… when Italian invader Dallara whitewashed the British F3 grid. Keith Howard finds out why
Motorsport manufacturing is like any business: the aim is to make a product so much better than your competitors’ that it becomes a sine qua non, the must-have. Italian constructor Dallara achieved this in Formula 3 in 1993, in a dramatic British F3 season during which it literally went from zero to hero. At season’s start, Dallara had rarely raced in F3’s top national series. By the end, Ralts and Reynards were being ditched wholesale to stay competitive.
Initially there was to be only one Dallara F393 on the grid that year, run by Richard Arnold Developments for the inexperienced Steven Arnold. Had things stayed that way, it’s possible the Dallara snowball might not have begun rolling. But Dallara took the critical decision to lend RAD a second car, fitted with a Fiat Tipo 16V engine, for talented Warren Hughes to drive. It was the performance of this car which made other teams sit up.
First of the big-hitters to see which way the wind was blowing was Edenbridge Racing, which by race four at Donington had moved Oliver Gavin out of his Rah and into a Dallara. He soon hit paydirt with three successive wins at Silverstone, Oulton Park and the Donington short circuit.
The message was clear: if you weren’t running a Dallara, your car was second-best. Within a couple of races even Paul Stewart Racing had moved to protect Kelvin Burt’s title by switching him from Reynard, and people began to refer to British F3 as Formula Dallara. Burt eventually won the driver’s title comfortably from Gavin, with pioneer Hughes back in fourth place — not bad for a small team that really had the operational budget to run only one car.
So what made the F393 so dominant, gifting Dallara the pre-eminent position in international F3 that it still enjoys today? We asked Gian Paolo Dallara himself and Chris Weller, team manager of RAD that year, for their insights into its irresistible assault on the 1993 British championship.
GPD: “There had been no serious attempt to use the Dallara F3 car in England prior to ’93 because our car did not have an advantage over the English cars. We could win in Italy, Germany and France but we could not beat Raft and Reynard. It was during 1992 that we first developed a significant aerodynamic advance over the English cars. We spent 1200 wind tunnel hours developing the F393. We had a quarter-scale tunnel that only ran at 74mph. very slow, but at that time other F3 manufacturers did not do aerodynamic testing, so it was enough to get us a little advantage.”
CW: “I was at Alan Docking Racing in ’92, and that’s really where the Dallara thing started. Alan was quite friendly with the company, for reasons other than F3. Dallara began to get interested in the British F3 market so a car was brought over towards the end of ’92 and we tested it. We put our own Mugen engine in the car, fitted Avon tyres and used our driver of the time, Philippe Adams. The car performed well straight away, the driver was quite impressed with it and so was I. But Alan decided not to go that route, so I upped sticks and left. When I joined Richard Arnold I said I would like to run the Dallara, so we went to Italy, thrashed out a deal and got the first car over.”
GPD: “We achieved a 15 per cent improvement in aerodynamic efficiency, principally realised as improved downforce. With the low engine power in F3, you always have to keep in mind the drag, otherwise at fast circuits like Silverstone you cannot win. So you have to improve the downforce without adding drag. We used narrower front and rear tracks on the car than our competitors, and this reduced the total drag a little by reducing its frontal area. We weren’t able to lower the engine and reduce the centre of gravity that much to compensate. But the narrower track was compensated for by the increase in downforce.”
CW: “The F393 was fast in a straight line, but aerodynamics are also about downforce and balance. Dallara’s philosophy was to concentrate on downforce. so despite the car’s narrower track we didn’t suffer in the corners. When Warren [Hughes] got fastest lap in the car’s first race at Thruxton, everybody said it was Just a high-speed car: but he also went well at Brands Hatch, at which point people began to take notice because Brands is a handling circuit. That was when the Dallara began to establish a reputation for being quick.”
GPD: “At the time we were working for Scuderia Italia in F1, where we tested a monoshock front suspension. It worked well, so we decided to use it in F3. At the time we thought it was the best solution: it is simple, light and cheap. From the first test it was obvious that It was easy to set up because you can easily adjust roll stiffness. This helped reduce the amount of testing time necessary to tune the car’s handling. The monoshock performed well but in recent years we’ve realised that on bumpy circuits or when it is raining, maybe it is better to use a double-shock layout because you can be softer in roll at the front. So now we offer our car with either option.”
CW: “Ease of set-up was certainly a factor with the monoshock but not the only one. Certainly it is simpler to operate, and to visualise what is happening because you can separate spring rates in pitch and roll. But It does also work well. I think the monoshock was successful in ’93 for both reasons: it was easier to set up and it gave good performance. The fact that it’s still successful today is indicative that it is fundamentally a sound design. In an ideal world, if you had enough testing time you would swap between monoshock and twin-shock set-ups for different circuits.”
GPD: “Another advantage of the F393 was that it had a very stiff chassis. We looked carefully at the Ralt and the Reynard, and ours was 20 per cent stiffer, achieved principally by working on the alignment of the carbon fibre. Again this helped the set-up of the car because the stiffer the chassis is, the more responsive the car becomes to changes in spring rate, wheel angles and anti-roll bars. We also improved local stiffness at the suspension pick-up points, so the car worked very closely to the geometry on the drawing board. We paid attention to this in the F393 because with our previous car some teams had worked on reinforcing the rear suspension pick-up points, and gained some advantage.”
CW: “I think many people missed the importance of the Dallara gearbox. The Reynard had its own casing too, but the Dallara one was stiffer and fed suspension loads into the car better. It was designed for that car, whereas the Ralt’s Hewland, in particular, was a general-purpose gearbox. Reynard had taken one step in the right direction using its own casing, with Hewland internals, but still tended to bolt on brackets and extensions, which is not the best way of doing things.”
GPD: “F3 engines ran very close to the detonation point, but the driver could advance the ignition timing for short periods to increase power for overtaking. After about a lap the timing had to be returned to the regular setting otherwise the engine would detonate too much and destroy the pistons. The manufacturers were always looking to run their engines cooler, down to 65 deg C water temperature, to raise the detonation limit. Unusually our car’s air inlet was not in front of the sidepods but just under the tub good for cooling as well as for downforce, which perhaps allowed teams to play a little more with the ignition advance.”
CW: “My feeling is that it was probably rolling resistance rather than cooling that made the Dallara better at exploiting the power boost. Cooling was good but I don’t think it was exceptional otherwise Dallara would have continued with it. It worked, but it was dropped at the end of the year. The structural Integrity of the car the upright and wheel bearing configuration was key. You weren’t winding things up and scrubbing off speed through corners as a result. This meant that either you could run the boost for longer, watching the water temperature, or you could run more advance and get more power boost.”