I Put Politics Aside To Appreciate The Sinewy Beauty Of Modern Formula One Cars
Photography by Will Broadhead
I love a good debate, about almost anything. It seems like a fundamental aspect of our species, and among motor racing fans nothing is as sure to start a fiery discussion at the bar as the subject of Formula One, especially in regards to its current state. Regulation changes are inevitable and seem to elicit condemnation from teams and fans alike each time. 2016 into 2017 allowed for teams to increase downforce for the first time in a while, with changes to bodywork size and position, that gave the cars more grip, more complicated aero pieces and, in the FIA’s eyes at least, more aesthetic appeal. A few years ago, it was the quieter engines that caused all the outcry, and in this coming season we will have the addition of the halo, a fact that has already polarized driver and spectator opinions.
The fans invariably want changes that create closer racing and tighter championships, and it has to be said that last year we had some of the closest battles between two and sometimes three constructors of the decade. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily reflect tight on-track action like the halcyon days of Senna and Prost going at it, or thunderous drives through the field from the likes of Gilles Villeneuve, or any other countless examples of dramatic racing—those moments seem a long way off in memory.
Now this is a debate that has many competing streams of thought, but I would be thrilled by any regulation changes that helped the modern crop of grand prix cars get tighter together on track. I’m not entirely sure how this can be accomplished, but regardless of mine and my peers’ personal opinions when debating the sport over a bottle of suds, we do always agree on one thing; the engineering of the cars is fabulous. The at times simple and other times wildly complex solutions to the problems holding back those last bits of speed are amazing, and the way the teams exploit what is written down—or not written down—never ceases to impress. So I always delight in being able to get up close to a modern F1 car and see what has been done to eek out those extra milliseconds that make such a difference over a whole race weekend. Now don’t get me wrong, some of the parts that appear are ugly as sin (shark fins and T-bars [banned for 2018] were never good-looking parts), but I can still appreciate the reasons behind them and the intelligence and lateral thinking that created them.
Recently I was able to spend a good chunk of time getting up close with eight examples of the contemporary crop at the Autosport International Show. Machines from Williams, Haas, Renault, Force India, Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren, and Ferrari were on display in a row, and although many employ similar designs, each had its own individual flair and niche engineering solutions. Such as Force India’s addition of winglets on the spine of its shark fin, to aid load at the rear of the car and airflow through its T-bar. It was a pleasurable way to while away some time, as more and more details began to pop out and make themselves known on these intricate cars. Regardless of whether you think all of the aero is ugly or is somehow ruining the on-track battles, as heralds of design and engineering, these cars are marvels.
In that sense some things haven’t changed; these competitors in motor racing’s top level, no matter what era they are from, were always about getting the maximum yield within the rules, and that could only happen with innovative engineering solutions. The men and women behind the scenes continue to produce ever more complex and ever more genius solutions to the regulations commanded upon them by the FIA, and for that they should be applauded. Irrespective of the on-track action, I think we can all take a second to appreciate the design and construction of these car, as it’s probably something that isn’t done enough after all the whinging’s been carried out at the end of every race. Next time I am fortunate enough to see a grand prix car up close, I’ll certainly be taking a second to put simple enjoy the object itself. Therein is a pastime that every single one of us can take some pleasure from.