Formula One Trend of Design

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Cockpits and Controls

At a quick glance the cockpit and controls of a modern Grand Prix car look pretty basic and simple, a small thick-rimmed heavily padded steering wheel, a tachometer, an instrument or two and that’s about all. Indeed the cockpit looks too small for much else for the monocoques of most of today’s cars are tailored to fit, with a minimum of waste space. With the G-forces being generated today the driver doesn’t want to flop about inside the cockpit and the obligatory 6-point seat harness is an essential part of the equipment and needs to be done up tight to combat the forces of deceleration in particular.

With eighteen different designs currently taking part in Formula One racing space does not permit a description of all the cockpits and controls, so it must suffice to deal with just a few, notably the successful ones, taking the Championship winning T4 Ferrari first. The padded three-spoke steering wheel has an on/off ignition switch on the right-hand spoke. In front of the driver are three instruments, the central one a large-diameter tachometer with white figures on a black background, reading from 4 to 14. These numbers represent thousands of r.p.m. of the flat-12 engine and it is always fascinating to watch a Ferrari mechanic warming an engine. As the exhaust note rises and falls as he “blips” the throttle you see the needle of the tachometer just lifting off the stop at 4, or 4,000 r.p.m., yet it sounds remarkably healthy even so. Just what it is like at 12,200 r.p.m. only the driver can know, for by then people like me have to be standing well back.

On each side of the control tachometer is a smaller dial, each instrument being a dual one; that on the right registers oil pressure and fuel pressure, while the one on the left registers oil temperature and water temperature. Just above this double gauge is a red light which glows when the oil pressure drops to a dangerous level (it must have been glowing most of the time on Villeneuve’s car at the Watkins Glen race last October). To the right of the steering wheel is the short stubby gear lever for the 5-speed and reverse gearbox, working in a visible open gate. That reverse gear works was illustrated by Villeneuve during practice at Montreal when the pits exit was closed just as he was about to leave. Rosberg had crashed the Wolf and practice was suspended while the wreckage was removed. Rather than sit and wait for mechanics to come and wheel the car back, like most drivers do, Villeneuve engaged reverse and backed the car down the pit lane driving on the rear-view mirrors like a seasoned commercial lorry driver!

To the left of the steering wheel is another small lever, with a fore and aft movement, which is connected by a flexible cable control to the rear anti-roll bar, the movement being from hard to soft. Peculiar to the Ferrari is the system of inter-connection between the front and rear anti-roll bars by means of hydraulic lines. Where this hydraulic system passes through the cockpit, on the right-hand side, there is an on/off lever by the driver’s right knee and he can reach forward with his right hand to turn this inter-connecting system on or off as he wishes. This cockpit adjusting of the anti-roll characteristics of the suspension was pioneered by Lotus, and is now nearly universal with variations. It permits a sensitive and imaginative driver to balance the understeer/oversteer characteristics to a fine degree. On some drivers it is a complete waste of time.

Also on the left of the Ferrari cockpit is a neat panel containing six electric switches and these he can operate with his right hand, reaching across between his chest and the steering wheel. These switches consist of a starter button, for the on-board electric starter (many of the Cosworth-powered cars use a compressed air starter, so have a lever rather than a button to energise the starter). Then there is the switch for the high-pressure electric fuel pump for the fuel-injection system. Once the engine is up to working r.p.m. a mechanical pump supplies fuel pressure, which is why you often see a driver being given a pit signal reading PUMP OFF. for to leave it running could overtax the electrical generating system, which supplies the ignition. A third electric switch operates the on-board fire extinguishing system, a pressurised container releasing fire extinguishing fluid along a series of pipes to strategically placed jets; one onto the driver’s body, another onto the inlet pipes for the engine, another into the cockpit foot-well and so on.

There is also a temperature-sensitive system of relays in the circuit which start things going automatically if a fire breaks out anywhere, but the cockpit switch for the driver to use over-rides everything else. These fire precautions are not reckoned to quell a serious fire, but they give the driver a few seconds sporting chance to get clear. In the same way fire-resistant clothing does not make the driver immune to burns, it merely gives him some time to get clear. The fourth switch is an on/off one that controls the rev. limiter, which is an electrical device in the ignition system that can be pre-set to fade the sparks at any given engine r.p.m. It is not a cut-out system, as that would be too dicey, but when peak r.p.m. are reached the limiter reduces the spark so that the engine loses “pull” and will not over-rev. You can hear these things working plainly on a Cosworth engine, for a misfire comes into the harsh exhaust note.

The driver can switch the limiter off at his own peril, but sometimes a little over-revving is justified, but it is entirely up to his own judgement and if the engine blows up due to over-revving he has only himself to blame. The fifth switch is for the obligatory red rear light, mounted centrally somewhere above the gearbox and it is up to the driver to switch this on if visibility is really poor, especially in rain and spray. The sixth and last electric switch in the panel is actually a small button which is part of an automatic electric fuse. If a short-circuit occurs anywhere in the electrical system on the car, this fuse button pops up and isolates the electrical system from the battery. The driver can press the button contact down again and from the speed that it pops up again he can gauge the seriousness of the electrical fault. Usually an electrical failure caused by a broken wire somewhere is pretty terminal, but it is just possible that an intermittent fault could “jump” the fuse and by pressing it back in the driver could limp back to the pits for expert assistance. Reconnecting the circuit with this fuse-button could, of course, start a major fire so the driver has to use it with great circumspection. Not all cars are fitted with this system, though Lotus use it on the 80 model.

For his feet the Ferrari driver has the usual three pedals, clutch on the left, brake in the centre and accelerator on the right. Some cars like the Tyrrell 009 and the Ligier JS11 have a cable adjustment of the balance bar onto which the brake pedal pushes. This cable is turned by a knob on the instrument panel and allows the driver to vary the ratio of braking effort between the front brakes and the rear brakes. When the driver has stopped playing with all these knobs, switches, pedals and levers’, he can look ahead and concentrate on where he is going? Invariably a driver will fiddle about with things during practice, but once he gets stuck into some serious racing he often forgets about all the things he can play with in the cockpit and concentrates on the essentials like the steering wheel, the gear lever, the accelerator pedal and the brake pedal.

The Williams FW07 is the most successful of the Cosworth-powered cars at the moment, so a look into the cockpit of car No. 2 will be of interest. There are three instruments in front of the driver, as on the Ferrari, the central Smiths tachometer reading from 1 to 12, which means 1,000-12,000 r.p.m. and the red line is at 10,800 r.p.m., though “Super Cosworths” can go to 11,200 r.p.m. This dial is mounted, rotated slightly anti-clockwise, so that at peak revs the white needle is vertical, for that is all the driver is really interested in. To the right is an Italian combined fuel pressure and oil pressure gauge, and this is mounted upside down so that the needles are at the best angle to the driver’s eyesight line when all is well. On the left is a water temperature gauge, and under the instrument panel by the driver’s left knee is an oil temperature gauge, but it is not considered of major importance, the oil and water systems of the Williams working together through a heat-exchanger to keep both fluids at a nice even 90C when racing conditions are reached. Under the instrument panel by the driver’s right knee is a large orange light that glows when the oil pressure is low. The ignition on/off switch is on the right-hand spoke of the steering wheel, as on the Ferrari, but the on-board starter is powered by compressed air from a reservoir and is operated by a small lever on the right of the cockpit, through a cable system. The gear lever is on the right but has no visible gate, the gate mechanism being in the Hewland gearbox. This is a particular fad of Mike Hewland, who knows that his gearboxes are going to be installed in many different cars designed by many different designers, so if he left the layout and design of the gear-gate to the customer at least 50% would come up with a poor design and his gearbox would get the blame. With his system of internal gear-gate all the designers have to do is supply a tubular or rod linkage to the lever in the cockpit, and most of them manage to do this satisfactorily. It does mean, however, that the driver has to get accustomed to “feeling” his way around the non-visible gate and, personally, when I’ve driven with a Hewland gearbox I have trouble finding the gears, compared to a system with a visible gate, not that you actually look at the gate, but it is easier to feel.

On the left of the bulkhead is a square knob which controls the front to rear brake balance, rotating it clockwise puts more braking on the front and anti-clockwise puts more braking on the back. This is a simple cable control to the balance-bar down by the brake pedal, which is threaded so that rotating it by means of the cable moves it across the car relative to the pedal fulcrum; the ends of this balance bar are connected to the two hydraulic master cylinders, one for the front brakes and one for the rear. If the pedal is pushing on the centre of the bar you get equal forces at each end and thus equal forces on each master-cylinder. If it is moved right or left you get proportional differences at each end and subsequent differences on the two hydraulic systems. On the right of the bulkhead, just ahead of the gear lever, are four electric switches, which are (top to bottom), the electric fuel pump switch, the isolator or master-switch for the whole electrical system, the rev. limiter on/off switch and the rear-light switch. These are labelled PUMP, ISOL, LIM and LIGHT, respectively.

There are no anti-roll bar adjusters in the cockpit for, as Patrick Head says, “they would only encourage the drivers to mess about with them, and they seldom know what they are doing. I’d rather have my drivers get on with their driving.” On top of the instrument panel is a red plastic “thimble” with a small lever in it. Below it is the simple word FIRE, in white letters on a red background. Patrick Head is not one for complicating things.

On some Cosworth-powered cars, such as the Tyrrell, there is an extra switch labelled RETARD. This is in connection with a Magneti-Marelli ignition system being tried this year by some teams. The normal Cosworth DFV uses a Lucas ignition system with an automatic retarding mechanism for starting, the Italian system runs on a fixed advance setting and for all practical purposes the DFV is happy with this. Just occasionally the engine might not fire instantly on full advance, so an over-riding control is fitted that retards the spark electrically. The switch is spring loaded so all the driver has to do is press it until the engine starts, and then release it. On the Lotus 79 this switch is under the crash-bar behind the driver’s head and if there is not instantaneous starting in the paddock or pits, you will see a mechanic or an engineer lean over and press the retard switch. This way you know what type of ignition system the Cosworth DFV is using, without looking at the engine!

Basically, all the other cockpit layouts are similar to the two described in detail with a few variations, such as the positioning of the electric switches, or the methods for adjusting anti-roll bars. Lotus use a sliding knob arrangement, notching with a series of slots for the rear adjustment, and a push-pull control for the front adjustment. Brabham use a screw control with a small bar that you turn. Renault have an extra gauge in the cockpit registering boost-pressure from the turbo-chargers. Brabhams used to have an Alfa Romeo badge in the centre of the steering wheel! — D.S.J.

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