Thoughts on Formula One regulations: an open letter to Ross Brawn

All the cars look the same with only minor visible differences

Martin Wilson calls for a relaxation on the rules governing the design of Formula One cars

The Formula One authorities recognise that the current regulations need revision so they can provide a better spectacle and control costs. To that end, the FIA has brought Ross Brawn back to head a review of the regulations.

The current 2014 hybrid engine regulations were brought in to make F1 more relevant to major manufacturers of road cars but it has resulted in complexity and high cost with the result the cars are more powerful but less spectacular. To increase the spectacle, the regulations were revised for 2017 to give more aerodynamic downforce and mechanical grip, principally through a larger front wing and wider tyres. Speed is not the only factor in making F1 spectacular, close racing and cars that are visibly on the limit of grip are perhaps even more important.

However, the regulations are still missing the point; F1 is supposed to be the pinnacle of motor racing and for many enthusiasts the cars should not just be fast but the racing should be close and the cars technically innovative. The regulations have become increasingly prescriptive over the years and, as a result, all the cars look the same with only minor visible differences. Engineers therefore are only able to make marginal gains so that the cost is high for the benefit achieved. A case can be made that with more freedom to innovate engineers will, sometimes at least, be able to make larger gains, more quickly and at less cost.

It was suggested that the new regulations made F1 more relevant to road cars. Perhaps that is true for the lessons from the hybrid engine but the aerodynamics are not. Ross Brawn in various interviews has suggested that F1 cars should be more exciting, more like the fantasy cars in computer games. The problem with that is the aerodynamics of F1 cars have to work in the real world and in any case wings are not appropriate for everyday road cars, not least because the law limits them as they are dangerous to pedestrians.

So a first recommendation is that all wings are removed from F1 cars and all aerodynamic downforce has to come from the bodywork and floor or diffuser. There should be no surfaces with air flowing over both sides. The current big front wing makes the car corner faster in clear air but prevents even a faster car getting close enough to a car in front to allow overtaking. Lewis Hamilton and others made that point during the 2017 season when they struggled to overtake significantly slower cars when coming though the pack.

The result of these proposed aerodynamic changes may mean that there is less grip so that cars are slower in the corners, but they should be faster in a straight line as there will also be less drag. Less dependency on aerodynamic grip will allow cars to follow closer and driver skill will come to the fore as there will be more emphasis on late braking because of the need to lose more speed at the end of the straight. This approach reflects a long held tenet of motor racing that better drivers show their superiority when there is a surfeit of grunt over grip, as so often seen in the wet. Indeed this will increase overtaking in the braking zone or through the corner without the need for the artificiality of the DRS drag reduction system.

The 2017 Pirelli tyres can be driven harder with less heat management so will support this approach. Less aero could well increase tyre wear as the cars will slide more so altering race strategies resulting in a natural increase in the optimum number of pit stops.

The size of the car can be easily controlled by insisting that it fits in a box of a given size, except for the roll bar. As long as that is the case, then the body work should be free apart from retaining the existing crash structures, the minimum cockpit size and with no bodywork allowed over the wheels to keep the open wheel nature of F1, if it is really considered necessary. The current ride height rules, controlled by the plank under the floor and retaining the ban on skirts would keep it relevant to road cars by preventing downforce from extreme ground effects. The rules on active suspension probably need revising now that many ordinary road cars use suspension dampers with electronically controlled characteristics. There would still be a need to continue to exclude active suspension while allowing innovative approaches to passive sprung suspension.

Another recommendation is to open up the engine regulations to encourage innovation. The new engines are much more efficient than in the past because of the need to do a race distance on 100kg of fuel with a maximum flow rate limiting top end power. So why do the engine rules have to be so prescriptive, for instance why must it be a V6? Ferrari apparently insisted on it but why not allow other manufacturers to produce flat fours or even three cylinder engines if they can make it work? The current rules prevent alternative approaches that may be even more efficient and perhaps less costly. Let the engineers decide. To encourage continued innovation on efficiency, the rules should also set a long term reduction target for the maximum fuel allowance, say reducing by five per cent every three years.

More freedom on engine design would allow other engine builders to become involved especially if they can come up with a less complex, and costly, design. There would need to be some rules to keep costs under control. To that end the rules might state that any engine builder must be prepared and able to supply at least two teams and put a maximum price on customer engines — that should be less onerous now the number of engines needed for a season has been reduced.

Modern road cars are increasingly dependent on electronics, as readers of Vehicle Electronics are well aware, but F1 insists on a standard ECU, supplied by McLaren. From a racing point of view, the limitations on traction control make sense, they give better drivers more opportunity to show their skills. It would be interesting to hear from readers how they believe F1 could lead electronic innovation in ways that would be relevant to our road cars but do not replace racing drivers' skills.

Many other regulations could be relaxed or removed; why only four wheels for example? With the single supplier of tyres and a regulated tyre size it is unlikely anyone would emulate the successful six-wheeled Tyrell P34 of 1976-77. It needed a tyre manufacturer to develop tyres just for the one team and even with three competing manufacturers Goodyear was not able to make the ongoing commitment that was needed so it was not pursued. Its innovation was obvious to even the casual spectator.

A root and branch pruning of regulations is needed. The question needs to be asked of every line in the regulations: “Is this really needed?". If it does not reduce safety, or inherently increase costs, then remove the requirement.

Many F1 fans are as interested in the technology of the cars as in the drivers and the racing but for them the current rules are a disappointment. The trend to a near one-design chassis with almost invisibly different aero and suspension packages is a turn off. Formula One should be both an exciting racing series and a source of engineering innovation that can transfer, in time, to everyday road cars.

The ideas here are just to encourage debate, to get people thinking what could be possible to bring back more visible engineering innovation, F1 cars that actually look different! Mr Brawn, as an engineer and innovator, please free your F1 colleagues to do what they do best, innovate and produce exciting cars that actually advance automotive technology for us all.

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John Schira (not verified) on Sun, 11/02/2018 - 13:09

The 2018  Indy cars may give us an idea of the direction that F1 should be going

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Sacha Gortchakoff (not verified) on Sun, 11/02/2018 - 21:09

as weight costs speed, the engineers will strive for lesser fuel consumption anyway, so even herein, no need of prescription

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Sacha Gortchakoff (not verified) on Sun, 11/02/2018 - 21:10

why "There would still be a need to continue to exclude active suspension while allowing innovative approaches to passive sprung suspension." ? I don't understand

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Sacha Gortchakoff (not verified) on Sun, 11/02/2018 - 21:17

your proposal would not mean that an engine manufacturer would need to operate in a financially profitable manner.

I strongly believe that any cost control is impossible to police.

The only way is standardisation which should be a no-go in top-series motorsports.

It just needs a more even distribution of the income of F1.

No Avatar
Sacha Gortchakoff (not verified) on Sun, 11/02/2018 - 21:20

right, they should be free for development. Apart of traction control.

Perhaps sensors mounted by the FIA, monitoring throttle and wheel spin could help ?

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Sacha Gortchakoff (not verified) on Sun, 11/02/2018 - 21:25

you are very right !

I believe the main problem is that large-scale series production cars manufacturers, all stock-noted,

follow the principle of the minimum instead of the maximum, which is the one sports apply / request.



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