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F1 Opinion 13

John Barnard on Formula 1 today

I enjoyed a nice chat with John Barnard last week.

John and I are old friends going back to his days as an Indycar designer for Vel’s Parnelli Jones and Jim Hall’s Chaparral team more than 30 years ago. I wanted to talk to him about his formative years designing Indycars before he rose to world the of Formula 1 prominence with McLaren and Ferrari through the ‘80s and early ‘90s. John has been retired from F1 for more than 10 years and has turned his hand to designing furniture, but inevitably our conversation eventually moved around to F1 today.

opinion  John Barnard on Formula 1 today

“I haven’t had a good look at the latest crop of F1 cars,” Barnard (above with John Watson and Ron Dennis) remarked. “But the ones that I’ve seen have got this pretty horrendous notched nose. I would find it difficult to make something like that for my own personal aesthetic appreciation. Unless somebody could show me there was an amazing effect in the wind tunnel by doing that, I don’t think I could do it. It’s just too damn ugly!”

Barnard went on to ruminate about the structure and organisation of today’s giant F1 teams. “It amazes me that these F1 teams today have so many separate departments for everything,” he observed. “I can’t see how you can produce a technical person with enough experience of the overall picture to sit on top of these great organisational pyramids. I guess the last person in F1 who sits on top of it is probably Adrian Newey. But look at the other teams and apart from Adrian it’s hard to say who the chief technical guy is in lots of the teams.

“Adrian is basically an aero guy. I don’t know how much Adrian knows about other aspects of the car – the gearbox or suspension geometry and things like that. But the fact is aerodynamics is so important he probably doesn’t need to know these things. He says, ‘this is how I want it aerodynamically’ and he knows enough about that to get it right and make it a winner.

opinion  John Barnard on Formula 1 today

“Personally, I still think an F1 team needs a pyramid-type of organisation. It needs a guy sitting on top of it technically who is responsible for all the technical aspects of the car design. And it needs somebody sitting on top of it from a commercial and – to use modern terms – a human resources point of view.

“You want these two pyramids to work under the people sitting on top of them, and everyone needs to be able to work together. They need to be able to communicate and work out what they’re going to do together and from there on down they control their own pyramid. I think that is the way F1 works, or racing works, because you need decisions constantly and quickly, and if you make the right decisions you move forward faster than the other guys.”

Barnard pointed out that F1’s increasingly thick rulebook eliminates new concepts and makes the sport ever more a potential legal imbroglio. “I suppose in a way you’ve got to look at the rules and regs too,” he commented. “They are so complex now and the teams are fiddling with a great many little details and a major part of it is to, let’s say, invent the loophole and get it past the ruling body. The whole business of looking at some tiny little loophole is almost a department in itself. Every year there’s a squabble over some new loophole. You almost need a legal department to deal with that alone!”

JB (below with Niki Lauda) emphasised how difficult, if not impossible, it has become to design anything different, let alone revolutionary. “In my day the regs were so much looser that you could do different things,” he remarked. “Whether they were right technically was another issue. If you wanted to come today and do a car from a clean sheet of paper, certainly in F1, you’d have a hell of a job to make anything that looked different. Apart from the details, it would be very similar.”

opinion  John Barnard on Formula 1 today

He joked about the waste and futility in much of today’s F1 costly aerodynamic development. “I was talking to someone the other day who’s still designing F1 bits and pieces and they were talking about these amazing front wings they have now with bits and pieces all over them. They reckon that half the time they’re playing with a radius on the end of a flap or something.

“They’re asking, ‘Should it be a 10, 15 or 20 millimetre radius?’ And they’ll make half a dozen different models and try them and decide which are the best and then make half a dozen full-size flaps to test and, of course, through this they throw away the least effective bits time and time again!

“We were lucky to get away with making a new wing, never mind six with different radiuses on the end of the flaps. Of course, you’ve got to know what radiuses to fiddle with, but it’s a little like putting a thousand monkeys in front of a typewriter and eventually they’ll write the great novel.”

Barnard continues to design furniture and is enjoying life after racing. “I’m still playing with furniture. I manage to keep busy one way or another. There’s a potential road car project that I may be involved in, but I haven’t heard yet whether it’s going to happen. We’ll have to wait and see. But that piques my interest because I haven’t done that before.”

Add your comments

13 comments on John Barnard on Formula 1 today

  1. Lewis Lane, 21 March 2012 19:58

    Just realised precisely how much F1 needs John Barnard’s involvement…

  2. Ray T, 21 March 2012 20:05

    Why have these notched noses suddenly set off aesthetic alarms? F1 cars got ugly in the last three years from the huge front wings, the feet-up driver position and the various barge boards and winglets and fins and other aero paraphernalia.

    For analogies, F1 loves its monkeys. I thought the whole idea of infinite monkeys designing infinite wings was the point behind CAD and fluid dynamics in F1 design. The problem with all that modelling is that it is based on input assumptions from the beginning. Perhaps this is why Newey and his low-tech drafting board still rules: no computer or wind tunnel could have invented blown diffusers.

  3. aleksi salonen, 22 March 2012 04:35

    There’s of course something (a lot) to be said about “lateral thinking”- or “out of the box” or what have you – where novel features enable unimagined/ heretofore impossible functions beyond their immediate/ intended use. This sort of creativity isn’t inherently human but can also be recognized as taking place in other complex systems such as economies, or the evolution of life, where explosions of diversity/ fuctionality happen beyond the perception – action cycle of a single (more or less coherent) cognition (theological arguments aside).

    I can’t say whether a pyramid is more or less conducive a structure to induce “recognizably directional progress”. I’ve seen an (unnamed) design office (in an unnamed field) where the boss started basically every project by squiggling a few pretty abstract lines on a paper: Thereafter the rest of the office did the hard lifting, liberated from the problem of having to justify their every decision by adhering to the “spirit of the squiggle”. There’s a sort of genius to that as well, though I guess Newey’s influence on RBR’s design is (much) more tangible and quantifiable than that.

    On the subject of “iteration monkeys”, at least on a computational level they’re pretty well obsolete, genetic algorithms and the exponential growth of processing power has seen to that. I can see a future where (or is it when?) any rules are optimized into vehicles before they even turn a wheel. This is not to say I think racecars will be de facto spec because of technology. It’s more a question of our ideas of what vehicles and rules are.

  4. Paul Fearnley, 22 March 2012 12:19

    Dear Aleksi,

    Wow! Seriously. Wow!

    Zen and the Art of Racing Car Maintenance.

    PS Are you any relation to Timo?

  5. aleksi salonen, 23 March 2012 01:13

    @Paul: No, it’s one of the more common surnames (various unrelated families have it) in our rather uncommon language. Furthermore, while I’ve managed to hold my own in a couple of four wheel, opposite lock slides on slippery roads, I generally try not to get into such predicaments in the first place.

  6. R.E.B, 24 March 2012 17:40

    If you believe that F1 should be about the drivers not the cars then the current rules have to be judged a success. Everyone is talking about the drivers, the six world champs are all within a few tenths of one another and the only comment made about the cars is that they are ugly. If you are a car freak first and foremost then the strictness of the rulebook must be very boring. No choice between 6, 8 or 12 cylinders, no experimental throws of the dice like ground effect, twin chassis or six wheels…..I myself would like to see more variety in the cars, another 700bhp, and the removal of all chicanes and bus stops.

  7. Rick D, 25 March 2012 11:42

    I can understand why John B. is repulsed by the look and form of today’s Formula 1 cars. He designed some of the best looking AND most successful open wheel formula cars in his time. His legacy for the sport is that you don’t need to be ugly to win.

  8. Brett, 28 March 2012 07:26

    to R.E.B
    this is why F1 does not, repeat, does not need more power.

    a few points as to what would/could occur if open-wheeler racing of most formulae were to dump ‘aero’;
    1. cornering forces would be vastly reduced, allowing grandstands to be closer to circuit.
    2. ‘dirty air’ would be non existent, allowing the chaps who ‘are all within a few tenths of one another’ to remain racing within a few tenths of each other.
    3. possible/probable passing without the current cheat system.
    4. possible return to legendary circuits of the past.

    hmmm…1400hp in a car weighing 1411 pounds; close enough to 2000, two thousand, horsepower per imperial ton…someone’s dreamin’

    p.s. contemporary cars, races & circuits are the most forgettable I’ve known.

  9. Joe Machado, 28 March 2012 13:55

    Opinions will always be different on any subject. On today’s F1 I agree with Nigel Roebuck who does not like any type of driver’s aid. A proper racing car should have the throttle, brake and clutch pedals. No rev limiter so the driver keeps an eye on the rev counter as well as the other gauges that indicate oil pressure, water and oil temperature. The gearbox should be fully manual and traction control, as per the great Senna, should be the driver’s right foot. It would not hurt to have two or more tire brands with the manufacturers limiting themselves to engine supply only.

  10. R.E.B, 1 April 2012 19:28

    Brett, Iam not suggesting that people be allowed to stand on the kerbstones of the track!. The problem as I see it is that the cars have too much grip and not enough power. This can be addressed by more power, less grip or a compromise between the two. The same problem also afflicts WRC and Touring cars. In my opinion, 1500 BHP sounds about right for a 21st century F1 car, and in an era when 400 BHP road cars are commonplace, any WRC or Touring car needs at least 500 BHP to be taken seriously. Just dreaming……………

  11. Dorothea, 24 April 2012 11:44

    Most electric cars still use less net engery than a conventional auto. Many electric cars have mile-per-gallon equivalent ratings to enable comparisons between engery use. The Nissan Leaf has a 99 mpg equivalent. The lower-speed Zap Xebra has a 150 mpg equivalent rating. So the electrics use quite a bit less net engery than gasoline cars.Electric cars also have the advantage of great renewable engery potential. If you were to have a solar or wind electric charging station for your electric car, you would be using nearly free and limitless engery and producing effectively no emissions.

  12. kevin weeden, 16 April 2013 10:26

    I was wonder if you might be able to help with a question Am trying to find out what was manufactured by Berry Ede & White for Barnard Cars The company BEW was located in Rochester Kent in what was the old Shorts factory Thanks K.Weeden

  13. Richard Fried, 3 May 2013 18:53

    I worked at VPJ when John was there. The thing that impressed me was seeing him come flying down the stairs from the drawing office, drawing flapping in his hand, and go into the machine shop and make the part! It was an honor and privilege to have worked on the VPJ6. It was the prettiest and fastest car I have worked on in my racing career.
    Great article in the March issue.

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