F1 tomorrow, an engineer's view

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Recent weeks have seen significant amounts of discussion on the future technical direction Formula 1 should take. The main topics have been three-fold: maintaining the current levels of safety, and cutting speeds through modifications to both the chassis and engines. These on-going discussions, against the current backdrop of cost-cutting and improving the show, have seen many different solutions proposed.

The Renault F1 Team’s senior technical personnel have stated clear positions on these issues. Here is a summary of the team’s views on the on-going discussions:

On the need for safety changes

Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering
“We have not actually agreed that the cars are too fast at the moment; what we have agreed is that if we don't do something they will become too fast. We have been talking about this for a long while, probably 18 months or so, and it was very fundamental in our thinking that we needed to reduce engine power. We could no longer just work on the chassis, just work on the tyres and we have got to a state now, prompted by the FIA, where they said actually it's going to take a little while to do the engines but we must do other things. Now I think we are going to come to a satisfactory conclusion on that… (However), there is a real drive now to reduce the cost of Formula One, and I suppose you can look at it the other way, to increase the income which may make the spectacle better. And what we need to be careful of is that we don't rush in one direction and ignore the other two. The three can co-exist quite happily but they need a lot of thinking through. We don't want knee-jerk reactions.” (FIA Conference, 9 July)

On improving the show

Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering

“We need to consider this as one of the elements that I was talking about of improving the spectacle. The trouble is, firstly it is not easy to say what will improve the spectacle. I think it is true that overtaking is important but is overtaking everything? ... We are starting to see a big increase in television spectators for the World Rally Championship and there, there is no overtaking by definition. What we are seeing is guys really taking the car to the limit in a way that is very obvious and that is not something you see in Formula One. If you watch a WRC car you think 'yeah, that guy is good, I don't think I could do that'. Unfortunately Formula One cars are so sophisticated that when you watch them you actually believe you could do it, so we need to look at lots of things. Overtaking is an important aspect but it is also a very difficult aspect to understand. It is too difficult in Formula One at the moment. A number of studies have been done on aspects of overtaking and those are being studied again at the moment and I hope that they are part of a total package that does bring in the new Formula One, if you like. “(FIA Conference, 9 July)

On cost-cutting

Bob Bell, Technical Director

“Formula 1 is conscious of the imperative to reduce costs, but also to make the show possible on a smaller budget. However, it is to the advantage of the teams with the biggest budgets for these changes (to the 2005 technical regulations) to be made as late as possible in order to minimise their rivals’ capacity to respond effectively; in a period where cost reduction is a key issue, it would make little sense for development work and investment thus far to be compromised by unnecessarily late changes to the regulations. What we have discussed is still feasible now, but we are approaching the deadline by which proposals must become concrete reality.” (9 July)

Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering
“I would like to see a reduction in in-season testing: going to approximately 50 percent, going to 24 days in-season would be sensible… I would like to see January and February unregulated, I would like to see 24 days in the middle of the season and probably at the end of the season something similar to what we have at the moment, maybe a little bit less, but you do need some time in December to look at young drivers and things like this.

“…We should also apply a bit of lateral thinking. I don't think the format we have at the moment is necessarily best, we (just run) around on Friday for a couple of hours, we are talking a lot about what we do to make qualifying better and I do think that if you put all that in a pot and you mix it up it might well be the best solution is to come to the circuit you are going to race at, test on the Friday and then start your race meeting on the Saturday. It makes a lot of sense to me but we do seem to be steeped in tradition in Formula One and maybe it is time to have some fresh ideas.” (FIA Conference, 9 July)

Rob White, Technical Director (Engine)

“A path of 1 engine for 2 week-ends from 2005, followed by a change to 2.4L V-8s from 2006 is feasible and is widely supported. At the beginning, there will be a performance loss associated with the longer life 2-race engines. Of course we will all work hard to recover the deficit, but the rate of engine performance development will be reduced relative to the current engines, which is consistent with the FIA objectives.

“For the future, to achieve a step decrease in power, of the order of 200hp, a capacity reduction is needed. 2.4L V-8s will remain unique and spectacular engines. They will not be like F1 V-8s of the past or like other racing V-8s based on road car engines. F1 engines to this spec will still be high revving, ultra-high output, with no equal in other series.” (9 July)

Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering
“Logically, because of the rate of development and the technology involved, the only sure-fire way of getting the power down is to reduce the capacity. We identified in the Technical Working Group some while ago that 700hp was the sort of target we needed to aim for to maintain safety. A 2.4-litre engine is going to give around that sort of power, it makes sense to make it a V8, it gives the same basic cylinder size as a current V10. These are going to be high-tech V8s… little engines that are going to run at 19,000 or 20,000rpm, they are going to be sophisticated, they are going to be exciting. And is the guy in the grandstand going to really know it is a 2.4 V8 rather than a 3-litre V10? I suspect not.” (FIA Conference, 9 July)

On forthcoming chassis changes

Bob Bell, Technical Director

“A package aiming to reduce chassis performance was agreed on Wednesday, 7 July, with changes to the diffuser geometry, in terms of its height and the trim in front of the rear wheels. This should reduce overall downforce by 20% to 25%. We are under an obligation to cut performance, there is a genuine need to do so, and I think this represents a sensible step. Furthermore, a corollary benefit will be that with less downforce, it should improve the possibility of overtaking.

“The primary effects will be to how we balance the car aerodynamically, but also the mechanical design in terms of the rear suspension. This is basically designed to fit around the diffuser, and any change in rear suspension design also has an impact on the gearbox as well. Next year’s car has been underway since late last year, and gearbox design should realistically be finalised by the end of this month (July).” (9 July)