Ever heard of the phrase “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”?

That used to be the way changes to the rules in Formula One brought the best out of designers – they would take the parameters given to them and still make beautiful machines we’d hang posters of on our bedroom walls. Yet the latest raft of changes for 2012 have produced cars that would look better on the opposite side of a beer mat. Apart from the McLaren, but more on that later. And it begs the question – why?


It’s all down to this little nugget of a technicality:

Article 3.7.9 in the FIA’s 2012 Technical Regulations:“No bodywork situated more than 1950mm forward of rear face of the cockpit entry template may be more than 550mm above the reference plane.”

Want some more answers? Let us break it down for you.

Why are most of the cars so ugly?

It’s just F1 technical directors doing what they do best – pushing the limits of the rules that are lain out in front of them. The rules state that the front of the nose has to be a given height and that the chassis needs to be a certain height too. Putting the two together has led to the literal interpretation that we’re seeing on track in Jerez at the moment, hence the “step”.

Why does the nose have to be that height anyway?

Remember Mark Webber getting airborne in Valencia 18 months ago? That was all to do with the fact the higher front end of his Red Bull came into contact with the rear tyre of Heikki Kovalainnen, and resulted in the friction pushing the car upwards. Had it been the 2012-look nose it would not have happened.

There have also been fears that a t-bone style accident could lead to a driver being struck by the front of the car, but this change means the sidepods should get the brunt of a side impact crash. Phew!

It’s a case of safety first, looks second right now.

What about McLaren? That doesn’t look so bad.

Ah, the MP4-27, the cat among the pigeons. This car is different due to the fact that when something wins in F1, everyone else copies it. Adrian Newey has designed his past two cars with the concept of having the air flow under the car to the rear diffuser as much as possible – which is aided by the height of the chassis. McLaren have admitted to a “different design philosophy” in 2012, which for you and I means a lower chassis, forcing the air over the car to get to the rear end instead.


Which one is best?  We won’t know until Melbourne.  We wouldn’t want to be the team that has to make the change – altering a chassis can be time consuming and will be expensive, even if it is just to lower or raise it by only a few centimetres.

Is this for forever then?

Well, yes and no, really. The nose may have been lowered, but overall the bulkhead (where the suspension meets the chassis) should have been lowered too. The teams didn’t like that, mainly because it meant spending lots on redesigning their suspension, but also because it meant they would have less camber to work with (ie, the way the tyre leans in on itself), and the Pirelli’s work well on extreme camber settings. Next year it could be all change and all cars will all look like the MP4-27 – but the Pirellis may become more like Bridgestones and last longer. Swings and roundabouts, we suppose.

The most important thing to realise is that this year’s breed of Formula One cars are a means to a technical end, which may or may not be changed as the season rumbles on. But, they’re here now, so let’s all learn to love them.