Ten interesting innovations that did or didn’t work
With ever tightening technical restrictions in F1, truly radical innovations are sadly few and far between. This year we’ve been treated to sidepod exiting exhausts and U-shaped sidepods, but that’s nothing compared to the crazy stuff we used to see. In this long overdue article I thought it would be interesting to look back at some of my favourite technological innovations…
Bugatti Type 251
In the 1920′s, Bugatti dominated Grand Prix racing. Indeed, the Type 35 is one of the great racing cars of all time. It’s a shame then that the company’s final racer, built after the death of Ettore Bugatti, was such a flop.
Dubbed the Type 251, it certainly looked radical with it’s side mounted fuel tanks and mid engine, which was mounted transversely (some eight years before Honda did the same).
The car looked bulky and ungainly, and despite months of development it disappointed on its Grand Prix debut at the 1956 French Grand Prix at Reims. The driver, Maurice Trintignant, could only qualify the car in 18th place nearly 20 seconds slower than the pole position time, and he retired 18 laps in to the race with a throttle issue.
The problems? Well, with the engine situated so far back traction was good but the front end was very light, causing understeer; and although the engine had the power of its contemporaries, the car was too heavy to make the most of it.
It wasn’t all bad though. The slippery body shape was fairly advanced, and the rear suspension was also ahead of its time. The original designs had also allowed for independent front suspension.
Still, the car is nothing more than a curio of F1 history and an ignominious way to end Bugatti’s rich motor racing heritage.
Ok, so these days paddle shifts aren’t particularly interesting – in fact, have they ever been – but the other day I read something about them that was interesting.
Semi-automatic gearboxes were first seen during the 1989 season on the John Barnard designed Ferrari 640, right? Wrong. In the January 2011 issue of Racecar Engineering, Mauro Forghieri revealed that as far back as 1978, Ferrari had tested a similar system on a 312T with Gilles Villeneuve at the wheel. The system consisted of hydraulic actuators taken from a machine tool which were activated by buttons on the steering wheel.
Gilles didn’t like it, not feeling confident without a mechanical link to the gearbox. Enzo respected the opinion of his driver and the system was shelved.
Now, Gilles was of the school of thought that the driver should be able to make as much of a difference as possible, and obviously a semi-auto gearbox was going to detract from that. He was never going to like it and it could bring up some interesting ‘what ifs’.
What if someone else had tested the system and liked it? Would such a system have been enough to alter the balance of power between the top teams of the time? Would different drivers have acheived different amount of success?
Would Gilles Villeneuve still be with us today?
I’m not normally one for what if’s, but I thought this was interesting enough to pose the question. What amazes me most is why it took so long – nearly a decade – for Ferrari to take another look at the system!
What do you think?
Six wheeled F1 cars
The child in all of us loves a car with six wheels, and any self respecting F1 fan knows about the Tyrrell P34. Introduced for the 1976 season it had four small front wheels, and while the front end grip was incredible and the car managed to win a race, there were too many problems.
The suspension arrangement at the front was incredibly complex and heavy, and Goodyear couldn’t afford to develop the specialist tyres at the same rate as the normal sized F1 tyres. After another, less successful season in 1977, the project was scrapped.
Other teams clearly saw potential in the idea however. March developed the 2-4-0, which had four wheels at the rear for improved traction. Ferrari also put four wheels at the rear of their Ferrari 312T6, but the car was found too difficult to drive.
More interesting was Williams’ effort. After experimenting with four rear wheels on the FW07 in late 1981, they put together a more serious six wheeled effort with the FW08 in 1982. Mid season tests with the car showed that it was phenomenally quick, but when the FIA banned four wheel drive for 1983 and later on banned six wheeled cars, the project came to nothing.
The Brabham BT46b ‘fan car’
Lotus really proved the virtues of ground effect in 1978 as their Lotus 79 romped to both championships. Brabham designer Gordon Murray was one of the first to grasp how they were achieving such high levels of grip, but he knew the Alfa Romeo flat-12 engine wouldn’t allow him to create effective Venturi tunnels under the car.
To get around this problem, he placed a large fan at the back. He claimed this was for cooling purposes, but this was merely a way of sidestepping the regulations. In reality it sucked air from under the car, sticking the car to the road and allowing it to corner much quicker.
It first appeared at the Swedish Grand Prix at Anderstorp, and although teams and drivers protested the cars legality it was allowed to race. Lauda and Watson qualified second and third on the grid behind Andretti’s Lotus. Watson span out early on, but Lauda passed Andretti round the outside and went on to win by half a minute.
After further uproar from other teams Bernie Ecclestone, head of FOCA and owner of the Brabham team negotiated a deal to allow the car to race three more times, but the FIA intervened and banned the car from competing.
Four Wheel Drive
Ferguson had experimented with 4WD in the early 60s, with some success, and BRM later experimented with it (although their car never raced).
However with the advent of the Cosworth DFV in the late 60s, a powerful engine was available off the shelf to any F1 team. Teams found that the current chassis’ were struggling to handle the power and once again looked into 4WD as a way of managing it.
Indeed, during the 1969 season three teams – Lotus with the 63, Matra’s MS84 and McLaren’s M9A - built and raced four wheel drive cars, and Cosworth themselves also had a go. The cars were almost universally hated by drivers, and their performance left a lot to be desired, often finishing several laps behind the leaders.
At the time Lotus were also experimenting with gas turbine engines in the shape of the Lotus 56, which also had 4WD. The car was designed to compete in the Indianapolis 500, which it almost won in 1968, but after the US governing body banned both gas turbine engines and 4WD for 1970, the decision was taken to convert the car to run in Formula 1.
It ran in several races during the 1971 season, often retiring with suspension failure. A sodden race at Zandvoort meant that the 4WD system was a huge advantage, and with Dave Walker at the wheel the car went from 22nd on he grid to 10th in just 5 laps. A likely win for a 4WD car looked to be on the cards before Walker spun off, much to the dismay of Colin Chapman.
Four wheel drive was later banned after teams began experimenting with four driven rear wheels in a six wheeled format.
Eifelland Type 21
In 1972, German businessman Guenther Hennerici wanted a way to advertise his caravan business. With many of his family members being involved in motor racing, he decided that starting a Formula One team would be a great way to do it.
Hennerici bought a March 721 and hired the spherically minded Luigi Colani to design the bodywork. At launch the car looked truly bizarre with its swoopy one piece bodywork and periscope mirror.
It looked as though Colani had been aerodynamically innovative, indeed at the cars launch he dismissed all other designers as not knowing anything, but in truth he’d simply designed the car based on instinct. Amusingly the car was found to lack downforce in pre season tests and by the time of the teams first race the car had been given more conventional wings.
The car was average at best, with driver Rolf Stommelen picking up a couple of top 10 finishes but nothing more. The team went belly up before the end of the season, during which time the car had been altered so much it looked pretty much like a normal March 721…
…it still had that silly mirror, though.
This bizarre rear wing on the March 751 was designed to smooth out the airflow at the rear of the car and the low side platforms may well have acted similar to a diffuser. That’s all I know about this one I’m afraid, so if anyone has any more information on the reasoning behind it, please tell.
During the early 70′s, the Cosworth DFV was de rigueur and teams were beginning to look at ways of extracting more power from it in order to steal a march on the competition.
One such way of doing this was by placing airboxes above the drivers head in order to feed more air into the engine and increase the combustion rate and thus produce more power.
By 1975 however, the size of airboxes had become ridiculous. Designs like the Brabham BT44 and Hill GH1 were bad enough, but when Ligier turned up with the cartoon-like JS5 in 1976, the FIA cried enough and restrictions were imposed by the time of the Spanish Grand Prix in May.
Extreme aerodynamic appendages
After the tragic 1982 season, the FIA moved to ban ground effect for 1983 by introducing a rule which required each car to have a completely flat underside – no more sliding skirts, no more venturi tunnels.
The loss in downforce was dramatic, so designers immediately started looking at ways to reclaim some of it back using aerodynamic appendages on the bodywork. Cars sported front wings again and by the end of 1983, the rear wings started to become larger and more complex.
In 1984 things went mad. The rear wings of most cars had huge winglets on either side, whereas some teams went a step further and fitted another rear wing entirely!
Thankfully, new rules for the 1985 season included a limit on rear wing size, and these ghastly appendages were gone…for another 20 years or so, at least!
When former Ferrari engineer Franco Rocchi designed and built a W12 configuration engine, Italian businessman Ernesto Vita bought the rights to it and plonked it in a chassis purchased from the stillborn FIRST team ready for an attack on the 1990 Formula One season.
The season was a disaster. The W12 engine barely produced 60% of the power of other engines, the car was overweight, ill-handling and unreliable and would have struggled to keep up with a field of Formula 3000 cars.
Driver Gary Brabham walked out after two races, failing to pre-qualify both times, and was replaced by Bruno Giacomelli. Results were no better, the car never making it past pre-qualifying or stringing together any more than a handful of laps. The laps it did manage to complete were often 20 or 30 seconds off the pace of the fastest pre-qualifiers, and even a late season switch to a Judd V8 engine faired no better. Life withdrew from the final two races of the year and disappeared into F1 folklore.