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F1 Opinion History 23

The aesthetics of the Formula 1 nose

There have been numerous instances of Formula 1 chopping off its nose to spite its face. This week, however, was a first: appending a nose to the same effect.

racing history opinion  The aesthetics of the Formula 1 nose

Although the aerodynamic changes new for 2014 are small beer compared to those demanded of other parts of the package, they are all we’re talking about.

Yes, form follows function in the binary chase of the last nth, but a line – preferably a pleasing one – must be drawn when a new batch of F1 cars, rather than provide a frisson and surge of pride, makes the sport a laughing stock.

That’s now.

Even their doting designers can’t love this latest lot.

The Ferrari looks like an unfortunate bottom-feeder normally only viewed through the bubbled window of a Jacques Cousteau-type bathyscaphe. The Toro Rosso’s unfortunately shaped protuberance caused Ann Summers to tweet with, ahem, tongue firmly in cheek. And, most hideous of them all, is the Caterham’s Lego-like Hoover attachment.

A ‘vanity panel’ big enough to cover their shame does not exist.

racing history opinion  The aesthetics of the Formula 1 nose

The background to this is the praiseworthy aim of improving safety: lowering the nose’s tip by 365mm in a bid to prevent cars being launched in an accident. And be of no doubt, too, that teams have spent hundreds upon hundreds of hours arriving at the best solution in terms of performance.

It is astounding, however, that the situation has been allowed to turn so damn ugly.

And you thought last year’s noses were a step too far.

Adrian Newey, who draws his cars full-scale and habitually sketches in a paper pad with – cue appreciative nod to the Russian space programme – a pencil, once told me that, should two parts emerge from the wind tunnel having generated the same result, he would select the more handsome.

No surprise, therefore, that Red Bull’s 2014 offering is easier on the eye. ‘If it looks right, it is right’ is an unquantifiable old saw, but thank God that the best designer in the paddock sees no reason to butcher it.

racing history opinion  The aesthetics of the Formula 1 nose

McLaren, another team with an eye for the aesthetic – style doesn’t come cheap, clearly – has also managed a pretty good makeover. So, too, has Mercedes-Benz, although the wing failure that pitched Lewis Hamilton into a tyre wall on the opening day of testing at Jerez was unfortunately timed for the sport as well as, the mercifully unhurt, driver.

That Lotus, meanwhile, is already having to argue that its twin-tusk – dolphin, platypus, whatever! – is legal, causes the heart of this fan to sink even further.

1971′s nose debate

It’s time to hit F1 with the pretty stick. A better(-looking) solution cannot be beyond the wit of its combined computer-, brain- and spending power. Unlike 1971, there can be no excuse.

Back then, aerodynamics and computing were in their infancy. Even the brightest of minds relied on tufts of wool, wetted fingers in the air and instinct. Thus we had the Lobster Claw, the Tea Tray and, in Mauro Forghieri’s fecund mind at least, the Snowplough. Though they sound like dance crazes, they were nicknames for the noses of F1 cars.

racing history opinion  The aesthetics of the Formula 1 nose
Two nose configurations for Stewart’s Tyrrell in 1971

The debate raging was this: sharp-edged wing/s (mounted quite high in some cases) or bulbous and low? That Jackie Stewart’s Tyrrell 003 won in both guises that season suggests that there wasn’t much to choose between them, symptomatic perhaps of the relatively small loads generated.

Two teams, however, adopted very different stances. They proved ‘pretty’ effective.

Brabham designer Ron Tauranac, a visitor to MIRA’s wind tunnel from the early 1960s on, fitted his BT34 with radiators ahead of each front wheel, and spanned the resultant gap with a large adjustable spoiler over a snubbed nose. Veteran Graham Hill used it to set fastest lap at the Race of Champions and win the International Trophy before his season descended into disgruntled disappointment.

Carlos Reutemann’s grabbing of pole position for his world championship GP debut at Buenos Aires in 1972 – imagine the cheers! – plus his win in the subsequent non-championship Brazilian GP clawed back respect for the concept: an aerodynamic device shielded from air unsettled by the rotation of the front wheels. The split-radiator idea possessed sufficient merit for Tauranac’s successor Gordon Murray to stick with it – and win with it – for several more seasons.

racing history opinion  The aesthetics of the Formula 1 nose
Graham Hill in the ‘Lobster Claw’ Brabham BT34

March, meanwhile, turned to the man who had during the late 1950s introduced scientific aerodynamics to F1. Frank Costin’s priority for his Spitfire-shaped front wing – the size of a tea tray and perched atop a ‘unicorn’ mounting – was a reduction in drag. That this high-mounted item was in clean air, however, allowed it to generate more downforce than its shallow profile and angle of attack suggested it might.

Had it not been for 003 and JYS, 711 would have been the car to beat. Its unusual outline caught the eye, but the packaging solutions it forced upon the team played as large a part in the car’s success. It was Robin Herd’s – with assistance from ex-Lotus man Geoff Ferris – best F1 design for March.

It helped, too, that Ronnie Peterson could make anything go quickly – excepting Herd’s disastrous 721X of the following year.

The consensus at that time was to harness the air passing over the car’s bodywork: hence the Lotus 72’s wedge shape. The arrival of ‘wing cars’ and ground effects at the decade’s end turned that on its head.

racing history opinion  The aesthetics of the Formula 1 nose
March’s 711 was fast in the hands of Ronnie Peterson

Though the governing body responded by raising skirts before removing them altogether, and smoothing bottoms before caning the teams with a long, thin piece of wood – are you reading, Miss Summers? – the laws of physics could never be entirely restrained.

The beginning of the high nose era

In 1990, Tyrrell’s Harvey Postlethwaite and Jean-Claude Migeot introduced the raised anhedral nose, the idea being to channel air underneath the car while maintaining its front wing’s optimal position close to the track’s surface. Upon its launch, McLaren’s Ron Dennis remarked that, if it worked, it would cost the other teams a great deal of money in terms of retooling, etc.

It worked very well given the relative lack of power of the 019’s Cosworth V8, but not well enough to cause a stampede. Only when Benetton cocked its snook to convention and began to meet increasing success with its version during the early 1990s did the concept take firm hold.

The troubled Williams FW16 of 1994 was the last low-nosed car to win a GP. Rather like Colin Chapman’s delayed conversion to the benefits of putting the engine behind the driver, the high nose was Newey’s blind spot – caused to some extent, I like to think, by aesthetic considerations.

racing history opinion  The aesthetics of the Formula 1 nose

Though having barely blinked since, he still strongly believes that winning doesn’t automatically make a racing car beautiful. 2014 is about to conclusively prove him correct.

That he doubts, too, whether these clownish, ahem, hooters will improve safety surely means that the nays – not the eyes – have it on this occasion.

The new turbo V6 powertrains – they sound great and should be more fun to drive – are what we should be talking about: torque.

That we are not is sad.


More from Paul Fearnley
Grand Prix drivers in the Monte Carlo Rally
Mini’s Monte Carlo anniversary
Timmy Mayer: McLaren’s lost talent

racing history opinion  The aesthetics of the Formula 1 nose

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23 comments on The aesthetics of the Formula 1 nose

  1. Nigel (not that one), 30 January 2014 12:12

    Didn’t Newey’s March have a slightly raised nose, at least on the underside?

    Agreed on the absurdity of some of the latest designs but the designers dug their heels in about lowering the bulkhead height because it would make more work for them.

    Well, they got what they wanted and now their cars are a laughing stock……karma?

  2. IM, 30 January 2014 14:01

    It’s a sad commentary on the times that what car noses (or “front noses” in the words of most commentators…) look like is the key talking point. I recall being more interested in fans, twin chassis, the invention of ground effect, slick tyres, turbos etc…..

    Time for the rules to be made less restritive I think….

  3. Barry Glading, 30 January 2014 14:55

    Surely an answer is simplification to ‘single element’ wings, so we don’t have all those little curvy multiple stacked mini-wings all over the car? Then provide a parameter for the height of the front wing so designers can go high or low or in between.
    Single seater racing cars have been ugly as hell since the ’80′s, lets face it. F1 marginally worse now than the abominable Indycars, which takes some doing.
    ‘Spec racing’ so tightly controlled by the governing body is not, to my mind, the highest form of the engineers capabilities, it’s only a blind alley getting ever narrower.

  4. Alex Holster, 30 January 2014 16:08

    Isn’t Jean Alesi’s victory in his Ferrari 412T2 in Montreal in 1995 the last low nose victory?

  5. Zaki Ghul, 30 January 2014 16:27

    The cars might look ugly but is no one else excited that for once they will have very distinctive features even to the casual observer? That even without livery 20 years from now we will be able to say: that’s the Lotus, and that’s a Caterham! Anyone remember what a 94 Larrousse looked like?

  6. Paul Fearnley, 30 January 2014 17:17

    Good spot, Alex. Apologies, Monsieur Alesi, for my forgetfulness. Call myself a fan?!

    On the other hand, Zaki, I do remember what a 1994 Larrousse looks like – but only because I drove one very slowly at Spa once.

    Variation is to be encouraged and, normally, I would applaud it. It’s just that, on this occasion, I cannot bring myself to.

    I am fond of 711 and BT34 – time is healer – but I doubt that this will ever be the case for the class of 2014.

    At the precise moment F1 should be grabbing the headlines for all the right technical reasons, it has chucked these ‘bag of spanners’ – as in ‘a face like…” – into the works. Maddening.

  7. Paul Fearnley, 30 January 2014 17:19

    Argh! Am thinking of changing my name to Fernley

  8. Doug Meis, 30 January 2014 19:01

    Could not agree more about going to single element front wings. Add flat, vertical end plates to the equation. It would be a huge cost savings for the teams, as well.

    As for the current crop of new faces, I wish the rule makers would have had the foresight to mandate a more generous width for the tip of the nose but I don’t mind seeing some variation in the cars for once.

  9. Zaki Ghul, 30 January 2014 19:08

    Paul, thank you for the reply. I know what you mean, and yet part of me, having grown up romanticizing the F1 eras that were before my time, always felt envious of the excitement and hopes that must have accompanied every new and distinctive shape. As everyone agrees these cars are far from beauties but they are ours (our generation’s); a visual memory that augments the impressive if dry statistics. In world that grows more sanitized, empirical, and precise by the day a spot of the unknown and the imperfect has to be welcome.

  10. professorskridlov, 30 January 2014 19:38

    Sure, they look ridiculous and according to Adrian Newey are unlikely to enhance safety – their stated purpose – in fact possibly the opposite.
    However I can definitely bear to look at them if the racing’s any good. What I can’t bear to even contemplate is a repeat of the “economy runs” of the 1980s. Which is what we’re probably going to get…
    “xyz is now in the fuel saving stage of the race…”
    Meanwhile the teams are arriving at the tracks in fleets of 747s whilst the grandees travel in the splendid isolation of their private jets.

  11. David H, 30 January 2014 20:10

    Come Goodwood in a decade or two I wonder which era of cars the fans will be congregated around…

  12. daveyman, 30 January 2014 20:12

    Surely Michael Schumachers victory in Spain ’96 was with a low nose car? They didn’t go ugly till mid season.

  13. Piero Dessimone, 30 January 2014 22:18

    Shame on FIA, Todt, Ecclestone, Montezemolo and the bunch of rogues that have ruined what used to be the pinnacle of motorsport.
    I have for long time stated that today F1 stands for FARCE 1 and the 2014 cars are the perfect example.

    I understand Durex is interested to replace Rolex as one of the main sponsors to all the events.

  14. Jonesracing82, 31 January 2014 05:59

    the nose on the Caterham looks similar to that of the ’79 Ferrari

  15. The Original Ray T, 31 January 2014 19:38

    I didn’t even know Durex made watches.

    The stench off of F12014 is already wafting, not optimistic and actually thinking of dropping my cable channels that carry F1.

  16. Piero Dessimone, 31 January 2014 19:44

    I do not think watches have a lot in common with most of 2014 cars but Durex products yes.

  17. Mikey, 1 February 2014 12:49

    Many contributors to this site (paid or otherwise) bemoan the state of F1 and it’s apparent desire to flush itself down the pan. Already this season I had decided to watch it as a series of races and not as a championship – because of the “win one, get one free” event in Abu Dhabi. However, I like my F1 and a good race, though not too often seen, is still a good race. If you enjoy a good laugh then Pinocchio noses should fit the bill. The serious point is that all of this chips away at the credibility of the sport. Are the rule makers saying that the championship was not a fair reflection of ability and incapable of holding the interest of fans; Hence the Abu Dhabi premium? Clearly they fail to see the possible cosequences of their rule tweaking when it comes to car design. Too many rules or too few? Surely nobody wants to design an ugly car but, maybe some at the tail end might be considering an Abu Dhabi specific one.

  18. R.E.B, 1 February 2014 17:14

    I think at this stage the laughter is turning to apathy.

  19. Lewis Lane, 1 February 2014 17:52

    Oh well, i guess we should enjoy the variety in these noses – next year everyone will have decided which one works best, and they’ll all look the same again…
    I’m not sure why nobody in authority thought it good to lower the bottoms of the bulkheads to match…
    Apparently now presumably realising that double points in the final race wasn’t a great idea, Bernie has reportedly changed his mind. And has suggested double points in the last three…
    The lunatics really are taking over the asylum (to paraphrase Fun Boy Three)…

  20. Archie Cheunda, 1 February 2014 18:44

    Piero, are you sure about Durex having a lot in common with today’s F1 cars? I always thought Durex took pride in rubber which lasts the course….

  21. Piero Dessimone, 1 February 2014 20:30

    Good point Archie…..

  22. Trent, 4 February 2014 01:03

    @daveyman, I’d say the early ’96 Ferrari still qualifies as ‘raised nose’. Otherwise, you’d have to include the McLarens all the way up to about 2008, as the position of the nose was relatively low (albeit the wing is clearly suspended from the nose)

    I guess it all depends on how you define these things.

    You could say that Mansell’s win in Brazil ’89 was the first for a raised nose car, because I believe I’m right in saying there was a slightly stepped undertray for that car.

    It probably shows that there’s a spectrum rather than a clearly defined line on these things, but for what it’s worth the high noses were not winning any beauty contests in my book, especially the likes of the 2013 Williams has almost a horizontal line between the cockpit and the nose.

  23. daveyman, 5 February 2014 00:17

    I define a low nose by the fact that the main wing plane is interrupted in the middle by the nose cone and it is not suspended from pylons. I still think the main originator of high noses, the Tyrrell 019, is by far the most attractive.

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