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