In Pursuit of Speed
Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsport. The drivers are the cream of the crop at the peak of their careers. The cars themselves are at the forefront of automotive design. The sport draws the most talented engineers, designers and aerodynamics experts with the result that the technology that is showcased on the cars is years radical and innovative…or at least that’s the way it should be.
The issue of FIA technical regulations is currently a hot-topic on the lips of all involved in Formula 1 after what can only be described as the Red Bull slot debacle of 2012. For those few of you who are unaware, the issue surrounds a small slot cut into the floor of the Red Bull RB8’s floor. The car has been run featuring this inconspicuous slot since the race in Bahrain earlier in the year, but apparently opposition teams only noticed it (or decided it was advantageous) during the Monaco Grand Prix which was won by the RB8 driven by Mark Webber. For full technical details on the purpose of the slot and reasons for its supposed illegality I recommend you read this great article which explains the facts far better than I can.
Without getting into the details of the matter, the FIA have come to the (rather late) decision that the slot, in its current configuration, is illegal and Red Bull must change the design before next weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix. Since no team lodged an official complaint after the race in Monaco all of Red Bull’s points earned this season will stand. Whether you agree with that decision or not is another debate entirely. While the matter has been handled in a very efficient and low-key manner, without the bickering and fighting that so often accompanies these technical altercations, it has highlighted a much larger issue in my mind; the issue of restrictions that have been placed on designers and engineers in modern Formula 1 teams.
In the not-too-distant past Formula 1 cars were the most radical, outrageous, cutting-edge vehicles in the world. Created with the pure intention of racing around a circuit as fast as possible, no holds barred. Some of the cars that were created were unbelievable feats of imagination and engineering capability. The Tyrrell P34, with its 6-wheels, astounded the world at its unveiling in 1976 when the cover was removed for the first time. The Brabham BT46B was known as the “fan car” due to its utilisation of a large fan at the rear of the car which drew air from beneath the chassis, quite literally sucking the car onto the tarmac, allowing it to accelerate through the corners as if it were a roller-coaster. Perhaps less obvious in its innovation was the car known as “Black Beauty”, the Lotus 79. The first car to fully make use of ground effects aerodynamics it made use of venturi tunnels underneath the car to accelerate airflow and reduce pressure beneath the car. The design was so successful it dominated the 1978 season, winning the Championship at the hands of Mario Andretti.
Where is that innovation today? Sure, we have seen some incredible technology introduced to the cars such as KERS and DRS, but nothing remotely close to the avant-garde, daring creations of the past. I am entirely aware of the reasons for this. The restrictions and regulations of the FIA are there to ensure the safety of the drivers and the competitive nature of the sport, both of which are extremely valid reasons. However, I can’t help feeling that F1 has lost a little bit of its maverick nature. F1 is meant to be more than just a competition between drivers. It should be a showcase for the genius of some of the best minds in the world, who pit their creativity and intellect against one another in a bid to create the fastest machine possible. In today’s competition all of that creativity seems to go into attempting to create a car that flirts with the rules as closely as possible without breaking them. That in itself has its own merits, but does not allow for the out-and-out originality and imagination that made F1 such a spectacle in the past.
I don’t see the FIA changing its approach any time soon and perhaps that is a good thing. Formula 1 is an extremely successful venture in the eyes of who are involved, fans included. The close nature of the 2012 season is testament to the success of the regulations at ensuring the competitiveness of the competition. My passion for F1 is not going to diminish in the slightest simply because there isn’t an 8-wheeled or turbojet-powered car amongst the pack. However, if a series emerged that gave free-rein to designers and engineers to create the fastest machines that they could, strap a driver to it and send it blistering around a circuit I would be track-side in a heartbeat; cheering for the frontrunners of innovation, creativity and the unbridled pursuit of speed!