The Trend Of Racing-Car Design

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The last time that I wrote an article under the above title was in Motor Sport for February 1955, and at that time the current Formula 1 for Grand Prix cars had been in existence just one year. The conclusion was that design trends were flourishing and there were seven existing Grand Prix makes participating and the promise of three more. That was two full seasons ago, and during that time racing-car design rose to a peak and then began to dwindle, so that now we have very little that is entirely new that was not dealt with then. Detail design work continued at high pressure, and development work produced wonderful results, so that lap speeds were continually improving and power outputs are still rising, but the majority of the work has been on developing basic ideas that were formulated in 1954, rather than any completely new designs being introduced.

In view of this high-pressure development work, it might be as well to review the past two seasons of Grand Prix racing and see what took place and what we are left with at the beginning of the 1957 season. The 1955 season saw Daimler-Benz carry out an enormous development programme on their Type W196 racing car, and the Lancia firm beginning to achieve results with their D50 model, only to withdraw from racing halfway through the season and give all their material to Ferrari. The Scuderia Ferrari itself spent the whole of 1955 going slower and slower until their four-cylinder Type 555 Super Squalo cars were completely outclassed, while their direct rivals, Maserati, continued to plod along with the fundamentally sound 250/F1 six-cylinder, not making any great changes, but managing to keep in the picture by reason of small but steady increases in performance. Gordini was left completely behind in the design race, until he produced a brand new eight-cylinder car, full of interesting ideas but not fast enough to keep up with German and Italian development. Great Britain began to get a foothold in the Grand Prix field, the four-cylinder Vanwall showing promise, the Connaught being a sound contestant but rather under-powered and not taking on a very ambitious programme, and the end of the season saw the new four-cylinder B.R.M. make a brief but shattering appearance, with every possibility of becoming a contender for the leading honours. Taken all round the 1955 season was most encouraging from a technical aspect, the Daimler-Benz engineers in particular providing enormous interest, for they were fast on the way to having cars designed for individual circuits. Using the W196 basic design, they built cars of three differing lengths, to suit circuits such as Monte Carlo, Nurburgring and Monza and they developed close on 300 b.h.p. from their straight-eight 2,500-c.c. engine with complete reliability. The complications of fuel-injection and desmodromic valve gear were as an open book to them and they made vast improvements during the 1955 season to the roadholding and steering of their cars. In addition they were able to spend time on the development of such extra items as air-brakes, anti-brake snatching devices, mechanisms for clearing bric-a-brac from the radiator, shock-absorbers with cockpit adjustment for varying fuel loads and numerous other small details for achieving perfection in a Grand Prix car.

The 1956 season saw a complete change in the Grand Prix scene: firstly Lancia withdrew, and then Mercedes-Benz, and on paper it appeared that the British cars were going to replace these two makes in the field. Since the introduction of the present Formula, in 1954, Mercedes-Benz and Lancia had been the only firms to introduce startling new designs for Grand Prix racing; the 1956 season saw Vanwall and B.R.M. about to launch new designs into the picture. The Scuderia Ferrari took over all the Lancia cars and started on a rapid development programme, Maserati were completely stuck with the 250/F1 basic car, Connaught were little changed since the beginning of the Formula except for throwing away the all-enclosed streamlined body, Gordini’s new eight-cylinder car was slow in progressing and the Bugatti was an unknown quantity. The Vanwall and B.R.M. were both known but untried cars, and 1956 looked as though it would be a year for them both to make good headway. By the end of the season the picture was most uninspiring, for though there had been a good deal of detail development work there was not a feeling that Grand Prix car design had made any real forward progress. However, at the time of writing we are on the threshold of a possible revival, for most of the existing cars have reached the limit of their development and we can anticipate some new basic ideas appearing. Maserati are about to launch an entirely new 12-cylinder engine into the fight, Connaught are once more toying with plans for a rear-engined car, Vanwall have ideas for a new car of much reduced size and using some rather revolutionary principles, and in the offing is Formula II. While this new Formula for 1,500-c.c. racing cars is primarily intended to provide another class of racing, it has already drawn designers’ attention to the possibility of a small and compact 1½-litre racing car being capable of returning a lap time on certain circuits at least the equal of many current 2½-litre cars. The Formula II Cooper-Climax has shown great possibilities in prototype form, and the latest version, with 140-b.h.p. twin-cam CoventryClimax engine in the rear, looks so much like a scaled-down 1939 Auto-Union that one cannot help but wonder whether a 2½-litre Lancia/Ferrari or Maserati would be any quicker round a twisty circuit, such as Monte Carlo or Oulton Park. During 19535 Daimler-Benz showed the way to building individual “cars for courses” and it could well be that a sound Formula Il design could hold its own with the existing Grand Prix cars. Enzo Ferrari predicted last autumn that if his proposed 1,500-c.c. V6 received sufficient development work during the next two years it would be capable of lapping the Nurburgring as fast as the present 290-b.h.p. Grand Prix car, and that is quite fast by any standards.

The 1956 season saw a complete disappearance of Ferrari cars as such, all the Maranello work being put in on the D50 Lancia V8 design, so that the four-cylinder train of thought started by Lampredi came to a complete halt, and he left the Scuderia to apply his brains to turbines at the Fiat factory.

We have now reached the situation where we still have seven different approaches to building a Formula 1 car, exactly as we had in February 1955, but now there is not quite the same potential in the development possibilities. From Italy, who swept the board during the past season, we have Lancia/Ferrari and Maserati; from Great Britain, who supplied the only opposition, we have Vanwall, Connaught and B.R.M.; and from France, who made up the number, we have Gordini and Bugatti. It is interesting that the two French cars are the only completely new designs to enter the Grand Prix race during the past two years, the Vanwall being basically a development of 1954 and the B.R.M. being well on the way at that time. It is hardly worth while dissecting the seven current contenders piece by piece because the resultant analysis would read very much the same as in 1955, but we can add to the knowledge we had then by valuing the new designs, and viewing the development changes on the cars that have been in existence during 1954-56.

Taking first the engine, it is significant that both Gordini and Bugatti produced straight-eights, supporting Mercedes-Benz on this point, while Maserati are changing to 12-cylinders and the only supporters of four-cylinder layouts, which at one time held sway in Grand Prix racing, are the British. Vanwall and B.R.M. both use this cylinder layout us a basic design principle. while Connaughts are stuck with a very old basic design for which they have no replacement as yet, but they would certainly welcome more cylinders. Ferrari has dropped all ideas of four-cylinders, being more than content to develop the V8 Lancia engine, but which line of thought is correct is impossible to decide. Both Vanwall and Ferrari have 290 b.h.p. from their engines, the first a four-cylinder and the second a V8, while Mercedes-Benz had a similar output from their straight-eight. Neither of the French’ cars can come anywhere near this power output. The question of fuel-injection, so ably dealt with by Mercedes-Benz, has occupied the thoughts of other designers, and Connaught, Maserati and Vanwall changed to this system in place of carburetters. After many abortive attempts Connaught and Maserati abandoned their projects and fitted Weber carburetters, as used by all other Grand Prix cars with the exception of Lancia, and only Vanwall was able to perfect an injection system. This is of the high-pressure Bosch type, and it is no secret that Daimler-Benz engineers helped very materially in developing the system on the four-cylinder Vanwall engine. Whatever the type of engine used, it is still, with one exception, placed in front of the driver in an upright and very conventional position. The exception is Bugatti who places his eight-cylinder engine transversely across the rear of the chassis, just in front of the back axle assembly. The Formula II Cooper, as with almost all cears from that firm, has its engine behind the driver and in front of the rear axle, but nevertheless in an orthodox upright position. The Lancia/Ferrari retains the layout of the V8 being turned slightly on the longitudinal axis of the car in order that the propeller-shaft can run alongside the driving seat, and Maserati built two experimental 250/F1 cars with a similar engine disposition. On all these engines, neerlless to say, conventional water cooling with heat-dissipating radiator is adhered to. Chassis frames continue to be of the popular and sound “space-frame” variety, even Connaught s at last succumbing and building an experimental model with this construction. The only adherent of the “ladder”-type, using very large-diameter tubular side-members, being Gordini with his eight-cylinder car. In the gearbox department there have been, few changes: Vanwall, Maserati and Gordini adding an extra bottom gear to existing designs in order to help standing starts, Lancia and Bugatti having five-speed gearboxes from their conception, and B.R.M. and Connaught being content with four-speed, the last-named being alone in using a pre-selector-type mechanism.

In front suspensions great improvements have been made, but in all cases due to detail development work, such as lighter units, different springing mediums, roll-bars and shock-absorbers, the majority of the cars sticking to the double-wishbone layout. In actual fact, the only cars not to use this system are the two French ones, both of these breaking entirely new ground on the subject of front suspension. Bugatti confounds everyone, and possibly themselves, by using a rigid beam axle layout, giving the tubular beam very rigid location by using some the Dion geometry, and Gordini has i.f.s. giving constant track and wheelbase by using a Watts-linkage geometry of fore and aft swinging arms. Vanwall change from transverse leaf-springs to coil-springs, and B.R.M. from oleo-pneumatic struts to leaf-springs, while the rest remain unaltered. At the back end the de Dion layout is the most popular, once again a French car being the only adherent of something different. In this case it is Gordini who uses a similar layout to his front suspension, Bugatti following general trends in using de Dion.

 

 

Viewing suspension systems as a whole, it is interesting to see that the two French cars are the only ones to show any variation and they both have systems that are identical, geometrically, front and rear. While Connaught, B.R.M., Vanwall, Maserati, Ferrari and Bugatti all use a de Dion layout, the methods used and the springing medium are many and varied, there still being no definite trend in the designing of a de Dion rear-axle assembly. B.R.M. have followed the Maserati lead in having the cross-tube in front of the wheel centre line, and they have taken a leaf from the Connaught book in the matter of sideways location, using a link system that gives the effect of a Panhard rod. Vanwall are alone in having a Watts-linkage layout pivoted on the centre of the rear-mounted tube for providing side location. Maserati, Bugatti and Lancia/Ferrari all using a forkwith sliding block location. Bugatti and Vanwall use coil-springs, B.R.M., Maserati and Lancia/Ferrari use transverse leaf-springs, unanimously placed high above the axle assembly, and Connaught stand by torsion-bars, these also being used by Gordini for all of his four independently-sprung wheels. It is worth mentioning here that Ferrari made a brief and unsuccessful attempt at fitting independent rear suspension to one of his Lancia/Ferrari cars, this being of the swing-axle layout, but, apart from this, rear suspensions have been singularly unimaginative. One item that is gaining favour is the use of negative camber on the rear wheels in conjunction with a de Dion layout, and while at the moment it is limited to the three British cars, one can anticipate that the Italians might follow this lead when they are thoroughly beaten by a green car. As this idea for increasing the cornering power of the outer tyre on a corner emanated from a young British designer, it is not surprising to see it being used on Vanwall, Connaught and B.R.M. and appearing in that order.

The matter of braking now shows a lead to the disc type, these being used by Vanwall, Connaught, B.R.M. and Gordini, while Bugatti is toying with the idea, and only Maserati and Ferrari concentrating on drum brakes, though they still manage to show a marked superiority and comparative lack of trouble compared with the disc types from Goodyear, Dunlop, Lockheed, Girling and Messier; the Maserati drum brakes being designed by Maserati and the Lancia/Ferrari drum brakes being designed by Lancia and Ferrari, in which fact might lie a moral. Apart from Vanwall, B.R.M. and Gordini, all brakes are mounted on the hubs, in spite of various advantages proved and demonstrated by Mercedes-Benz where all four brakes were mounted inboard when space permitted. Vanwall have their rear ones inboard, as has Gordini, while B.R.M. probe new ground by having a single disc brake on the rear of the gearbox, braking stresses being taken through the half-shafts and the transmission. While inboard brakes get rid of a great deal of unsprung weight, which nowadays is very vital, this type of mounting does bring other problems in its wake, not the least being the added strain on the half-shafts and universal joints.

Weight distribution still remains a provocative subject, and the choice of high or low polar-moment still depends on the individual designer. Daimler-Benz engineers were all in favour of high polar-moments, as are Vanwall, Gordini and Maserati, while Lancia, Bugatti and Connaught favour a low polar-moment, as did Lampredi with the Super Squalo Ferrari four-cylinders. Ferrari’s new designers Ballentani and Massimino have converted the Lancia cars to a higher moment, and as they were previously on the Maserati design staff this seems reasonable. Chapman, who is advising on the Vanwall design, is greatly in favour of low polar-moments, as witness his successful Lotus sports cars, but he is up against the Vanwall design staff, who favour the opposite layout. Another problem facing all designers is that of drivers, for while a car might be designed theoretically correct, it might not suit the works drivers and the result would be a failure. This was part of the trouble with the original Lancia D50 and was also the reason for the success of the W196 Mercedes-Benz, for the Daimler-Benz engineers were willing to modify their ideas in order to take into account the human-element of driver and they struck a compromise between what they knew was theoretically correct and what they knew a driver was capable of using in the way of roadholding. It is gratifying that an entirely similar outlook is held by Chapman, who is capable of pure design yet allowing a factor X for the inabilities of the human machine, even to the Fangio or Moss standards.

When last making a review of design trends, it appeared that aerodynamics were going to play an important part in Grand Prix racing and the trend looked as though it was going towards the all-enveloping aerodynamic bodywork. At that time both Connaught and Mercedes-Benz used total enclosure, but since then both firms discarded it for purely practical reasons, such as maintenance, vulnerability, driver vision and so on. In place of this trend, detail work on smoother air-flow has made great progress, and the most outstanding example is the 1956 Vanwall. This had a smooth exterior with the absolute minimum in the way of scoops, louvres or apertures, and it is great credit to designer Frank Costin that the shape of the 1956 Vanwall never required to be altered, whether it was racing at Monaco or Monza, and it was a complete vindication of the application of aerodynamics to a racing car, even though the wheels remained in the air-stream. It is a significant detail that this aerodynamicist stems from the Lotus design team, headed by Chapman, who was responsible for the 1956 Vanwall chassis. The Vanwall started a definite trend in attention to aerodynamic detail, and such things as better nose cowlings, underbonnet air-flow, high cockpit sides and wrap-round Perspex screens all appeared on rival makes after the initial appearance of the Vanwall in its 1956 form. This trend has now made the use of a full-scale wind-tunnel almost imperative to the present-day Grand Prix car designer, and of this fact Daimler-Benz were aware in 1953 when designing the W196, while shortly afterwards Connaughts went so far as to build themselves a wind-tunnel, though they fell into the error of trying to learn from models, which for speeds of up to 200 m.p.h. is not a practical proposition. It is interesting that neither Ferrari nor Maserati have ever given a thought to wind-tunnel testing of their Grand Prix cars when it is realised that, not far away in Italy, Moto-Guzzi have a full-size wind-tunnel for developing their very successful racing motor-cycles.

Summing up the present situation on the trend of racing-car design one can say that there is still a gratifying variance of opinion amongst designers, though over the past year there has not been much in the way of major changes. However, detail work has been very active and the must pleasing aspect of the whole of Grand Prix racing is that there are still many different approaches to achieving the same answer, and just at present no particular design shows any great superiority. It is this complete and utter freedom of thought that makes Grand Prix racing the stimulating science that it is, and when one realises that all the designers are inevitably hampered by a shortage of time, materials or money, it makes interesting conjecture to imagine what Grand Prix racing could be like if given a free hand, as is the aircraft design world in Great Britain and America.—D. S. J.