F1: Breeding ground for road car technology? No chance.

Jean Todt has staked his FIA premiership firmly on this platform. Formula E(lectric) has been announced, one presumes to be associated with F1 and promote economic and efficient cars. I’m sorry, but this will be like watching Tomorrows World of old and pays lip service to the concept of making racing more relevant to 21st century car manufacture.

Luca de Montezelomo is quite obtuse about these matters. Ferrari are genuinely interested in cost cutting, for the simple reason that most of the money spent in F1 design now in the area of aerodynamics; something that is not relevant to the road cars Ferrari produce.

 “We want an F1 with less cost,” Montezemolo said. “Tell me why we have to spend a huge amount of cost to spend 24 hours in the windtunnel to do a small wing flap that for the public [the interest] is zero, for the television is zero, and for me as a road-car manufacturer it is less than zero because we will never use this for the road car?”. Absolutely true.

So how did we end up here? F1 has always been about pushing the known engineering boundaries of single seater racing. In the first decade (1950-1950) of the regulated F1 world championship it was engines that were the focul point of regulation. Prior to this, the focus of car design was to just keep on building bigger and more powerful engines.

This was the FIA regulations for the first 10 years of regulated F1 racing.

1950-51                1500 cc with compressor; 4500 cc without; No weight limit

1952-53                750 cc with compressor; 2000 cc without; No weight limit

1954-60                750 cc with compressor; 2500 cc without; No weight limit

A comprehensive rule book huh?

Due to these restrictions, over the following decades the design advancements came in all areas of the car – chassis, gearbox, suspension, tyres, fuel and eventually aerodynamics. One team would steal a march on the others and for a variety of reasons these would either be outlawed by new rules or if not then copied by the rest.

So to cut a long story short, we’ve ended up with regulations that are so tight on engines, suspension, chassis, fuel and with a single tyre manufacturer – pretty much all that’s left to experiment on is aerodynamics – and as Ferrari’s president so eloquently observes, what relevance is this to road car development?

Let’s say we want to see true innovation in fuel efficiency for example, which is highly relevant to road car engine design. Then the regulations could allow for unlimited horse power, restrict the weight of the car to an average family 4 door saloon and provide the teams with a defined amount of fuel for the duration of the race. They will work it out.

Of course there has been F1 innovations in the past that find their way into F1, Turbo charging, active suspension, sequential gearboxes to name but a few – but the current tight regulations have screwed down development most aspects of the car, leaving aero design as the major area where design affects car performance significantly.

The problem is the conflict between the commercial rights holder and the interests of the sport. Mr Ecclestone and money dictates that the show needs to be spectacular with close racing, and by regulating every aspect of the cars to the nth degree provides exactly this. Conversely, de-regulated racing in the past delivered one team with a clever technology stealing the show and beating everyone else hands down for a whole season.

So what do we want? What is F1 all about? The needs of the road car manufacturers drive us toward cost cutting and the development of the F1 cars being realigned with the issues they face daily when designing their road cars.

TV, Bernie and the public want exciting and close racing, and in the end the money flows from a worldwide audience who see this as the priority over genuine technological developments that benefits future road car design.

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