The alternative 2017 F1 regulations


“You always have to look at Formula 1 from two sides. The purist, like me, looks at it from a technical point of view, and from a racing perspective because I like to see people racing. But these days you have to look, more than 50 per cent of the time, at the show. That’s very important because if you want to keep F1 with top viewing figures, keep the sponsors there and keep the roundabout going then you have to keep the show element.” These words came from the mouth of Gordon Murray in the autumn of 2012.

When Mark Hughes and Giorgio Piola outlined the new rules for 2017 a few weeks ago (the car will be faster, the rear wings lower) many suggested that the changes weren’t dramatic enough. “Fugly as hell,” were the words from one commenter. Next to the Brabham BT52, he’s got a point.

The reel of comments on the post itself, Twitter and Facebook reminded me of the feature in Motor Sport three years ago when I asked Gordon Murray to solve Formula 1’s problems (think lack of overtaking and expensive development). As ever he paused, thought about the problem and then proceeded to solve, in my eyes at least, all of F1’s woes in the space of an hour. Why is he not in charge?

“KERS is a step too far for me,” he said. “DRS is a gimmick. The one thing I really miss in Formula 1 are slip angles. Much of the braking is to do with the tyre because if you have lots of downforce and sticky tyres the difference between a car that brakes well and one that doesn’t is very small. If you had smaller tyres with harder compounds that increases braking distances and you’ve got more chance of locking wheels. I’m making these numbers up, but the difference between good and bad brakers and would be 10 metres instead of three or four.”

There’s another benefit as well: If you make the wheels smaller you also decrease the drag. “Say you were arriving at 200mph and had to brake to 100mph for the corner,” Murray explains, “well, now you’d be arriving at 210mph and have to brake to 80mph”.

Quickly we’re talking downforce and it’s about this point I remember thinking ‘that dictaphone better be recording’. My notes were scrawls, which would be impossible to decipher later. “If you want to make the cars harder to drive reduce the downforce, increase the slip angles. Give the designers a lot more freedom in the middle of the car – let’s call it the venturi bit – where you’d generate 80-90 per cent of the downforce. You could then dramatically reduce the front wing and the rear wing so that it was just a trim flap.

“Doing that means it’s unlikely you’d lose the balance of the car so easily and it would be better for the spectators. You get close to another car nowadays and you break your front wing. I think it’s totally ridiculous and it’s almost inevitable. When the front wings are in the way you’re not likely to bang wheels. That’s half the fun in racing! The other overtaking issue is that if anyone tries to make a pass they get a penalty. It’s beyond my comprehension, it really is. They need to watch MotoGP with knees and elbows…

“One of the biggest problems with modern F1 is that invariably there’s a medium-speed corner leading onto a straight.” If you follow a car through that medium-speed corner you’ll lose front downforce and either face understeer or have to drop back. “If you look at films of old Grands Prix you could tailgate someone through that corner and onto the straight. Halfway down you could pull out of the slip stream and overtake.”

Next up, refuelling… Ah yes, the method by which Grands Prix were split into three or four sprint races in which no-one could overtake. There has recently been chatter about bringing it back (how quickly memories fade), but thankfully the topic has been pushed onto the sidelines. So what does Murray think? After all, it was him – having had the idea while in the bath – that turned up in 1982 and decided to start refuelling Formula 1 cars mid-race.

“Refuelling? I can’t remember which idiot started that… What a stupid idea. When I introduced refuelling and tyre warmers it was purely to get an advantage and win the championship. Winning championships is all we did. I wasn’t thinking about the long-term problems – whatever it took, that’s what you did.” When current participants of Formula 1 help shape the rules, is it any wonder why they don’t always produce great racing? See editor Damien Smith’s solution to this exact problem here…

In the database: Brabham, 1983 drivers Nelson Piquet and Riccardo Patrese

Since my visit in 2012 Formula 1 has changed hugely. No longer do we have screaming V8s; we now have power units, batteries and motor generator units (kinetic and heat). “Going green?” Murray questioned back in 2012. “That element is rubbish. I just don’t see the point. The place to show green technology is somewhere like Le Mans.” The costs are now huge and even with very restrictive regulations budgets soar into the hundreds of millions. So, if we’re allowing designers more freedom in the centre of the car, how do you keep the costs down?

Podcast with Gordon Murray

“There’s not an easy solution for this one, but there are lots of ways to save costs in Formula 1 that the spectators would never know about. The purist designers are going to hate me for this, but… Carbon fibre suspension arms? They shouldn’t have flips and curves because strictly speaking something that isn’t part of the sprung mass of the car can’t have an aerodynamic influence. It’s the fan car rule all over again! I guess I got that rule changed… Article 3.7, I know it well. Anyway, make the suspension arms out of steel or aluminium – you’d save a fortune in the wind tunnel and you wouldn’t have carbon all over the track.” Add to that a restricted number of people to change tyres on the cars at pitstops, fewer team personnel at each race and a general move away from reliance on aerodynamics. After all, who is learning from F1 aerodynamics? “They don’t really feed into road cars,” admits Murray. “It did on the McLaren F1, but that was for 400 people”.

Everyone who’d like Gordon Murray to come back to Formula 1 in an advisory role and start penning the 2017 regulations say ‘aye’.


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