Sunday, 21 October 2018

Top 10 F1 inspired road cars

Why invest all that money into the most expensive sport in the world and not see a little bit of return? Slap a few badges over the top and some clever engineering and you have appeal to a petrol junkie of crystal meth.

10 - Rover 200 BRM

When the Chinese got the Rover consortium board members drunk on shots to purchase their marque for peanuts the British car industry went up in smoke. Smoking like a K series engine with a failing head gasket. Yet for all their unreliability and bargain bin build quality the last generation of cars from the firm actually had quite a few positives. The 200 was quite a hoot to drive, and the VVTi engine was revy and lightweight even if it seemed to be cast from aluminium about as pure as Katie Price on her third wedding night. I recall a chunk of my cylinder head coming off in my hand when attempting to tighten a stud.

Mix a little BRM into the cocktail however and things become a little more glamorous. The illustrious marque competed in 197 Grand Prixs, winning 17 and taking the World Championship in the hands of Graham Hill in 1962. They also had historic connections to Rover when they joint fielded a zany gas turbined car at Le Mans.  Unfortunately BRM folded twenty years before the birth of this 200 so this is celebration rather than collaboration.

The proud orange nose may seem garish but it adorned BRMs of yesteryear, and the car sits nicely on 5 spoke alloys. The interior also sees a lift with some nice cross stitched red leather. Beyond aesthetics the cars 20mm lower ride height as well as stiffer springs, revised dampers means a highly rated drive. Yes, from new you were guaranteed the head gasket would fail before 30,000 miles but once done and looked after it was more reliable than you think.

9 - BMW E90 3 Series 320si

The 320i of previous generations could offer you the luxury of a smooth 6 cylinder engine but without the performance of its bigger brothers. Even worse the fuel consumption wasn't better either meaning only and idiot like me would own two of them. With that it mind how can this seemingly run of the mill 4-cylinder 3 series make the cut here?

Unbeknown to most however this isn't your normal sales rep mobile. The 'si' is much rarer with only 2,600 made. And its link to the pinnacle of motorsport is the engine. Hand built at the Sauber F1 factory, these small units rev all the way up to 8,000rpm thanks to a shorter stroke. Underneath a stunning carbon fibre rocker cover lies aluminium-alloy liners and forged piston rods. Gone is the complicated valvetronic BMW system, replaced with conventional rocker arms. The result is 173hp which won't hold a candle to an M3. So what the hell is the point in sexing things up with the help of the Swiss F1 outfit?

The simple answer is racing homologation. The World Touring Car Championship of the time was limited to 2 litre with engine components having to be linked to production technology. The Sauber built engine was a great bass line to be modded for their title fight, which they executed brilliantly under the hands of four time WTCC champion Andy Priaulx.

8 - Honda Civic Jordan

1999 was the pinnacle for the Jordan team. Heinz Harold Frentzen had a realistic shot at the championship with consistent results and two race wins. To celebrate Honda built the Honda Civic Jordan. Strangely it wasn't based on a Type-R but rather a VTi trim of their normal EK4 3 door. Things weren't exactly sluggish however thanks to their howling 160hp V-TEC pulling the front wheels. I always remember seeing one as a teenager shooting up and down the local seafront and longing for one. My first car however was on the other end of the spectrum in the shape of a Metro 1.1.

In an example of pure marketing spin the only Jordan influence was simply trim and paint. A plaque denoted you were one of only 500 as well as yellow and black interior. But it does have an ace up its sleeve, adorning the beautiful yellow paint is a Jordan decal. You could have even fit a wasp decal on it a-la 1999 F1 car. And that makes it cool.

7 - BMW E60 M5

How can a hefty four door that weighs three times as much as an F1 car be called inspired? Simple answer - V10 engine.

In the current era of vacuum cleaner noise levels many racing fans romanticise about the days of the aggressive piercing sound of a V10. At the time of the E60 M5, BMW had produced arguably the best of them all for Williams F1 team. It allowed them to be the only real challenge to Ferrari when so often McLaren struggled to finish races. To celebrate the E60 M5 offered all the thrill of a V10 from the comfort of a big German saloon.

I've been lucky enough to floor a slightly ropey example in sports mode and you could very well be Juan Pablo Montoya gunning it along the old Hockenheim straights. Or setting that average speed record around Monza. The aural experience is surreal as is the acceleration thanks to the award winning S85 engine. But if you were thinking this was the same unit as in the back of the Williams you would be wrong. Considering you can't even crank and F1 car unless the oil is warmed to perfect temperature BMW thought it wise to produce their own road car engine to deal with the demands and comfort of everyday use.

However like its V10 racing cousin the power unit worked to very tight tolerances. Even new owners looking for something to show off to the neighbours that neglected regular maintenance would quickly find worn main conrod bearings potentially destroying the engine. Furthermore, BMW forever walking the fine line between engineering brilliance and crappy plastic parts, found plastic gears that controlled the throttle breaking very easily. Needless to say the car may be an absolute beast but a very brave second hand buy. What do you expect - its a high performance V10!

6- Renault Clio Williams

The first car I drove after passing my test was my parents dark blue Renault Clio MK1. With Wolf Race five-spoke alloys it really looked the part of a faux Clio Williams. A fortnight in and much to my parents dismay the quarter panel had a coming together with our parking bay wall.

The real Clio Williams is a hot hatch classic. With an aggressive bonnet scoop and gold alloys gave it road presence that deceived its small stature. The 145hp from its two litre engine is plenty for this roller skate. Flaw it through corners and the uprated suspension set up gives surprisingly good grip even on those piddly wheels. That classic lightweight hot hatch feel is forever present. Nothing like this will ever go into production again.

Ironically something so well tuned wasn't breathed on by an F1 team. Like Honda years later, Renault looked to capitalise on its successful partnership with Williams on track. As Alain Prost won the World Championship in a Williams-Renault, a sporty Clio bearing the brand was released in 1993. However lack of input from the F1 outfit wouldn't matter. Its highly experienced and legendary Renault Sport division would develop the car that had the pedigree and homologation for rally car conversion if required. Three fazes followed as well as the start of the infamous Renault Sport Clio series.

5 - Honda NSX

In the eyes of the vast majority of F1 fans the cult of Ayrton Senna takes on an almost metaphysical and spiritual form. The great Brazilian took his second World Championship in his Honda powered McLaren in 1990. At the time the Japanese industrial giant was looking to produce the ultimate every day sportscar and drew on the greatness of Senna for his feedback and development.

However much hype is made of this involvement across the online world that you would actually think Ayrton penned the car himself. In reality the original development of the car lies with the genius of Honda engineers and Japanese race driver Satoru Nakajima battering it around Suzuka race circuit. It wasn't until later in development on Ayrton was invited down to Suzuka for the day to have a go. Adorning aviator glasses and a crazy combination of white socks and brown leather slip on shoes, Senna immediately pushed the envelope of the prototype. His feedback was to stiffen the chassis to improve handling response, something his other-worldly intuition echoed in his mind. Senna's interest was sparked and he agreed a few more sessions including time at the mighty Nurburgring circuit, focusing on suspension development.

What followed was a very sharp and often challenging drive that set a benchmark of high performance motoring. You could have all the fun of a mid engined supercar but not break down like other exotics of the time. And ofcourse, a certain Ayrton Senna played an influencial role...

4 -Ferrari F50

As we venture into the world of the unattainable the Ferrari F50 was arguably the first car that claimed to be a Formula 1 racer for the road. While its predecessor the F40 stunned the world with its performance whilst being superglued together with no carpets or even side window handles, the F50 featured a V12 as a stressed member like Alain Prost's then F1 car. This resulted in pin sharp response at the cost of comfort. Jeremy Clarkson famously reviewed the car and hated this sensation, quoting it being akin to the engine being bolted to your back.

Some say the styling was flawed, which seems to not have aged terribly well. A nose-cone inspired front end was fitted with fans to suck the car down even at low speeds - a technology actually banned in F1. Unlike many in this list the engine was actually developed from the 3.5 V12 found in Prost's chariot, all be it in bigger and refined 4.7 litre form. Even a subdued F1 engine is something to behold, with the F50s party piece being the scream of those howling twelve cylinders. Unfortunately the Marenello outfit faced some stiff hyper car competition in the UK from McLaren and Jaguar which beat the F50 in headline grabbing top speed. Yet for all its flaws the F50 remains something very special and captures the raw essence of racing brilliantly.

3- Lotus Esprit Essex Turbo

The Esprit has always captured my imagination . As a young boy I idealised the 'wedge' as it cut its way on screen through James Bond, Pretty Women and the atrocious Teen Agent. In what seems to be a celebration by Colin Chapman of Lotus' then F1 title sponsor, the 'Essex' was the first turbo Esprit. Thankfully this isn't your 'Essex-ed' up motor. The red leather interior invited you to be cocooned into a seriously focused road car.

This was 1980 British car industry stuff, with a slightly garage built build quality. The long throw of the gearbox could irritate. But why does the dream of driving an Esprit persist? Gunning the whistling 4 cylinder early turbo engine is said to bring smiles to the face. The engine sits low thanks to its dry sump oil system and the chassis is made to be thrown around. Weighing in at under a tonne even a now wheezy 210hp is enough for decent performance.

2 - Ferrari Enzo

The 'F60' was an evolution of the concept of the F50 yet executed brilliantly. The car featured trick aerodynamics with bodywork that looked very prototype racer. Some say its form over function made this just as ugly as the F50 and very un Ferrari. Catch it at the wrong angle and that rear could look bulky. But as the suspension and gearbox dug the car into the ground and the full force of the V12 sent you the horizon, your opinion may have changed. On the road the choppy gearchange trying to lock the rear up would get your attention in the wet. Certainly not a GT cruiser just like the previous generations of Ferrari hypercar.

The reality was the gearbox and engine wasn't as much the same to an F1 car as the F50. Yet the downforce created was immense. Ferrari released a crazy FXX model which was wasn't road legal. You had to cough up enough money to be 'invited' to purchase a car only to be used official Ferrari track days. An 'MC12' Maserati was its sister car, yet producing more downforce and intended to compete in GT Championships.

1 - McLaren F1

The boot space of a fiesta and two passengers meets 248mph. The McLaren remained on at the top of the ultimate hypercar mantle throughout the 90s and for good reason. Mix Gordon Murray genius, a BMW V12 engine and absolute disregard for cost and you have a formidable machine.

Isuzu were actually approached to produce the V12 to sit in the back of it. As crazy as that idea  sounds they hopes where to flog their very decent prototype F1 engine. However the accolade for possibly the best road car engine ever goes to BMW. Sharing little but basic principles from other V12 engines from the Bavarian manufacturer, the S70/2 was an absolute tour-de-force of linear power delivery. Push down on the chain-linked throttle pedal and the independent throttle bodies open up to give you a 618hp kick in the backside.

Legendary Formula 1 engineer and designer Gordon Murray produced a chassis way ahead of anything else of the time. Using McLaren resources the car was the first in production to feature a carbon fibre monocoque. With budget no being a question the engine bay was even lined with gold to offer the best heat resistance. A central driving position allows a formula car experience with enough room for two passengers either side.

The cold hard truth is probably the best car ever made is also a proposition that would make a millionaire's eyes water. With annual running costs estimated at £20,000 even a tyre change involves McLaren 'running in' at least two tyres around a race circuit. But ask yourself what is the price of a dream?

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Top 10 F1 Cars of All Time

The history of the sport is gifted with marvels that pushed the boundaries of engineering creativity and captured the passion of their era. Here we look at the top 10 cars of all time...

#10 - Lotus 98T

Few things spark the enthusiast's imagination than raw power. The prestigious Lotus Renault 98T had all this and more, encapsulating the decade of excess with extreme straight line performance. In fact 1986 saw the most powerful cars ever to grace the sport until concerns over safety and cost strangled the turbo into non existence, finally being banned in 1989. While today's current turbo era cars are delivering better power over the whole race weekend, nothing quite matches the extreme nature of delivery of the early turbo cars. Putting your foot to the floor would at first prove underwhelming until the turbo suddenly spooled up to deliver an explosive punch. This came all at once and could prove a real challenge to control. Get it right however and the back end would squat into the tarmac and launch you towards the horizon at phenomenal speed.

Forget everything after. The 1986 Turbo cars really were rockets. And to handle them, I think, you had to be a man” -Gerhard Berger

The Lotus 98T on paper wasn't even the best car of the 1986 season. McLaren's MP4/2 wrapped up the driver's championship in the hands of the consistent Alain Prost, while the Williams FW11 proved the best performing car and took the Contructor's Championship. Both had superior aerodynamics and at times more power, so why do both get trumped by the 98T? Non could match the cool factor of course!
The car looked stunning, its JPS livery adorning the smooth  and proportioned lines of a chassis oozing pedigree. The car was well balanced and featured advanced electronics for its day, including a fuel consumption computer so important for the fuel limited races of the season. Renault provided a strong engine featuring a pneumatic valve train that has become standard in more modern times. A certain Ayrton Senna shined brightly, putting the car on pole an unmatched 8 times that season and delivering 2 wins. Unfortunately the 98T could not deliver a consistent level of performance and reliability to bring a Championship.

#9 - Ferrari 156 ' Sharknose'

1961 saw the rules of the sport drastically change with a reduction in maximum engine capacity from 2.5 to 1.5 litres. With the tragedy of 1955 Le Mans still ringing in their ears the FIA had taken this unpopular decision three years earlier. British engine supplier Coventry Climax were ill-prepared and saw their grip at the top loosen. In fact the new regulations meant their power output nearly halve, from around 290hp to a wheezy 150hp from their new 4 cylinder engine. British marques Aston Martin and Vanwall departed from the sport for good, while BRM had to wait a further year before its engine would be ready. It seemed there was a certain arrogance that the regulations wouldn't materialise. However Ferrari saw this as an opportunity and Italian design ace Carlo Chitti began work on the new 156 well in advance of the season.

The new car would be Ferrari's first mid-engined racer, and while not quite as advanced in construction the real star was its new 1.5 litre V6 engine. It produced around 190hp which gave a huge advantage of nearly 30% over anyone else. With a wide 120° bank the engine sat low improving the center of gravity. The car's distinctive feature was the 'snarknose' nostril air intakes at the front feeding air to the radiators. This made for a fantastic looking car that went as good as it looked.

Factory drivers Phil Hill and Wolfgang Von Tripps would enjoy the 156's superior performance throughout the season. At Monza, Von Tripps only had to secure a third place finish take win the Driver's World Championship. On the second lap he made contact with Jim Clarke's Lotus on the banking, riding up the outside and colliding with a fence. Himself and fifteen spectators tragically died in the incident. In an era where death was part and parcel of the sport the race continued on and American Phil Hill went on to win and become World Champion. Ferrari would also secure its first Contructor's Championship.

Ferrari continued to campaign the 156 without its distinctive sharknose cowl for the next two seasons. However its advantage immediately dissolved with the arrival of new 8 cylinder engines from BRM, Climax and Porsche. To add insult to injury Carlo Chitti walked out of the team taking engineers with him. Ferrari would have to wait until further rule changes in 1966 to become competitive again. The FIA had taken heed that sportscars were setting faster lap times than F1 machinery and the 1.5 litre formula was no more.

#8 - Red Bull Renault RB7

Truth be told any Red Bull that won Sebastian Vettel his four World Championships between 2010 and and 2013 could qualify for this top ten. However it was the RB7 which took domination to a new level in 2011 and creatively interpreted regulations to great advantage. The fact that Vettel only missed out on a podium twice and won eleven races speaks volumes.

Adrian Newey's genius understood the capabilities of the exhaust blown diffuser and how to exploit it. Not new in concept, blowing exhaust gases around or into the diffuser can help increase its efficiency and therefore downforce. Somewhat forgotten and abandoned due to its sensitivity to throttle inputs and other advantages of exhaust location, Newey rekindled the idea with the previous year's RB6. Exhaust gases channelled around the diffuser produced in principle a 'curtain' around it, improving the performance of the air flow. Top teams soon copied this idea throughout the season with experiments of their own. Yet for the RB7 he directed his design team to build the entire car around the exhaust exits to maximise the exhaust blowing effect. This time exhaust gases were cleverly channelled through a lip in the car's floor directly into the diffuser. This had an effect of dramatically speeding up the airflow and increasing downforce. 

The heavy reliance on this principle meant certain hurdles had to be crossed in order for the RB7 to be successful. When the car comes off the throttle for a corner exhaust pressure drops and so does downforce. This robs the car of braking and turn in performance and the transition can be unstable. To counteract this Renault produced engine maps that allowed 'cold' exhaust gases to flow, that is air still travelling through the engine but not ignited, when off the throttle. This continued exhaust pressure be it to a lesser degree. While other engine suppliers were also using cold blowing it was  Renault that led the way in 'hot' exhaust blowing maps. Now off the throttle the engine would continue to burn fuel using retarded ignition to produce hot air without torque. Now the RB7 was producing maximum diffuser downforce consistently through the lap.

Teams and engine suppliers were scrambling to join this new arms race, with bigger heavier fuel tanks more advantageous so more could be burnt for precious downforce. Needless to say with the recent introduction of KERs to the sport and the hope for a more efficient future the excess burning of fuel wasn't popular with the FIA. After much protest from Red Bull off-throttle blowing was soon banned by Silverstone and blown diffusers all together for the following season. Vettel was able to exploit the blown diffuser to much greater affect than team mate Mark Webber and went on to become the youngest double World Champion.

#7 Lotus Pratt & Whitney 56B

For all you aircraft geeks out there your eyes do not deceive you. This car is powered by aerospace engine manufacturer Pratt and Whitney. Developed from an engine found on turboprop aircraft and helicopters, the Lotus 56B was the first and only F1 car powered by a gas turbine. This burnt compressed air in the fashion of a jet engine but with the combustion rotating a turbine. This unique and left field design offered a big power advantage and at times showed great pace, though the many disadvantages curtailed its short lifespan.

Across the pond Ken Wallis had difficulty gaining support for his idea of a gas turbined racing car for the Indy 500, being rejected by Dan Gurney and Carol Shelby. After securing funding from the STP oil company, Wallis' gas turbined 'STP-Paxton' took the lead on its debut only to retire with just eight miles remaining. Lotus founder Colin Chapman was infamous for pushing boundaries and recognised the car's winning potential. The legendary Jim Clark was lined up to lead Lotus's gas turbined '56' at Indianapolis in 1966 but sadly lost his life prior in a fatal accident at Hockenheim. Tragedy for Lotus struck again when his replacement Mike Spence was killed in practice when impacting the wall, after setting the fastest average speed. The remaining cars suffered reliability issues and retired from the race, and the organisers soon bought in a raft of restrictions that made gas turbine cars uncompetitive.

Colin Chapman continued to pursue the gas turbine and the 56B was designed to compete in F1. The gas turbine itself offered a significant power to weight advantage once operating fully, generating immense acceleration. But getting to full power was the issue, with a throttle delay of around three seconds quite hard to comprehend for a driver. Even though a gearbox was not required the car was heavily laden with fuel for its extremely thirsty engine. To further compound issues Chapman decided to run a four wheel drive system, wanting to take advantage of the simple drivetrain requirements of the gas turbine. This led to understeer when wrestling the heavy car around the track, something Chapman later admitted to be a mistake. In wet conditions however this four wheel drive gave great traction and the car nearly won the Dutch Grand Prix in 1974 at the hands of Dave Walker, only to spin out while carving his way through the field. Emerson Fittipaldi managed third at a non championship heat but mediocre results followed and the 56B was soon to be shelved in favour of the much more successful Lotus 72. The car entered its last race at an F5000 event in Hockenheim, with Fittipaldi coming home and impressive second. While the 56B may not share the results and admiration enjoyed by the rest of this chart you must remember that it was powered by a gas turbine. And that means its cool factor alone entitles it to share the accolade. 

#6 - Mercedes AMG W08 EQ Power +

Mercedes have enjoyed a dominance of late to the envy of its competitors. Since the major rule shake-up to the current 1.6 litre V6 turbo formula in 2014, the team has won all Drivers and Contructors World Championships. Both drivers have also locked out 1st and 2nd, barring Valteri Bottas finishing 3rd in 2017. A combination of organisation, vast resources and great driving have helped further promote both the brands of the manufacturer and of course a certain Lewis Hamilton.

When the curtain lifted back in 2014 it became apparent that the team had a significant advantage with their all important turbo hybrid engine. A split turbo design allowed for efficient packaging and heat dissipation, with Mercedes able to draw on technical research from its truck division who had pioneered and tested this layout. The improved cooling allowed for smaller sidepod openings significantly reducing drag. Rivals Ferrari have struggled to catch up, finally putting together a serious challenge in 2017 that sizzled out as the season progressed.
Evolving a proven concept had allowed the team to further develop different areas of the car as demonstrated in the many intricate aerodynamic pieces that debuted on the W08 such as its twenty piece barge boards. While Rosberg's title winning W07 dominated 2016 to a greater extent it was the W08 that stood up to much more significant challenge from Ferrari. The only real achilles heal of the car was that it often struggled to keep its tyres in the optimum operating temperature range, which a mediocre pace in Monaco early on in the season highlighted. With Pirelli changing its minimum tyre pressures it seems the team had to run harder suspension settings to compensate and at times the car could drop off the pace. With a powerful engine, great aerodynamics and the skills of Lewis Hamilton however the W08 gifted the British driver with his fourth World Championship.

#5 Maserati 250F

Maserati is a name synonymous with early Grand Prix racing. Brothers Alfieri, Bindo, Ettore and Ernesto Maserati produced race winning cars through the 20's and 30's until finally selling the marque to Italian industrialist Adolfo Orsi in 1937. Seizing the opportunity of major rule changes in the sport, Orsi poached top Ferrari engineers and the Maserati 250F was designed for the 1954 season.

Featuring a slick aluminium body over a tubular ladder chassis, the car was powered by a 2.5 litre naturally aspirated straight six engine. It featured an aluminium alloy block and head with twin spark plugs and generated 220hp. With further development throughout the season including clever fuel mixtures this increased to 240hp. The car featured a clever arrangement of its rear 'De Dion' axle ahead of its differential, which bought the center of gravity inwards and improved handling. This layout was copied from the Ferrari Tipo 533 of the time, with speculation that the actual design drawings were stolen for Maserati. Drivers found the 250F a beautifully balanced front engine racer which could be controlled by gentle drifts through the corners. Its front independent suspension and rear leaf springs were set up for more smoother track surfaces but often too stiff for bumps and undulations such as at the Nurburgring.

Even more speculation grew when in preseason testing at Modena a Ferrari Tipo 533 apparently 'lost control' and managed to collide with the original 250F test car that was parked at the end of the pit. The car was destroyed and Maserati frantically worked to produce a car for the first race of the season at Argentina. Racing legend Juan Manuel Fangio scored the 250F's first win on its debut and also his first victory on home soil. Unfortunately Fangio left the team before the next race, enticed by Maserati's nemesis Mercedes with their new W196 race car. The new rival proved highly advanced and Fangio went on to win the World Championship which included points from his Argentinian victory. However while outclassed Fangio commented that the W196  was "not so nice to drive as a Maserati 250F, but you were almost sure to finish".

The talented Stirling Moss also competed a customer 250F at non championship events, gifting it with its first European victory at Aintree. He too was snapped up by Mercedes and their technically superior machine. This outshining ended the following year however when the Mercedes team withdrew from top flight motorsport after the horrific death of 83 spectators and its driver Pierre Levegh at Le Mans, only to return 55 years later. Unfortunately Maserati poured important resources into sportscar racing and were ill prepared for the 1955 season with no new cars produced. Privateers modified 250Fs with features such as disc brakes and fuel injection. A streamlined body was introduced at Monza but significant changes didn't occur until 1956. The car received a revised aero package, modified drum brakes and a five speed gearbox and Stirling Moss returned to the helm. The season was closely fought to the last race when gentleman Peter Collins handed over his Ferrari to Fangio allowing him to win the championship. The Argentinian returned to Maserati for 1957 who had developed a V12 engine. With weight factored in there wasn't much advantage but Fangio was still able to win a closely fought World Championship including a stunning win at the Nurburgring.  Financial issues saw Maserati withdraw from the sport in 1958. Privateer teams continued to campaign 250Fs but its front engined layout started to show its age. The final nail in the coffin came with rule changes for the 1961 season.

#4 McLaren Honda MP4/4

While the McLaren-Honda partnership may have fallen into disarray over recent years the 1988 MP4/4 was statistically the most dominant car to grace the sport. The supreme driver line up of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna went on to win every race that year bar one, with the latter claiming the Drivers Championship. Its sleek attractive lines reflect design legend Gordon Murray's genius in packaging through his 'low line' philosophy.

John Barnard had led McLaren to success from his hiring in 1980 to his departure in '86, with Alain and Niki Lauda winning five Drivers and Constructors World Championships. His first McLaren was the MP4/1, the first composite carbon fibre monocoque that revolutionised the sport. Barnard had scooped up American engineer Steve Nichols who had experience with carbon fiber from his days at rocket company Hercules. The car's chassis was now significantly lighter, rigid and safer than ever before and teams soon copied the application of the now common place material. When Barnard departed for Ferrari at the end of '86 he was replaced by Brabham designer Gordon Murray. Murray had enjoyed much success at Brabham with his low slung design philosophy but often came to loggerheads with team boss Bernie Ecclestone's slippery pay negotiations. 

Murray however was too late to have a huge influence on the 1987 MP4/3 though there were some changes made. The car was sleeker and more compact than before and was able to take advantage of the new rule governing smaller fuel tanks. But it would be the well rounded William's FW11B that would win the Championship that year. It's Honda engine offered both high power levels with important fuel economy. Honda engines would also allow Ayrton Senna's Lotus to finish 3rd that season ahead of McLaren's Prost. When the Brazilian signed for McLaren for 1988 the deal bought Honda engines with him and Murray and Nichols would be able to create a car for what some see as the strongest driver line up ever - Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. 

The MP4/4 took the direction of the previous car to new levels. Its beautiful low bodywork was even more compact and cloaked the new Honda turbo power unit. The engine was less tall than last year's Porsche with its crankshaft sitting 28mm lower. Due to the low nature of the engine there was a challenge of transferring the drive to the wheels without power sapping driveshaft angles. Rivals Lotus had decided to mount their Honda pitched upwards to combat this, but the advantage of a low engine became negated. Alternatively Gordon Murray approached US firm Weismann to joint design an unconventional vertical three shaft gearbox. This would allow the engine to remain low and thus the rear bodywork. This was key to the philosophy allowing more efficient air flow to the rear wing and enhancing its performance. 

With a holistic approach a low nose sat in front of revolutionary cockpit. To keep in symmetry with the rear end the driver sat in a reclined position. Alain Prost complained about the unnatural feel but would soon recant his opposition when he saw his testing time sheets. Now all cars feature a reclined seating position to lower the center of gravity. It has even inspired my own in the family hatchback!
The car would go on to become officially the most dominant there has ever been winning 15 of the 16 races. On track the championship went down to the wire with Senna clinching the title by just three points. The car was a fitting tribute to its turbo era as they became banned for 1989. Steve Nichols would depart for Ferrari after a troubled relationship with Murray. Even to this day there is a continued dispute on the influence each other had on the car's design. Regardless the MP4/4 will go down in legend for its unparallelled success.

Murray, Dennis and Senna deep in thought

#3 Lotus Cosworth 79

Ground effect revolutionised the aerodynamics of motorsport for good when Colin Chapman's Lotus 79 applied it devastating effect. It dominated the field when introduced in 1978 as rivals scrambled to their drawings boards.

The principle of ground effect into motorsport wasn't introduced by the 79, nor was the 79 even the first Lotus to debut it. Former Grand Prix driver Jim Hall had been experimenting with aerodynamics at the American racing team Chaparral through the 60s. Drawing on his experience as an airline pilot he understood the advantage of creating an area of low pressure underneath his racing cars. This would suck the car to the ground, vastly improving grip and therefore cornering speeds. All this could be achieved with less drag than bulky wings. While the principle was understood its implementation proved difficult. The big challenges of ground effect include positioning the 'center of pressure' which greatly affect car balance and keeping the airflow attached to the underside. In a completely different tack of accomplishing this Hall penned his bizarre box shape '2J' for the 1970 Can-Am season. Sealing off the underside of the car with skirts, two large fans powered by an independent snowmobile engine sucked out the air to create low pressure. This translated into grip that allowed the car to corner at significant speed. McLaren ensured it was banned after its first season in 1970, in which while enjoying a big pace advantage succumbed to mechanical issues. 

Venturi Tunnels producing the effect
The year previous Lotus founder and visionary Colin Chapman had recognised the significance of ground effect and how its advantage of huge grip with little trade off could vastly improve his F1 cars. Educated in engineering at University of London Air Squadron and a keen pilot, Chapman became inspired by a WWII deHavilland Mosquito bomber. The design of its wing mounted radiators controlled air pressure to create lift and he wanted to replicate this phenomenon in reverse for his race cars. Rivals at March and BRM had experimented with the principle in recent years but failed to realise any significant advantage. Chapman approached Indycar engineer Shawn Buckley to research an develop the idea at the University of California and later MIT. At home Lotus engineers Peter Wright, Ralph Bellamy and Martin Ogilvie cracked on with putting together a ground effect car for the 1977 season. Wright took models to London Imperial College and began wind tunnel and rolling road work. This was the first rolling road test of a car in known history and critically allowed the aerodynamics to be studied in relationship to the ground. When the new car, the Lotus 78 was released rivals Ferrari took wind and tested their own design - but without using a rolling road couldn't find any sweet spot and abandoned development.

Swedish driver Gunnar Nilsson tested the new Lotus 78 at Snetterton in the autumn on 1976 and the advantages of ground effect soon became apparent. Rather than debuting that season Colin Chapman thought it best to save the car until 1977 to avoid the design being copied. The Lotus 78 immediately impressed winning both the American and Spanish Grand Prix. Meanwhile the team had been running a Renault van around the factory car park, fitted with ceramic skirts that sealed the air underneath. This was ever important as air was often escaping from the underside of the Lotus 78 and robbing it of ground effect. Introducing these skirts at the Belgium Grand Prix transformed performance. These were further developed into plastic skirts that took the performance even further.

What became apparent however about the 78 was the important 'center of pressure' - where the ground effect force was at its greatest - was too far forward. This caused issues with balance that had to remedied by running a large rear wing that created a lot of drag on the straights. Colin Chapman's approach to racing with soft springs was also negatively affecting the ground effect. 
Drawing on this wealth of experience the team created the beautiful Lotus 79 for the new 1978 season. Its attractive low slung wedge shape shouldn't deceive you - this is far from form over function. Its Venturi tunnels that shaped the underside of the car for ground effect were extended beyond the rear axle. The spring and dampers were moved inboard to avoid blocking the airflow in these tunnels. Testing in late '77 shocked the team when the car showed a big improvement over the old 78, quoted as a 25-30% increase in downforce. However this downforce was being produced with a much skinnier rear wing thus considerably improving straight line speed and acceleration. This huge grip didn't come without consequence however and stress fractures started to form from the huge load put on the chassis. The car was further re-enforced and strengthened, though this was never truly rectified. 

The car debuted six races in at Zolder with just Mario Andretti running the car and team mate Ronnie Peterson in the old 78 model. The car won the race and would go on to dominate with its performance advantage gifting often building a significant lead over its rivals who were forced to fight over scraps. Throughout the season however both drivers struggled with brakes that overheating thanks to a move by Chapman to move the rear assembly even further inboard to improve the ground effect. Pedals would begin to become progressively longer with little stopping power. Andretti found this a real problem while leading at Monza and Watkins Glen that year, seeing his lead over the field start to tumble. Chapman was notoriously dismissive of driver feedback however and had refused to modify the design. Thankfully Mario Andretti would go on to win the Driver's World Championship and bring the car the acclaim it deserved. Sadly team mate Ronnie Peterson would succumb to injuries sustained at a first corner pile up at Monza, taking 2nd that year posthumously. Next season Ferrari, Williams and Ligier would execute ground effect in superior fashion and Lotus lost its hold at the top, with large ground effect inducing Venturi tunnels finally being banned at the end of 1983.

Our very own DMANF1 testing a late Lotus 79!

#2 Williams Renault FW14B

Technology peaked in 1992 when William's conceived their masterpiece FW14B. As the computer era was coming into fruition the Grove based squad managed an engineering tour de force. Traction control, anti lock brakes, a semi-automatic gearbox and importantly active suspension worked in synergy to deliver ultimate performance. The result was a devastating weapon that allowed Nigel Mansell to dominate and win the 1992 Driver's World Championship. However nearly a decade earlier Mansell was an avid critic of active suspension as Lotus first bought the technology to F1.

As discussed at length with the #3 ranked Lotus 79, the new world of ground effect aerodynamics at the end of the 70's put huge loads on the car as it generated mega downforce. By 1980 the the Lotus was generating four times the amount of downforce of the ground breaking 79. The cars were running rock hard suspension set ups to deal with this, often making the ride very uncomfortable for the driver and robbing traction and low speed grip. A new phenomenon called 'porpoising' also became apparent. As aerodynamic loads increased the car would often rock around on its axis. In a violent fashion the nose would rise up while the tail dropped and vice versa, leading to unpredictable handling that could only be solved by applying the brakes. 

Initially Colin Chapman developed the 'twin chassis' Lotus 88 to deal with these problems. A separate tub would handle the aerodynamic load and one the suspension, but the design was soon banned as a movable aerodynamic device. However his approach to investing in Universities for research and development had rewarded him with Professor David Williams of the Cranfield Institute of technology's proposal to fix the issues. The suspension's springs and dampers would be replaced by a hydraulic system consisting of a ram and computer controlled valves. An optimum ride height would be sustained using sensor feedback. A Lotus Esprit road car mule was used by the team as a demonstrator and impressed Chapman. Engineer Peter Wright set about quickly adapting this for the F1 car, which was first tested on the 16th of December 1982. Sadly Chapman would suffer a fatal heart attack the same day from home and leave behind his Lotus legacy. 

Nigel Mansell soon had a taste of the technology in its infancy and was unimpressed. At times his heart would skip a beat as all wheels would disconnect from the road leaving the car sliding on its belly. There were also issues with weight and the system sapping precious  engine power in order to operate. A few races followed with mediocre results until the project was shelved until 1987. That year however Williams debuted their first system to much greater effect.

"I didn't give a damn about ride quality. The driver was paid to deal with bumps. All I wanted to do was make the car quicker." - Frank Dernie, Williams.

Frank Dernie had approached the design of active suspension at Williams from a different perspective. It seemed Lotus had deviated towards using the system to provide the best mechanical grip. Ironically they had struggled with this anyway as the tyres would often not be loaded enough to warm up. For him the brief remained to maintain a perfect ride height to ensure maximum and stable aerodynamic performance. Williams however didn't have the funds to justify designing and developing a technology that had yet to be proven. By chance an engineer was employed by the team from Automotive Products who had previously designed an active suspension system for ambulances! Contrary to the electronic system of Lotus this was purely mechanical. It used a series of gas struts, pumps and actuators in a much simpler manner. In fact 're-active' is probably a more accurate description, in that each wheels movement was fed back to another via hydraulic connections. The first test mule FW10 was driven by Dernie himself due to driver fears over the system's safety. It became apparent that the hydraulic valves were not able to react accurately and these were soon controlled by a computer. Testing looked good and Nelson Piquet agreed to debut the technology at Monza in 1987, with hesitant team mate Nigel Mansell keeping the old passive system. The FW11B proved itself by winning the race, with Piquet clinching a victory followed closely by Ayrton Senna's active suspension Lotus. As Mansell finished the race nearly 50 seconds adrift with his conventional passive suspension his objection soon changed.

Unfortunately for Lotus political infighting stumped the development of its active system until it eventually took the team altogether. For Williams active suspension was abandoned as early as the following season. The new FW12 featured a revised active suspension system that highlighted the many pitfalls of attempting a cutting edge project. Now controlled by a dedicated computer the technology of the time struggled to cope to keep up with the active system's demands. Furthermore a design fault of the reservoir allowed air to leak into the hydraulics making the car undriveable. By Silverstone at mid season Technical Director Patrick Head ordered the team to revert back to traditional springs and dampers that the car was never developed for. A poor 7th place finish in the Contructor's World Championship was enough justification for the team to shelve the project.

Frank Dernie however still had confidence in its potential and arranged for budding electronics engineer Paddy Lowe to oversee its development. With the help of fellow engineer Steve Wise advanced electronics were built in house to control an active suspension system. As the program gained momentum in 1990 driver Mark Blundell carried out testing duties until his departure to Brabham the following year. While Dernie had now departed, design genius Adrian Newey joined the team from Leyton House. The rising star bought a wealth of aerodynamic knowledge and a perfect canvas for the project to potentiate. A further boost came with the appointment of Damon Hill as test driver. The future World Champion was able to clearly communicate car behaviour to the engineers and became a great asset. 

Meanwhile the 1991 season was progressing. Adrian Newey's FW14 was proving a superior car but reliability issues stemming mainly from the new semi automatic gearbox allowed Senna's McLaren to take the Championship. The testing program was able to remedy the gearbox issues by mid season while making steady progress with active suspension. Interestingly the team found that the old standard car was faster at the end of the straights, as the aerodynamic forces squatted the car down and the floor stalled. A button was added to allow the new active car to lower on the straights, acting almost like modern DRS and reducing drag for a higher top speed. The car could now also adjust its balance on the fly, predicting any understeer or oversteer before it happened and adjusting front and rear ride height accordingly. Paddy Lowe also programed a simple but effective traction control system. As a speed difference was detected from rear wheels to front, cylinders were cut in the engine with the amount depending on the size of that difference. Renault were concerned with reliability and asked the team not to use it. However the advantage of over half a second was hard to ignore and the driver was able to switch the system on in the cockpit when required. Williams now had an advanced electronic machine for the 1992 season.

What became immediately apparent was previous critic Nigel Mansell's ability in the car. As cutting edge as it was, active suspension had characteristics that at times felt unnatural. As the driver turned into a corner there was a slight delay before the car reacted to the conditions and adjusted itself accordingly. This made the it feel unresponsive and required a leap of faith from the driver. Team mate Riccardo Patrese struggled to adjust to this feeling. On the contrary Mansell, dubbed 'Lionheart' in his Ferrari days for his courageous driving style was able to drive through this and be rewarded with huge grip. Unable to adapt Patrese was outclassed throughout 1992. Testament to this was the ballsy Copse corner at Silverstone where turn in was key. During qualifying Mansell was a whopping 25mph faster than Patrese, his pole lap nearly 2 seconds faster. Both cars would go on to dominate the season and wrap both World Championships by the Belgium Grand Prix. The skills of rivals Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher achieved the impossible at times but their machines were inferior to the technical genius of the FW14B. Williams would continue this success with Alain Prost in 1993, but this would be the last swansong for active suspension in the sport. Fearing increasing speeds and electronics robbing driver ability, the FIA would ban 'driver aids' for 1994.

#1 Ferrari F2002

Evolution not revolution. Although Michael Schumacher's World Championship in 2000 bought Ferrari's 21 year drought to an end, rivals McLaren snapped at their heals throughout. With renewed focus a run of four Drivers and Contructors World Championships would follow with a series of dominant designs. The 2002 'F2002' saw the rear end become more compact and sculpted,  with the final year of success peaking in 2004 with the F2004. This would be the ultimate incarnation, perfectly developed in every area and still enjoys the accolade of the fastest car of all time. However it was the F2002's dominance a couple years previous under the hands Schumacher that caused the FIA to amend their points system!

For the 2001 season designer Rory Byrne and technical director Ross Brawn were seeking to claw back valuable lost downforce. Regulation changes limited the rear wing to three elements while the front wing height was raised from 40mm to 100mm. A creative interpretation of the rules by Ferrari lead to a characteristic 'drooping' nose. This took advantage of a 50mm area along the central plane of the car that could be run as low as possible since the introduction of the wooden plank in 1994. The front wing curved around its low slung nose to negate any lost downforce and this was swiftly copied by teams.
In the engine department Paolo Martinelli had managed to shave over 10kg of weight with the new '050' V10 engine with the use of an aluminium crankcase and shorter heads. While it didn't quite match the raw power of BMW's unit in the back of the rival Williams it was 23kg lighter and much more reliable. All this weight saving translated into more ballast around the car to improve handling and meet the minimum 600kg requirement. This was important as new rules governed higher crash safety requirements with teams struggling to combat the resulting increase in weight.
The 2001 season would be a record breaker for the team with Michael Schumacher winning the World Championship by a huge margin. Furthermore the car proved bullet proof throughout while rivals McLaren and Williams struggled. A perfect canvas was now provided for the team to design an evolution for the following season. Such was the advantage that the previous year's car would race for the first couple rounds of the 2002 season (and the third for team mate Rubens Barrichello), allowing maximum development time of the new 'F2002'.

Byrne, Brawn and Martinelli understood that the new car would continue on last year's focus on reducing weight and improving its distribution. Key to this would be a new lightweight 'direct shift' gearbox. Weissman Transmissions had designed a 'clutchless' direct shift gearbox for Brabham in the 80's in which gears were in a constant mesh before being engaged. This allowed seamless changes but lacked the computer control to drop the torque between the millisecond this took, greatly affecting reliability. However with computer technology advances of the 21st century Ferrari were able to take advantage of this unpatented design. Their own innovations allowed its titanium alloy casing to be fused directly to the engine and also enclose the differential, making it extremely compact. Combining this with a very low center of gravity thanks to the new 051 engine's crankshaft position, the F2002 featured an extremely tightly packed rear end. The 'coke bottle' shape was further enhanced by the team mounting the radiators in the sidepods at an extreme angle. Now common place, this allowed a very low side pod to further compliment rear end aerodynamics. The car was now producing a lot less drag than previous and improved its rear wing efficiency, similar to the principles enjoyed by the #4 ranked McLaren MP4/4. 

Ferrari had pioneered the periscope exhaust two years previous with gases exiting at the top of the car. The norm at the time was exits through the suspension which upset airflow to the rear diffuser. While Adrian Newey would experiment with exhaust 'blowing' of the diffuser at McLaren and later Redbull, other teams would follow Ferrari's direction until 'blowing' made a resurgence nearly a decade later. However problems arose in early years with suspension components melting in exhaust heat. Michael Schumacher's cracked exhaust caused his suspension to melt at Monaco in 2000 causing his retirement. For 2002 cowls on the bodywork around the periscope exhaust exits created an area of low pressure that sucked hot air from the sidepods and directed exhaust flow. Now hot air wouldn't interfere with either the suspension or the aerodynamics of the rear wing. Other small details further enhanced the F2002 such as suspension uprights that were manufactured out of a carbon-aluminium metal matrix. This saved around 200g per corner at the expense of long manufacturing time and material costs. 

With such a mega chariot Michael Schumacher was able to wrap up the Driver's World Championship at the French Grand Prix by July with six races remaining, winning or coming 2nd in every race the F2002 entered. He was never off the podium for the entire season, enjoying a 100% reliability record on his way to becoming a four time World Champion. His team mate Rubens Barrichello also won four races and would finish the season runner up. The only blip came when the Brazilian yielded over to Schumacher on the last lap of the Austrian Grand Prix to gift him a win. Under jeers from the crowd an embarrassed Schumacher passed his trophy over to Barrichello resulting in heavy fines and a ban on team orders. Such dominance had not been witnessed in the sport and although 2003 proved more closely fought, Schumacher would consecutively win for the next two years. This was despite the FIA changing the point system after 2002 to award 2nd place with two more points (8) and scoring the top eight drivers. The car continued to evolve into a force to be reckoned with, keeping to the lightweight compact rear-end design principle. While the F2002 may not contain a radical rule interpretation like others in this top 10 it is sheer cunning dominance, beauty and speed that makes it the best F1 car there has ever been.

Controversy List

To avoid my IP address being traced by angry fans looking to throw a molotov cocktail through my front window I have devised a quick list of cars that narrowly missed the list. Whether they should have been included or not is your opinion!

Lotus Climax 25
Lotus 72
McLaren Ford M23
Ferrari 312T
Brabham BMW BT52
Williams Renault FW18
McLaren Mercedes MP4/13
Ferrari F2004
Brawn BGP 001
Renault R26
Red Bull Renault RB6
Mercedes F1 W05