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A Blueprint for F1's future... rediscovering the 'awesome factor' Part II

FEATURE BY GUEST AUTHORS
23/04/2019

In the second part of his blueprint for F1 to rediscover the 'awesome factor', former Ferrari and McLaren driver, Stefan Johansson looks at Competition.

Competition

Background: What I am proposing is very radical change that will require a complete reset philosophically on every level of how we go racing. Over time, the focus on downforce and aerodynamics has completely taken over every other aspect of racing to the point where it affects not only the car design (that only keeps growing each year on a massive scale), but also how every new race track is designed. Sadly, the end result is that the racing is getting more boring, with less passing as each year goes by, to the point where we instead have to come up with ‘band-aid' solutions to try and spice up the show by implementing artificial ways to pass such as the DRS device, and forcing the tyre manufacturer to essentially produce an inferior product to make the racing a little less predictable. As we know, none of this has worked out very well. In addition, over time there have always been attempts at slowing the cars down either by reducing the horsepower and at one point they even went down the road of introducing treaded tires. Yet at no time has there even been a decision to stop the focus on aero development, except for tiny isolated solutions that have been minimally effective and only added to the overall cost with each iteration of change.

Learning from other racing series can be extremely instructive as the same physics apply universally. IndyCar and NASCAR have in the past gone in the wrong direction by increasing aero grip, only to find out it was a huge, expensive mistake, and in each case backtracked to a less aero dependent package. If we count how many times there have been small changes to the aero rules to slow the cars down, or speed them up, or help the overtaking, or whatever the reason was each time, and then count the amount of money that was spent by each team, it's staggering.

A perfect example is the 2019 rules, expected to cost each team an additional €15m and they likely won't make any difference whatsoever. Yet, not once has the problem been fixed, maybe masked it slightly for half a season before the teams catch up to where they were before. At some point the penny has to drop!

Massive reduction in downforce: Reduce downforce to a level of drivability, but not more: (70% or more with most cars) Obviously, the cars should always be safe to drive and this will not be a problem. But beyond that, they should always be balanced on the edge of adhesion in both low and high-speed corners. By doing this there will be more emphasis on the drivers requiring the use of delicate car control and, in some corners, bravery will again make the difference. The engineering focus will shift more towards mechanical grip - to the vehicle dynamics and tyre performance to get back the lost grip from the limited aero downforce. The cars will be much more difficult to drive which will force teams to hire the best drivers available.

Many of the great traditional tracks that have been outgrown by the current cars and become boring due to the massive downforce will again become interesting both from the drivers' and spectators' point of view.

Someone recently suggested a drop of 40-50% downforce but I don't think it's enough to make the cars lose their aero sensitivity enough to be able to follow another car closely. The current F1 cars have such a huge amount of downforce that I believe a minimum 70% drop is required to reach the right target where the cars won't be fully dependent on aero for performance. The Turbo cars of the 80s had roughly 70% less downforce than the current cars, and they were already on the limit for being aero sensitive when you followed another car. With the current knowledge and technology, I think a lot of the sensitivity can be eliminated compared to back then, but it's a good indicator. And no one at the time considered those cars to be undriveable because they had too little downforce and too much power, we just wanted more, as you always do as a driver. But one thing was for certain, the cars were awesome to drive.

Implement a fixed maximum level of downforce: In order to eliminate and enforce the overwhelming importance of aerodynamics on any current car design, there should be a fixed maximum level of downforce. This can be monitored real time from the strain gauges off the suspension pushrods. It will be no different than checking the engine parameters to make sure they are always within the legal parameters or the tyre pressures or any of the other multitude of parameters that are currently monitored in real time. It will feed straight into the ECU along with all the other data being collected from the car while running. So, for example, if there are spikes on the boost level for more than a certain time, or the fuel flow, there will be a penalty, or perhaps the car will be disqualified. The same thing would apply to downforce levels. We have fixed limits on almost every other aspect on the cars today, so why not also on downforce. There are several different methods that can be applied on how to control this so there will be no room for interpretation or ways to cheat the system by the teams. It could either be controlled by a form of active ride system, that would alter the ride height by small increments in microseconds once the maximum level is reached. The active ride system was already quite well developed in the early 90's, so with the current technology available, it would be a relatively easy system to implement. It could also be controlled from the front and rear wings or the rear diffuser, all with microsecond adjustments so the car would be safe to drive at all times. Once the research on how to best achieve a consistent and safe way to control this is under way, the right answer will be found very quickly. The FIA will then issue and manage the same system for each team.

Sort out the design elements so the cars will look attractive, aggressive and fast: By implementing the rule on maximum downforce the current hideous front wings will be eliminated automatically and if the rule of standardized parts will be implemented there will be one front wing design for all the teams to use. No add-on aero bits will be allowed on any of the car's surfaces. Any aero development will be more focused on drag and aero efficiency, which will then also translate to road relevance eventually. As a result of this we will hopefully find a number of interesting and visually appealing solutions.

Increase power by 30 - 40%, with a Formula based on thermal efficiency and energy consumption: Allow more freedom to explore new technologies based on this formula: Create a formula based on thermal efficiency and energy consumption that will have a maximum limit on how much energy a car can use for the duration of a Grand Prix. This will allow, and hopefully encourage, manufacturers to develop new technologies that are not restricted to the hybrid/internal combustion engine concept only, which is now the only option allowed. Everyone with even a basic interest in engineering knows that there are a number of far more interesting alternatives on engine technology than the electric/hybrid version that is currently the only option. This would truly open the door for F1 to genuinely be at the cutting edge of technology instead of constantly fine tuning a politically correct concept at a cost that is astronomical to everyone involved. Set a target of around 300-400hp increase in power as long as it can meet the energy consumption criteria, which will offset about 30% of the loss in lap-time from the reduction of downforce. By using this formula, it will eventually become apparent what energy source is actually the most environmentally friendly and efficient from a performance point of view. The immediate response I get when I mention this idea to anyone is that the manufacturers will never accept it and will leave instantly. If this is the case, F1 is doomed anyway. If there is one thing that is historically consistent in any form of motorsport, it's when the manufacturers end up controlling a championship, they will eventually screw it up or simply pull out when it doesn't suit their purpose any longer. Sometimes they then come back again when they've had a rethink (Honda most recent example), but there is zero loyalty or emotional engagement to the sport - for them it's purely business. If the current manufacturers don't like the idea for whatever reason, I am certain that there will be other manufacturers that would look at F1 very seriously if it had a more sensible set of rules that would allow for more innovation and had a lower barrier of entry than the current rules provide. Interestingly, there is not one senior executive from any car manufacturer that I have spoken to that is in favour of the electric concept, they all feel this is a political agenda that's been forced upon them.

Noise: If the rules are open for different alternatives on engine technology, we will again get back the engine noise as a factor in the overall experience. Fans can hear the difference between the different engine concepts and there will be very noisy engines and some that are not, but there will be something for everyone to relate to and talk about.

More power... higher top speeds... less downforce... longer braking distance... slower cornering speeds... more overtaking: With the massive reduction in downforce and a significant increase in horsepower we will see a huge increase in top speed, and as a result, much longer braking distances. This should radically improve the opportunities for overtaking as the entry and mid-corner speeds will be significantly lower, which will again require the drivers to slow the cars down much earlier and a lot more before they turn in to the corners. The target should be somewhere close to 250 mph (400kph) in top speed, it will be super exciting to watch and it will definitely give people something to talk about.

It's hard for people to relate today when there are road cars with higher top speed and more horsepower than a Formula One car, no one cares or can appreciate that the F1cars are insanely fast in the slow and medium corners. We were close to the 250 mph mark in some cases in the 80's with the turbo cars, at tracks that were infinitely more dangerous than any of the tracks today, yet there were hardly ever any incidents except when a freak accident of some sort occurred, when something broke on the car for example. We need to get the 'Awesome factor' back somehow. With the added horsepower and less downforce the cars will become beasts to drive and you will see the drivers really wrestling with the cars on exit and entry to the corners. I can guarantee that Lewis, Seb, Daniel, Max and all the rest of the top guys will love every moment of it, and it will automatically weed out the average guys as the teams will be forced to hire the very best drivers they can.

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1. Posted by sagosac, 05/05/2019 15:41

"Right, when reducing downforce, tracks do not need to be castrated.
...whereby even Tamburello could have kept in original shape if huge tyre + Tech-Pro barriers being installed (there were no safety installations in 1994…). Castrating this wonderful, playful course was the least preferable thing to do – blind actionism (impulsive action). The grounds shall be holy – like the stadia (they have bulldozed Hockenheim…they have bulldozed it…and Wembley…unbelievable…)

Instead of prescribing a common level of downforce I would prefer a mandatory maximum amount of surface of the car; within this quantity of centimetres² the smartest solution will be superior.
[Perhaps that downforce will play a role in some futuristic technologies…let’s just not bin anything ;]
Not super-easy to scrutinise, perhaps feasible with a laser-gate or laser-room.

Variation in design solutions can only come via changing / evolving technical regulations (tec-regs).

Totally agree with Mr. Johansson’s view on open propulsion technology !
(Whereby I believe these current 1000HP might be enough – ad your super-fat tyres, coming from a hot oven in a nice, warm tyre war (big enough to not produce marbles which limit the pitch) and the outcome would be at least much more interesting than today. Or 1111 HP ? ;-)

I don’t think that any consumption criteria (ever) ought to be invented, like engineers will always strive for less weight. Due to this intrinsic efficiency formula, any production road car manufacturer agreed to join GOING RACING in first place. Over time they forget it and want everything cheaper but without knee-jerk – then it ends like DTM / Rally / IndyCar / NASCAR: the guy who has the tyre pressure half a decimal righter wins – and nobody witnesses because that’s no meaningful achievement.
Racing is R&D & Marketing at the same time, which is just so ingenious and indeed CHEAP (if you keep it clean and extreme). Because it is NOT only about winning, it indeed is about joining the competition, daring to show your capabilities, and improving. No TV-Commercial (TVC) and no online marketing campaign (most people are averse to) can rival real-world live-performance. Never ever.

F1 = Peak-Performance and NOT Endurance / reliability => 3 engines / gear-boxes etc. is just NOT F1. Point Blank. The most awful of all bad-taste-jokes they came up with :( When they want to save money, they shall shift marketing budgets to superior, most sovereign SPONSORING or leave F1. Then it would need to curtail Porsche and / or convince Honda to supply a to-be-casted team for 2 yrs free of charge.

Keeping with current engine formula was a defensive decision. Who wants to compete against 4 hammer-super top-notch manufacturers and against their 6-year advantage in experience ??? The only chance was Porsche to join-in, due to their LMP-program which comprised a small ICE + MGUH + KERS and this somehow (miraculously) failed.

Road-relevance to be increased via more open / evolving technical regulations (whereby F1 could be also seen and applied as a mean of fundamental research, hence rather “tech-progress” should be the claim, not just road-relevance).

These infinite resources of Daimler, FiatChrysler, Honda, Renault-Nissan can only be challenged by engineering genius, creativity; via more freedom for techno-innovation.

A hybrid engine makes sense, like it increases a machine’s power without carrying more fuel. Wasting all this heat-energy was not efficient = not F1. Same applies to the MGUH. If all rules were set right, no one would moan about sound. Speed matters more. No need to add sound-microphones – or clowns with trumpets on rear-wings… They should have made it Bi-turbo and just louder, from the beginning (funny that they were surprised by public reaction…).
This is why a Push2Pass feature is more sportive than this yawny RACING-AID everybody hates since its inception.

Changing the engine formula more often would be more important for evolution. Why not alternating turbo-years with hi-revving ones ? Possibly with the same basic ICE unit ? Why not a straight-5 Boxer ? Why not a bi-turbo with only one feeding the MGUH ? Why not KERS at the much more efficient front axle ? Why not 4WD ? I would not mind to see less wheelspin, as long as there is no traction control involved (should be surveillable via FIA-mounted sensors). Why not applying all capacity and capability of all those bright brains working in F1 ? Can we afford to not opt for max progress of wo/mankind ?

When a child witnesses a race, it first will be impressed by the machines. Only when accustomed to this spectacle, a second, subsequent interest turns to the question “who can manage it best ?” => We do not need to try to build a “driver-focused” event. Look at the stardom of the stars of today. No need to fiddle with that. The more sophisticated, challenging, demanding and evolving the machines, the more stardom of the masters derives, naturally. I cannot see any proof with regard to more standardised series that their drivers are being cherished more than in F1.

Investing such amounts of resources like F1 does, only makes sense when progress of technology is being warranted, served, at its best, in as many areas / subjects as possible – as long as it does not turn a race into a procession.

I don’t think it derives from political correctness of the governing bodies, when ever fewer contestants are able to win a competition. I would rather call it the opposite. It’s rather a subtle, constant pressurising of the large scale production road car companies, stock-noted, who by definition must strive for ever cheaper, save / predictable outcome of all of their engagements, including their participation in what was meant to be a huge stunt: motorsports. Irrelevant of a lower input-output ratio (in terms of invest & results), they must always opt for lowest possible input (to appease shareholders and worker’s union / councils) – while increasing their invest in order to safeguard advantage; resulting in this mini-narrow areas of R&D where they can throw all their superior resources into, making it for small teams impossible to find a major advantage anymore.

Without being always aware, a governing body will tend to treat them favourably, like it is believed that their names attract more spectators. In fact, as soon as you favour some contestants, this must harm the sport. People ever practiced or attended sports, because everybody had the same chances of winning. When you scrap-off this unpredictability, you destroy at least half of the sport’s attractive power.
And now imagine what TV-ratings could be like.

Final proof of: when the teams instigated and put through a fully non-sensical freeze of engine development (again, after their experience from 2007 onwards when costs did not decrease, just the runner-ups becoming less able to catch-up…). As if it was appealing for BMW, RENAULT, HONDA, TOYOTA to NOT being able to improve performance…surreal scenarios… Whereby the decision of 2007 was instigated by FIA and the last one (I believe) by the engine manufacturers.

IN MOTOR SPORTS THERE SHALL BE SPORT AMONG MOTORS !
ANYTHING ELSE IS A PURE AND SHEER WASTE OF PRECIOUS RESOURCES.

You say “The privateer or independent teams are now just the clowns that make up the show in both series and have no realistic chance of ever winning a race.” And you are so right, Mister Johansson !
The funny thing with WEC is that they are trying to balance all possible performances of all possible competitor’s machinery. We might witness the day when a bloke wins Le Mans with an old Beetle, just due to BoP :)

TYRE WAR: The fact that there was not a second brand happy to join in was another alarm signal. Impossible scenario when a motor-racing series features only one tyre supplier. If all of them forgot, too (like the car manufacturers), why they ever went racing, kick them all and buy three or four of them back into the game and teach them again how sexy and efficient competition is. As a big fan for big tyres, and light-weight, I still do opt for current tyre construction, they just need to become bigger, wider, fater and thicker. Any smaller profile (low-profile ???) format must require more suspension material (imho). Nothing can be lighter than air.

I agree with focus on weight & aero reduction.
It’s just – when standardising virtually every part bar the engine…it’s a fundamental change of the basic concept, which was ‘tailor-made’. Would it not be enough to split the prize pot in the most fair / sportive manner, in a first step ? And see what comes out ? When on-track action comes back, via fair funding and more diversity of propulsion technology, as you rightly suggest, sponsors will be interested again. When tech-rules being changed more often, more diverse solutions = shapes of cars as a result.

4-way matrix sounds smart ! In order to cater for best societal relevance = tech progress, I would even set the engine apart. And I would keep the technology of this sport as dominant as it was in the age you have mentioned in the beginning of your Part I, including electronics (Qualifying with a minimum of electronics would be cool...)

Totally agree with your point concerning GOVERNANCE !

Yes, the tracks became too easy :(
When 3 additional “roads” are waiting behind the kerb, just in case the SUPERSTRA got it wrong, something went wrong. They even look easy and boring.
KERBS: when they are broad as a car, when a race track does not feature a definite limit, racing loses all its sense.

RACE FORMAT: I would not touch any established sporting regulation before not everything of the above being put in place. Re-introduction of a 1st Qualifying I would opt for without question. Then there was a meaningful event on every day. They could easily delete the Thursday, everybody (press included) finds boring.

PIT STOPs: Yes, they became too quick. You even don’t see them anymore. I would allow for 1 Pit Stop per car per race including re-fuelling. Because F1 is about peak-performance = lightweight / max attack; and because the rules have to be altered every now and then. I would invite the fuel suppliers (or gas or electricity etc.) to differentiate them among another via tailor-made, own filling-machines.
No standard in F1.
Standard is the enemy of stunt. People prefer to watch, attend and cherish STUNTS.
"

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2. Posted by Greg, 25/04/2019 10:37

"Another great list from Stefan. Agree also with those below no P2P just a gimmick"

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3. Posted by Uffen, 24/04/2019 16:12

"Another excellent list of suggestions. However, I resist the "road relevance" stuff because it, too, leads to auto makers running the show - just through a different channel.
Also, Oldbuzzard is correct... push to pass is also a gimmick, just a gimmick that is used less frequently than DRS. If the reduction in down force, etc., works as advertised it won't be needed. "

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4. Posted by Bill Hopgood, 24/04/2019 8:35

"Good"

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5. Posted by GordonG47, 24/04/2019 6:45

"Biggest problem with all this, Stefan, is that it's too well thought out and too intelligent. Apart from it mirroring what the majority of fans have been saying for the last decade or two.

Which all means it won't even get read by the people who NEED to read it...

(BTW I'll pass on the 'push to pass' button - you should be at full throttle / maximum power output anyway.)"

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6. Posted by Oldbuzzard, 23/04/2019 17:06

"Sorry, it’s Stefan. "

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7. Posted by Oldbuzzard, 23/04/2019 17:04

"I agree with most of this proposal. Mainly because Stephan is using common sense. Since there is very little of that in F1 these days, it’s doubtful anyone who matters will be listening. When you have a race car engineer/designer (Brawn) in charge of “fixing” F1, you will never get radical changes to the cars. I don’t agree with more than one tire supplier. It’s been tried and has failed, always. It is too costly now just for one supplier to keep up with F1 tire design, manufacture and supply. When you introduce competition into the picture the costs soar to unbelievable heights. Also, the push to pass button (ala INDYCAR) is rubbish, too. Just another gimmick. Most of the other points Stephan makes are right on. Doubt they will come to fruition, but worth the effort anyway. "

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