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 later 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 of 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 if London Air Squadron and a keen pilot, Chapman became inspired by a WII 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 the cars 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 'purposing' 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 these issue. 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

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Swept Wing Gets Swept Aside

An interesting development today was Red Bull's innovative approach to the new swept front wing regulations. In a move to apparently make the front wing less sensitive to dirty air and improve overtaking, the FIA require the edges of the front wing offset back from the leading edge, so creating a sweep of 12.5 degrees. Red Bull have gone to the extreme with this new intricate front wing design featuring straight edges adjoined delicately by the central neutral section. We don't know if this design is fully legal, but it looks to have achieve walking around the regulations in the quest for a straighter flow of air. The front of the RB13 is already interesting with its 'mouth', which improves airflow and the efficiency of the floor.

EDIT - It has since been speculated that this wing was designed for pit stop purposes. We didn't see it featuring at all in the following season.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

The Biggest Winner and Loser - Week 1 Circuit de Catalunya

After the first week of testing it's too early to draw definitive conclusions over the coming season's pecking order. We do however get an insight, notably who has made a big step and who has dropped an absolute clanger..

Winner - Ferrari

Sebastian Vettel completed the opening day just 0.113 seconds slower than Lewis Hamilton's fastest time in the Mercedes. When you consider this was set on the soft tyre compound apposed to Hamilton's super softs, the new SF70-H looks quick. The following day Kimi Raikkonen took the helm of the Ferrari and was 0.023 seconds quicker than the Mercedes with the same tyre compounds. While we don't know for sure if the car was being run light on fuel, the Ferrari still looks like the hot ticket this season. Its times through the week were also consistent and Gary Anderson's track side observations report back on the SF70-H being the most balanced and stable looking through the bends. Even rivals Redbull have looked skittish and the Mercedes more hesitant to turn-in. The extreme sidepod design and barge boards seem to have materialised into great aerodynamic performance. 

Loser - Mclaren Honda

Snowball affect -  a process that starts from an initial state of small significance and builds upon itself, becoming larger (graver, more serious), and also perhaps potentially dangerous or disastrous (a vicious circle, a "spiral of decline")

Back in 2014 Ron Dennis applied pressure to upcoming partners Honda, requesting their engine be ready for the following season. The Japanese manufacturer had wanted another year to develop a successful power unit to suit the new regulations. McLaren were still hurting from their loss of major title sponsor Vodafone and so Dennis was eager his new partnership kick started life back into the brand as soon as possible. This ultimately cost him his job and 2015 became McLaren's worst points finish in 35 years. The Honda engine was the worst on the grid, with a 'size zero' brief leading to an over-ambitious design that didn't deliver. A tight axial compressor turbo embedded in the V of the engine struggled to generate power. To further compound issues the energy recovery simply couldn't deliver full power over a long straight.

Although Honda worked hard to improve things in 2016 McLaren are still no where near the position their heritage and size of operation should reflect. Honda's new chief  Yusuke Hasegawa has overseen a redesign of the entire engine concept for the new season. The engine features a split turbo design more in line with Mercedes, with the turbo compressor at the front of the engine at the turbine at the rear. Abandoning a development route means two years of their work on the axial turbo is out of the window. 

Unfortunately for Honda the unit has been problematic. Day 1 saw Fernando Alonso sidelined in the morning with problems with the oil system. The engine was shipped back to Japan for diagnosis which confirmed the issue to be the actual design of the oil tank. To rub salt into the wounds team mate Stoffel Vandoorne's unit suffered a big failure the following day. While head scratching continues, Hasegawa was clearly concerned when pressed on how these events would affect their first race:

 "Oil tank, definitely not. The mechanical issue, I don't know, I'm yet to be confident about that, but of course I worry about that."

While its up to Honda to raise their game McLaren can't blame all its testing woes on the engine. The new MCL32 has looked to lack grip trackside according to Gary Anderson: 

"Through that complex, the McLaren never looked good. Alonso couldn't get hard on the throttle out of Turn 2 - the car just starts moving - and I never saw him go into Turn 3 flat on the throttle. He's either having to lift big time beforehand, or just as he's coming into the corner. It's not understeer, just a lack of grip. McLaren can't really complain about Honda's engine, because there are still horses left in there that they're not using at the minute. It looks OK on the very softest tyres, but on softs and mediums - the most relevant tyres for this track - it's just not there."

Lets hope the Woking team can have even a little turn of fortune in the coming week...

Vandoorne struggles to slow down the MCL32

Sunday, 26 February 2017

F1 2017 Car Launches

Spice Girls at McLaren's glitzy '97 launch

The high-budget glamour enjoyed at car launches 20 years ago are now a distant memory. Gone are the days of pyrotechnics, glitter, celebs and chart topping music acts. Today you're treated to a boardroom presentation via webcam where team principles spout off sales pitch in an attempt to generate sponsor interest. You might even be treated to an interview with an awkward technical director who's social skills akin to a cold raw potato with Asperger syndrome. Thankfully we do get a sneaky peak of the new technology on offer as the latest cars are unveiled and some even take to the track...

Williams FW40

Williams were first to give us a taste of 2017 machinery on February 17th, albeit with a computer rendered image of their new car. While its good to get a perspective of what we can expect in terms of shape and dimensions, its important to remember that this is still a pre-season computer generated image. The team will unlikely want to reveal any trick aerodynamic pieces and we will have to wait until testing to get a better picture.

The new larger tyres are very striking and the wings and aero details hark back to 2008. The new regulations seem to have been successful in making the cars look aggressive, though there is little on paper at least to suggest the racing is going to improve. 

On feature clear on the rendered images is the S duct on the front nose. This should allow the center of the front wing to work more efficiently as well as reducing any lift that the nose generates.

Sauber C36

Last Monday saw Swiss outfit Sauber release images of its new chariot online, the C36. Sporting an attractive blue and gold livery the car carries the aspirations of a team saved from the brink. At last year's penultimate race in Brazil driver Felipe Nasr finished 9th and scored the teams first points in front of his home crowd. One could argue this was the most important 9th place finish in the history of the sport as it leapfrogged the team in front of rivals in the standings. A final championship position of 10th place ensured the team received desperately needed FIA prize money to help revive the team. Much to its detriment rivals Manor did not and sadly went into administration with no buyer. The gates were closed to their Oxfordshire factory on January 6th.

Making a comeback for 2017 is the 'shark fin' engine cover. The fin conditions the air to allow the rear wing to work more efficiently. When the car is steered into corners it also has an affect similar to a boat rudder, producing 'side force' as the face of the fin is rotated into the direction of the air flow. There are some drawbacks which have to be considered by teams, namely making the car very sensitive to crosswinds leading to unruly handling.

Sauber like many teams took advantage of its 'promotional filming day' joker card allowed twice per season. Under the premise of producing video footage of the cars on track and at times following a camera car, the team is allowed 62 miles of running. During this time without doubt engineers are trying their best to squeeze as much credible data out of this session as possible. Wind tunnels and computer fluid dynamics are no substitute for reality. The main obstacle is the requirement for the teams to run 'demonstration tyres' that restrict the cornering speed of the cars. The C30 enjoyed a trouble free shake down as it completed its laps around Barcelona on Wednesday.

Renault RS17

A lot of hopes are pinned on the RS17. Realising they were flogging a dead horse with last year's RS16, resources were diverted away to the following year's design with the potential to take advantage of the rules shake up. Being fortunate enough to visit the factory in Enstone last year I witnessed a positive buzz of determination and focus . This is to be expected after being bought back from the brink with a long term contract and support by Renault. Unlike last year the RS17 doesn't suffer from the low-budget design hangover of the Lotus days. 

Somehow the team wouldn't commit a long term contract with Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer remains in his seat for this year. Highly rated Nico Hulkenberg joins the team looking to break his winless duck and if the new car goes as good as it looks he will be in with a fighting chance. The striking yellow and black livery really draws your eyes to its intricate aerodynamic details. 

As with the Sauber the car features a large shark fin on its engine cover, and beneath the new power unit boasts a predicted 0.3-0.5 seconds improvement over a lap. Renault have clawed their way back from a dismal 2014 power unit and will hope to take the fight to Mercedes this year.

Probably the most striking feature is the wide air intake. Former Jordan designer Gary Anderson drew some similarities to his old car:

"The airbox intake is a different shape to most. It is more of a horizontal opening and a bit like the 1997 Jordan.

That car is 20 years old, but the reasons for doing this don't change. It moves the intake away from the driver's helmet, which being basically spherical is the worst shape you could have to aerodynamically optimise.

This shape allows for a more pronounced undercut between the top of the driver's headrest and the intake, again improving the airflow consistency to the rear wing."

Force India VJM10

Chico and Ocan struggle to find the boot release 

Force India enjoyed a brilliant 2016 season finishing 4th and ahead of rivals Williams. Under guidance of technical director Andrew Green the Silverstone outfit continue to deliver good results on a comparatively small budget.

The new VJM10 is not so pleasing to the eye. Reminiscent of 2012 the car features a step in it's nose. Andrew Green admits this is more function than form:

"We have tried to exploit an area of the front suspension regulations that improved the characteristics of it from a mechanical perspective. It does mean that because of the way the regulations are worded, we cannot merge it into the nose as we would like. There is an exclusion box that we have to respect, so unfortunately we end up with a little bit of a 'forehead', as it is called."

Furthermore the car features an unslightly phallic tip with slots either side. This aims to maximise airflow to the underside at the cost of ugly aesthetics.

Mercedes W08

With mammoth staff levels around 700 and World Championship dominance over the last 3 years no team is in a better position than Mercedes to come up with the goods. The Brackley outfit debuted the W08 at a windy Silverstone on Thursday, enjoying a shake down under the guise of a media day. 

The car features a beautifully packaged coke bottle rear end. As soon as the radiators and cooling systems are packaged the sidepods sweep inwards to maximise free space and therefore efficient air flow. Striking louvres cut into the edge of the floor attempt to keep air from escaping from the underside and should increase the performance of the diffuser. Continuing last year's theme intricate barge boards allow a better transition of air under the floor as well as dealing with the turbulent wake created by the large Pirelli front tyres.

Interestingly the Mercedes didn't feature a huge shark fin engine cover like others. In its place featured a novel 'T wing' which also helps condition airflow and increase performance of the rear wing. It is important to note however that storm Dorris was in full effect and open flat Silverstone seems to be one of the windiest destinations, even on a good day. Could Mercedes simply be not wanting their car to be battered sideways by the strong wings the shark fin is so susceptible to?

Ferrari SF70H

Pressure is mounting at Maranello for the Scuderia to deliver in 2017. Team principle Maurizio Arrivabene endured the embaressment of being outscored and outclassed by Redbull last year. Its hard to see Ferrari wanting anything less than to topple Mercedes at the top. 

Ferrari seem to have gone aggressive with the rear end of the car. Hugely undercut sidepod openings complement a tightly packaged coke bottle rear end. All this can increase the general aerodynamic performance of the car all the way to the front wing if working in harmony. Its certainly something that the other teams will be watching closely. The rest of the package features the now commonplace shark fin and beaky front nose. However in this instance the shark fin also works in conjunction with a T wing for an almost Star Wars look.

McLaren MCL32

The Woking squad are experiencing some of the biggest changes in its long and illustrious history. Ron Dennis was the genius behind McLaren's success who's vision went beyond the world of Formula 1. Forced to step down as chairman in November after boardroom disputes the brand faces a new era in need of direction. American Zak Brown is now in his place and with it comes a new car naming prefix 'MCL', replacing Ron Dennis' 'MP4'. Boldly McLaren ditch the infamous black and red brand colours, replacing the latter with the orange synonymous with the team's early days.

In terms of the launch event McLaren did push the boat in comparison with to the poor effort of others. Orange lighting and lasers illuminated a dark black room as the MCL32 rotated on a platform. Journalist's seating encircled like some sort of sci-fi court room. Unfortunately for the team the new livery wasn't universally accepted by McLaren fans, pointing out its similarity to the failed Spyker team. 

The new car features a striking nose pillar design with four elements each side. This aims at directing the air flow in a similar role to barge boards. The heavily undercut sidepod leading edges are similar to that of the Ferrari though different in shape. The new Honda power unit is new in concept after the previous years failings and will have to cope with reduced cooling that this aggressive design compromises.