As the teams put the final touches on their cars for 2012, the Badgerometer looks back through time at several designs that were both clever and unfair in equal measures!
The Brabham “Fan Car”
During the late ’70s, Lotus dominated thanks to their pioneering Lotus 79, a wizardry of ground effect that left the rest of the field in it’s wake. The Brabham team had tried to copy the British marque at it’s own game with their BT46, but had failed. The “B” variant of their car was introduced for the Swedish Grand Prix, and raised quite a few eyebrows.
The addition of a massive fan on the rear of the car was defended for “cooling purposes”, but it also acted as a massive suction device that removed air from under the car, sticking it to the ground when at speed. Niki Lauda took it to victory – and it was promptly banned thereafter, meaning it still has a 100% race record.
Derek Gardner, Tyrrell’s designer of the their P34, took the standard model of an F1 car and turned it on it’s head, reducing the size of the front wheels and adding an extra pair just to be sure. The result is one of the most recognisable F1 cars ever.
While it wouldn’t win any beauty contests, the P34 actually proved to be a genius in engineering. The smaller front end, without the drag or lift caused by larger front tyres, gave better traction, improved by the increased surface area offered by the 4 smaller tyres. It was competitive from the off in 1976, and the team managed 10 podiums, including a 1-2 at the Swedish Grand Prix, taking them to 3rd place in the Championship.
The car would slowly lose pace in 1977 though, even with a slight redesign. But, it’s interesting to note that the car didn’t fail – the development of the smaller tyres by Goodyear wasn’t kept up, leading to failures and lack of spares!
When the Lotus team unveiled their Type 91 for 1982, it was the start of a technology that would be standard on all front running F1 cars up until 1994. Not only that, but also something that would trickle down to cars that everyday people would use too!
The Active Suspension system consisted of a large, heavy computer system that would adjust the car’s ride height to keep it at a certain height above the ground at all times. This helped the aerodynamics of the car to me maximised at all times, while also aiding cornering. By the time Alain Prost won his 4th title in 1993, the Williams was so sophisticated it a track layout could be programmed in, meaning the bumps would virtually be eliminated!
The devices would be banned for 1994, bringing driver skill back to the forefront.
From it’s very first appearance in 1977, to it’s complete banning in 1989, a turbocharger was the item to have bolted onto your engine. The added boost a turbo gave cars up to 1400 horsepower in 1986, and drove speeds to levels never since before, and since.
With all the added power and boost, the cars became to unpredictable to drive, and costs were mounting for engine manufacturers to remain competitive. Turbos became extinct.
Aerodynamics were the buzzword during the 1970’s, but these were thought to be above the car and nowhere else. Yet again, Colin Chapman and Lotus thought outside the box, creating designs underneath their cars bodies that channelled the airflow under the car to create downforce, sucking the car to the ground. Some teams even developed “skirts” that would trap the air under the car and force it to travel over aero designs. Ground effect was born.
Chapman’s cars – in the shapes of the 78 and 79 – became the fastest ones on the F1 grid due to this technology. Other teams tried to copy, but without the understanding, or the funds, to match the British team, their designs would often be flawed, causing massive accidents.
Coupled with the use of Turbos, F1 cars of the early ’80s were extremely fast and hard to drive, meaning accidents were more frequent and often a lot more violent. After Gilles Villenueve lost his life, and Didier Pironi nearly lost the use of his legs, ground effect was banned for good.
While all the inventions above were brought in and improved performances massively, the way F1 engineers are always on the lookout for a small advantage would be the introduction of “X-wings”, small aero devices that appeared on cars during the late ’90s.
The worst offenders were Arrows and Jordan, who added the following monstrosities to their cars at Monaco in the early 2000’s. Ugly and a little bit dangerous, they were banned nearly immediately, sending designers straight back to the drawing board.