Friday, 6 May 2011

Vanishing Point - The Future of Formula 1

There has been a lot of talk and discussion about the upcoming 2013 regulations for F1. Which is not surprising, as the sport prepares for a major overhaul - the return of turbocharging, a proposed 1.6l l4 engine configuration and a greater emphasis on the KERS system. What IS surprising is that this will be the second major revision within less than five years. The question arises - what is to come in the future?

Obviously the sport is in a depression at the moment and FIA tries everything to keep up the interest of manufacturers and the audience as well. Unfortunately these two seem to be constantly on a collision course and in recent years tension has built up enough to decide in favour of one party - although this was not intentional.

As far the cars themselves concerned (that are interested in policy the least) they are constantly formed by technical advancement, but from time to time, they get harnessed by motorsport and other policy.

So I made a little investigation into F1 regulations and developments to see the progress in cars in order to set up a trend that may manifest in the next 10-15 years.

At the very early of my research I came to realise (as I suspected previously) that major overhaulings came about every 10 years - almost exactly at the very end or the very beginning of a decade with some minor progress in the middle.

So let's see a little overview here briefly. In brackets, you can see the reasons:

Early '50s - 4.5l N/A or 1.5l supercharged formula quickly dropped in favour of F2 2-litre N/A regulations. Engine in the front.
Mid '50s - 2.5l N/A formula introduced, awakening attention of major manufacturers.
Late '50s / Early '60s - F2 formula introduced again, 1.5l N/A engines. Mid-engine cars start to appear - probably the most important development in F1.
Mid '60s - Engine displacement expanded to 3-litres, remains a general engine formula for decades.
Late '60s - Wings appear, torsion bar suspention introduced (note: the 1967 season is considered to be one of the greatest in the history of F1 as there was virtually no downforce yet but very high output) - the second greatest change in the sport.
Late '70s - Beside the 3l N/A engine regulation, the 1.5-litre force inducted formula is allowed for engines - the beginning of the legendary turbo-era. Aerodynamics makes its second strike as ground effect is introduced (along with the legendary, one-off Brabham "fan-car").
Mid '80s - Ground effect is banned - the first major restriction (SAFETY).
Late '80s - Turbocharging is banned (BUDGET).
Early '90s - Electronic driver aids make their move.
Mid '90s - Driver aids banned (only to be lagalized and banned in subsequent years), safety regulations highly restricted (SAFETY, BUDGET, COMPETITION)
Late '90s - Cars shrunk in width, effect of aerodynamics and grip on tyres decreased (SAFETY, COMPETITION); Bridgestone enters F1, creating a competition with GoodYear.
Early '00s - Engines are expected to last for 1-2-3 race weekends, gradually. Michelin enters F1 (BUDGET)
Mid '00s - 3l N/A V10 engine formula is dropped in favour of 2.4l V8 N/A; Michelin enters F1, Bridgestone leaves (BUDGET)
Late '00s / Early '10s - the biggest overhaul in decades: aero effect tremendously cut down, engine development frozen, Pirelli enters F1, slick tyres reintroduced (note: increasing mechanical, decreasing aero downforce), gearboxes are equal, mobile body parts introduced (F-duct, DRS), KERS introduced; (BUDGET, COMPETITION, ECO)
Mid '10s - 1.6l, turbocharged  4-cylinder engines to be introduced, increasing the role of the KERS system; talks about all electric engines in the future (ECO, BUDGET)

So this is where we are now, and we can see some factors trending: safety, budget, competition and eco influences, with eco and budget getting stronger and budget staying constanty low.

Where is this heading to by around 2020?

The 'competition' factor is an issue, viewer-vise. Due to the nature of open-wheel, winged cars, there's a high amount of aerodynamics involved that makes overtaking difficult. Thus supplementary body kits were banned and slick tyres reintroduced to enhance mechanical grip in favour of aerodynamics, supported by the DRS (Drag Reduction System) to make overtaking easy.

I suspect currently this is the direction the sport is heading to at one point. Reducing aerodynamics, the cars can get closer to each other, pleasing the audience with more 'wheel-on-wheel' action, and bigger manufacturers may be interested if there was more mechanicals involved (with the fear that a budget cap could destroy that hope any moment).

If we take that, we should list the 'items' that are strongly recommended to create greater mechanical grip:
- bigger tyres (wider across and bigger in diameter)
- even less aerodynamic downforce (the front wing could serve as an item only of saving the front wheels from aero-drag), moving the creation of downforce to the rear wing and the body mainly (see the next point)
- four-wheel drive - Now that's something that seems to be truly unexpected, but it's not. I'll explain: in other motorsports, KERS systems are used to drive the front wheels as well. In corner exits this could serve well, if it's an electronically controlled device. If the electric motor is put somewhere in the front, wedge-shaped body designs could be introduced again, creating the missing downforce from the front wing; I do not believe this would make a much higher budget in design than any major revision would. Overtaking could be easily solved by revised DRS systems.
- allowing driver aids - traction control, ABS, launch control, CVT transmission. I mean - let the computers do some work, let's not pretend F1 is in the stone age. If drivers are free from various controls on the steering wheel, they can concentrate on racing more. CVT transmissions can extend engine life and efficiency at the same time.

In other words: let mechanicals and computers create grip while the drivers are busy racing each other.

Another factor in racing is the nostalgy awaken in recent years: drivers like Rosberg, Senna and Piquet racing, classic liveries revived: Reenault, Williams, and two Lotuses. The reintroduction of the turbo is another flashback to 'good ole days'. Revision of some classic tracks could be also a demand in favour of recent Tilke-tracks. Everything was tried lately: night street-race, semi-night race in an arena with a tunnel involved, but in the face of preliminary expectations they didn't prove to be competitive tracks enough.

Also, a move to the arabic world had been made, another move to South Asia recently (India, South Korea), and by their heavy input in F1 teams, a Russian GP should be manifested soon, followed by an African race afterwards. But then F1 still needs to revive some of its old tracks if there is that much nostalgy involved. A Grand Prix of Argentina, Mexico, Sweden, Holland, etc. should be reintroduced on the old tracks, revised.

Now, I don't think this all could lead to the days of the late '80s and early '90s, being 'too fast to race', since there is a heavy influence of electric drive involved. Full electric drive is very compromised yet (and will be for a while), but being pushed that much, there is going to be a hybrid league for a long time, and endurance will be more of a question as opposed to speed.

I may be wrong big time, but clearly there has been a shift from flat-out speed to a strategic game for a while now. F1 needs to get messages through: i.e.: it is still cutting edge, they still use the best solutions, they still can be cheap and eco, and they still have the best drivers in the world.

F1 is heavily formed by policy and expectations - as every king would be suspiciously scrutinized. Surely, old-school is not Formula "1". Most efficient technology is (whether if it is the biggest power output, the highest speed, the lowest consumption - whatever policy and expectations dictate), that is built up of many factors as I detailed above. If something is lost there, it will not be F1 anymore.

Agree? Disagree? Comment, if you wish!

1 comment: