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F1: Here's our 2020 vision to revitalise the sport - 1

Publication: 
Bryan Edwards
chiefofficersnet

In this series, Bryan Edwards looks at the state of Formula One and comes up with some radical ideas that could be brought into effect as soon as 2020 and would actually reduce the cost of the sport while improving the spectacle and technical benefits outside F1.

There are people who watch Formula One because they are tribal, but mostly, people watch Formula One for the racing and even the most die-hard fans have found themselves disappointed as one fix after another has failed to prevent races being a procession.

But what if we re-thought some of F1's most sacred tenets and tossed away some of the technical fixes that have in some cases failed to work and in others made things worse?

And what if we re-thought one of the most iconic features of top-flight racing?

Here is a package of proposals that, together, provide fans and teams with what everyone wants, and goes way beyond tinkering around the edges.

Formula One cars are are beautiful, fast and deliver benefits that find their way onto road cars of the future. That's why manufacturers like F1: it is the most hostile development and proving ground for any form of road-car technology, except pure electric. Just ask Honda: they have spent an estimated USD450 million (a combination of money paid to McLaren and engine development and production costs) so far on their current F1 adventure and they are not giving up. In the past three seasons they have ebbed and flowed while it is increasingly obvious that McLaren have developed a fantastic chassis, driven by fantastic drivers, with a devastatingly under-powered and unreliable engine and supporting parts.

But they are also, in their current iteration, deeply flawed when it comes to being the perfect machine for delivering close, exciting racing.

With some modifications, much of which is to undo ideas that have outlived their usefulness or which didn't work properly or, even, reduced "raceability," we could see a significant improvement. Ironically, the best way to do this is to reduce regulation not keep adding to it.

Racing cars depend on two types of grip: aerodynamic and "mechanical." Aerodynamic grip is created when air travelling over the body of the car pushes it down onto the road, reducing its tendency to slide about. "Aero" as it is called is essential because any object travelling fast through air at a very low altitude is subject to that most logically named of concepts, "lift." It's easy to demonstrate: put a piece of paper on a flat surface and blow immediately in front of one edge. It "lifts" off the table and floats away. Controlling that lift prevents the car flipping over - and that has happened from time to time in the past.

Aero keeps the car at its optimum operating height: this is important because, ironically, in addition to lift, there is a suction effect beneath a fast-moving object. In the case of F1, this is mitigated by "the plank" - literally a piece of wood fitted below the car to make sure that the ride height is such that the suction, known as "ground effect" does not give an unfair advantage. In the 1980s, ground effect research was at the heart of many developments until it was banned. Several attempts have been made by teams to introduce something similar over the years.

Aero also provides what teams refer to as "downforce" and they like to demonstrate this by saying that a Formula One car, at high speed, would be able to travel upside down on the ceiling. Of course, that's silly, because no one has a ceiling big enough but you get the idea: by creating the opposite of lift, cars are pressed down, through their suspension and tyres to the point where, at speed, they are far, far heavier than their stationary weight.

So, aero is needed to enhance both safety and performance: if you are going to have fast cars, you need them to stay on the track.

See part II tomorrow.