When do F1 teams focus on next year?


Making an early start on next year’s car can make a big difference to teams in Formula 1, especially when there are big rule changes on the horizon.

Honda did exactly this in 2008 after technical director Ross Brawn knew that the RA108 wouldn’t be fighting for wins that year. Rubens Barrichello did make the most of being on the right tyres at the right time in the British Grand Prix to secure the team’s only podium finish, however, it was a pleasing spike in what was a disappointing year.

Yes, disaster struck when the Japanese manufacturer withdrew from the sport at the end of 2008 – never before has hindsight been such a painful pill to swallow – but Ross Brawn himself, along with Nick Fry, rescued the team and rebranded it Brawn GP. The Mercedes engine miraculously fitted and Jenson Button got out of the car after the first test wondering what he had got his hands on, so long ago was his last truly competitive machine. The rest, as they say, is history… apart from the bet I made with art editor Damon Cogman that Honda would win a race in 2009. He never paid up saying that the name change meant the bet was null and void. Discussions are ongoing.

Anyway, the championship this year is no less important than any other, but when do teams start looking forwards? Marussia consultant Pat Symonds came in for a podcast recently and admitted that it was a huge problem for the teams this year. “It’s extremely troublesome,” he said. “It really does keep me awake at night.

“Even at Marussia we started doing some CFD studies on the 2014 car around September last year – fundamental things like the front wing width has changed, the rear beam wing has disappeared and the rear wing is a bit smaller. We’ve started looking at those and we’ve already run what I’d call an interim car in the wind tunnel. It’s not the full model yet, but it’s got dimensionally correct components added to the current car. We will keep the 2013 model sitting in the model shop as fully assembled as we can, though.

“The task for next year is enormous, it’s much bigger than we’ve had for many years, but the time is no different, nor is the number of people. One of the things that’s quite nice with the current generation of F1 cars with the very high noses is that it’s quite a neat structure for a frontal impact test. However, with the new low noses it’s quite an offset load. We’re already working on that, making dummy noses to start impact testing even though we don’t know what the final shape will be.”

So when will the other teams be focusing on 2014? “I’d say that by the time we were into the first couple of races more people will be working on the 2014 car than the 2013 one. It’s not very desirable when you’re fighting for position and I think at Marussia we will be fighting for position this year.

“When I say we’ve been working on the 2014 car there is a bit of a gap between the rear bulkhead and the gearbox at the moment,” Symonds says of the lack of an engine contract. “It does make life a bit difficult! The Formula 1 community is not as mean as you might think, though, and we have had a bit of assistance on things like cooling. The target I set for the 2014 engine contract was actually May 2012 so we’re a long way past that…”

After their Australian Grand Prix performance it no doubt crossed the minds of McLaren’s employees that it might be better off focusing solely on next year. It’s in the lucky position of being able to run two projects alongside each other, though. And it’s not in McLaren’s DNA to give up that easily. For smaller teams next year is a massive hurdle, especially when Pat doesn’t see a shake up in the order to entice the back of the grid. It’ll be interesting if anyone can ‘do a Brawn’, though. Maybe it’s time to make another bet. Oh, hang on, I need to be paid for my last one yet…

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