The Formula One Scene

DURING the past season at most of the Grand Prix events there were meetings and discussions between everybody involved in the Formula One scene. Drivers had meetings, team chiefs had meetings, designers had meetings, sponsors had meetings, FOCA had meetings, FISA had meetings, the Press had meetings, the tyre people had meetings, the organisers had meetings and I think the only people who didn’t have a meeting were the mechanics, they were too busy working. Everybody was talking about the present of Formula One, the future of Formula One and a new Formula for 1985. Few of the meetings produced any worthwhile results and one wag in the paddock suggested a new Formula using hot-air engines, as he considered the paddock generated an inexhaustible supply of fuel. My reaction to the suggestion was “will we be able to use turbochargers?”

Some of the meetings never divulged their findings, others poured forth long-winded statements that said little, other made pompous announcements stating the blindingly obvious, like “Formula One is dangerous”. Most of the time people overlooked some very simple facts, such as a racing car only becoming dangerous when somebody gets in it and drives it. A stationary racing car with no driver in it is a remarkably safe contrivance, unlike a motorcycle which can fall over unaided, or a bridge that nature can cause to fall down. Another fact that many missed was that the whole point of motor racing is to win, and you do this by going farther and faster than anyone else in a given time, or you cover a set distance in a shorter time than anyone else. A designer’s object is to make his latest racing car faster than the previous one, otherwise he might as well keep the old one.

One of the best meetings was the one at Hockenheim where the engine designers got together for a round-table chat. Included were Forghieri (Ferrari), Duckworth (Cosworth), Hart (Hart), Martin (Matra), Chiti (Alfa Romeo), Rosch (BMW) and Metzger (Porsche). The question of the existing engine Formula was discussed and in particular the equivalency ratio of 1 1/2-litres with supercharging or turbocharging versus 3-litres normally aspirated, and there was unanimous agreement that it was unfair. It was also agreed unanimously that it was impossible to equate the two types of engine, and with one exception they agreed that unsupercharged, or normally aspirated engines should be banned from any future engine Formula! One need hardly mention that Keith Duckworth was the one exception, but even he saw the funny side of it afterwards. Everyone at that meeting was hell-bent on a turbocharged 1 1/2-litre engine programme, so if you cannot equate an unblown engine with a turbo engine, then the easiest and logical answer is to ban the oddity, and today the Cosworth V8 is the oddity in the field of engine design and development. Everyone was happy with 1 1/2-litres capacity, though most were prepared to accept a limit of 1.3-litres in 1985 if it was felt that 650 b.h.p. was too much. Nobody was interested in artificial power limitation by fuel-flow, air-flow any other bright idea. Keith Duckworth with his support for the unblown 3-litre engine, or fuel-restrictor or air-restrictor Formula was ploughing a lonely furrow among the people that matter.

There were a lot of suggestions from other meetings of non-technical people, but invariably they confused the expression “too dangerous” with “too difficult”. You don’t have to run at full throttle all the time, for as Mike Hailwood used to say when anyone said the Isle of Man TT circuit was dangerous, “. . the throttle works both ways . . .”. When one driver, apprehensive about third generation turbo-engines, said plaintively ” . . . it will be too dangerous. What’s going to happen when everyone has 650 horsepower?” One of the engineers in his team looked up and said quietly “we’ll find out who’s got throttle control, won’t we”.

The overall result of all these meetings was virtually nil, even though the FISA said decisions should be made by July in order to formulate a new Formula for 1985, by October 1982. July came and went, as did October and there was no 1985 Formula announced. The trouble was that there was no overall agreement and no acceptable ideas. Nobody wanted bigger capacity engines and nobody wanted smaller capacity, nobody wanted heavier cars, a few wanted lighter cars. Lots of people thought we needed some limitation other than engine capacity, and most people agreed on their dislike of cylinder capacity limits, but nobody could think of an acceptable alternative. So round and round we went all season and got nowhere.

All the designers are obsessed with “down-force” to increase the adhesion of the tyres, providing it by means of aerodynamics both above and below the car, the “above” being achieved by body shape, adjustable aerofoils front and rear and radiator air flow, and “below” by venturis under the car, sealed off by “skirts” rubbing on the ground along each side of the car. Because these rubbing “skirts” are not allowed to move it has become imperative to keep the car at a constant distance from the ground, so suspension movement has been virtually eliminated, with rock-hard coil springs and only the flexing of the tyres giving any form of bump absorption. This hard ride has played havoc with drivers physically, and many of them aggravate it by bouncing the cars over the bevelled kerbs that line corners these days. If they kept the cars off the kerbs many of them would have a much easier ride, but even so they get an awful jolting and jarring at the best of times. Some of them have suffered back troubles as a result and the FISA officials and the doctors of FISA have become increasingly concerned, but no designer was prepared to use softer springs and lose his “ground effect”. They were all designing cars to win the races, not lose them.

High cornering speeds, as a result of good “down force” and tyres that could use the increased loading, gave the brave driver the opportunity to exploit the ability of his car to the full. Not only in cornering, but also in braking, if he was brave and skilful enough to utilise the adhesion to the full. All this meant that if the driver made a mistake, or something failed on the car, the resulting accident could be quite big. Nobody was too worried about the outcome to the driver, for that was his known risk, but there was real fear that spectators could be injured or killed by an out of control car. We had two very lucky escapes during the season, one at Zandvoort when Arnoux’s Renault broke a wishbone and he nearly ended up in the crowd. The other was at Paul Ricard when Jochen Mass made a driving error and his March did end up in the crowd, mercifully with very few injuries. Race organisers and FISA officials know only too well that a major accident involving spectators in France or Italy could bring about a Government ban on all forms of motor racing. It happened in Switzerland in 1955 and could happen in France for sure, and very likely in Italy. While the German Government are not likely to act so desperately, nor the Austrian Government, you can be sure that the anti-motor racing newspapers would try to bring pressure to bear, especially in Germany. Of all the countries involved in Formula One racing I think Great Britain would handle a catastrophe involving the death of spectators in the most reasonable manner, but it would not be easy.

As a result of all this the FISA officials just had to find ways of reducing cornering speeds, it being agreed that circuits could not continue to modify their safety arrangements each year, or move the spectators further and further away from the cars. No overall policy came from all the meetings, apart from an undercurrent of apprehension and the realisation that we had in our midst a monster that we had created and of which we have all but lost control. The only real answer was to stop racing, but no-one was prepared to do that voluntarily. Since the first motor race in 1895 racing has only been stopped twice, and on both occasions it was war that stopped it. That was a way out that appealed to nobody.

Last month the FISA took a deep breath and made a ruthless decision. No aerodynamic “ground effect” would be permitted between the rear edge of the complete front wheel and the forward edge of the complete rear wheel. The “complete wheel” being defined as the wheel, complete with tyre. Also the underside of the car will be flat and all components visible under the car from the side shall be on the same plane, i.e. flat. Nothing will be allowed to fill the gap between the flat underside and the ground, i.e. no side-skirts or rubbing strips. In addition there were some more new rules, like a limit of four wheels, a reduction in overall weight, and weight to be taken with petrol in the tank. The first reaction from the teams was the usual one of disagreement, coupled with fatuous reasons why removing “ground effect” would make the cars dangerous. While Arnoux was testing a “flat-bottomed” 126C2 on the Ferrari test-track (they didn’t waste any time!), Forghieri was reported as saying “Why all the fuss, we all had flat-bottomed cars before Chapman introduced us to ground effect.”

During the initial reaction about shortage of time to design new cars for the new regulations Niki Lauda said “They have plenty of time, Bernie’s team designed and built the infamous ‘fan car’ in less than six weeks.” Eventually common-sense prevailed all round and the South African GP organisers agreed to move their race from February 12th 1983 to October 29th 1983, thus giving everyone another month before the first Grand Prix in 1983. This appeased the complainers and now it is nice to report that everyone is getting stuck in on designing new cars, or altering existing ones to comply to the “flat-bottom” rule and accepting the whole thing as an interesting challenge, by which they mean they are hard at work scheming up dodges to circumvent the rule, like getting “down-force” in front of the front wheels and behind the rear wheels. One team particularly hard-hit by the four-wheel limit is the Williams team, for they were busy testing and developing their six-wheeler, with four small driving wheels at the back, principally in the search for reduced frontal area and reduced drag. Any such idea is now banned.

Most teams were about to embark on a major change within their structure for 1983, so they are all very busy in this off-season and the following list details the changes team by team. The little Fittipaldi team has finally gone under, the receivers being called in during November, and Morris Nunn avoided the same fate by joining forces with Teddy Yip’s Theodore team. Alfa Romeo have officially withdrawn, but have passed all the cars and technical knowledge over to the Italian Formula 3 team known as Euroracing.

Williams: Their six-wheeled project has been banned. A modified FW08 will presumably be used to start the season, but after that we will have to wait and see. All the noises off suggest that they may be offered the Honda F1 turbocharged engine that looks as if it will be out on test in a F1 version of the Spirit Formula 2 car designed by Gordon Coppuck. Not surprisingly Williams is retaining the services of World Champion Keijo Rosberg, but he has unceremoniously dropped Derek Daly and taken Frenchman Jacques Laffite to replace him. For a team who spent much of 1982 being openly hostile to Renault and the French in general, even to the point of stupidity, like putting a notice in the window of their paddock motorhome which read “British Press welcome,” this employment of a French driver smacks of insincerity or muddled thinking. Presumably the sign will be changed to “British and French Press welcome”. Nobody doubts the worth of Laffite, for like Rosberg he is a natural charger but not an artist.

Brabham: Biggest shake-up in the Ecclestone team is the Ioss of the sponsorship from Parmalat, the Italian dairy-food manufacturer, who has left Formula One after it very satisfactory association with the Brahham team. They are about to spend their surplus money on other things unconnected with motor racing or sport. That Ecclestone is negotiating with a French sponsor is indicated by a sudden switch from Goodyear tyres to Michelin tyres. Nelson Piquet and Riccardo Patrese continue on the team strength and fervently hope that Paul Rosche and his men can get more reliability into the very powerful BMW 4-cylinder turbocharged engine.

McLaren:The future of McLaren International lies some months ahead, probably at Zolder, when Porsche say that their 80-degree V6 turbocharged engine is ready to race, installed in the car that John Barnard is busy designing around a mock-up installation engine already at the Woking works. Until this McLaren-Porsche is ready to race the team will run modified 1982 cars with Cosworth power, but Lauda and Watson must be looking forward to 650 b.h.p. of Porsche power with great interest.

Lotus:There is a busy season ahead for the Norfolk-based team for they have concluded a deal to use Renault V6 turbo-engines in 1983, starting off with one car using Renault power and one using Cosworth V8 power, but how de Angelis and Mansell will reconcile themselves to accepting decisions by Colin Chapman as to who drives what, we shall have to wait and see. The team have also arranged to change from Goodyear tyres to Pirelli radials.

Renault:After the open hostility between Alain Prost and Rene Arnoux following the latter’s refusal to acknowledge team orders at the French GP this year, the team were virtually obliged to terminate Arnoux’s contract. He had been offered a drive by Ferrari, so everyone was happy, but it could be that Renault have kept the wrong driver! Arnoux is a natural charger and a fighter, regardless of the odds. Prost is more calculating and less ruthless and will never indulge in “—– or bust” tactics. They have replaced Arnoux with Eddie Cheever. The only thing wrong with the Renault cars is their reliability. Without question they are fast, as witnessed by eleven pole positions in 1982 and leading fourteen of the sixteen races, but their reliability factor was abysmal.

Alfa Romeo:Officially the factory team has pulled out of Formula One, but Marlboro are sponsoring the Formula 3 Euroracing team to run the Alfa Romeos in 1983, as Ferrari used to run Alfa Romeo racing in 1929-1938. Marlboro’s backing ensures that Andrea de Cesaris stays with the Alfa Romeo cars, but Bruno Giacomelli has been sacked and Mauro Baldi taken on in his place. It’s all good sponsor-political stuff which should keep the team in turmoil. As they plan to use the V12 cars as well as the new V8 turbocharged-engine car, Euroracing will have a busy time, but at least they have retained the services of Gerard Ducarouge, who should be able to have a Ieavening effect.

Talbot:Like Alfa Romeo the Talbot concern have withdrawn from Formula One, as well they might, for it wasn’t doing them much good. Guy Ligier didn’t have very much during 1982 and now he has even less, for he has not only lost his sponsor but both his drivers have gone, Laffite to Williams and Cheever to Renault. At the moment Jean-Pierre Jarier has joined the team, but what sort of car Ligier will run in 1983 is anyone’s guess at the moment, as it is not certain that Matra are continuing.

Ferrari: There are not too many problems at Maranello at the moment, which makes a change. The 126C2 is powerful, fast and incredibly reliable. With Arnoux leading the team we can expect to see a Ferrari on pole position at most races, with Patrick Tambay not far behind. When Pironi is ready to return to racing there will be a Ferrari for him, and the signs are that he may start driving again about June or July and be ready to race in August, in which case three Ferraris on the grid in the Austrian GP won’t go amiss, and three Ferraris at Monza is almost inevitable and will be very popular with everyone except the other teams. Rumours suggest that the 1983 cars will be built for half-distance races, thus saving a lot of weight, and plans for pit-stops are in the pipe-line. After all, Ferrari got their long-distance sports car racing pit-stops down to a very fine art.

Of the other teams only minor changes are envisaged, most of them being unable to afford a major upheaval. Alboreto will continue with Team Tyrrell, Warwick stays with the Toleman-Hart team, Marc Surer stays with Arrows, ATS will run a single car for Winkelhock and Giacomelli will probably drive a lone Osella.

1983 looks like being a very interesting year.