Formula One trend of design
As fast as the detail design work on Formula One cars progresses, so does the design of equipment for behind-the-scenes work and for pit and paddock work by the mechanics. The return of the centre-lock hub nut, as against the ring of five or six small nuts, brought many things in its train. As hub nuts become more deeply buried inside the wheel a means of moving them had to be devised and the pneumatic impact spanner came on the scene. This is a big thing like a power drill, driven by a reversible cornpressed-air motor within the gun, driving the socket spanner on the end. These spanner guns can be pre-set to a given torque setting so that all the mechanic has to do is put the socket over the hub nut and press the trigger of the gun. When the nut is tight a ratchet comes into play, and even if the compressed-air motor is still running the nut will not be tightened any more. Bottles of compressed air are used to power the gun and these are usually stationed in the pits with long flexible pipes feeding the gun.
The use of compressed-air bottles in the pits soon led to the invention of the compressed-air starter motor, which has almost totally replaced the electric starter, instead of a large battery on a trolley and a lead to plug into the car, the wear now is a portable bottle of compressed air and a push-on connector with a trigger to fire the air-motor on the car. Naturally compressed-air bottles were exhaustible and a means of refilling them was needed, so very soon air compressors appeared in some of the larger transporters and these were often driven by their own petrol engines. With a permanent source of compressed air available teams soon developed other uses for it and Brabham built an onboard jacking system for the Alfa Romeo powered cars. These rams were activated by plugging an air-line into a socket on the side of the car and a squeeze on the trigger and “Pssst” the whole car was up on three jacks, one in the nose and one each side at the back. With air guns dealing with the hub nuts and a compressed-air starter to fire up the Alfa Romeo engine, a Brabharn pit stop could justly be described as “. . . a lot of (hot) air . . .”.
Very early on the supply of compressed air made the mechanic’s life a lot easier for he was able to use air drills, especially when pop-riveting aluminium. Gone were the days of the hand-drill.
The latest move in the air-game is the introduction of compressed-air rams to lift the cars in the air when major work is required. As racing cars have become lower and lower the need for lifting them up onto trestles has become more necessary. For a long while mechanics would gather round one end of a racing car, give the old “Heave-ho” and while they held it up in the air someone would slide a trestle underneath. Two or three could lift the front end and four or six could lift the back end. Now, in the more organised teams, a mechanic clamps a framework onto the car, plugs in the air-line, presses the trigger and lifts one end of the car as much as three feet in the air and slides a trestle underneath. Taking the apparatus to the other end he can do the same, so that he can put a car up on trestles on his own, without having to disturb the rest of the team. The accompanying illustration shows the front end of a T4 Ferrari with a tubular trestle underneath. The framework at the front plugs into sockets on the monocoque and the operating ram is dipped onto this framework. Other ideas are to support the ram on a tubular tripod, lifting the car by a hook tor having a built-in jacking point to which the ram is attached directly.
In the same province, of major work on a car in the paddock, the days of seeing four mechanics struggling with the weight of a Cosworth V8, lifting it off the back of a monocoque are fast disappearing as is the sight of the Italians lifting a Ferrari engine. Nowadays, once the car is up on its trestles at a comfortable working height, a wheeled trolley is run under the engine, caretully designed to give mininium clearance under the sump, and the engine is slid back onto this trolley and wheeled away. Complete rear end assemblies, of gearbox, final drive unit and the rear suspension are dealt with in a similar manner. Due to all this sort of equipment the time taken to do a major job of work has been reduced drastically and is aided by a lot of aircraft knowledge on quick-action or “snap” connectors for various pipes and controls. Everyone uses high quality ratchet-socket spanners and T-handled Allen screw spanners, so that a Formula One car can be taken apart very quickly indeed. Because of all this advance in tools and equipment it is now possible to change a Cosworth or Ferrari engine in less than 1½ hours and this ability has been used many times recently when a car has suffered engine trouble in the morning test-session before a Grand Prix.
Other aspects that have changed in the paddock include the moving of wheels and tyres, most teams having wheeled trolleys for moving such items about. Some are motorised by a small industrial engine, some have diminutive Honda pick-up trucks. With as many as twenty spare wheels to deal with there is not time to carry each one across to the Goodyear or Michelin tyre depots and the trolley or platform truck movements around the paddock are continuous during practice.
For those who do not lift their cars for wheel changing by compressed-air mechanisms, the basic lever-jack is used, though here again each team designs and builds its own, dependent on the shape of the car underneath. For racing tyre changes large jacks are used at each end; they have a large flat plate on the operating end that lifts on the monocoque. Others have a bracket or knob built onto the car by which the lever-jack lifts the end of the car. For attention to an individual wheel some teams have small lever-jacks they operate under a lower suspension member, lifting only one corner of the car. With the advent of the aerodynamic side-skirt it is no longer possible to use jacks at the side of the cars.
Aerodynamic bodywork brings in a pit and paddock problem for the ideal design is to make the whole top of the car in one piece, but then you have the problem of what to do with the bodywork when you remove it to work on the mechanical components. As long ago as 1954 Connaught discovered that the one-piece aerodynamic bodyshell was more trouble than it was worth. If you could not afford to spare two mechanics to look after it when it was removed, someone would knock it over or run over it or kick it. When the Tyrrell team built their six-wheeler they had problems with the one-piece body when it was off the car. Ferrari went to a one-piece moulding for the top of the T4 and it was a common sight to see three mechanics holding it high above their heads over the car, like a great umbrella, while some small adjustment was made to the engine. So far no-one has come up with a mechanical solution to this problem, but no doubt they will when it is certain that the one-piece bodyshell is here to stay.
All along the pit lane and throughout the paddock in the highly inventive and mechanised world of Formula One there is interesting and intrIguing equipment to look at and study. It would he very easy to miss a Grand Prix while ferreting about among the tools and equipment used by a Formula One team. — D.S.J.