MPH: The technical battles raging on behind-the-scenes in Formula 1
Amid the flurry of nine grands prix in 11 weekends, there have been a few developments in the regulations and as we catch a rare pause for breath before next…
Adrian Newey isn’t a genius – but only because overuse of the word reduces the wiggle room required should you ever wish to debate the merits of Leo da Vinci, Wolfie Mozart or Bertie Einstein. He is, however, outstandingly brilliant in his field: the most successful designer in Formula 1’s history – though I’d argue that Lotus’s Colin Chapman was more inspired and inspiring.
Since Newey shoehorned Ivan Capelli and Mauricio Gugelmin into the shrink-wrapped cockpits of his Bugatti-blue Marches of the late 1980s, F1 has marched to his wind tunnels’ thrum. He smiles thinly, thinks deeply; sketches thoughtfully, draws 1:1; and oversees the macro while managing the micro. Function is king in F1, yet he has sufficient spare capacity to respect form: his output has in the main been more handsome than his rivals’ too.
And his thorough appreciation of F1’s history and regular impacts on its present gives his prognosis of it gritty gravitas: he’s concerned that engines will become the deciding performance factor when the 1.6-litre V6 turbos are introduced in 2014, that one manufacturer’s mill will gain an unbridgeable advantage.
Well, tough. He’s had his fun.
Downforce has held F1 in its unseen grip since 1968 – except for the brief period when Gordon Murray designed the simplest F1 car of the modern generation: the beautiful, flat-bottomed Brabham BT52/B dart that Nelson Piquet pointed and squirted to the 1983 world title.
That brief return to a surfeit of power – 1000+bhp in qualifying trim – over grip is my favourite period of modern F1, a harking back to the pre-war Silver Arrows, those new-era metallurgical marvels on their Stone Age canvas tyres.
The next generation of F1 turbo, with its Green eye, will be far removed from the wick-em-up-chuck-‘em-away Q-bombs of the 1980s, and as such will provide a much-needed and welcome change in techno and eco outlook, plus 750bhp when their energy-recovery systems – both Kinetic and Thermal – make hay with their harvested grunt.
Newey no doubt sees this wider picture. It would be remiss of him, however, not to protect his patch. Say he gets a concession for a bigger front wing from this then his ‘work’ here might be done.
He’s not alone. Mercedes-Benz motorsport boss Norbert Haug can also see the wider picture, and no doubt appears more chilled about it because he feels that his engineers are ahead of the next game. In contrast to Merc’s, Red Bull’s Renault KERS has been hit-and-miss –perhaps because of the stricturous packaging enforced on it by Newey, never the system’s strongest advocate.
His ‘warning’ reminds me of the furore surrounding the introduction of the 1.5-litre F1 in 1961. The Brits grizzled about it for years in advance, then ran their concurrent, half-cocked Intercontinental Plan B – until V8s from BRM and Coventry Climax gave them the power parity their superior F1 chassis’ required. Then everything was hunky-dory, thank you – until the 3-litre F1 was introduced in 1966.
The mood was the same, albeit underscored by a longer-term plan courtesy of Messrs Ecclestone and Mosley, when FOCA ran its DFV-only 1981 South African GP. Its result was subsequently erased from the record book, but it did its trick: the first Concorde Agreement was signed the next month. The remainder of the revolution, however, was then put on hold while the teams went about their core business (mainly with turbo power) because that’s the bit that’s televised. At some point you just have to get on with it.
Last year’s switch from the proposed four-cylinders with a 12,000rpm limit to V6s revving to 15,000, plus a year’s relaxing of the deadline, means that the compromises have been made. Now is the time to close the stable door before the horse trading bolts again.
Don’t tell me what’s wrong with the new formula. Instead outline its ‘problems’ and your solutions. Fascinate me rather than infuriate me. For I have never been more impatient to see the next Newey design.
And surely I can’t be the only one excited by a change of regulations. The engines will be cutting edge, as compact and as tightly packaged as the regulations allow, and in theory have a broader usable range for racing and sufficient decibels and turbo whistles to provide the tingle factor. Yes, it might take a year for the new order to settle down, and Mercedes-Benz might build another stromlinienwagen or Ferrari another ‘Shark Nose’ before going on to dominate, but statistics strongly suggest that Newey’s dynamic aero, especially when combined with Renault motivation, will be a short-odds long-term bet for success. If indeed it takes that long.
Mr Newey, you are a hard man to ignore, but on this occasion and topic I am deaf to you.
Two more things: Chapman used to infuriate Cosworth’s Keith Duckworth with design sketches that included a skew-whiff box that had the word ‘engine’ jotted within; and it was Duckworth, no fan of turbos, who 30 years ago proposed the introduction of a fuel-flow formula, an idea that will come to fruition in 2014.
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