Evolution is the word most often used to describe recent F1 design. But in the finalé of the Pomeroy Index revolutions still take place, and the cars stay quick though the rule-makers try to slow them

Words: Mark Hughes. Photography: LAT

1996 Williams FW18

Index figure: 229.3

Virtual lap time of the current Spa circuit: 1m 49.6s 

A logical evolution of the FW17 was enough to give Williams a 1-2 in the drivers championship with Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve. The RS8 derivative of the Renault 67-deg V10 was reckoned good for 730bhp. 

1997 Williams FW19

Index figure: 231.4

Virtual lap time of the current Spa circuit: 1m 47.4s

With Bridgestone’s entry, the tyre war was back on after a five-year Goodyear monopoly. There were small restrictions to the rear wing, but nothing like enough to overcome the gains made by the softer tyres. The FW19 was another evolution, although Renault’s new engine with a wider-angle (71-deg) vee to lower the centre of gravity. It was also 14kg lighter and produced around 740bhp at 17,000rpm. 

1998 McLaren MP4/13

Index figure: 230

Virtual lap time of the current Spa circuit: 1m 48.9s

With the tyre war slashing lap times, the governing body acted with radical new regs for ’98. The maximum track was reduced to 1.8 metres (from 2.0) and grooved tyres were specified, with four grooves in the rear and three in the front, reducing the amount of rubber on the ground. This placed more emphasis on mechanical grip, something grasped by the McLaren design team better than anyone else. Against the fashion they lowered their nosecone, gaining more in mechanical grip than they lost in aero, while new tyre supplier Bridgestone contributed with a front tyre that used the maximum width permissible despite the drag penalty. Combined with Adrian Newey aerodynamics and powerful (760bhp) Ilmor Mercedes V10s, it was the class of the field.

1999 McLaren MP4/14

Index figure: 229.5

Virtual lap time of the current Spa circuit: 1m 49.4s

Goodyear’s withdrawal meant the end of the tyre war. An extra groove on the front tyres further controlled lap times. McLaren produced an aggressive development of the previous year’s car and Ilmor provided a lightweight (under 110kg) and powerful (785bhp at 16,700rpm) engine. The light weight enabled the team to use as much as 60kg of ballast – weight distribution could be tailored to each circuit.

2000 McLaren MP4/15

Index figure: 230.9

Virtual lap time of the current Spa circuit: 1m 48.0s

Faster only by a tiny margin than the title-winning Ferrari, the MP4/15 had its cockpit and sidepods further back than the ’14, allowing a less draggy shape and a natural weight distribution more in keeping with the hard compound of the standard-issue Bridgestones. The Ilmor’s weight was now down to 100kg and power was nudging 800bhp. 

2001 Ferrari F2001

Index figure: 233.7

Virtual lap time of the current Spa circuit: 1m 45.1s

Michelin’s re-entry meant a tyre war. To combat expected gains, new rules increasing the height of the outer front wings limited their effectiveness. The FIA re-allowed traction control, banned for the previous seven years. By mid-season F2001 had clawed back all the downforce lost to the new regs. Its engine was giving 820bhp by year-end, though this was some way behind the new BMW motor.

2002 Ferrari F2002

Index figure: 235

Virtual lap time of the current Spa circuit: 1m 43.7s

The fastest F1 car of all time

With the tyre war making compounds ever softer and no difference in compound between front and rear allowed, design teams were moving weight distribution as far forward as possible. The F2002 featured a super-compact seven-speed gearbox and the team used up to 90kg of moveable ballast. The compact ’box also allowed a significant increase in diffuser performance. By the end of the year the V10 was matching the BMW’s 850bhp. It was the dominant car.

2003 Ferrari F2003-GA

Index figure: 233.3

Virtual lap time of the current Spa circuit: 1m 45.5s

New sporting regs that stipulated qualifying with enough fuel to complete the first stint of the race effectively made the cars significantly heavier than before in qualifying. Rear wings were limited to two upper elements rather than three. A longer wheelbase gave it a slightly more rearward weight bias, making it difficult to get enough heat into the front Bridgestones for the new one-lap qualifying format.  

2004 Ferrari F2004

Index figure: 234.7

Virtual lap time of the current Spa circuit: 1m 44.0s

Despite the new one-race endurance engine regulation, the motors were now producing 900bhp at over 19,000rpm, despite weighing only 90kg. The F2004 had a shorter wheelbase than the GA, moving the weight distribution forwards and helping its qualifying performance. Bridgestone improvements contributed towards the car’s dominance. 

2005 McLaren MP4-20

Index figure: 234.3

Virtual lap time of the current Spa circuit: 1m 44.4s

Honda won the horsepower race, with 965bhp by the end of the final year of the 3-litre formula, despite a two-race endurance requirement. Renault won the championship.

But McLaren-Mercedes had the fastest car. Tyre changes were banned, leading to harder compounds, restrictions to the dimensions of the front wing and underbody diffuser were imposed, and the rear wing was brought forward. The limitation of front downforce proved very difficult to overcome, but Adrian Newey’s MP4-20 did it very successfully, giving the car a significant aero-efficiency advantage over the competition. A seamless gearshift kept power applied to the wheels even during upshifts. 

2006 Ferrari F248

Index figure: 232.8

Virtual lap time of the current Spa circuit: 1m 46.0s

A swingeing capacity reduction to 2.4 litres brought power down to around 750bhp. On the other hand, tyre changes were allowed again and the smaller radiators needed by the engines meant better aerodynamics. These changes added around 1.5sec to lap times. The Ferrari lost the title to Renault but had a performance edge, adopting a Toyota-inspired central pillar for the rear wing to free the end plates from any structural duty, enabling them to be fashioned to scavenge the outer channels of the diffuser harder.