions so that it's getting to the point where it's starting to clog up. There is for example a rule that all cars must have a suspension which was introduced in the early 80's at Ferrari's insistence when it was rumoured during the ground effect era that one team was designing a car with a go kart like chassis. (purple pole syndrome at its very best).

And finally because most of the technical advances made in recent F1 history have been invisible and complex most people can't even see how they work at first. Perhaps people would have a different view of technical development if it was a bit more radical but the present rule system would not allow that.
Quid pro quo, G - does motor racing generate new innovation which can be used on road cars or is that the point of it? The original point of motor sport was more about endurance than speed; the publicity achieved in, say, a New York to Peking race for a car maker was enormous and finishing first was a bonus which they could capitalise on. Those days have long sinced passed.

There are technical solutions to the current problem in F1, that the cars can't run close enough to each other to overtake, but wasn't that the point of the new regulations? The teams have then exploited "loop holes" in these regs to recover much of the aero grip of the '08 cars but this makes them even more unstable when running close together. So, to my previous point, the FIA need to enforce their own rules in both letter and spirit.

Perhaps the question "do you believe that Formula one should be at the technical pinicle of motorsport?" is irrelevant and we just view it as another category of motor sport and don't get so strung up.
FB said:
Perhaps the question "do you believe that Formula one should be at the technical pinicle of motorsport?" is irrelevant and we just view it as another category of motor sport and don't get so strung up.

Interesting point.

Does that mean that technical development in motorsport should be dropped then? If there is no pinicle of motorsport and no drive to develop new and interesting ideas (assuming that we are now at the peak of what designers can produce) it would be better to have F1 as a one make series.

F3, F2 and GP2 are all single make. Would it make a difference if F1 was as well? By extension was F3 and F2 etc any better when it wasn't single make??
I have to agree that F1 is better when it produces innovations that can trickle down to the wider motor industry, but I don't think that is, or should be, the justification for its existence. I can understand that the manufacturers used it as their own justification for being involved, but in truth most of them were far more interested in the marketing benefits than in giving their engineers something more exciting to do.

What makes F1 the pinnacle of motorsport? Fundamentally, it's the combination of 800bhp 2.4 litre engines that can only last for 1000km, with wings that produce thousands of kg of downforce, running on specialist tyres good for maybe 150km at maximum, and carbon/carbon brakes with operating temperatures approaching 1000°C. None of these things are justified by their relevance to road car motoring. It's the smaller things, interesting in themselves and useful, but not fundamental to the formula.

But of course there are cars in other series that are faster in a straight line, and similarly cars that have been more aerodynamically efficient than F1 in the past (maybe still are).

F1 is what it is due to the history that surrounds it and that heritage does include the idea that each constructor should make their own car, IMO. But that doesn't distinguish it from sportscars, say, or rallying. Perhaps if Mr. Ecclestone had invested in one of those others, the world we live in today would look very different.

[Pedant's corner]
F3 isn't actually single make, though virtually everyone buys the Dallara chassis. They are allowed to build their own upgrade parts for it, though, and there is a choice of engines.
How technical should F1 be?............. :o :o

As in every other human endeavour, there's always been a race between technology(as it applies to racing) and the rule-makers' efforts to restrict technology. Go too-far one end up, as Siffert Fan rightly points out, with something along the lines of Can-Am. Can-Am was an excellent series in terms of the racing and the cars, but technological increases and the increasing amts. of money you would need to go along with it eventually spelled doom for it. Go too far in the opposite direction and you run the risk of turning your series into a 21st-century version of NASCAR(great racing, but some of their tech. is, at best, 2-3 decades old........they still use carbuetors in stock-car land, for instance and they only switched to unleaded gasoline a few years back...........

So, do you balance the two?
Technology and money?

FWIW, I actually like the rules package they use in Grand-Am.................
~~~~the DP(Daytona Prototype) engine and chassis rules are created to provide a common platform for prospective builders(i.e. manufacturers going in know what the rules are, which has made for a broad base of manufacturers........
----Engines: (1)5L V8 Porsche Cayenne, (2)5L Ford GT V8, (3)5L Dinan-BMW V8, (4)3.9L Chevrolet V8, (5)3.5L Porsche Flat-6, (6)3.8L Honda V6 and (7)4.3L Infiniti V8
----Chassis: (1)Riley Technologies, (2)Dallara, (3)Proto-Auto/Lola, (4)Coyote and (5)Crawford Composites
----as listed above, any manufacturer can participate, but once Grand-Am approves their engine or chassis, the manufacturer must make it available to all teams that request their product.......(i.e. there are no "factory" teams in Grand-Am)
~~~~the Grand Touring rules are similar in scope, enough so that(in theory), you could take, for instance, a Porsche 911 RSR currently built for ALMS or LeMans24 specifications, change a few things here and there, and you would have a 911 GT3 Cup car that is now Grand-Am eligible(ironically, one of the new classes in ALMS racing this year is a spec-GT Challenge class which guessed it, the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car.)

In other words, what GA did was lay out a clear set of rules as to what teams and manufacturers can do while holding costs down for everyone so that they didn't spend themselves into bankruptcy trying to beat everyone else. Does this mean no one can "run away" from the field? Not entirely; if a team can find the proverbial "sweet spot" w/in the rules as written, there's nothing other teams can do except beat them on the track.........

Should F1 go this route? Hard to say, though with all the rules changes over the past few years, the geniuses in the FIA have all but made F1 a spec-series. Again, it goes back to what I said at the's a balancing act btwn. technology and the rule-makers who try to keep the genie in the bottle, so to speak. The best series out there are the ones who've figured out how to balance the two. Don't get me wrong; you need technology, to some degree, to make the sport relevant to the road-cars of today/tomorrow. OTOH, you need to ensure that technology costs don't spiral out to the point of no return; teams have to be able to afford the technology they use and manufacturers have to be able to show an ROI on their equipment or they'll walk from whatever series they're in(case in point being GM Racing's withdrawal from Indycar racing at the end of the 2005 season; even w/assistance from, all companies, Cosworth from 2003-2005, there wasn't enough ROI on their V8 Indy engines to justify continued involvement in the IRL.)
F1 first and foremost is about people. Courageous people, creative people, intuitive people, methodical people, endurable people, people with stamina, will power and flashes of genius. The cars and the teams and the circuits on which the battles are fought are all just manifestations of people who contest Formula One.

The FIA and Bernie Ecclestone insist that the "inmates" should not be allowed to make the rules by which they are governed. It would appear that despite the best efforts of the FIA, Max, Bernie, several giant car manufacturers and a host of other interested parties working over many decades, the people and personalities of F1 continue to thrive. They may not be quite as dashing as the Fangio's, Clarks, Chapman's, Tyrrel's, but the Schumacher's, Hamilton's, Alonso's, Brawn's and Newey's are no less inspired and inspiring. And the technologies they use and create are no less awe inspiring for all our protestations to the contrary.

F1 has always struggled to find the middle way, pulled this way and that by all manner of personalities, forces, wills and necessities. The knack of F1 to thrive and survive should not be laid at the door of one thing, technology or personality but the forces that are acted out between them.

Viva F1! Viva technology! Viva humanity!
This subject dovetails nicely with my thread on the evolution of F1.

In the "good old days" the designers and engineers used to come up with innovative ideas to gain an advantage.
More often than not though they took existing ideas and adapted them.
Is it not the case that traction control for example existed in road cars long before it was used in F1?

While the idea is a nice one that innovations in F1 trickle down to the man on the street, I don't think that's ever really been the case or the point of F1.
As has already been said, if a man can stick a saddle or a seat on something, he'll race it.

These days F1 cars have more in common with aircraft than road cars so there's even less chance of technology and concepts being adopted by the motor industry unless it's in the most expensive of super cars.
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