By on September 17, 2006

f122.jpg Last year, F1 commentators were busy lamenting new rule changes that outlawed the 3.0-liter V10 powerplant. After Renault introduced the motor to the sport in 1989 (with Williams), the configuration quickly became the sport’s defacto standard. Then, in the name of safety, the FIA mandated a reduction in engine capacity from 3.0 to 2.4 liters, and reconfiguration to a V8. Pundits saw the move as one more step toward the spec series they all so desperately want to avoid. Ladies and gentlemen, the jury is in.

The new rules, designed to decrease racing speeds, also eliminated attendant cutting-edge technology, such as variable-length intake trumpets (key to the tuning and tractability of the high-power V10 engines). All in all, the FIA’s new engine rules reduced engine power by around 20%, corresponding to the 20% drop in displacement and cylinder count. In real world terms, the move reduced engine power by around 185 horsepower.

During the off-season, the FIA was lambasted for the switch. Some journalists and drivers (no need to name names, Jenson Button) claimed a schoolgirl could drive the new formula cars, that the element of overwhelming power had been removed from the equation. Perhaps they had a point. The drop from 950 to around 775hp was drastic.

But the pundits failed to foresee the resulting acceleration of aerodynamic and tire technology. As this season’s results prove, the two technologies helped compensate for the rule change. Within months, the smaller-engined cars’ 2006 lap times leaped straight back to their 3.0-liter levels. Here’s the deal…

When tweaking a race car’s aerodynamics, designers must make a basic tradeoff: downforce vs. drag. While adding wings to a car can increase downforce, the gain comes at the expense of drag. Drag increases a vehicle’s high-speed grip, but reduces its top speed. Wing angle, wing size and configuration all play vital roles balancing the two forces.

This is clearly evident when comparing the rear wing angles used by the F1 teams at Monza and Monaco. Looking down the length of the car (from nose to tail) you can easily see the changing cord, or vertical dimension, of the rear main-plane: steep at Monaco, shallow at Monza.

A current F1 car’s front and rear wings only generate 30 to 40% of the total downforce. Underbody airflow management and the diffuser account for the rest; it’s absolutely crucial to the car’s handling at any given speed, as well as the car’s maximum velocity. Correctly manipulating the airflow around the rear of the car is especially important to the performance of the underbody aerodynamics.

The reduced dimension of the new 2.4-liter V8 liberated significant room for development in this mission critical area, placing even more emphasis on the packaging of bodywork and components in the car’s rear. Designers greatly enhanced the efficiency of the undertray and diffuser– to the point where they are largely responsible for the similar speed and grip levels achieved pre and post engine rule change.

The reintroduction of tire changes during pit stops was the other major change for the ’06 season– which also ended-up subverting FIA's intention to lower racing speeds. The maximum stint length during a typical race strategy is now around 25 laps, depending on track conditions. Because one set of tires no longer has to survive an entire race, F1 tires have changed dramatically, both in compound and construction. Equally important, last year’s championship saw Bridgestone struggle unsuccessfully to meet the grip and wear benchmarks set by Michelin. This year, the gap has closed between the two manufacturers’ tire performance.

As two and three stop strategies are the norm for the front running teams, they can run aggressively soft tire compounds which greatly enhance their car’s dynamics. The intense battle between the two tire manufacturers has also led to extreme speciation in tire compounds and constructions. Each tire choice now has a very narrow operating window, particularly with regard to temperature.  These ultra-specialized compounds, while extremely quick inside their respective windows, have shown themselves to be notoriously unreliable (performance-wise) outside them. Thus tire choice is the perhaps the single most important decision made on race weekend.

In short, F1's new rule changes haven’t forced innovation and technology to take a backseat. In fact, FIA’s restrictive engine regulations have given the constructors impetus to advance the sport’s technology in several important areas. In respect to the 20% loss of power, the fact that teams have been able to equal (and in some cases better) last year’s lap times is nothing short of astounding, a testimony to the competitors’ tenacity and ingenuity.

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16 Comments on “F1: We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Displacement...”


  • avatar
    Matthew Potena

    In 1989 didn’t the FIA introduce the ban on turbo cars? McLaren had a 3.5 litre V10, similar to Renault’s, while Ferrari had a 3.5 litre V12, Lamborgini had a 3.5 litre V12 and Ford had a 3.5 itre V8.

  • avatar

    Innovation is the cornerstone of Formula One. While the days of anything-goes ingenuity are long gone, there has to be room for the sports’ engineers to experiment, innovate and overcome. Personally, I would prefer a larger engine, lower downforce formula with a greater focus on mechanical grip, as this would provide for better racing, IMO, but the FIA is content to keep the series dependent on increasingly sophisticated aerodynamics.

    As your article mentioned, taking away an option in one area inevitably leads engineers to explore other aspects of car design to overcome the new restrictions. The FIA continues to seek a means to making the most expensive motorsport on planet Earth more affordable, but in reality they are simply forcing major teams to redirect money from one area of development to another. Effectively they are redirecting a river, not stopping the flow. I may not be a fan of this new era in Formula One, but it is encouraging to see the various engineers effectively combating Moseley’s constant meddling.

  • avatar
    JJ

    Except for the original displacement of the Renault engine, which was initially a 3.5 litre V10, till midseason 1994 when the FIA amongst other things mandated a reduction in engine capacity from 3.5 to 3.0 litres, following the tragic weekend in Imola that year, the facts in the article are correct.

    However, the final conclusion is a bit premature IMO. The majority of the new rules that people are lamenting about aren’t going to be in effect until next year. For instance, Michelin is going to retreat from F1, and won’t be replaced by another tyre manufacturer, which leaves only Bridgestone. Of course Bridgestone already said that the tires for next year won’t be so cutting edge anymore because the tires right now are very expensive to fabricate. The only reason why they accepted that cost until now was that they needed to win the competition with Michelin…They are considering going back to real slicks however, but even they will probably not be as fast as today’s tires…

    The real danger comes from the new engine rules though. According to the new Concorde Agreement engines are not allowed to be developed for three years at a time. Talk about limiting innovation. That almost sounds like Champcar. Luckily F1 still uses actual circuits most of the time…

    So the rule changes haven’t forced innovation and technology to take a back seat yet, but they probably will do so in the future.

  • avatar
    Mitch Yelverton

    JJ – my apologies for the omission of the details of the V-10’s development, my intention was to highlight its longevity and ubiquitous application, rather than detail its history.

    The majority of the new rules that people are lamenting about aren’t going to be in effect until next year.

    Note that this piece is specifically a follow-up of sorts to the unanswered questions that arose during last year’s F1 off-season. Specifically, if the FIA-mandated reduction in engine displacement would “water down” the sport. My conclusion simply is that F1 designers have done this year what they’ve done every year of the series – utilize gray areas, further specialize development and exploit the rulebook in any way possible. They have managed through the noted combination of tire and aerodynamic development to negate the loss of 20% of engine power. This is a stunning achievement.

    The rule changes currently a part of the new Concorde Agreement are troubling, however. Along with the loss of Michelin (though not necessarily a problem taken alone), the new engine homologation requirements probably represent the ultimate use of a new kind of F1 thinking. The idea of a formula series has always been to provide a level playing field for competition – in F1, this competition has taken both technological and human forms. This is the FIA’s method of influencing the direction of F1 design. In this case, it seems likely that the engine homologation rules will lead down one of two roads – first, there is currently massive discontent with the homologation requirement among the Japanese manufacturers. Honda and Toyota have stated on many occasions that they compete in F1 because it is motorsports at the highest levels and that they consider the engine freeze as directly contrary to the spirit of the sport. Because of the massive amounts of capital brought into the sport by these teams and the simple fact that they are manufacturers, the threat that they might withdraw from the sport may be enough to force the FIA to concede.

    Alternatively, it is possible that the engine freeze represents the coming “green-ing” of the sport, in the form of energy reclamation or hybrid powertrains. Many speculate that the formula might be based on a standard for fuel consumption, with the layout and displacement of the engines left up to the teams. If this were to be the case, teams would have carte blanche (within a framework) to choose the configuration, layout, and displacement of their engine. In tandem with energy-reclamation via braking or hybrid drive technologies, the sport can develop a new image.

    In reality, this coming image shift is at the heart of the 2008 technical regulations – with max and bernie now potentially nearing the end of their careers in the limelight of the F1 business – F1 must provide a foundation for itself under which it can guarantee sustainable progress and avoid becoming an outmoded concept. The introduction of hybrid drive and other energy-saving technology will I believe end up as one of the most significant shifts in the history of the sport, right up there with the mid-engine layout and monocoque chassis construction.

  • avatar
    James2

    The engineers will always be ahead of the rulemakers unless the FIA — read, Mad Max Mosley — lines them up against a wall… the V8s are keeping pace with the V10s thanks to aero and better tyres but also to the ironic fact that having less power allows the drivers to keep the pedal flat more of the time. Go, Max, go, keep on turning gold into lead!!

    That said, this is motorsport, not an exercise in conservation, which is why I find the talk of hybrids and any other related ideas ridiculous. Isn’t it the point to go faster than the other guy? Once we debated the virtues of V8s vs. detuned V10s… now we get to listen to Steve Matchett talk about the nature of lithium-ion vs. nickel-hydride batteries??? Oh. My. God!

    The major teams should ask themselves: Why bother to race and build a faster car and compete in F1 if one autocrat can unilaterally decide he doesn’t like teams spending THEIR OWN money the way they see fit?

    Perhaps Michael Schumacher has seen the light. Even though he can still drive well, he doesn’t want to tell Jean Todt that the 32-volt Ferrari Duracell F2009 just doesn’t have quite the voltage to deal with Energizer Bunny!

    What’s ironic about Mosley’s actions is that they will ultimately take F1 back to the future. Once virtually the entire field was powered by Cosworth. Honda will be the first to leave, then Toyota. Carlos ‘le cost killer’ Ghosn will take Renault’s ball home. Mercedes will, correctly, decide that their image is better burnished by sports-car racing (I doubt Mika Hakkinen ever helped sell an extra SL500).

    Mosley should resign and establish a Formula Prius series… this way he can satisfy the insane muse who’s feeding him all this nonsense and stop messing with Formula One.

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    Unlimited horsepower should be the norm. F1 is supposed to be the pinacle for racing cars and the horsepower output should reflect that; there are ways to achieve that, within the displacement parameters that have been set and that’s what F1 teams should go for. Right now, the Great Unwashed can point to their top fuel cars and say, “So what’s the big deal with F1?” (Not that it matters, all that much, what the Great Unwashed think.)
    If indeed F1 is the ultimate expression of technology in racing, part of that is to judge who the best drivers are. Let’s raise the horsepower and reduce downforce and tire adhesion, in order to achieve a style more akin to dirt track racing. Well, come to think of it, maybe the Great Unwashed are onto something there. My apologies to Blanco Basura.

  • avatar
    CasterOil

    My solution for F1 is as follows:

    Rule#1: You can only use 50 litres of standard fuel per 100 km of race.

    Rule#2: Anything else goes.

    Rule#3: Next year, it will be 45 litres per 100 km, then the year after 40 litres per 100 km.

    Immediately, we will see an onslaught of technological advancements that have been missing from the genre since the early 1980’s, and it may well become relevant once more.

  • avatar
    nino

    Formula 1 has banished Diesels, rotary engines, electric motors, and has decreed that all engines be of a V8 configuration. Who’s to say that the present configuration is the way to ultimate horsepower (as some of you want) or if it is the most efficient way of producing that power?

    I’m of the opinion that the engine rules in Formula 1 should be based around a given displacement and then let the teams figure out what’s the best way to achieve the results. Remember that while Ferrari V12s made great power in F1, it lead to a ton of aero problems because of the configuration. That advantage in packaging was what made the Cosworth V8 powered Arrows one of the most aerodynamic cars on the grid at one time, even though it wasn’t the ideal for producing power. It is the different solutions to the same problems that would appeal. The only restriction I would consider is using an equivalency formula for non-atmospheric engines.

  • avatar
    Zarba

    Nino’s on the money.

    The rules should be 2.5 liters, no forced induction. Number of cylinders, and configuration (V or inline or flat) is all open. Also, mechanically driven valves (No more pneumatic valvetrains), and very restricted brake disc and caliper sizes to lengthen stopping distances (increasing overtaking opportunities).

    Lastly, wings front and rear with a single element, limited to about 40% of current wing area. Limit the volume for the diffusers.

    Set minimum wheelbase, maximum width, max heieght, and let ’em go at it.

    If the current regime gets its way, it’ll be nothing more than NASCAR with open wheels.

  • avatar
    Mitch Yelverton

    Zarba:

    I agree totally with your desire to see a truly open formula series, whatever that formula may be. The FIA’s efforts to reign in spending haven’t been successful, for the large part, but they were not misguided. F1 is being pulled in opposite directions and compromise isn’t easy. Without the sort of restrictions we see today, Toyota might easily be spending $1bn/year on their program (compared to the $600m they spend now) if the full range of development options was available to them – this sort of open development also leads to unsafe vehicles.

    A perfect example of this would be the Lotus in its heyday – the type 49 was a solid car, pretty standard compared to the cars of the day – its replacement, the type 72, was inherently dangerous. Inboard front brakes (to reduce unsprung mass) were only one of the less than reliable features of the car, which ultimately was blamed for the death of Jochen Rindt.

    Another great example comes in the form of the early wings fitted to F1 cars – the early wings were set high above the car, in undisturbed air and connected directly to the hubs via spindly struts. The failure of the struts was blamed for many accidents in the early aerodynamic period. Controlling wing design was both a safety measure and an aesthetic one.

    In short, a fully open series is not the best idea – look at the ultimate failure of CAN-AM. What F1 needs to find is some balance of technical and sporting regulations that allow innovation to be a major factor in success, rather than budget. Where would F1 be today without the Coopers (mid-engine layout), Lotuses (light-weight construction), and Renaults?

  • avatar
    spinjack

    “If the current regime gets its way, it’ll be nothing more than NASCAR with open wheels.”

    Though a distasteful thought to most F1 fans, the NASCAR model is working for NASCAR and may be the future of F1. NASCAR is hugely successful and you can bet that Max and Bernie are watching NASCAR closely. And F1 will not go into decline if that happens. The fan base may shift (the “purists” will abandon the series) but at the end of the day, F1 is a business. If the NASCAR model works then, as appalling as it sounds, that is what they will do.

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    What’s with this Great Unwashed stuff? Does that refer to anyone who doesn’t campaign their own F1 racer on the weekends?
    – a mere drag, cone, lapping and rally competitor…

  • avatar
    MX5bob

    I wouldn’t go so far as to call the new rules a “new Concorde Agreement.” It’s more like a typical “Max makes the teams bend over” edict.

    Freezing engine development is the WORST of the Mosely miscues. Worse than even the silly one set of tires per race regulation.

    Add to that the the territorial pissings of the stewards, Charlie Whiting, and the rest of the FIA apparatchik and calling it a circus is an insult to clowns.

  • avatar
    esldude

    Someone else has already said it. More horsepower, less downforce is the way to better racing. I would eliminate wings altogether. Give them a car size limit. Give them a displacement limit with naturally aspirated engines only allowed. Otherwise let them do whatever works.

  • avatar
    Mitch Yelverton

    For all of those who doubted that a hybrid F1 formula was in the works, see the link below, the first sign of what is on the way.

    Speed TV: F1 Engine Homologation and Hybrid Technology

  • avatar

    This illustrates my personal problem with F1 and why I’ve never been able to “get into it.” Is F1 a drivers competiton or a constructors competition?

    If it’s about the constructors, then let them innovate — sure, put restrictions to encourage new ways of thinking, but imposong those restrictions to “reduce top speeds” is just assinine for that purpose. True, Rallying imposed restrictions in the 80’s to curb top speeds and stop spectator fatalities, but when was the last time you saw a (sober) F1 on the tarmac? And as mean and hearless as it sounds, if you’re an F1 driver you accept the fact that yes, you are traveling faster than is safe and if you crash and die then honestly you can never say you didn’t see it coming.

    And if it’s a drivers race then, well, that’s NASCAR. Standardize the cars and let them bash each others brains out with equal-length sticks.

    Obviously I’m generalizing and painting with a broad brush here.

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