The 2014 Formula 1 cars aren’t quick enough, according to one impatient driver. Not only is their downforce insufficient, but also Pirelli’s latest batch of rubber is too hard.
The fastest time during the recent test at Jerez – set by McLaren’s impressive rookie Kevin Magnussen – was eight seconds shy of the Spanish venue’s best. (Michael Schumacher recorded that lap record during one of the most static seasons in F1 history: 2004. Hardly a ringing endorsement for outright speed.)
How speed is achieved is, within reason, more important than the process’s end result. The scientists won’t like it, but looking fast is more compelling than being fast.
That Fernando Alonso, the most complete member of a talented generation, reckons himself very busy in his Ferrari F14T is, therefore, a good sign.
According to the two-time world champion, the new cars are less physical to drive.
He says that they possess “more criticality in terms of driving and having control in high-speed corners and with traction.” Translation: a surfeit of torque for the grip available.
And he insists that they are fun to drive.
Marvellous. The sport could do with more smiles per hour.
The impression given is that he is very much looking forward to a more cerebral, seat-of-the-pants campaign. No doubt self-interest and mind games are involved – it sounds like racing from right down his alley (plus Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull is struggling) – but his mention of the “unchanged emotion” of being at the limit is both encompassing and encouraging.
“For me, the main thing is to race.”
Actually, these were the words of Jean Behra, unexpected supplier of Latinate calm amid the British storm stirred by the announcement, in October 1958, of a new F1 for 1961.
The timing wasn’t great admittedly when CSI President Auguste Pérouse stood to impart the unappetising news that future F1 cars were to be heavier and less powerful. For he did so at the RAC Club on Pall Mall immediately after British motor racing had celebrated its breakthrough season: Mike Hawthorn, Vanwall and Cooper – new champions all.
Insults were howled and brickbats – maybe even the odd bread roll – were hurled in furious response.
The 2.5-litre – 750cc if supercharged – F1 had already survived five seasons, but those with a vested interest were unwilling to let go. This stubbornness was the genesis of the 3-litre Intercontinental Formula as a rival to F1 in 1961 – by which time Enzo had thought better of it.
His volte-face condemned ICF to a short life. (Ferrari’s overwhelming political clout is a well-established motif.) It had been hoped that the British, Italian and American teams would coalesce. But although races were held at Snetterton, Goodwood, Silverstone (twice) and Brands Hatch – and some were of Grand Prix-length – those slated for Monza (Lottery GP), Turin (GP of the Century) and Watkins Glen were cancelled.
There was talk of allowing stock-blocks of up-to-six litres to compete in 1962 in a bid to encourage more American participation, but that proposal fizzled, too.
ICF would flourish, but only in the geographical, meteorological and chronological niches provided by Australia and New Zealand. It lacked the marketing forces to run in parallel with F1.
Stirling Moss on his way to victory in the 1961 BRDC International Trophy at Silverstone
The drivers loved its cars, however. Stirling Moss reckoned the coil-sprung T53P ‘Lowline’ powered by a 2.5- or 2.7-litre Coventry Climax ‘four’ to be the best Cooper he drove. His concurrent Lotus 18 was ultimately the quicker, but he preferred the former’s flexibility and the freedom of expression it allowed him.
Irked by local newspaper claims that the Lotus would be “the perfect car” for the Warwick Farm 100, near Sydney, in February 1962, Moss, a contrarian by default, plumped for the Cooper. He started it from pole position and fought a terrific dice to defeat the sister cars of Jack Brabham and Bruce McLaren.
He was able to make such a ‘bold statement’ because of his talent, mindset and status (both his and the race’s). The new F1 allowed him no such luxuries. The finicky Lotus had to be used because of its potential to extract more from what little horsepower its Climax had in 1.5-litre form – and also because Esso-backed Team Lotus could not release one of its new, more svelte, 21s to a privateer on BP’s books.
The more precisely defined handling characteristics of Colin Chapman’s spaceframe and suspension, combined with the narrower working window of a 1500, allowed/forced Moss to apply lateral thinking to his technique. He was the first to realise the benefit of carrying speed into a corner by modulating braking torque towards its apex rather than braking in a straight line and powering through.
He probably had more fun in that big-banger Cooper, but the little Lotus allowed him to score what he considers his greatest victory: the 1961 Monaco GP.
The weekend prior to this he had used the Cooper to win the 234-mile Intercontinental International Trophy at Silverstone. His was an astounding display in dire conditions; Jack Brabham, the runner-up yet lapped, admitted that he would have been disappointed with his own performance had he considered Moss to be “human”.
But who remembers that race?
F1, no matter what its recipe, is where it’s always been at.
So it’s best not to fret over these ‘too slow’ complaints. (In fairness to the ‘impatient driver’, he expects at least four seconds to be shaved between here and Abu Dhabi.) Instead, we should enjoy, while it lasts, the unpredictability and waywardness that beckons, before settling down to appreciate the practiced honing that has forged every era, and which ultimately creates an environment for change.
Certainly, this particular recipe looks more promising than that which provided Jim Clark’s central ‘canvas’. And even he was wary – with good reason – of the worsening power/fragility quotient triggered by 1966’s 3-litre ‘Return to Power’. It forced him to drive differently. And like Moss, he had never been better. Change confirmed his greatness.
That same opportunity awaits Vettel, Alonso and Lewis Hamilton now.
The latest iteration of F1 car will never be as beautiful as its 1960s forerunners but, although nobody nose (sic) for sure, I suspect we will be able to forgive them that, if not entirely forget.
Good things should come to those prepared to wait eight seconds.
More from Paul Fearnley
The aesthetics of the F1 nose
Grand Prix drivers in the Monte Carlo rally
Mini’s Monte Carlo anniversary