The 2015 Formula One Season and Other Thoughts

After the return of Formula One two weeks ago, in which we saw Mercedes take an imperious one-two and looking unassailable this year, we’ve had a more surprising result today in Malaysia, where Ferrari took the fight to Mercedes, with Sebastian Vettel exploiting what appears to be a slippery chassis and an improved engine to win decisively against Hamilton and Rosberg. Kimi Raikkonen compounded Ferrari’s success, despite his misfortunes in qualifying and suffering a puncture during the race to take a solid fourth place. After seeing Hamilton romp home to take victory a fortnight ago in Australia, I was concerned that we would see a domineering season from a single driver, with Rosberg, possibly chastised from falling short at the end of last season, perhaps left to pick up the scraps. However, if Ferrari can maintain some degree of consistency about their performances, it might bode better in terms of intrigue throughout the season. At this point, I still expect Mercedes to win the World Constructor’s Championship with greater consistency from both their drivers, but if Vettel and Raikkonen can deliver performances at tracks that don’t have such a focus on top speed, they may present themselves as at least dark horses for the World Driver’s Championship.

After Ricciardo’s spectacular performances last season, taking three victories in a season where barely anybody else even came close to snatching glory from the Mercedes, he has become team leader at Red Bull with the move of Vettel to Ferrari. Daniil Kvyat, formerly of Toro Rosso, joins him and has acquitted himself well so far, despite reliability problems which prevented him from taking the grid in Australia. After so many years in the previous naturally-aspirated formula at the top of Formula One, Red Bull have struggled to regain their pace with the turbocharged Renault engines. Reliability gremlins struck both cars in Australia and the Renault engine, even when it is working, still appears to be down on power versus the Mercedes and an improved Ferrari. Unlike last season, where Ricciardo achieved victories, I think that this season will see Red Bull lucky to battle for podiums, more regularly scoring in the middle of the points.

Red Bull’s sister team, Toro Rosso, shares the Renault engines and also suffered some mechanical problems in Australia at the hands of Max Verstappen. Verstappen has drawn a considerable amount of press for his age, being only 17 years old, by a long way the youngest ever Formula One driver. The son of former Formula One journeyman Jos Verstappen, Max has a notorious lack of experience in single-seater racing, with only a single season of Formula 3 under his belt and joins Formula One after a year of test driving for Toro Rosso in 2014. However, on current evidence in the Formula One races so far, he has quite a bit of natural pace, matching his substantially more experienced team-mate, Carlos Sainz Jr., another new entrant and also son to a famous racing driver father. Despite the limited experience of both drivers, they have quickly brought the fight to the other teams, with Sainz scoring in both of his two finishes and Verstappen only being denied a points finish in his race due to an engine failure.

Williams, regularly best of the rest in 2014 and unlucky not to score a victory on occasions, might have to retemper their expectations in 2015. They still have the proven Mercedes engine, have retained both Felipe Massa and Valterri Bottas from last year and still appear to have a fair degree of pace, but with Ferrari looking stronger than last year, Williams will more likely be caught up in a scrap with the likes of Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Lotus – when their car works properly – for the middle points positions. This is slightly disappointing for Bottas, who scored several well-deserved podiums last season and looks like a likely race winner in the future, but the team may be able to take some solace in that they are likely to be at the front of the battle between the teams that aren’t Mercedes or Ferrari.

Closer to the back of the points positions, Sauber appear to have a quicker car than last year, although they are embroiled in a legal battle with Giedo van der Garde over contract issues that looks like it’ll be a slow burner. Considering one of the drivers that they did choose, I would question their decision not to give van der Garde one of the seats this year; Marcus Ericsson, whose results last year were underwhelming even by the standards of the Caterham team and who didn’t cover himself in glory in the lower single-seater formulae, was signed up in his place. The other choice of driver for the team, Felipe Nasr, is more sensible, despite Nasr being a rookie; he did win a championship at Formula Three and came third in last year’s GP2 series. Nevertheless, given the prominent change in livery for Sauber, now proudly displaying the colours of Banco del Brasil, one strongly suspects that both drivers were picked for their ability to bring in sponsorship dollars, since Sauber is suspected to be in a weak position financially.

Another team rumoured to be weak financially and who will also be scrapping for the lower points positions this season is Force India. Their driver line-up, with the podium-scoring Sergio Perez and the pole position-attaining Nico Hulkenberg, is more experienced than that of Sauber, but their car, despite having a Mercedes engine, does not look especially fast. Somewhat benefited in the race in Australia by virtue of reliability where for others it was lacking, Force India managed a double points finish, but I suspect they will struggle to keep that up during the rest of the season.

At least, though, for all their financial woes, Sauber and Force India are performing better than McLaren, who look like they’re going to have an annus horribilis. With the conclusion of McLaren’s contract with Mercedes, McLaren have gone back to a partner who has presented them with considerable success in the past, with Honda engines in the back of their car. Unfortunately, though, the Honda engine is suffering from a distinct lack of development versus Mercedes, Ferrari and even Renault and is by far the least powerful engine on the grid right now. Trundling around at the back is not a place where we have often seen McLaren and the car, while reportedly nice to drive, is unbefitting of the most experienced line-up on the grid, with double World Champion Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, also a World Champion. McLaren will be lucky to score points this season and have already struggled to complete races.

One of the feel-good stories of the pre-season was Manor Marussia’s phoenix-like rise from the ashes to present two cars at Australia. Unfortunately, having completed no testing and with all software wiped from their computers in preparation for auction, neither car turned a wheel in Australia and it had to wait until Malaysia until we had a full grid of cars ready to take the start. Will Stevens, who competed in one race last season and Roberto Merhi, another rookie driver, have both been signed up to drive for the team, but it remains to be seen whether the position is a poisoned chalice or not. The car, a derivative of the 2014 Marussia, was not on the pace in Malaysia, barely scraping through the 107% rule in free practice, although Merhi’s completion of the race shows that the car may well have reliability on its side. Even as a fan of the plucky underdog, the pace of the car looks prohibitively slow and with the exit of Caterham, who had gone from underdogs in their early seasons to perennial underachievers by the time of their demise, Manor will largely be in a lonely race with themselves. Things are not looking good for the smaller teams.

In terms of tracks for this season, we have gained another classic track in the Mexican Grand Prix, being held at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, but temporarily lost the German Grand Prix for the first time since 1960. The loss of the German Grand Prix marks another struggle for the classic European tracks where so much of Formula One’s history lies and while the move to new markets has occasionally given us gems like Sepang or Circuit of the Americas, I do think it’s terrible that Germany doesn’t have a Grand Prix this year for financial concerns, despite having three successful German drivers on the grid, while Abu Dhabi, a city in a desert only notable for its oil reserves and the obvious artifice of its settlements, maintains its end-of-season place at a dull, largely featureless track that has been site of some of the most boring races of the last five years, where not even seasons coming down the wire can improve the racing itself.

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In other news, the BBC finally bit the bullet and sacked Jeremy Clarkson after a career of controversy. To be fair, even as a Top Gear aficionado, from what we have been presented with from reports of the incident between Clarkson and the BBC producer, Oisin Tymon, Clarkson deserved his sacking; assault on a co-worker is very difficult to condone. Nevertheless, though, it looks like it’s the end of Top Gear as we know it; the ribald, politically incorrect humour of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May will be unlikely to be continued on the BBC. Plenty of names have already been mooted for a completely new set of presenters, several who would be good choices for an informative car show, but few who would present anything like what we have seen since Clarkson took the reins in 2002.

The bookie’s favourite at the moment is Guy Martin, perennial Isle of Man TT competitor, lorry mechanic and occasional TV presenter. To be fair, Guy Martin would be one of the best choices the BBC could make; not only does Guy have a quirky personality that is interesting to watch, he is genuinely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about motor vehicles and has exceptional mechanical sympathy. This would make him a great choice for an informative car show, as I would suspect the BBC would try to retool the show towards, but I’m not sure that Guy would actually bite – after all, it could affect his ability to race successfully at several of the motorcycle road races that take place during the year in Northern Ireland, some of which provide a lead up to the TT.

My fear is that the BBC will bow to pressure from outspoken minorities and take the politically correct route unnecessarily. This includes the lobby to have a woman back on the show – several women did present the show during the original run of Top Gear, but the show was retooled precisely because the original formula had poor ratings and apart from Sabine Schmitz who is already too busy with D-Motor on German television, I can’t think of many female candidates that wouldn’t just be there to tick diversity boxes. Meanwhile, Clarkson will likely find himself a home somewhere on Sky, given his already comfy relationship with several organs of the Murdoch empire, possibly with Richard Hammond and James May in tow, drawing away viewers from the BBC and causing a crisis in an already battered broadcaster.

Finally, I see that Ted Cruz has announced his nomination as the Republican candidate for President of the United States. I already made my views on Ted Cruz very clear earlier this month, but I hate the man even more now – he was dangerous enough as the head of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science and Space without going for the Presidency as well. While the other Republican candidates look more appealing than Ted Cruz, that isn’t exactly a difficult feat, since lighting my pubes on fire would be more appealing to me than voting for Ted Cruz.

From an objective point of view, it looks like the Republicans will present their third terrible candidate in a row in presidential elections; unfortunately, I don’t have enough confidence in the Democrats to present anything better than a mediocre candidate (because perish the thought that they’d actually be sensible and pick Elizabeth Warren) and I don’t have enough confidence in the American populace not to go for the Republican candidate out of spite. Prove me wrong, America; I’m begging for you to prove me wrong.

Thoughts on the 2014 Formula One Season

The 2013 Formula One season, by all accounts, was a walkover for Red Bull Racing. Sebastian Vettel, who won the Drivers’ Championship at a canter, collected more points than the runner-up team in the Constructors’ Championship and won nine back-to-back races in the latter part of the season. While I can’t deny that Vettel certainly did enough to deserve the title, I did not find that dominating results in his manner led to terribly exciting racing. Often, Vettel would score a pole on the Saturday and spend the entire race out front on Sunday while the other racers scrapped for the remaining positions. The few missteps that Vettel made at the start of the season were effectively rendered irrelevant once the tyre dispute with Pirelli that led to unintentional chaos was resolved in favour of Red Bull.

All tension was removed from the championship hunt, while results down the field increasingly took up an air of irrelevance once teams started to slot into their final championship places. Transitioning to 2014 and a team is once again showing exceptionally dominant performances, but this time, it’s not Red Bull; instead, Mercedes have made good on their gain in potential over the last few seasons and stolen the march in the early development of the current formula. This should, taking the past few seasons into account, be a catalyst for dread for more processional and dull racing – but I’m not concerned yet.

One major difference has appeared so far to lead me to believe that this season holds more potential for excitement. In the past four seasons, Sebastian Vettel’s team-mate was Mark Webber, a driver whose last big chance to compete for the Drivers’ Championship was 2010. This title was – eventually – won by Sebastian Vettel at the last race of the season at Abu Dhabi, who took advantage of his pole position and controlled the race while his competitors for the title, Webber himself and Fernando Alonso, trailed in the bottom end of the points. From then until Webber’s retirement from Formula One, Webber never really looked like a competitor for the title, despite having the same dominant machinery as Vettel. His confidence apparently sapped, Webber might have won races, but Vettel won championships.

The difference this year comes from the objectively better matched confidence and desire of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Lewis Hamilton has often appeared to be one of the fastest drivers on the grid, but only has one championship to show for it. Nico Rosberg, whose father was a champion in the chaotic season of 1982, has emerged as a quick and technically proficient driver, but has not yet had an opportunity to compete for the championship. The races so far in the season have shown Hamilton and Rosberg to be willing to battle each other in wheel-to-wheel racing, as shown magnificently in the dying laps of the 2014 Bahrain Grand Prix. Even if Mercedes were to remain dominant for the rest of the season, the competition between two drivers hungry for success could help offset the ennui of a single-team domination, in much the same way as the inter-team battle between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost helped to make the 1987 season exciting despite the overwhelming technical advantage of the McLaren team.

Even in the Red Bull inter-team battle, Sebastian Vettel doesn’t seem to be having it all his own way. Daniel Ricciardo, recently promoted from the Toro Rosso sister team, has proven so far to be a surprisingly competent foil to Vettel, outqualifying him three times out of four so far and outscoring him on the two occasions when both drivers have finished. This in itself could be a very interesting contest to watch as the experienced champion has to fend off the young challenger in his own team.

Most of the other teams in the championship are rather more difficult to classify. Ferrari has been underwhelming so far, with Fernando Alonso so far demonstrating some degree of pace but his much-vaunted team-mate Kimi Raikkonen struggling. McLaren, after a very quick opening race, has dropped back into the midfield. Force India has reaped some of the rewards of having the Mercedes engine and are currently third in the Constructors’ Championship, but it remains to be seen whether they can make a consistent effort throughout the rest of the season. Williams, despite early promise, have not managed to make the most of promising situations and lie below where I would have expected. Toro Rosso has been largely anonymous, although Daniil Kvyat has challenged his more experienced team-mate better than expected. Only at the back of the midfield group does a pecking order really emerge; Lotus are suffering from the consequences of overspending throughout the last few seasons to try to punch above their weight and Sauber are just nowhere with two underwhelming drivers.

The battle of Marussia and Caterham at the back continues, but it has been given some additional spice by the addition of Kamui Kobayashi, one of my favourite drivers in previous seasons, to the Caterham team. Max Chilton currently leads the standings with performances that belie his appearance as a bit of a pay-driver (although, to be fair, his reliability throughout the 2013 season also belied that appearance) while Jules Bianchi has been rather invisible. Marcus Eriksson, Kobayashi’s team-mate in the other Caterham, has looked a bit like the lame duck of the season, but hasn’t made any embarrassing slip-ups yet.

The rule changes for the season have ranged in their effectiveness; the turbocharged engines and the fuel regulations have led to a high-torque driving challenge where the cars seem – to my excitement – to be rather more of a handful than the V8 cars were in the previous few seasons, although the reticence to reach the 15,000rpm limit has led to the rather underwhelming and controversial sound (although I do like the sounds the cars make as they slow down for corners). I’ve found the fixed driver numbers rather irrelevant in the grand scheme of things and somewhat gimmicky to boot, but their irrelevance at least means they couldn’t have had a large-scale negative effect. The same can’t be said of the decision to double the points for the final race of the season.

The idea to introduce double points at all is gimmicky by its very nature and seems a rather tacky way to try to manufacture excitement. This is made worse by the track which is receiving double points – the Yas Marina Circuit at Abu Dhabi. I have never felt that the Abu Dhabi race should be held as the final race of a season, being on a circuit which I feel demonstrates the worst impulses of Hermann Tilke’s track design.

The track is flat as a pancake – which I suppose Tilke couldn’t help, considering he had much better results with the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, an environ more suited for undulation – with the transition between tight, twisty sections and a long straight hypothetically creating a challenge between low and high downforce, but in reality just creating a compromise to medium downforce. It is difficult to overtake at the Yas Marina circuit, with Fernando Alonso’s long, ultimately fruitless struggle to get past Vitaly Petrov in the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix which earned Sebastian Vettel his first title underpinning that point perfectly. The circuit has large, expansive run-off areas which are very useful for enhancing safety, but remove the big consequences for running off the track at the likes of Suzuka or Spa-Francorchamps. If they have to have double points at all, it should be at a track which either promotes overtaking – Spa-Francorchamps, Interlagos, et cetera – or at a track which promotes the ultimate in driver skill – the one and only Circuit de Monaco.

Revolutionary Technology in Formula One – Ground Effect

The development of the downforce-generating wing changed the course of Formula One forever, requiring a complete change in driving style and car construction to make the most of the generated downforce. No longer could drivers use flashy but inefficient drifting moves around corners; instead, precision became more and more of a factor. The generation of downforce by the wings of the car improved lap times as the tyres were used more efficiently, but there seemed to be an upper limit on how much downforce could be generated by a car’s wings before the drag effects of the wing cancelled out improvements in lap times by increasing downforce. Some enterprising team managers looked for new ways to generate downforce, ones which wouldn’t lead to drag effects cancelling out their hard work.

Just as the downforce-generating wing had been derived from aeronautical engineering, so too was the next development in downforce generation, and just Colin Chapman, legendary team owner, manager and engineer of Team Lotus, had been involved in the development of the wing, so he was instrumental to the development of automotive ground effect in Formula One. However, just as with the downforce-generating wing, the development of ground effect first came from a source outside of Formula One. Jim Hall, the Texan racing driver responsible for the Chaparral cars which had heavily influenced the development of the wing in Formula One, had also preempted developments in ground effect with the Chaparral 2J.

The Chaparral 2J was a bizarre-looking car, with a distinct and unmistakable boxy shape which seemed to completely defy all of the conventional logic on automotive aerodynamics. However, the 2J came with its own secret weapon. Two fans, driven by a two-stroke snowmobile engine mounted in the car, “sucked” the car to the surface, while flexible plastic skirts fitted to the underside of the car maintained a semi-vacuum seal which helped maintain the generated downforce from the two-stroke-driven fans.

The 2J caused great controversy in the Can-Am series in which it competed, with competitors complaining of stones thrown back by the suction fans into the faces of following drivers. The McLaren team, then dominant in the series, launched a complaint which sought to ban the fans under a law prohibiting “moveable aerodynamic devices”. Despite its significant advantages, including downforce which did not fluctuate based on the speed of the car, the Chaparral 2J was not competitively successful and suffered problems with reliability. While the 2J was capable of racing at two seconds a lap faster than its competitors, this meant little if it could not finish a race. The car raced for a single season of Can-Am in 1970, before the successful upholding of McLaren’s complaints led to the car’s banning.

The Chaparral 2J may not have been competitively successful, but other designers were researching similar concepts at the same time, trying to reduce effects such as turbulence caused by their early aerodynamic wing structures. Gordon Murray of the Brabham team managed to create useful downforce in the mid-1970s by strategic placement of air dams under the car in an attempt to prevent air flow under the car. However, like many of the developments in Formula One, Lotus were themselves doing research into the field of under-car aerodynamics.

In 1976, confronted with sub-par performance from their Lotus 77, having developed it as a replacement for their long-running and successful Lotus 72 which had nevertheless grown long in the tooth, Team Lotus redoubled their efforts on a new car. Colin Chapman, who had studied the de Havilland Mosquito fighter-bomber, one of the quickest and most successful aeroplane models of the Second World War, had realised that the wing-mounted radiators had been designed in such a way to develop lift. This, Chapman realised, could be developed in reverse in order to generate downforce, in much the same way that a reversed wing structure was then generating downforce for Formula One cars.

Having struggled in 1976 with only a single win throughout the season, Lotus fought back in 1977. The Lotus 78 was, when it worked correctly, utterly dominant, winning five races and raising Lotus from a distant fourth in the Constructors’ Championship in 1976 to second in 1977. The car owed its spectacular speed to the careful sculpting of the car’s sidepods in a way resembling an inverted aerofoil, thus creating an area of low pressure underneath the car and generating additional downforce, similar to the already-existing wings. As with the Chaparral 2J, the air was sealed under the car by the use of plastic skirts, which also had the side-effect of making it difficult for other teams to figure out where Lotus’ sudden jump in pace had come from.

Unfortunately for Team Lotus’ quest for both championships, however, the usual unreliability for Lotus cars seems to have taken hold in 1977 and despite the obvious pace, Niki Lauda’s superior reliability in the Ferrari was enough to stave off not only the challenge of Mario Andretti in the Lotus 78, but also Jody Scheckter’s challenge in the surprisingly quick car of the Walter Wolf Racing team. These reliability issues were a consequence of development versions of the Ford Cosworth DFV that was used in the Lotus 78 in an attempt to gain back some of the speed lost by some design faults of the car that caused oversteer and required a larger, drag-causing rear wing.

Nevertheless, the pace of the Lotus 78 when it went well was cause for hope and Team Lotus continued with the car into 1978. Meanwhile, the team were preparing their follow-up effort, but before this was introduced, the Lotus 78 still proved fast enough to win two of the first five races of the season, one each in the hands of Mario Andretti and Ronnie Peterson. It was after the fifth race had concluded at Monaco, however, that Team Lotus would introduce their new car, one that would prove to be as dominant in 1978 as the Lotus 78 had (on the occasions when it managed to finish) in 1977.

The Lotus 79, the first Formula One car to be designed using a wind tunnel and computer-aided design, was one of the biggest jumps forward ever seen in Formula One. If the Lotus 78 had been the revolutionary design, demonstrating what ground effect could do to the performance of a Formula One car, the Lotus 79 was the deep refinement of those principles and would overwhelmingly give Lotus both the Drivers’ Championship and Constructors’ Championship in the most dominant style then seen in Formula One. The Lotus 79 would take a further six wins for Team Lotus throughout the remainder of the season, including five for Mario Andretti on his way to the Drivers’ Championship.

The only realistic competitors that Lotus had during 1978 were Ferrari, whose 312T3 model was set up well for its Michelin tyres in hot weather conditions and Brabham, who picked up scraps in most of the races, but had one notable success in the Swedish Grand Prix. In this race, the Brabham team introduced their BT46B model, otherwise known as the “fan-car”. Gordon Murray had figured out how the Lotus team were achieving their outstanding pace, but with a car with a wide flat-12 engine which was unsuitable for manipulating the undersides of the car, the Brabham team decided to try something different.

In much the same way as Jim Hall had done with the Chaparral 2J, the Brabham BT46B developed downforce by the use of a fan fitted at the back of the car to create a partial vacuum. The results were staggering, the Brabham team cantering to an easy win, leaving even the Lotus cars in their wake. Some sources have even suggested that the Brabham cars were deliberately driven slower than they could be in order to create a semblance of fair play. In either case, the win created uproar in the paddock and fan cars were soon declared illegal from then on, with Brabham’s win still standing.

Unfortunately for Lotus, their outstanding success in 1978 was marred by the death of Ronnie Peterson near the end of the season at Monza during the Italian Grand Prix. A midfield pileup at the start of the race caused Peterson to crash with severe leg injuries. Unfortunately, as he was not judged to be in as much danger of death as others that had been injured in the shunt, he was not examined as thoroughly as he possibly should have been and later died of fat embolism in hospital. This put a damper on the celebrations for Team Lotus and Jean-Pierre Jarier was drafted in to compete in the remaining races.

After such a dominant performance, it could hardly be expected that Team Lotus would never win another championship, but 1979 was not a successful year for the team. The Lotus 80, which was to be used in the 1979 season, did not prove successful, suffering from an excess of downforce along with an effect known as “porpoising”, where the low-pressure area generated by the ground effect was moving around with the car’s centre of gravity. Indeed, this would prove to be a problem with other ground effect cars designed by less well-funded teams.

The Lotus 79 was drafted in to compete in the season, but the secret of Lotus’ success was out and other manufacturers had improved on Lotus’ designs to create ground effect cars of their own. Of these, Ferrari would be the most successful, despite their large flat-12 engine which, as with the Brabham BT46, made manipulation of the car’s underside difficult. Winning six races and scoring several podiums, Ferrari were the dominant team during 1979. Meanwhile, Team Lotus, who had dominated the 1978 season, were pushed back down to fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship, behind Williams and Ligier.

Ground effect would therefore become a constant element of Formula One cars in the next few years, but it came with its downsides. As the cars grew faster, the g-forces on the drivers grew stronger, making them less and less comfortable. Improperly understood, ground effect could cause alarming effects such as the aforementioned “porpoising” problem. With the development of turbocharged cars in the early 1980s, the cars threatened to become even faster – and would once the reliability issues were resolved – which gave the frightening notion of twitchy cars with a lot of power behind them.

Eventually, things came to a head. The 1982 Formula One season was one of the most unpredictable and tragic seasons of Formula One ever, with two drivers dead, several others injured and several dangerous incidents which could be attributed to the sudden loss of downforce when a ground effect car went over the kerbs. While neither of the deaths could be attributed to these effects – Gilles Villeneuve lost his life after a horrible crash in qualifying while chasing down his teammate’s time after the incident at the San Marino Grand Prix, while Riccardo Paletti was the victim of a start-line incident where he hit Didier Pironi’s stalled car from behind and was left stuck in a burning car when the fuel tanks suddenly went on fire – there was a sense that the season had shown too much danger and ground effect cars were promptly banned for the following seasons, being replaced with cars with flat undersides. The 1983 season would be won by a dart-shaped Brabham BT52 which starkly contrasted with the wide, squat ground effect cars of the previous years.

Today, the laws against ground effect in Formula One are strongly upheld with the addition of a wooden plank underneath the car. This is not permitted to wear down past a certain depth, effectively mandating a minimum ground clearance. However, even with the flat undersides, teams still manage to get some degree of downforce by air flowing under the car; with careful shaping of the rear diffuser and the car’s bodywork at the back, downforce can still be gained. While some racing series other than Formula One have used ground effect themselves, it would remain to be seen how much faster the Formula One cars of today would be – and how much less comfortable to drive – if ground effect had not been made illegal.

Revolutionary Technology in Formula One: Composite Materials

Since the first development of racing cars, engineers have sought out ways of making them quicker. Physics dictates that one of the most crucial elements in an automobile design which is to be quick in all areas of racing is to reduce the mass of the car as much as possible. Steel bodies were therefore superceded by aluminium alloys, which left the cars with less momentum. The monocoque chassis, previously discussed in Revolutionary Technology in Formula One: The Monocoque Chassis, further decreased mass, leaving cars in the order of 450 kilograms, minus fuel and driver. By 1966, though, with the return of the 3-litre formula and the corresponding increase in mass, the developments in conventional aluminium construction had reached a plateau. One team, new to the sport, would take the lead in introducing a method of construction which would develop into a fundamental part of all Formula One cars in the future.

Bruce McLaren had already impressed people in the sport with several podiums and a few wins in the mid-engined Cooper cars which dominated the 1959 and 1960 seasons and had proved reasonably successful throughout the early 1960s. When John Cooper tried to insist that 1.5-litre Formula One engines should be run in McLaren’s attempts at running in the Australasian Tasman Series instead of the 2.5-litre engines permitted, McLaren set up his own racing team, competing with custom-built Cooper cars. With a championship win in the series, McLaren set his sights on Formula One, judging the Cooper team to be slipping down the ranks from their once-dominant position.

Bruce McLaren contracted Robin Herd, a former engineer on the Concorde project to design a car. Herd produced the M2B, a car designed with the use of a material named Mallite. Mallite was composed of a sheet of balsa wood covered on both sides with aluminum alloy, making the material stiffer than the conventional duralumin alloy used in other cars of the time. Another composite material, fibreglass, was used for some of the ancillary parts of the bodywork, such as the nose and engine cover.

All of these materials made for a light, yet stiff chassis which may have had some success if it weren’t for the unreliable engines that the McLaren team used in a season which emphasised reliability. However, Mallite, being an inherently inflexible material, was difficult to use in car designs in which curves and aerodynamic shapes were important. The cars of the 1970 season and for several seasons beyond would therefore remain relatively conventional, with the exception of the titanium-incorporating Eagle Mk1 and the disastrous magnesium-skinned design of the Honda RA302. However, composites would not remain a niche material in Formula One forever, and McLaren would once again be the team to bring the new developments to the table. Unfortunately, Bruce McLaren’s death in 1970 would guarantee that he would not see the success that his team would attain.

By 1981, McLaren had won two World Drivers’ Championships and one World Constructors’ Championship with their long-lasting M23 design, and had been competitive throughout most of the 1970s. In the midst of a downturn for the team, McLaren merged with a Formula Two team called Project Four, owned by Ron Dennis. The merger gave engineer John Barnard the resources to put his revolutionary new MP4/1 design to the race track. The MP4/1, for Marlboro Project Four/1, was entirely composed of carbon-fibre reinforced plastic, a light, stiff composite material then used primarily in the field of aerospace design, and the MP4/1 was the first demonstration of a monocoque automotive chassis designed from the material.

The decision to use carbon-fibre would prove to be a fortuitous one. Not only would the MP4/1 bring McLaren their first victory since 1977, but it would arguably contribute to the relative lack of injury suffered by John Watson after a horrifying crash at the Lesmo curves at the Italian Grand Prix. The material had truly experienced a trial by fire, and despite its expense, it was demonstrably useful for the field of motor racing.

The 1982 season was, by most accounts, a disastrous one and definitely one of the annī horribilis of the sport. Two drivers died, several escaped life-threatening injury and the eventual winner of the championship managed the feat by sheer consistency and reliability rather than the blazing speed of his car. For McLaren, however, the year wasn’t all bad. The return of Niki Lauda to the cockpit after a sabbatical lent some additional experience and a still-competitive driver to the McLaren team.

The Ferrari team, whose 126 C car proved the best of the field in 1982, also incorporated carbon fibre into their car design, although not to the extent of the McLaren team. Unfortunately, they suffered an early tragedy in the death of Gilles Villeneuve after a dispute with his teammate, Didier Pironi, over the results of the farcical San Marino Grand Prix. Didier Pironi’s success later in the season led to it looking like he would take the championship when he suffered a career-ending crash in qualifying for the German Grand Prix. This left the championship open for several competitors, including Alain Prost, Keke Rosberg and John Watson. Watson came close to winning the championship, but was held back by Rosberg’s superior consistency even in an inferior car without the turbocharged engines of the front-runners. As this would prove to be the last championship for a naturally-aspirated car until the turbocharged engines were banned in 1989, the predicted form of the year was further shaken up.

The 1983 season would not prove as successful for the McLaren team, and by then, many of their competitors had caught up with McLaren in the incorporation of carbon-fibre monocoques. Lotus, Alfa Romeo, Renault and Brabham had all taken cues from McLaren, and Brabham’s innovative, arrow-shaped BT52 model was the best suited to take advantage of the banning of ground effect from the rules in response to the tragedies of 1982. McLaren suffered a series of retirements which put them well outside of competition for the Drivers’ or Constructors’ Championships, while their competitors were taking advantage of a technology introduced by McLaren.

However, the 1984 season would allow McLaren to reap the rewards of their development with the new McLaren MP4/2. The mixture of a refined chassis with a powerful, yet reliable and fuel-efficient TAG-Porsche engine allowed McLaren to dominate the season, with a straight-up competition between Niki Lauda and Alain Prost, the latter having moved to McLaren after having missed out on the Drivers’ Championship by only two points. In the end, Lauda won his third World Championship by half-a-point over Prost, while McLaren easily won the Constructors’ Championship, just rewards for their efforts. Carbon fibre was in the sport to stay, and while some less well-funded teams still incorporated the older aluminium alloy design features into their cars for a few years afterwards, they would eventually have to follow the suit of their competitors as the power outputs produced by the turbocharged engines demonstrated that the old aluminium monocoques were no longer stiff enough for the job.

Revolutionary Technology in Formula One: The Monocoque Chassis

For a long time in the development of the automobile, it was common to build a car by fitting a separate body to an underlying rigid frame in a method called body-on-frame construction. While this technology had some advantages, such as the easy development of custom bodywork by coachbuilders, there was much left to be desired. With all of the torsional and bending strain placed on the rigid frame, it was necessary for this component of the car to be heavy and cumbersome in order to be strong enough to provide sufficient resistance against forces.

The earliest Formula One cars, such as the pre-war voiturettes of 1950 and 1951, were built on ladder frames, where the rigid frame only made up part of the bottom of the car, and the rest of the bodywork provided no structural support at all. This was quickly replaced with a more advanced chassis type when the sport moved to Formula Two rules in 1952. The spaceframe chassis, which was used on cars from the dominant Ferrari 500 of 1952 and 1953 to the Ferraris, Coopers, Lotuses and BRMs of the early 1960s, was based around interlocking struts placed in a geometric pattern around the body in such a way as to place the strain of torsion and bending all over the car.

Surprisingly for the top echelon of formula racing, though, spaceframes were old technology. The Second World War had necessitated a lot of technological and mechanical development in aircraft, and the improvements made in that field filtered down to car design in the post-war years. In the run-up to the war, the British, French and German air forces had independently designed fast interceptor fighter aircraft built on monocoque fuselages. The monocoque itself was not a particularly new idea, dating back to some reconnaissance aircraft of the First World War, and had been trialed in several pre-war car designs including the Lancia Lambda and the Citroën Traction Avant.

By the time Colin Chapman, owner of Team Lotus, designed his own monocoque Formula One cars, the technology had found its way into several commercial road-going vehicles, such as the Morris Minor and Chapman’s own Lotus Elite. It was therefore well-known that monocoque design provided substantial advantages over a ladder frame chassis in road cars, but it was yet to be demonstrated that these advantages would be worth the effort in Formula One racing.

Colin Chapman was known for his famous statements on car design, apocryphally stated as “Simplify, then add lightness”. Chapman, who had briefly been a pilot in the Royal Air Force, maintained a deep interest in aeronautical engineering techniques for the rest of his career in car design. Monocoque chassis use the body of the car as a supporting member in conjunction with the chassis, greatly increasing rigidity and therefore structural integrity. When Team Lotus introduced their Lotus 25 in 1962, the car was significantly lighter than its competitors and became the first of Lotus’ many successful Formula One models.

In fact, the Lotus 25 almost won both the Drivers’ Championship and the International Cup for F1 Manufacturers on its debut in 1962, but an engine failure for Jim Clark in the last race gave the championship victory to Graham Hill, driving for BRM with a more conventional spaceframe car. The results of the 1962 season underlined a weakness of the design characteristics of Team Lotus; while Graham Hill was classified at the end of every race that season, Jim Clark, despite his smooth driving style, had retired four times. The Lotus 25 was mechanically unreliable, and perhaps under a more leaden foot than that of the preternaturally talented Clark, the car may not even had made it that close to the championship that year.

That said, the car was clearly quick, and after the disappointment of the year before, 1963 would prove a change of fortune for Clark and Team Lotus, taking both championships convincingly against competition which persisted in using their spaceframe cars from the previous year. The advantages of the monocoque design had been clearly demonstrated, and another garagiste team joined Cooper in the annals of Formula One history.

Unfortunately, Jim Clark and Team Lotus were unable to repeat the feat in 1964. Ferrari and BRM, Lotus’ biggest competitors, had caught up technologically and built their own monocoque cars, and this combined with the Lotus 25’s recurrent unreliability left Lotus floundering at the end of the year. They would come only third, while John Surtees would secure the title for Ferrari after a year-long battle with Graham Hill in his BRM. Yet, by the time the Lotus 25 was replaced by the Lotus 33 a few races into the 1965 season, it had revolutionised the way that Formula One cars would be built in the future. The monocoque chassis is universal among modern Formula One cars, along with its near-universal presence in road cars.

However, there would be a few last significant demonstrations of spaceframe design in Formula One, taking place during the 1966 and 1967 seasons, where the increase of engine power from the new 3-litre engine formula gave the advantage to those who could acquire a reliable engine. Jack Brabham, having won the 1959 and 1960 Drivers’ Championships in mid-engined Coopers, had set up Motor Racing Developments, better known as Brabham, and chose a high-torque, lightweight aluminium engine from the Australian engineering company, Repco. This engine, which would prove the class of the field even with a deficit of power versus the Ferrari and Honda V12s, was allied to a conservative series of designs by Ron Tauranac, who still preferred the spaceframe.

There was one advantage of the spaceframe design which was of significance to Jack Brabham – it was easier to repair than a monocoque design, as a piece of tubular frame could be cut out and replaced a lot quicker than having to remove a whole section of body and weld in a replacement in such a way as to retain structural integrity and strength. Yet, in a season of unreliability, this was a secondary issue compared to the temperamental new engines used by most teams. Despite the dated design of his Brabham BT19, Jack Brabham would win the 1966 Drivers’ Championship with superior reliability and a run of four consecutive wins.

This was followed up by another Drivers’ Championship victory in 1967 for Brabham’s team, this time for Denny Hulme, but by the time 1968 came, other teams had caught up in the engine race, most significantly Team Lotus. Their assistance in the development of the Cosworth DFV had given them access to the engine which would dominate the next two decades, while the Repco engine didn’t cope well with additional power. By 1970, even Tauranac had conceded to the monocoque. Meanwhile, this would merely be the first in a series of innovative solutions from the mind of Colin Chapman.

Revolutionary Technology in Formula One: The Mid-Engine Configuration

In 1950, when Grand Prix motor racing acquired the Drivers’ World Championship, run under the recently-formulated Formula One rules, the cars were distinctive for their long noses, grille-protected air intakes and decidedly rear-mounted driver position. By the start of the next decade, the cars of the leading teams had changed utterly, with sleek, cigar-like aerodynamic bodies, spaceframe chassis and mid-rear-mounted engines. Anybody who wasn’t willing to conform to the mid-engined revolution was left in the dust, and 1960 would see the last win for a front-engined car in Formula One.

Like forced induction, the history of mid-engine configuration in Grand Prix racing goes back before the Second World War. Germany’s Silver Arrows were easily the dominant Grand Prix cars of their time, using the technological might of Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union to their advantage. These ferociously powerful cars would eventually produce almost 600 bhp at their peak, with which they managed to dominate every year of racing from 1935 to the breakout of the Second World War in 1939, only losing a single Grande Épreuve during these five years. While Mercedes-Benz used the traditional front-engined layout for their W25, W125 and W154 cars, Auto Union took a different strategy, placing their engines behind the driver. With a swing axle suspension system on the rear, the Auto Union cars acquired a reputation for evil handling even by the standards of the time, but the cars were powerful, fast and won many races.

Auto Union never ventured into the voiturette category that would form the basis of the post-war Formula One rules, and so the cars of 1950 stuck exclusively to the conventional front-engined layout that had been common among the other competitors in pre-war Grand Prix racing. However, with the success that Auto Union had attained with the mid-engine layout, it was only a matter of time before somebody attempted to make a car with the engine behind the driver again.

The party responsible for reviving the mid-engine design was the Cooper Car Company. This constructor of racing cars, founded by Charles and John Cooper in 1946, had started out with motorcycle-engined Formula Three cars in the early 1950s and worked their way up to Formula Two cars by 1957. According to John Cooper, matters of expediency led to their first Formula Three cars being developed with a mid-engined layout, as the motorcycle engine more effectively ran the rear wheels using a chain than a propeller shaft. Nevertheless, this proved to be a matter of serendipity.

With the exception of a few flirtations with four-wheel drive by various constructors, Formula One cars have always been driven exclusively through the rear wheels. The placing of the heavy metal block of the engine nearest the driving wheels of the car brings benefits regarding traction, which was useful in the low-compromises world of Formula One. The mid-engine design philosophy also allowed for better weight distribution, meaning less inertia and less inclination towards understeer, which was a problem for the front-engined cars that had taken over Formula One. By the time Cooper introduced their first rear engine model into Formula One, the cars were using considerably more sophisticated suspension than the Auto Unions of the 1930s, and the double wishbone suspension fitted to both front and rear went a long way in curing the snap oversteer apparently common to the Auto Unions.

Cooper introduced its first works Formula One car in 1957, the Cooper T43. A few cars were built for the works effort, and a few sold to privateer racers who ran them to Formula Two rules. The car’s first race was the 1957 Monaco Grand Prix, where the cars in the hands of Jack Brabham and Les Leston ran with 2-litre Coventry Climax engines which were 500cc smaller than the front-runners in the Maserati and Vanwall cars. Nevertheless, in this most attritional of races, Jack Brabham managed to finish in sixth place, just one place off a point in the 1950s scoring system. Later in the season, Roy Salvadori bettered this with a point at the 1957 British Grand Prix at Aintree, scoring the first ever point for the Cooper Car Company. It was to be the first of several.

1958 brought greater fortunes for the Cooper team. A considerably longer Championship season, coinciding with the introduction of the new International Cup for F1 Manufacturers, gave Cooper cars more opportunities to score, and with several privateer entries running the Cooper T43 and newer T45, both under the Formula One and Formula Two engine rules, there was some opportunity to compete against the more powerful Vanwall and Ferrari cars which would end up competing for the first International Cup for F1 Manufacturers.

The season started well for Cooper, not as a consequence of their works effort, but instead of the Cooper-running privateers, the R.R.C. Walker Racing Team. The first two races of the season were won by the privateer team, the first-ever wins for a rear-engined car in Formula One, one at the hands of Stirling Moss, and another win by Maurice Trintignant. Very quickly, Cooper had earned vindication for its peculiar design philosophy, and they would continue to compete for points and podiums throughout the rest of the season. The team finished third, even with a significant power deficit versus the top constructors.

The 1959 season was to prove more successful still. Cooper introduced its T51 model for its works effort and the Rob Walker Racing Team, now fitted with a full 2.5 litre Climax straight-four. With this engine fitted, Cooper cars managed to win five of the eight championship Formula One races that year, along with three of the five non-championship events. Jack Brabham took his first title after winning two races and scoring points in all of the races he finished. The only team that managed to compete with the superior Coopers with their more even weight distribution were the Ferraris, but their more powerful V6 engine only managed to win them the German Grand Prix, held for the first and last time at the simplistic AVUS circuit, which comprised two extremely long straights and a set of hairpin turns, and the French Grand Prix, held at the long, fast Reims-Gueux circuit.

It was interesting that it should be Scuderia Ferrari that was challenging Cooper in the 1959 season. The team had demonstrated a bit of a conservative streak, catalysed by Enzo Ferrari who only reluctantly pursued technological improvements that weren’t applicable to the engine. The Ferrari team therefore did produce some very powerful engines, but tended not to apply as much care to the chassis. In the battle between Italian power and British ingenuity, the British were proving that power wasn’t much good without control.

By the time the 1960 season rolled around, other teams had begun to take notice just how much potential there was in the mid-engine layout, and some of them had followed suit. Team Lotus, run by Colin Chapman, who would himself prove to be an innovative engineer later on, had adopted the layout for their Lotus 18 model, while BRM followed suit with their P48 model. Ferrari remained steadfast with their Ferrari 246, despite its increasing irrelevance. The 1960 season would show the error of their ways, as they slipped to third in the International Cup for F1 Manufacturers, far behind the victorious Cooper, who managed six victories out of nine events, and another Drivers’ World Championship for Jack Brabham.

Team Lotus also used their new mid-engined car to their advantage, taking two of the remaining wins in the season. In comparison, Ferrari managed one win, aptly at their home Grand Prix at Monza, but this was a rather assured victory after the leading British teams protested the event, which was run on the alarmingly quick ten-kilometre Monza layout incorporating the banked oval. Their other results during the year would prove to be disappointing, and Phil Hill’s victory at Monza would be the final championship race victory for a front-engined car. By 1961, even Ferrari had conceded; their dominant 1960 Formula Two car was a useful development tool for a Formula One series which had greatly decreased the maximum engine displacement. Amusingly, Ferrari would demonstrate greater success with 1961’s Ferrari 156 than they had during the last two years of running their obsolete front-engined car.

There was to be one more moment of glory for a front-engined car, a consequence of one of the flirtations with four-wheel drive alluded to above. The Ferguson P99 was a demonstration project using Harry Ferguson’s novel new four-wheel drive system, and was made front-engined by necessity. The 1961 International Gold Cup was a non-championship event held at Oulton Park, and while the P99 had not proved especially successful in the other races it had contended, with a significant weight disadvantage, the superior traction of the four-wheel drive system aided it in the wet conditions that prevailed that day, taking the victory at the hands of Stirling Moss.

Thus ended the era of front-engined Formula One cars. Every car on the grid was rear-engined by 1962. Cooper would not find much success in the 1.5 litre formula in Formula One, while two other British teams, Team Lotus and BRM, proved more suited to such rules. Team Lotus would go on to become a great innovator in its own right at the hands of Colin Chapman, while BRM would have its moment of glory in 1962, remaining competitive throughout the three following years, before disastrously introducing the overweight H16 engine which powered its cars in 1966 and 1967. Ferrari had mixed success during the early 1960s, easily taking the championship in 1961, but faltering for the next two years before taking another International Cup for F1 Manufacturers and a Drivers’ World Championship in 1964.

Revolutionary Technology in Formula One: The Turbocharger

This week, the FIA announced their confirmation that Formula One will be adopting 1.6 litre V6 turbocharged engines with energy recovery systems from 2014 onwards, to replace the current 2.4 litre naturally-aspirated V8 engines currently being used. This, of course, will not be the first time that Formula One has adopted turbochargers, nor even the first time that turbochargers were mandatory. The last time that turbochargers were adopted in Formula One, they began as a joke and ended up as essential kit for any competitive team.

The history of forced induction in Formula One begins right at the beginning of the World Drivers’ Championship itself, where Formula One had formalised its rules allowing pre-war 1.5 litre supercharged “voiturettes” to compete with 4.5 litre naturally-aspirated engines. The equivalence formula, supposed to provide a bit of competition between the two different forms of air induction, ended up with Alfa Romeo’s 158 and 159 supercharged models dominating Formula One for the first two years, before the switch in the World Drivers’ Championship to Formula Two rules.

The Alfettas, as they were known, produced a staggering 425bhp at their peak power in 1951, which couldn’t compete with the pre-war supercharged engines of Mercedes-Benz or Auto Union, but which was still far ahead of the naturally-aspirated engines of the time. Even the higher fuel consumption of the Alfettas couldn’t keep them from taking a near clean sweep of the championships in 1950 and 1951. However, as legal engine sizes dropped drastically during 1952 and 1953, a 750cc supercharged engine proved uncompetitive against the 2 litre naturally-aspirated engines of Ferrari. Enzo Ferrari had identified that supercharging would be a dead-end in the future, as supercharged engines were held back on their ability to rev by extension of the operation of the supercharger. When the World Drivers’ Championship returned to Formula One rules in 1954, allowing 2.5 litre naturally-aspirated engines, but retaining the size of forced induction engines at 750cc, forced induction remained a formality in the rules for several years.

This opened up the stage for Renault more than twenty years later. Renault had recently begun experimenting with turbochargers on their sports car engines and were winning races by 1975. This gave them the idea to attempt to use the clause allowing forced induction engines in Formula One, which had been largely ignored since the domination of the Alfettas. Unlike superchargers, which were spun by the engine, the turbocharger was driven by exhaust gas, therefore not inhibiting the engine’s ability to rev. In 1977, Renault entered Formula One with the RS01.

It was not an instant success. The RS01, most famously driven by Jean-Pierre Jabouille, started off as a slow, overweight car with frightful turbo-lag, and notably made little use of the other revolutionary technology being demonstrated in Formula One at the same time, ground effect. The RS01 was mocked by other teams in the paddock, who had seen how difficult the car was to drive around the tight street circuit of Monaco and how unreliable the new engine was, and who referred to the car by the derisory nickname of “the yellow teapot”.

Evolution was quick, however. In 1978, Renault won the most prestigious race in sports car racing, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, using a turbocharged Renault-Alpine A442 with the turbocharged 2 litre sports car engine which had previously won at Mugello, but a win eluded the French team in Formula One for quite some time. Jabouille scored the team’s first points with a fourth-place finish near the end of the 1978 season with a refined RS01, and the team’s first pole position at the fast sweeping track of Kyalami in South Africa in 1979.

Renault entered 1979 with a further-refined RS01 and a team-mate for Jean-Pierre Jabouille in René Arnoux, but it was the introduction of the RS10 during the mid-season which cemented Renault’s place as a competitive team. The 1979 French Grand Prix at Dijon-Prenois brought the first victory for the new team, with Jabouille taking victory in a French car in front of a French crowd. René Arnoux almost made it a Renault 1-2 after competing with Gilles Villeneuve in perhaps the best and most famous battle for position ever captured on camera, with a wheel-banging performance that lasted almost two laps.

The turbocharger had proven its point with a storming performance which made everybody in the paddock take notice. The turbo-lag problem had been mostly solved with the introduction of twin turbochargers to force air into each cylinder bank individually, although reliability still plagued the engines. Soon, Ferrari, Brabham and Alfa Romeo were researching turbocharged engines of their own. Ferrari were the next team to introduce a turbocharger into their car, using the smaller 1.5 litre V6 in 1981 in order to best exploit ground effect, which was difficult with the large flat-12 which had stormed to victory in 1979, but had faltered in 1980 after years of success. However, Ferrari were never to win a Drivers’ Championship with the technology, with their best result being a handful of Constructors’ Championships in 1982 and 1983.

Brabham, Alfa Romeo and Toleman (running a Hart turbocharged engine) were the next to experiment with the technology in the unpredictable and controversial 1982 season. These engines proved fragile, even with their outstanding power which commonly put the Renaults and Brabhams among the front rows, and it was the naturally-aspirated Cosworth DFV in Keke Rosberg’s car which would grant him the Drivers’ Championship of 1982, the last championship which a naturally-aspirated car would win until turbochargers were banned. Brabham’s BMW M12 and Renault’s EF1 engine seemed especially prone to embarrassing failure, often failing the drivers and allowing the tried-and-tested Cosworth engines to capitalise, as much as it was possible in a season which had no clear ascendant driver.

1983 would be the first dominant year of turbocharged cars, just as ground effect was banned. Twelve of the fifteen races in the season were taken by turbocharged cars, with a handful of victories for Cosworth-powered cars, usually at twisty street circuits where the additional power of the turbos was less significant. Despite their efforts in introducing and developing turbochargers, Renault would fail to take either championship that year, losing out on the Drivers’ Championship when Alain Prost’s turbocharger failed him at the last race of the season at Kyalami, handing the victory and a second World Championship to Brabham’s Nelson Piquet, and losing the Constructors’ Championship to the more reliable pair of Patrick Tambay and René Arnoux. The loss of both championships led Renault to sack Alain Prost, leaving the driver to go to a very un-French team at McLaren, running a very un-French engine from Porsche, with a Luxembourgish turbocharger.

This proved to be a fortuitous move for the Frenchman, ending up at a team which was just at the start of its dominant period where it would take all but one Drivers’ Championship between 1984 and 1991. The TAG-Porsche engine proved to be outstanding, with a mix of reliability and power which led Prost and the recently-returned World Champion, Niki Lauda, to fight for the championship in a season where few other teams were to attain victories, and none of those in naturally-aspirated cars. The Cosworth DFV family which had led so many drivers and constructors to their championships was now completely overshadowed by the far more powerful turbocharged engines which were present in all but two teams’ cars in 1984.

Niki Lauda would later take the Drivers’ Championship by the smallest margin ever, after Prost’s victory at a wet Monaco track had resulted in half-points after the race was stopped, in conditions where an unfancied Toleman driven by the rookie, Ayrton Senna, had almost taken victory for a team which had been one of the first to experiment with turbochargers. In either case, it was a resounding success for the forced induction engines. Tyrrell, the only Cosworth-running team that seemed capable of fighting for race victories, would later be disqualified from the championship for a technical infringement which swept excellently-fought podiums for both Martin Brundle and Stefan Bellof from the records.

By 1984, the gulf in power between the turbocharged engines and the Cosworths was extreme. The Cosworths produced somewhere in the order of 520 bhp; the turbos could produce in excess of 700 bhp in race trim, and more than 1,000 bhp in qualifying. In a vain attempt to produce some sort of equivalence formula for the two engines, FISA had introduced a fuel restriction of 220 litres at room temperature for the turbocharged cars, which were more fuel-hungry than the Cosworths, just as the supercharged 1.5 litre engines had been less frugal than the 4.5 litre naturally-aspirated engines in 1950 and 1951.

Nevertheless, 1985 proved just as dominant for turbochargers, if not necessarily for McLaren, who managed their Drivers’ Championship for Alain Prost through greater consistency and reliability than Ferrari, whose engines let them down at the last four races of the season. Once again, only two teams, Tyrrell and Minardi, were using naturally-aspirated engines, and both had secured turbocharged engines by the end of the year. Power outputs were creeping up to absurd values; the BMW engines in the Benettons of 1985 and 1986, derivatives of the BMW that had won the 1983 championship for Brabham, claimed 1,350 bhp in qualifying trim. Other engines were producing close to 900 bhp in race trim, an amount which wouldn’t be equalled until the early 2000s, by which time the engines were being held in check by traction control systems.

The Williams team, the privateers which had claimed the last title for a Cosworth-engined car, had begun to show striking performance with a Honda engine which was producing more power than the until-then supreme TAG-Porsche engine in the McLaren. Honda, which had previously competed in the 1960s with a factory effort, clearly saw the chances for glory in this engine formula which rewarded smaller engines, a particular strength of the manufacturer of dominant motorcycles and small cars. Even with the further-restricted fuel tanks, this time restricted to 195 litres per race, power outputs remained high.

With no way to enforce a reasonable equivalence formula, FISA, for the first and so far only time in the history of Formula One, banned the use of naturally-aspirated engines for 1986. This had left the privateer teams scrambling to find suitable engines. Some of them were lucky enough to get proven Renault designs, such as Lotus and Tyrrell. Others were left with unreliable Alfa Romeo and Motori Moderni designs which did not have the backing of a powerful manufacturer, and which broke down far more often than not. The class of the field was clearly the Honda engine in the back of the Williams FW11, and Alain Prost only won the second of his four Drivers’ Championships by capitalising on the squabbling between Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet. The sport had become a competition between the haves and the have-nots, and the power outputs of the turbocharged engines had become too high for comfort.

Naturally-aspirated engines were reintroduced in 1987, with a larger 3.5 litre capacity in order to increase power. FISA’s plans were to allow turbocharged engines for a further two years before forbidding them entirely, but with the knowledge that pitting the turbos against the naturally-aspirated engines directly was a lesson in futility, Formula One gained an additional two championships for 1987, the Jim Clark Trophy and the Colin Chapman Trophy, for drivers and constructors of naturally-aspirated cars respectively.

Again, Honda power proved dominant, with McLaren no longer able to compete effectively with the TAG-Porsche engine, and Williams and Lotus competing for the Drivers’ Championship. However, greater consistency with Alain Prost and Stefan Johansson at least gave McLaren second place in the Constructors’ Championship, with the team of Nelson Piquet, now a three-time champion, and Nigel Mansell easily taking first place. Tyrrell’s use of the Cosworth DFZ gave them both the Jim Clark and Colin Chapman Trophies, with Jonathan Palmer’s performance being strong enough to earn the team seven of the eleven points they earned in the normal Constructor’s Championship, with Philippe Streiff earning a further four points and sixth place for the team among the rest of the constructors.

1988 was the final year allowing forced induction engines. Some constructors, including Williams, who had lost Honda power to McLaren, used naturally-aspirated engines in their cars in preparation for 1989, and with a more stringent 155 litre fuel tank restriction and turbocharger pressure limited to 2.5 bar, it was hoped that there would finally be some sort of equivalence between the turbocharged cars and the naturally-aspirated engines. It wasn’t even close to being a fair competition. Despite all of these restrictions, the McLaren MP4/4 would go on to dominate the season in a fashion that no car had managed since the 1952 season.

With two of the best drivers in the sport, the most powerful engine, an extraordinary chassis from Gordon Murray and Steve Nichols and a team which had a lot of recent championship experience, the McLaren team won 15 of 16 races during the season, and perhaps only lost the Italian Grand Prix because of Ayrton Senna’s overambitious overtake on Jean-Louis Schlesser at the Rettifilo chicane. Gerhard Berger’s win at Ferrari’s home track at the first Italian Grand Prix since Enzo Ferrari’s death was highly popular, yet it did little to overshadow the fact that McLaren had been so dominant that if there hadn’t been an interesting battle between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, the season would have little to commend itself by. For many teams, the return to naturally-aspirated engines would have been all too welcome at this stage.

In the preceding years, as constructors had to become accustomed to their new engines, McLaren was still strong, but never as dominant as they were in 1988. Competition came from Ferrari, returning to the V12 engine design that had become their trademark and using a semi-automatic gearbox which was unreliable but which would eventually itself become a revolutionary technology in Formula One, along with Williams with their new Renault V10. While engine power increased as manufacturers figured out how to make their engines rev faster, and the early 2000s brought 900 bhp, 3 litre V10s which matched the race output of the turbocharged engines, nothing would ever compete with the ferocious qualifying engines of the 1985 and 1986 seasons.

Amusingly, considering that FISA tried to restrict turbocharged engines by limiting their fuel, turbocharger technology has improved to the point where turbo engines are being introduced again to save fuel over the high-revving V8 engines currently being used. Power from the 1.6 litre V6 turbos could easily match the engine power of today, although it remains to be seen how the engines will be restricted. It will be interesting to see if the turbocharger will once again become revolutionary in Formula One in a new generation, this time for a very different purpose than its original intention.

FROM THE ARCHIVE: Grand Prix Legends – A Retrospective Review

Grand Prix Legends is a 1998 PC-format racing simulator, developed by Papyrus Design Group, pioneers of the racing simulator genre, and produced by Sierra Entertainment. Building on Papyrus’ previous experience, it sought to bring a true-to-life simulation of the 1967 Formula One season to the computer screen.

The player takes the role of a new racing driver, racing for one of the teams present in the 1967 season. Racing against such legends as Jim Clark, Jack Brabham, Denny Hulme, John Surtees and Graham Hill, the player must contend not only with the legendary drivers, but also with the volatile nature of the racing cars of the 1960s.

To be honest, there isn’t much in the game itself which lends itself to a modern audience. The dated graphics show the game’s age all too well, the game has limited and buggy support for DirectX and OpenGL, a third-party patch must be applied to the game to allow users with computers with modern processors to play the game and the game is notoriously hard on processors, making the minimum specifications a joke. Yet, despite these obvious flaws, the game has a thriving community which remains to this day.

To understand why, we must answer a simple question: Why would anybody choose to simulate the 1967 Formula One season? The answer: The 1967 Formula One season was one of the most challenging and dangerous in the history of motor racing, and Grand Prix Legends manages to simulate it in a highly and often brutally realistic fashion.

Imagine, if you will, a car with 350 to 430 horsepower in a chassis weighing just over half a ton, with no downforce, rock-hard bias-ply tyres, no seatbelts and 160-plus litre fuel tanks, containing high-octane, highly volatile fuel, made in such a way as to surround the driver. Sounds like some sort of fictional death race, doesn’t it? But instead of this being fiction, this was an all-too-present reality for the Formula One drivers of the 1960s.

Some people may be asking at this point, “430 horsepower? That’s nothing – my Gran Turismo 4 Nissan Skyline can produce over 1,000 horsepower!” But there are a few fundamental differences between that Skyline and the Formula One cars of the 1960s. The Skyline comes with thirty extra years of chassis and suspension experience, and most importantly, is completely full of computer processors. The nearest thing to a processor in a 1960s racing car was the brain of the driver, a man with balls almost the size of the car they were driving, and invariably, the sorts of reflexes which would make the very best of professional computer gamers cry with inadequacy, a man which knew the chances of his demise at the racing track, but still chose to give the Reaper the finger before roaring off in their violently powerful racing car.


Vicious, snarling monsters, controlled by some of the bravest men in existence.

Because of its realistic approach, the game is easily one of the most uncompromising and unforgiving experiences in the gaming world, serving up the sort of experience which would make veteran players of Battletoads and Ninja Gaiden feel distinctly incompetent. Even the developers pinpoint this in the manual, cautioning, “The first time you go out on the track, you will spin and crash. This is because, the first time they play Grand Prix Legends, everybody spins and crashes.”

I went into the game with a great deal of overconfidence, with at least some driving simulator experience to my credit. I left my first practice session having opened my eyes to the heroism of the racing drivers of 1967, as these cars speared out of control with the most minor provocation, serving up massive amounts of oversteer, and, just as the developers had predicted, it did not end well. This was no unfair level of difficulty either, unlike the aforementioned Battletoads or Ninja Gaiden; this was the result of absolute simulation.

And as an absolute simulation, it is imperative that you pick the right peripherals for the job. While the cars can be controlled with a keyboard or joypad along with the more customary steering wheel, the keyboard is an extremely inadequate solution, due to its lack of analogue controls, and even a joypad leaves something to be desired. A good-quality steering wheel is almost imperative to control the cars properly, and with the addition of force-feedback support, the game can finally be played in an appropriate fashion with modern steering peripherals.

But outrageous difficulty alone would have only given this game notoriety, rather than any lasting success, so there has to be something in the game that appeals to people who aren’t just masochists. This “something” is the detailed approach to everything in the game, of a level that wouldn’t become commonplace in racing simulators for at least another five years, with the onset of SimBin Studios and their GTR series, and Image Space Incorporated’s rFactor.

Unlike many racing games, there is absolutely no head-up display inside the car. All of the instrumentation that the car possesses is in the cockpit, which the developers have laid out true-to-life in every car, right down to the offset tachometers in the middle of the dashboard. There are no chase cameras – everything you do is in an actual driving position, complete with all of the equipment in front of you.


A view of the infamous BRM P115 from inside the car – note the large central tachometer and the fuel gauge to the right.

There are a number of other very impressive features that can be noticed from the moment you enter the car. The engine torque is transmitted onto the chassis, something that becomes quite evident if you blip the throttle in neutral, causing the car to contort and flex as the engine serves up its torque. But be careful you don’t rev the engine too hard – engines explode if they aren’t treated right.

Once you get onto the track, the cars slide all over the tracks as the rock-hard tyres find difficulty in gripping, just as would be expected. For a game from 1998, the driving physics are very impressive, even if they are a bit primitive by modern standards.

The game has a rudimentary damage model for those undoubted times when you will slide out of control. While, like the driving physics, it is a bit primitive by modern standards, lacking cosmetic car damage, and also appearing to give the car far too much damage resistance compared to modern games, certain parts of the damage model are only rivalled by the most modern titles, including the engine damage model, where over-revving the engine will lead a large engine detonation, leaving the car useless.

After the large amount of practice that is recommended, players will finally be ready for their first race, competing against virtual versions of some of the most legendary drivers in history at a variety of different tracks, including Watkins Glen, once home of the United States Grand Prix, Spa-Francorchamps and even the legendary Nurburgring.


Unpredictable cars at a fearsome track. Question: Who thought that a Grand Prix race at the Nurburgring was a sensible idea?

The AI, as with many features of this game, is primitive compared to certain modern titles, in particular the SimBin simulators, but it still manages to impress as it makes attempts at blocking the player and even creating a dynamic strategy. Considering the trouble that most people will be having with keeping the cars under control, having too strong an AI would probably be more of a curse than a blessing, and the drivers are still adequate even today.

Overall, Grand Prix Legends was far ahead of its time, and even though some later racing simulators have increased accuracy, realism and superior AI, none of them have returned to that unique perspective brought by Grand Prix Legends, which simulated a season where the driver was more important than the car, and death stared every competitor in the face.

Bottom Line: A unique experiment in the simulator world, and fantastically well-presented, especially for its time, but dated graphics, the requirement of third-party patches and the frankly terrifying difficulty leave this as a game for the most committed racing simulator fans alone.

Recommendation: Most racing simulator fans should already have this in their collection. As for everybody else, consider the amount of time you are willing to sink into the game – it could be a long time before you can compete with the AI.

Grand Prix Legends is a 1998 PC-format racing simulator, developed by Papyrus Design Group, pioneers of the racing simulator genre, and produced by Sierra Entertainment. Building on Papyrus’ previous experience, it sought to bring a true-to-life simulation of the 1967 Formula One season to the computer screen.

The player takes the role of a new racing driver, racing for one of the teams present in the 1967 season. Racing against such legends as Jim Clark, Jack Brabham, Denny Hulme, John Surtees and Graham Hill, the player must contend not only with the legendary drivers, but also with the volatile nature of the racing cars of the 1960s.

To be honest, there isn’t much in the game itself which lends itself to a modern audience. The dated graphics show the game’s age all too well, the game has limited and buggy support for DirectX and OpenGL, a third-party patch must be applied to the game to allow users with computers with modern processors to play the game and the game is notoriously hard on processors, making the minimum specifications a joke. Yet, despite these obvious flaws, the game has a thriving community which remains to this day.

To understand why, we must answer a simple question: Why would anybody choose to simulate the 1967 Formula One season? The answer: The 1967 Formula One season was one of the most challenging and dangerous in the history of motor racing, and Grand Prix Legends manages to simulate it in a highly and often brutally realistic fashion.

Imagine, if you will, a car with 350 to 430 horsepower in a chassis weighing just over half a ton, with no downforce, rock-hard bias-ply tyres, no seatbelts and 160-plus litre fuel tanks, containing high-octane, highly volatile fuel, made in such a way as to surround the driver. Sounds like some sort of fictional death race, doesn’t it? But instead of this being fiction, this was an all-too-present reality for the Formula One drivers of the 1960s.

Some people may be asking at this point, “430 horsepower? That’s nothing – my Gran Turismo 4 Nissan Skyline can produce over 1,000 horsepower!” But there are a few fundamental differences between that Skyline and the Formula One cars of the 1960s. The Skyline comes with thirty extra years of chassis and suspension experience, and most importantly, is completely full of computer processors. The nearest thing to a processor in a 1960s racing car was the brain of the driver, a man with balls almost the size of the car they were driving, and invariably, the sorts of reflexes which would make the very best of professional computer gamers cry with inadequacy, a man which knew the chances of his demise at the racing track, but still chose to give the Reaper the finger before roaring off in their violently powerful racing car.

Vicious, snarling monsters, controlled by some of the bravest men in existence.

Because of its realistic approach, the game is easily one of the most uncompromising and unforgiving experiences in the gaming world, serving up the sort of experience which would make veteran players of Battletoads and Ninja Gaiden feel distinctly incompetent. Even the developers pinpoint this in the manual, cautioning, “The first time you go out on the track, you will spin and crash. This is because, the first time they play Grand Prix Legends, everybody spins and crashes.”

I went into the game with a great deal of overconfidence, with at least some driving simulator experience to my credit. I left my first practice session having opened my eyes to the heroism of the racing drivers of 1967, as these cars speared out of control with the most minor provocation, serving up massive amounts of oversteer, and, just as the developers had predicted, it did not end well. This was no unfair level of difficulty either, unlike the aforementioned Battletoads or Ninja Gaiden; this was the result of absolute simulation.

And as an absolute simulation, it is imperative that you pick the right peripherals for the job. While the cars can be controlled with a keyboard or joypad along with the more customary steering wheel, the keyboard is an extremely inadequate solution, due to its lack of analogue controls, and even a joypad leaves something to be desired. A good-quality steering wheel is almost imperative to control the cars properly, and with the addition of force-feedback support, the game can finally be played in an appropriate fashion with modern steering peripherals.

But outrageous difficulty alone would have only given this game notoriety, rather than any lasting success, so there has to be something in the game that appeals to people who aren’t just masochists. This “something” is the detailed approach to everything in the game, of a level that wouldn’t become commonplace in racing simulators for at least another five years, with the onset of SimBin Studios and their GTR series, and Image Space Incorporated’s rFactor.

Unlike many racing games, there is absolutely no head-up display inside the car. All of the instrumentation that the car possesses is in the cockpit, which the developers have laid out true-to-life in every car, right down to the offset tachometers in the middle of the dashboard. There are no chase cameras – everything you do is in an actual driving position, complete with all of the equipment in front of you.

A view of the infamous BRM P115 from inside the car – note the large central tachometer and the fuel gauge to the right.

There are a number of other very impressive features that can be noticed from the moment you enter the car. The engine torque is transmitted onto the chassis, something that becomes quite evident if you blip the throttle in neutral, causing the car to contort and flex as the engine serves up its torque. But be careful you don’t rev the engine too hard – engines explode if they aren’t treated right.

Once you get onto the track, the cars slide all over the tracks as the rock-hard tyres find difficulty in gripping, just as would be expected. For a game from 1998, the driving physics are very impressive, even if they are a bit primitive by modern standards.

The game has a rudimentary damage model for those undoubted times when you will slide out of control. While, like the driving physics, it is a bit primitive by modern standards, lacking cosmetic car damage, and also appearing to give the car far too much damage resistance compared to modern games, certain parts of the damage model are only rivalled by the most modern titles, including the engine damage model, where over-revving the engine will lead a large engine detonation, leaving the car useless.

After the large amount of practice that is recommended, players will finally be ready for their first race, competing against virtual versions of some of the most legendary drivers in history at a variety of different tracks, including Watkins Glen, once home of the United States Grand Prix, Spa-Francorchamps and even the legendary Nurburgring.

Unpredictable cars at a fearsome track. Question: Who thought that a Grand Prix race at the Nurburgring was a sensible idea?

The AI, as with many features of this game, is primitive compared to certain modern titles, in particular the SimBin simulators, but it still manages to impress as it makes attempts at blocking the player and even creating a dynamic strategy. Considering the trouble that most people will be having with keeping the cars under control, having too strong an AI would probably be more of a curse than a blessing, and the drivers are still adequate even today.

Overall, Grand Prix Legends was far ahead of its time, and even though some later racing simulators have increased accuracy, realism and superior AI, none of them have returned to that unique perspective brought by Grand Prix Legends, which simulated a season where the driver was more important than the car, and death stared every competitor in the face.

Bottom Line: A unique experiment in the simulator world, and fantastically well-presented, especially for its time, but dated graphics, the requirement of third-party patches and the frankly terrifying difficulty leave this as a game for the most committed racing simulator fans alone.

Recommendation: Most racing simulator fans should already have this in their collection. As for everybody else, consider the amount of time you are willing to sink into the game – it could be a long time before you can compete with the AI.