F1 standardisation may just kill innovation

F1 standardisation may just kill innovation

8 Jul 2001: The Brabham BT46B ''Fan Car'' on show during the Goodwood Festival of Speed held in Goodwood, England. Mandatory Credit: Bryn Lennon /Allsport

If you take a look at the number of parts that make up a modern F1 car, which is many thousands, you must wonder how many of those items are currently manufactured by external suppliers.

What a race weekend this was. For one, we saw an incredible performance from new Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc. From qualifying to the flag, this young man demonstrated that a new victory contender has arrived.

But sadly a mechanical issue slowed the car and dropped him from first to third.

The Maranello engineers will be hard at work to ensure there is no repeat. It certainly was a turnaround for the Ferrari squad after a disappointing Australian race. It was this that started me thinking about the enormous skills and ingenuity currently involved in F1 and whether we will retain this if new proposals should prevent in-house development.

Ferrari’s Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc celebrates on the podium after placing third at the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix at the Sakhir circuit in the desert south of the Bahraini capital Manama, on March 31, 2019. (Photo by Andrej ISAKOVIC / AFP)

Being old, I remember Formula One in days of yore. Many teams operated on shoestring budgets with headquarters that bore a strong resemblance to an oversized family garage or disused barn in the middle of nowhere.

Back then Enzo Ferrari referred to these aspiring English F1 hopefuls as “Garagisti” and he did not intend it to be a compliment. But it was the garage teams that helped to make F1 what it was. The 1950s, 60s and 70s saw a plethora of would-be Grand Prix winners, as teams or the manufacturers of gearboxes and engines, produced innovative solutions in the quest for a winning car.

We saw ground effect aerodynamics, the short lived Brabham BT46B fan car, BRM’s 1.5 litre V16 and 3.0 litre H16 engines, plus six-wheeled cars from Tyrell and March. There have been many other incredible developments within F1 with the objective of producing the ultimate car.

Why have I brought all this up? I am concerned that some of the current moves proposed by the controlling body and owners of the sport, primarily to provide closer racing, could have an adverse effect. I would love to see really close battles, but the concept of a cost cap to achieve this aim is something that perturbs me, particularly after recent discussions about the standardisation of components.

Last week the Strategy Group was presented with a list of the items that the World Motorsport Council wish to see standardised. According to Auto Motor und Sport it includes brake discs, brake pads, brake calipers, rims, the halo, steering column, axles, nuts, drive-shafts, crash structures, brake and accelerator pedals, the DRS mechanism and the internals of the fuel cell, including pumps.

There is even a list for pit equipment including the jack, gallows and impact wrench. Now we have gone a stage further with a move to have a stand ard steering wheel, as it will reduce costs. So, we are on the brink of each team utilising identical components manufactured by successful tenderers.

If you take a look at the number of parts that make up a modern F1 car, which is many thousands, you must wonder how many of those items are currently manufactured by external suppliers.

Those are suppliers contracted to an individual team for the development and manufacture of such parts to the specification of that specific team. The outcome of such co-operation can result in a component part that could give that team the competitive edge, when the car is on track.

This is my point. Technology advances when many individual minds strive to improve a product or system. It could be one individual or a team of engineers that discover an innovative design that will give the team an advantage.

The others will then normally attempt to emulate this improved component or system to match the performance for the teams they work with. But even if the new idea is copied it is more than possible that another individual will find a way of improving it further and this continues as they all strive to build “a better mousetrap”.

If we standardise then surely we remove that competitive element. If an improved item were to be developed it would have to become available to all on the grid and I cannot imagine any team being willing to invest huge sums of money on developing an item when the new technology would have to be shared by all.

Motor racing at any level relies on those people whose abilities allow improvement, within the regulations, of a motorcycle or car to be better than that of the competition.

If we move areas of the vehicle to the standard parts bin, would we not be condemning the very essence of motorsport engineering by severely restricting mans’ innovative ability to find a better way?

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