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Evolution of F1 Technology Part II

Updated: Mar 23, 2021

No long intro this time, lets just get on with the important stuff. So, what was the most amazing thing after the Brabham BT46B?

1979: The Turbocharged Engine becomes competitive: The First win for the Turbocharged Engine

This is actually more significant than you think. Because before this, turbocharged engines were, well... how do I put this? Oh yea, absolutely useless. I mean, don't get me wrong, turbocharged engines were showing hints of potential, but it took 3 years before the Turbo engine became competitive. But what is a turbocharger exactly? Well, to put it simply, the turbocharger is a device that is fitted to a internal combustion engine (or ICE) to increase its power output. Turbos do this by compressing air from the intakes to higher pressures before feeding that compressed air into the intake manifold where that compressed air is used in the normal functions of an ICE. One of the main ways the turbo compresses air is through the use of exhaust gases. A turbo uses turbines to compress the air it takes in. One way to this is by having 2 different turbines, one that spins the other. What most turbos do is they use the hot exhaust gases from the combustion chamber to spin one turbine, designated as the hot turbine, to spin another turbine that actually compresses the cold air from the outside, called the cold turbine. That is essentially how a turbo works, and it is how the first turbos in a F1 car worked. But I very much doubt anyone will believe which team used the first turbocharged engine in F1.

It was Renault, and their RS10 chassis carried them to their first victory in their home Grand Prix in Dijon-Prenois in France. They first entered the grid with a turbocharged engine in 1977, but did not win until 1979 This marked a turning point in the development of F1 engines, and for the next 10 years, turbocharged engines ruled the F1 grid.

Teams were desperate to get their hands on any turbocharged engines they could. Turbos could be smaller than naturally aspirated engines while being more powerful. A 1.5 litre turbo could be almost twice as powerful as a 3-4 litre naturally aspirated engine. At their peak, a twin turbo 1.5 litre engine produced 1200hp. Sadly, they disappeared after 1989 when the rules outlawed turbocharged engines but eventually returned to the grid in 2014 when the rules changed to mandate turbocharged engines. But we will not discuss anything about that year... because OH BOY THOSE UGLY F**KING NOSES!!!!!!

1981: McLaren introduces Carbon Fibre

This was amazingly revolutionary. Up until this point, most teams had been running a aluminium monocoque chassis which they believed provided the best combination of strength, lightness and, most importantly, cost effectiveness. Carbon fibre was being considered as a replacement to aluminium before this, but teams kept running into the same problem. Cost. Carbon fibre was just too damn expensive to be used for the car's body and most believed it was not strong enough for the chassis. Many teams believed that due to the crystalline behaviour of carbon fibre, it was too dangerous to be used in the chassis of a Formula 1 car. McLaren decided to use it anyway, looking for a performance advantage. After all, the lighter a car is, the better it is. The car was immediately on the pace, and carbon fibre was being considered by many of the other teams. But the event that really showed the advantages of carbon fibre and why it should be used instead of aluminium was the 1981 Italian Grand Prix. As usual, it was held at Monza, and I am going to assume we all know the layout of the track. So, Watson crashed pretty heavily out of the second Curve di Lesmo, and he came out relatively unhurt somehow. You can search up the crash on YouTube, but the point is that he believed that if he had been driving a traditional aluminium chassis, he doubted that he would have survived that crash. Afterwards, every team ran a carbon fibre monocoque chassis. Even today, carbon fibre is used as the chassis material for F1 cars, showing just how influential this car was. Oh, and yes, this was a ground effect car.

1992: Williams pioneer the active suspension system

This was very important. Active suspension had been used before this, but it wasn't used in the same way or for the same reasons as Williams in 1992. To be honest, active suspension was not even reliable until this point, and many cars retired due to their active suspension system either failing or the computer that managed it just deciding "na fam I'm done." Williams managed to take the active suspension system to its max, with the FW14B. But hold on a second, what is active suspension? Well, it is, to put it simply, where the suspension can adapt its characteristics to help increase performance and decrease tire wear. And to those who don't know what tire wear is, it is where the tire loses its performance over its life. And if you don't know what tire life is, then go home. You are not welcome here. Williams ran a push-rod operated hydro-pneumatic active suspension system, which meant that a computer controlled the push-rods to keep the car level and flat almost always. Keeping the car flat allowed the downforce to be more consistent, and that meant the grip was very consistent, making it a rather predictable car to drive, giving the drivers far more confidence and allowing them to push the limits of the car. They also began to implement driver aids like traction control and a CVT gearbox. These are developed into near perfection for their next car, the FW15C. Just to blow your mind even further, the Williams FW14B almost always qualified on the front row, despite being a modified version of THE PREVIOUS YEAR'S CAR! The car was so good in 1992 that, despite Williams developing the FW15C for the 1992 season, Williams just ran the 14B for the 1992 season so that they had more time to develop the 15C for the 1993 season. That not only makes it an important car from a technical standpoint, but an amazing car in general.

1997: Tyrell grow desperate and make new wings

This is where Tyrell really stretched themselves to the absolute limit for ideas. But by the 90s, Tyrell was a completely spent force, and this concept of adding more wings was really just born out of a desperation to try and become competitive again. The idea was born when the rules were changed to introduce narrower track cars, meaning the cars were narrower. So narrower front and rear wings, lowering overall downforce, as smaller wings means less downforce. Downforce is, as discussed, necessary to make a car go faster around corners and as a result, faster around a circuit. Tyrell decided that if the main wings were smaller, they would add more wings instead. So on the top of their side pods, they added tiny wings that were there to provide more grip by forcing that part of the car downwards. They were really ugly, but they were very effective.

Hell, even FERRARI of all teams ran them. They were named either X-wings or Towel Wings. Imma call them X-wings cus why not? It's my blog anyways. But yeah, FERRARI ran x-wings at one point, seeing the benefits of downforce. But not everyone fell into the trap. Take Adrian Newey's McLaren that year. No X-wings. Eventually, the FIA banned X-wings after the Italian Grand Prix as the Sauber team's right side wing broke and nearly hit someone.

1997: McLaren 'brake' their post-Senna slump with cheekiness

I'm sure many of you have heard of this story, but that doesn't mean that it wasn't a great innovation. So, the McLaren was showing signs of being faster than it had any right to be and many people were well aware of their speed being a little unbelievable. Nobody was sure why though. However, photographer Darren Heath spied something very unusual. As Mika Hakkinen rounded a corner, the rear brakes were glowing a bright orange. Glowing brakes means that they are heated, due to the friction between the brake pads and the brake disk, meaning that they were being used. This was something very weird, because Darren noted that the front brakes were not being used. Darren looked for a good way to confirm his suspicions, and he found it eventually, by sneaking his camera into Hakkinen's retired car at the Luxembourg GP at the Nurburgring.

He took photos of a car with 3 pedals, even though it should have only had a throttle and a brake. His suspicions were correct. The 3rd pedal was, as he suspected, another brake pedal. It allowed the drivers to control the rear brakes almost completely independently, and as a result, reduce either under or oversteer. This innovation completely changed the game. The 3rd pedal basically gave them almost total control of their car. If they entered a corner too quickly, a little tap of the rear brakes will prevent them from drifting or not turning at all. The drivers could enter a corner at unimaginable speeds and not really have any consequences, thereby making them one of the most competitive teams on the grid. Williams and Ferrari were really on the back foot, as they had no real response to this. Williams still had Adrian Newey and his genius (well, sorta) but Ferrari... didn't. The best part was that it was that the rear brake pedal was actually 100% legal. There was no rule against controlling the rear brakes individually and the FIA had no problem with it... until Ferrari began grumbling. They said something about the spirit of the regulations and they just grumbled a lot. Ferrari is the oldest F1 team, and that means that they hold a lot of influence over the governing body of F1. Naturally, they were able to convince the FIA to ban the rear brake pedal for the dumb reason of saying it was like 4-wheel steering. 4-wheel steering is where the rear wheels can be realigned to let the car turn tighter and harder. Of course, this system was not 4-wheel steering, as the rear wheels were not turning, so that was a complete lie. They needed some justification other than 'Ferrari said so.' But as Ron Dennis said: "We were fortunate in being the first of the [top] 3 teams running the system, find a performance advantage within the regulations, and that the only response that a rival team has is to find a way to have it banned as opposed to rising to the technical challenge." Yea I don't think I need to explain.

2005: The Blue Baguette team Frenchify their wing

Yes, I called the Mild Seven Renault F1 team the Blue Baguettes. Deal with it. But in all seriousness though, this was a truly great innovation. They were pretty open about it as well. For their R25, they designed a device called a Tuned Mass Damper, which was essentially a weight fitted to spring that was connected to the front suspension. How did this help? Well, the weight actually absorbed a lot of the tire vibration that is caused from the tires going over the curbs and stuff. This allows the front wing to remain level almost all the time. As a result, the downforce at the front end remained very consistent and made it a very predictable car to drive. By contrast, the reigning world champions Ferrari did not have something like this, so they were almost always on the back foot. Actually, they were ALWAYS on the back foot that season due to rule changes, but that is a story for another day. For now, let's go from the land of pasta and pizza to the land of baguettes. Renault really had stolen a march on the rest of the grid, and they were the team to beat all year. For 2006, they fitted the device in the rear of the car and that made the downforce consistent all the time, allowing the drivers to push hard and with confidence. Other teams began to copy it however, and this eventually led to it being banned to avoid an arms race.

2009: Brawn's innovation and fairy tale story

This was one of the most chaotic periods of Formula 1 ever. 2009 was the year of a major rules change. V8s were still the engine to be used, but the aerodynamics were completely and utterly different. The cars had to use a really wide front wing that was coupled with a skinny, tall rear wing. Compare that to 2008, where the front wings were tiny and the rear wings were incredibly short, similar to today's rear wings actually. The aim of the 2009 aero rules was to create closer wheel-to-wheel action by reducing all the chaotic airflow that came from the previous year's cars. This led to a significant downforce loss, about 50%. Thus, teams were looking for all possible methods of clawing back that lost downforce. The newest team on the grid were the people who actually got the most out of their car for that year. Brawn GP was the newest grid on the F1 paddock, having bought out Honda during the winter break. Ross Brawn was the owner and team principal, and during his time at Honda the previous year, he had been focused on building the best car for 2009 as he could, and he found his loophole. He knew that a good way to recover the downforce lost would be to make the diffuser more effective, but of course, there was a problem. The rules governing diffusers were very strict, and the teams were unable to find a way to gain back as much downforce as they wanted. But Brawn GP found one, and it enabled them to destroy all before them... for a time anyway.

What they did was they added a piece of body work in the middle of the diffuser channel and added a hole in the rear. This allowed them to extend the effective size of the diffuser to the entire underbody of the car, not just the area limited by the regulations. This is because the regulations surrounding the diffuser section was specific about how the diffuser could only extend a certain length when seen from underneath the car. In other words, if you couldn't see the diffuser being longer than the area allowed by the regulations, it was allowed to be very long. A longer diffuser increases the expansion area for the air, which increases the size of the area of low pressure air, which gives more downforce. Brawn ensured that the diffuser could run the length of the car, and that gave them a massive downforce advantage over the other teams. Other teams tried to argue against it, but it remained legal, and dominated the early part of the 2009 season. Another innovative part of the car was the front wing. Due the wider front wing, many teams decided to trial a concept called outwash.

Outwash is the idea of directing airflow outwards and around the front wheels instead of through the front suspension unit. Brawn's outwash solution was extreme, going so far as to split up the endplates of the front wing to direct more airflow outwards. And they even managed to secure a supply deal of Mercedes engines for that year, giving them the power they needed to seal both titles that year. However, the Brawn GP story also highlights another thing. They slowly began slipping down the field as the year progressed due to a lack of funds. It shows how big a role money plays in Formula one as a win worthy team can slip down to the lower mid-field if they don't have the money to develop their car. But still, Brawn Gp has gone down in F1 history as a legendary team and they more than deserve to be in this list.

And that is every major technical revolution in F1 history. It took me a while, but I somehow managed it. I hope you found it interesting and informative, and I wish you all a good day and stay safe in these difficult times.

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