Crisis? What Crisis?

According to the smaller F1 teams, the 1995 regulations are a logistical nightmare and impose a punishing construction deadline. Whatever, they will certainly create a new breed of cars…

Nothing is for ever. And great though the 3.5-litre normally aspirated Formula One proved in its life from 1989 to 1994, the tragic events of last season have swept it into the history books. For 1995 it is once again all change in Grand Prix racing, and the deadlines imposed for the creation of new cars are taxing even the best-funded teams. Down the ranks many of the smaller outfits are facing crisis.

We heard a great deal of wailing and the gnashing of teeth rivalled the bark of V10s on full noise at stages last year, when in the aftermath of the Senna tragedy FIA President Max Mosley announced his controversial new regulations, and in particular mandated the 10mm undercar plank from the German Grand Prix onwards.

As is so often the way in F1, that proved a storm in a teacup, because by Hungary most people had forgotten how impossible it was going to be to convert their cars at such a crucial stage of the year, had simply got on with it, and were even then beginning to claw back the lost downforce.

Now, however, the cries have a more genuine ring, for the new regulations call for rather more than just a bolt-on piece of Jabroc.

One of the principal villains is refuelling, so controversially re-introduced for 1994 and even more controversially retained despite the evidence of Hockenheim. Last year cars raced with the same sort of tankage they had had in the past, anything from 190 to 230 litres. This year the fuel tank needn’t be any larger than 100 litres, which means 11 building a new chassis to optimise the opportunity.

Then there are the safety measures. In addition to the 10mm plank, designers must now have an additional 50mm undercar step to reduce downforce further, and on top of that the new rules surrounding cockpits mean that nobody can get away with running old equipment. Everyone has to make a new car. And that may well be the death of teams such as Lotus and Larrousse.

The saving grace to the regulation changes is that, unlike those for Hockenheim last year, these have not been made at short notice. All teams were well aware before 1994 that things would be different in ’95. So what do the new rules entail?

Primarily, the most significant is that addition of another 50mm in the ‘planks’ beneath the cars. Those introduced successfully, it transpired last year started at the trailing edge of the front wheels and ran back to the leading edge of the rears, and the final section of it was allowed to taper upwards gently. After the furore at the Belgian GP, when Schumacher was disqualified for more than acceptable wear on his plank, titanium skidplates were eventually re-introduced from Jerez onwards, and these will remain this year. However, the new planks now run from the trailing edge of the front wheels right back to the rear axle centreline, and along a plank’s length a variation in width between 300 and 500mm is permissible according to individual team’s whims.

What is the net effect? With the old flat floors, of course, the entire undertray was a possible means of generating ground effect. With the 10mm planks the reduction in efficiency was negligible. But now the outer edges of the chassis undersides will be 50mm higher from the ground, and this effectively means that the section of the plank which now runs through the centre of the diffusor, will be an even more vital area of downforce generation.

Daniele Bernoulli was the man who came up with the venturi theory, which discovered that restricting airflow increases its rate and reduces its pressure, and if you imagine that chassis now sit higher off the ground and therefore allow the air beneath them to flow with less restriction, it’s easy to follow that it therefore moves at slower speed. When that happens there is a smaller pressure differential between air flowing beneath the car and that flowing over it. Instead of high pressure on top pushing the car into the ground the two areas are less disparate, so the downforce generated is effectively reduced.

The undercar changes have been complemented by serious restrictions to the wings too. The rear wing must now be mounted lower (though sadly not as low as the experimental wing tried on the Williams FW12 in 1988), while the flaps on the front wings are now much smaller due to a regulation limiting depth there to just 200mm. There are also further restrictions on endplates. Again, downforce will be reduced.

After the Senna and Wendlinger accidents great attention has been paid to enhancing driver protection. Only Sauber effectively changed its cars last year, adding higher cockpit sides to try to prevent the sort of head injury that Karl sustained at Monaco. Now cockpit sides must be 15cm higher, while the distinctive vee-shaped leading edges will also disappear as the FIA has ruled that the opening must also be increased by a similar amount. There must also be an extra 300mm of crushable space from the pedals to the front of the chassis, IndyCar style, to offer further protection.

All of this means that we shall be seeing a fresh-looking breed of F1 cars, that moves away from the pencil-slim elegance of, say, a McLaren MP4/9. Less of the driver will be visible, but steering wheels may now come back out from their hiding place beneath the upper body cowling. Sidepods will be longer and higher, more like those on the Benetton B189, in the interest of proferring further deformable structure to protect the driver in an impact of the sort suffered by Ayrton. Airboxes, which the FIA accepts are valuable advertising sites, will remain, but the size of the inlet area must be matched by an exit slot, severely limiting ram effect.

On top of all this, the mandatory crash tests are stricter than ever, and the overall result has been a serious headache for most teams. “The changes have had a significant impact on us,” said one team owner. “A lot of people don’t realise the enormous amount of work it takes to get the cars ready to ship out to South America by the end of February, especially with the new crash and squeeze tests. The majority of teams will barely be able to do all that by the end of the second month, and it would be no surprise to me to see some that don’t make It

“It’s quite possible that some may be forced into trying to obtain a waiver from the FIA on the cockpit dimension and protection requirements, so that they could run their old cars with the 60mm plank and 1995 aerodynamics, at least for the first couple of races.

“I’m not sure the FIA appreciates the full impact of the new regulations. Some of the small teams are either not competent enough or do not have the infrastructure and financial reserves to make their new cars in that sort of timescale.”

Another team’s representative said: “We are struggling with 100 people working flat-out, but we’ll make it. The worst that will happen to us is that we’ll only have two cars, not three, for the first race. There’s no question that we’ll be ready, but it’s very tough.”

Almost lost in the controversy over chassis regulations is the reduction of cubic capacity from 3.5 to three litres, though this in its own way is having an equally devastating effect on the companies that manufacture F1 powerplants. Again, almost everyone has opted for a full-blown new design, rather than compromising with simple capacity reduction techniques. A hidden side effect of the aerodynamic changes is that engine ancillaries such as fuel and oil pumps will have to be relocated, so that engines can be installed with the new plank without compromising the centre of gravity. Power will, of course, be reduced, possibly by as much as 60bhp, but the smaller capacity will allow engines to rev even higher, and real screamers of more than 16,500rpm are likely in due course as designers try to claw back the lost power by increasing the revs. Torque will also suffer, which could play further into Ford’s hands with its excellent V8, and which will certainly penalise Ferrari with its V12. Small wonder that even Maranello finally has a V10 ready for dynamometer testing.

None of this, as you might imagine, is doing anything to reduce the cost of competing at the sport’s highest level, nor to narrow the existing gaps between the Haves and the Have Nots, which was the FIA’s stated aim back in 1993.

We’ve all heard before that reduction in downforce will create more visually exciting racing; this time more than ever we fervently hope that proves to be the case. After 1994, Formula One needs a good season on every front.