#F1 Features: Hiding in Plain Sight – The Future of Formula One

Brought to you by TJ13 contributor Mattpt55 and Editor in Chief Andrew Huntley-Jacobs

It was not long before the eve of Christmas 2013, when the FIA issued an invitation for anyone interested in playing Formula One constructor, to make an application. The process appeared to be somewhat truncated – 3 weeks for initial interest and a further 5 weeks only for interested parties to then persuade the FIA they had a competent business plan, financial backing and a proper intent to enter F1. All this would cost an applicant around $100,000.

untitledTJ13 was the first to suggest, this process was ‘convenient’ and indeed smacked of a pre-approved applicant, who would now in effect be agreed on a nod of the head. Further, TJ13 sources in Italy at the time reported that the inspiration behind this FIA invitation was designed to facilitate a proper ‘B’ team for Ferrari.

Then in January up popped Gene Haas, and despite Mr. E’s scathing attack on Haas’ credibility, the American was approved to race in Formula One by the FIA.

Haas was immediately bullish about a new vision of how things should be done in the world of F1. “The big teams spend $200-300m but have 10 engineers working on one fitting. I don’t think we’d approach it that way… I think if we apply NASCAR techniques, we could bring some of those costs down and maybe accomplish what Formula One really wants: A little more sanity on the cost side and still have good racing. … I just think we as Americans have the ability to take complex machines and figure out how to make them go fast without all the complexity. I could be wrong, but I have that gut feeling.”

untitledComparing Formula One and NASCAR would have done little to endear Haas to F1 fans. However, the confidence in Haas rhetoric revealed he had been led to believe a wind of change was on the way and the source of his understanding is not difficult to fathom.

Bernie Ecclestone has not been backward in coming forwards with his views on F1 customer teams and most recently in November 2014, Martin Brundle asked Bernie: “Where are you on customer cars? Do you think it would be better to have say six teams with six ‘B’ teams to go with them, so there’s some economies of scale and some structure to it – and the grid would be a lot closer too?”

Ecclestone replied: “Yeah, I mean I’d like to see that. Whether it would work or not, have to wait and see”.

Yet for customer cars to become a reality, a change in the regulations is required.

untitledThe 2015 Formula One Sporting Regulations have been in the public domain since June of 2014 when they were first published by the FIA. But there has been little attention paid to the changes afoot for 2015 as these have been recently eclipsed by the flashy and showy Driver’s License Appendix – which was posted on the FIA’s website on December 24th – possibly even by Father Christmas himself.

Yet there is plenty to consider, possibly with a mug of cocoa and the bedside reading light, particularly those technical and design changes from last year to this.

There is a juicy morsel buried away in Appendix 6 which is more than worthy of the F1 connoisseur’s attention. Appendix 6 has in effect defined the modern era of Formula One and it is the stupendously glaring omissions there for 2015 – which are of significance.

For those who are not devotees of the arcana and minutia of the FIA regulations, Appendix Six of the Sporting Regulations contains a Small Table entitled “Listed Parts”. This table defines which components of a car a Formula One constructor is required to exclusively hold the intellectual property rights for.

untitledDesign and construction may in fact be outsourced – but not to other competitors or their associates.

Merely paying a sub-contractor to design and build an all new F1 car is hardly going to be less expensive in the long run, than doing it yourself. Yet if teams can buy from competitors components they have already developed – the R&D costs are shared and the cost of producing the component is significantly reduced.

Herein lies the key to the next era for Formula One and it is hardly surprising to discover the 2015 Listed Parts are – unlike the 2015 drivers and cars – a little bit lighter.

Listed Parts from Appendix 6 of the 2015 F1 Sporting Regulations, looking svelte

Listed Parts from Appendix 6 of the 2015 F1 Sporting Regulations, looking svelte

Listed Parts from Appendix 6 of 2014 F1 Sporting Regulations

Listed Parts from Appendix 6 of 2014 F1 Sporting Regulations

Notice clearly that large chunks of the 2014 Listed Parts Table (highlights includes suspension and brake ducts) are no longer included in the 2015 Listed Parts Table. For those who believe that FIA stands for Farcical Incompetents Association this is perhaps merely a slip up on the order of forgetting to include a date in the regulations for 2015 PU homologation, as some nameless FIA bureaucrat became hopelessly distracted by a Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice Latte and simply failed to finish typing up the document.

However, a more likely interpretation of the missing ‘listed parts’ is that this is a clear signal to Gene and others that customer teams are set to return to Formula One and that the 2016 regulations will provide a safe haven for Haas F1 and their desire to become a Ferrari ‘B’ team.

untitledSpeaking two days ago to Autoweek, Gene Haas commented: “I think Ferrari has got some questions. I think they would like to partner with somebody that can give them some feedback, so if we can provide value to them I think then that this will work out very well. I hope we can provide value to them. If all of a sudden there are four cars that have some information-exchange back and forth, that would probably be beneficial so both teams can do a little bit better.”

Presumably Mr. Haas is unaware of the historic Sauber/Ferrari relationship.

Yet Gene Haas does reveal he is connected in some way with Ecclestone’s views of the future for Formula One. “If Caterham doesn’t come back there are going to be nine teams so we will be the tenth team and I don’t think Bernie is going to allow start-up teams any more. If we prove that we can be successful maybe that would be a model of how you start up. But, to have someone like Caterham and Marussia, where they just started with nothing, that just doesn’t work”.

So, no new constructors for Formula One, unless they are prepared to produce a business plan similar to the Haas/Nascar concept?

untitledBut given the fact that the Mercedes AMG F1 team’s advantage over its customers in 2014, was significant in part because of their ability to see the car and engine from a holistic design perspective; can we believe that a constructor who is merely assembling a host of components already being produced by a disparate number of other teams and sub-contractors will be able to optimise their assembly in a manner the ‘traditional’ constructors cannot?

The de-listing in Appendix 6 for 2015 of the brake ducts is a significant move towards customer teams being able to buy highly sophisticated technology from competitors. Brake ducts are no longer for just cooling purposes due to the historic loophole that allows the teams to design brake ducts which deliver aerodynamic advantages.

This is evident from the sophistication of the 2014 RB10 brake duct which added crucial down force last season, replacing some of that lost by the new narrower front wings.

untitled

Whilst the cost savings of purchasing suspension parts pales into insignificance when compared to the spend on an entire chassis, the de-listing of these components for 2015 is most definitely a step in direction which will see teams becoming more assembly and operation entities – and not constructors – as they have been in the most recent era of Formula One.

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5 responses to “#F1 Features: Hiding in Plain Sight – The Future of Formula One

  1. OK. answer me this: who in their right mind would want to ‘buy-in’ Ferrari’s current front suspension ?

  2. So Ferrari B team. With brake ducts having influence on overall aero design. Sounds gives 2 more cars to test new bits.

    Arrivebene to Haas “we are testing a couple of new sidepod designs, and here is your homework for 2016.” Good luck scoring points.

  3. Have mixed feelings about this – in some sense there is a need to keep costs down. Even if the powers that be see sense and provide a living wage to the smaller teams – I am not holding my breath.
    Is this the best compromise between a full manufacturer and customer cars?
    One of the fun aspects of F1 used to be seeing a privateer in a year old car putting one over the established teams.

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