Formula One scene

Brave new world

As the issue of Motor Sport was being distributed to the newsagents the first Grand Prix of 1989 was taking place in Brazil, on the Autodromo Nelson Piquet at Rio de Janeiro. The FIA date of March 26 for the first race of the season meant that a report of the event cannot appear in Motor Sport until the May issue.

The Brazilian race was not so much important by being the season opener, but as the first race to the new Formula One rules.

These hold good for at least three years, and limit engines to a maximum capacity of 3500cc (31/2 litres), with not more than 12 cylinders, and induction must be by natural aspiration, in other words, superchargers, turbochargers, compressors and any other methods of of increasing the pressure of the ingoing air above the natural 14.7 psi of the earth’s atmosphere, are forbidden, apart from any aerodynamic assistance caused by the passage of the engine (car) through the air.

This new formula was brought about gradually in a method that more-or-less worked without too much trouble. By 1986 the science of turbocharging and engine management had reached some high levels and we were on the threshold of two-stage turbocharging with intake pressures that made the eyes water just thinking about them. Free-for-all power was the order of the day, and normal 100 octane petrol was thing of the past. The fuel companies in Germany, France and Italy were ahead of the game and produced synthetic fuels which complied with all the rules laid down for normal petrol, but which enabled high boost pressures to be used, and consequent high power outputs to be obtained.

Officialdom in the form of the FIA, it’s sporting arm FISA, and some of the racing teams through their union FOCA, viewed the power-race with misgiving, and turbochargers and similar devices were declared to be illegal as from January 1, 1989. In order to bring things to a containable level in easy stages, it was decreed that boost-pressures would be limited to 4-bar for the 1987 season, and 2.5-bar for the 1988 season, as a prelude to the new normally-aspirated formula for 1989. There were also restrictions on the amount of fuel that could be carried and pit-stops for refuelling were banned.

We had witnessed some wonderful team-work by the mechanics of the front-running teams, when cars would have all four wheels changed and the fuel tank fill in well under ten seconds. At times those pit-stops were a bit hair-raising to watch but they were a fine sight, unfortunately not witnessed by the majority of spectators. Even those in the expensive grandstands opposite the pits saw very little in detail, due to the high pit-walls between the pit-lane and the track.

Behind the scenes those pit-stops had a wonderful effect on the morale of the teams, and after a race there was an electric air around the garages after a record pit-stop. All this went by the board with the fuel-tank capacity limit, and behind the scenes everyone was worrying about fuel consumption and electronic devices to control the fuel-metering and transmit the information to the drivers and the pit-crews.

1987 was pretty dull by comparison with what went before, and the FIA tried to instill some enthusiasm for the future by allowing non-turbocharged 31/2-litre cars to race with the strangled turbo cars. The idea was a bit of a “dead duck”.

In 1988 the turbocharged cars were restricted to 2.5-bar, which cut horsepower back from about 800 to something in the region of 650, and some optimistic people thought the non-turbocharged 31/2-litre cars were going to challenge the very strangled 11/2-litre turbo cars. There were a few interesting moments during 1988 but all sixteen races were won by turbocharged cars. In all honesty it was no surprise, for there were no new engines among the 31/2-litre cars, the Cosworth and Judd V8s stemming from 3-litre engines of a past age.

To start afresh in the new formula Honda and Renault were quickly into their stride with brand-new V10 engines, and Ferrari went back along the route it knew well with a V12.

In winter testing there were two yardsticks available: the performance of the already obsolete 1988 normally-aspirated engines, developed from old designs, and that of a turbocharged 11/2-litre limited to 2.5-bar inlet pressure. The parameters set by the Cosworth DFR and the Judd V8 during 1988 were soon surpassed, as one would expect, but of some surprise was the ability of the new McLaren-Honda V10 to improve on the performance marks left by the Honda V6 turbo at the end of 1988.

I say “some surprise”, but really it should not have caused a surprise, for there is not much point in designing and building a new car if it is not better than the old one. It is just that the McLaren-Honda V10 set new bench-marks so soon. Renault and Ferrari were not far behind, and by the time these words are being read they well be in front.

So over two seasons of Grand Prix racing involving 32 races from the “Mickey Mouse” circuits of Monte Carlo and Detroit to the blindingly fast circuits like Silverstone and Monza we witnessed the strangulation of unadulterated power. Unplanned when the restrictions were mooted were the advances made in other aspects of Grand Prix car design, and in some ways the limitation of boost pressures proved a good thing.

With fuel consumption being all-important, enormous strides were made in electronic engine management systems, the technology of programming all the variables in an engine for overall greater efficiency. This is something that remains equally important in the new 31/2-litre normally aspirated formula, for not only is power dependent on good management, but consumption is still important. There are no limitations on fuel-tank capacity, but an efficient engine will be able to do a race distance on less fuel than a thirsty rival, and thus be able to start the race with a lighter load, which means that the tank can be smaller and the size of the car pared down to a minimum.

Already the Shell company has been evaluating six different types of fuel, all complying with the stringent chemical formula laid down in Formula One. But clearly they have different efficiancy properties which can effect the quantities needed to be carried for the race distance of around 300km.

With the first race to the new formula just run, we are already heading along a most interesting technological path as far as engines are concerned. It will be interesting to look back on the Brazilian Grand Prix at the end of the sixteen race 1989 season, and even more interesting to look back in three years’ time.

Anyone who thinks they can go Formula One racing seriously with an assembly of production- racing components, in what we used to cal “kit-cars”, is heading for disillusionment and we must hope that F3000 keeps some places open for them towards the end of the year.

The European season starts on April 23 at Imola, when the San Marino GP is held, but once again the FIA chosen date is “unfriendly” to Motor Sport’s publication date, so we will be unable to feature it until our June issue. DSJ