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Filtering by Tag: Ferrari

Stefan Johansson's F1 revolution, Part 2: Identifying key issues

Stefan Johansson

Published on January 13, 2016 | Written by Stefan Johansson | Source:

Continuing his three-part analysis on why Formula 1 needs a new approach, the ’80s grand prix star identifies the three areas that have sent the sport down a self-defeating dead end.

There are three main factors that determine the speed of a racing car – aerodynamics, engine and tires. Of these three, aerodynamics has become the most crucial component in modern car design. Yet, out of these three main factors, aerodynamics is the one area that has almost no significant benefit to anything beyond making a racecar go faster.

There is an endless tinkering to gain minuscule percentages of downforce versus drag, all determined by a very strict set of rules that basically allows for virtually no innovative thinking. It is purely a matter of spending as much time and money as is allowed by the rules to fine-tune the aero package.

The “development war” has become a big talking point in Formula 1, and the top teams are literally flying in crates with new aero parts every day during the course of a grand prix. It is purely a matter of cubic dollars, the more you spend the more you gain. Today a top F1 team is going through something like 75 different versions of its front wing-design in one season. The sheer cost of this is mindboggling. There is obviously a lot of other aero work going on at the same time but it’s all secondary to the front wing as this is what most influences aerodynamic forces along and over any open-wheel racecar.

Yet the more efficient the aero package is, the more difficult it is to pass the car in front of you as turbulence from the car ahead will inevitably affect the efficiency of the front wing of your car. When you look at the front wing of a current F1 car, it is not difficult to see how a slight interference in the perfect airflow will cause a major disturbance in the overall grip and in particular the front grip of the car. But it’s not only F1 cars that suffer from this problem; every modern racing car that produces downforce of any level is suffering from the same problem.

In an effort to try and make the racing more interesting, a number of “artificial” devices has been introduced, DRS (drag reduction system) being one of them. It’s helped the passing for sure, but it’s taken away a big part of what is the “art of racing”, in my opinion. There is no skill or technique involved in pressing a button in order to gain an advantage on the car in front of you, especially if this car is basically a sitting duck and has no ability to respond.

The current engines in F1 are incredibly sophisticated, so much so that they’re now called power units. The cost to develop these units is astronomical and drove up the costs for every team participating in F1. This has mostly affected the smaller teams who have to buy these engines from one of the engine manufacturers.

But it’s not only the cost of the engine that has gone up. Because they are so complicated to run and install, much more manpower is required. Combined with a general squeeze in the sponsorship flowing into F1 at the moment, this has caused most of the mid-level and smaller teams to rely more and more on Formula One Management’s complicated system of financial aid that pays out on a scale based on points scored in previous seasons.

Despite the massive cost of developing, manufacturing and maintaining these power units, the OEMs are forced to make them within an extremely strict set of rules, and there is only one option of technology that everyone must adhere to. So again, there is very little room for innovative thinking.

However, the big difference between the chassis and engine rules are that once you’ve submitted the engine you’re planning to run, you can only make changes according to incredibly complicated “token” regulations, whereas a team is allowed to develop its way out of a chassis problem. There is basically no limit to how many upgrades you can make to a car during a season. Apparently the main reason for this lock on engine development was to bring down costs, yet the cost of creating these power units in the first place has already broken any attempt at keeping the spends at a reasonable level.

For a while now, the tire supply in F1 has been limited to one manufacturer. The mandate to Pirelli has been to effectively build a bad tire, in the interest of making the racing more exciting. This has been going on for some years now and I don’t think anyone can say it has improved the racing on any level whatsoever. All it has done is make everyone drive 10-20% off their real pace just to make the tires last until a set lap in the race; it hasn’t altered strategy nor has it made the races more interesting.

For me it’s one of the worst ideas they have ever come up with in F1. It would be so much better for everyone involved if a driver was forced to be on the limit, every single lap throughout the race, so we see who are the really good ones and who are the ones who will make a mistake when the pressure is on.

One of the big arguments right now is about the cost of running a Formula 1 team, and how to reduce it. There’s talk of a cost cap and all sorts of different solutions are offered. There are several different thoughts and philosophies in this area – the smaller teams are complaining they don’t get enough of the profit share from the FOM, the bigger teams all want to spend more than they currently do if it means they can win.

I don’t think it will ever be possible to find a happy medium and it will be impossible to ever efficiently police a team’s outlay. The only sensible solution in my opinion is for the FIA to mandate new rules that would restrict or eliminate areas where big spending is done.

The money being spent on aero development in general is simply astronomical, the constant fiddling with the little aero widgets and bits and pieces being bolted on the cars is endless. Rather than focusing on overall downforce which increases corner speed, reducing drag would in my opinion be one of the major areas to focus on in order to help increase straightline speed.

If rules were devised to make drag reduction an imperative, super smart engineers would bring forth very major breakthroughs in a short period of time, and suddenly the difference between terminal speed on straights and cornering speed would be vastly increased. That would make the cars more of a handful, increase the length of braking zones, and thus increase the number and likelihood of passing opportunities.

Most people are now in agreement that the cars don’t sound or look spectacular enough, the fans can see that the drivers aren’t fighting their cars and, as a result, it’s difficult for fans to appreciate their heroes.

Part 1 - Problems in philosophy

Part 3 - Proposed solutions

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Stefan Johansson's F1 revolution, Part 1: Problems in philosophy

Stefan Johansson


Published on January 11, 2016 | Written by Stefan Johansson | Source:

The former Ferrari and McLaren Formula 1 driver's three-part analysis on why the sport – starting with grand prix racing – needs a new approach. Today he explains the basic flaw in racing's current template.

Following the recent tinkering with the rules in Formula 1, there has been a lot of argument about everything that is wrong with the series and what should be done to fix it. Everyone with an interest in racing seems very passionate about this and there are almost as many proposed solutions as there are people with opinions.

F1 is and always has been at the top of the ladder of motorsports, but in my opinion it’s not only F1 that needs to have a close look at the direction the racing has taken in recent years.

Nearly every form of motorsport today has become completely dependent on aerodynamics – and, more specifically, aerodynamic downforce – to determine the ultimate speed of any given car. Each passing year, lap times get quicker until there is a rule change to slow the cars, usually in the interest of safety. Most frequently, this is done by reducing horsepower – a quick fix… until designers and engineers find a way around the problem by increasing grip levels through even better aerodynamics. In 2-3 years, lap times are typically back to where they were before the rule changes.

In every form of racing, straightline top speeds are significantly lower today than they were in the mid-1980s yet lap times are much faster on every race track where it’s possible to make a reasonable comparison. So where is the speed coming from? Via massively faster cornering speeds. Nowadays for a driver it’s all about momentum. He or she is always trying to achieve the best possible minimum cornering speed as this will typically determine the best time over a lap. In the past, braking and exit speed were more the determining factors.

But leaving aside car failures or any other freak situation where a driver has no control over the outcome, where do the majority of accidents take place? Last time I checked, they happen in the corners!  So why does every professional racing series, in the name of safety, keep mandating reductions in engine power? The reductions bring slower and slower top speeds but cornering speeds keep increasing every year through permissible aerodynamic development. To me it makes absolutely no sense…

Of course, the main effect of this is that the racing suffers more and more, for a number of different reasons:

-        The difference between minimum speed mid-corner and top speed on the following straight is significantly reduced which reduces the opportunity for a driver to get a better exit than his rival in front and then have a run on him into the next braking area.

-        Braking distances are getting shorter and shorter as the top speed is decreased and grip level is increased. By nature this minimizes the opportunity for a driver to outbrake the car in front.

-        Most of the “challenging” corners are now gone, whether in F1 or a top level prototype as high-speed aero grip is now so enormous. Corners like Eau Rouge at Spa used to be a huge challenge to take flat even in an F1 car whereas today even the least capable are flat through there by their third lap in practice. It’s barely a corner anymore and it’s the same in an LMP1 or LMP2 car.

-        Every aero-dependent car (single-seaters and prototypes in particular) today relies primarily on aerodynamics at the front of the chassis as this affects what’s going on with the entire car. But when you follow another car, your front aero is inevitably ruined by the turbulence created by the car you’re trailing. This makes it even more difficult to carry sufficient speed to make a run on the car in front as the acceleration is not enough if the cars are equal in top speed.

If we go back to the 1980s and onwards and look at safety, we find that virtually all the bad accidents that happened (Elio De Angelis, Roland Ratzenberger, Ayrton Senna, Stefan Bellof) were freak accidents that could have just as easily happened today but would probably be survivable. The difference now is that the tracks and cars are much safer than they were back then. It is almost certain Senna would have survived his accident if he had been in an F1 car with the current cockpit design. (Bianchi’s accident was even more a freak situation that should have never happened in my opinion.)

In Formula 1, there are no more “big balls” tracks or corners left. Today, it’s all about precision and hitting your marks perfectly, and of course understanding how to get a car dialed in with the endless adjustments of knobs and switches now available. Drivers have to play with them constantly to get the most out of a car yet most of the decisions on what button or dial to change is determined by engineers in the pit lane.

Additionally, racetracks are now so sanitized that there is absolutely no punishment for going over the limit. The result is that every driver finds the limit within 5-10 laps by simply going beyond the track’s perimeter into generous runoff areas. Then they just peg their corner-speed back a bit from there for the next lap until they find the limit. There’s hardly a single corner left in racing where you have to “hang it out”. Lap times are literally determined by race control and how lenient they are to drivers going past the track limits.

As a result, bravery is no longer a part of a driver’s arsenal…

The essence of a truly great racing driver is a combination of raw natural talent, a good understanding of his car and ability to report its changing dynamics to his engineers. The best drivers have a highly developed ability to “read” a race - to consistently make the most of the situations they find themselves in and score the maximum points allowed by the car on a given day.

But above all, a great racing driver can combine this ability with the will to stick his neck out when needed… When it really matters, an ability to push past the limit of what both he and the car are normally capable of and make a difference. This is what every real racing driver craves. Nothing in this world can compare with the feeling of stepping into the unknown and controlling your car on the absolute limit of adhesion, with throttle and steering coordinated perfectly. To come out of a corner knowing you’ve just gained another two or three tenths of a second. This is what we live for.

To watch Senna qualifying at Monaco was pure bliss. But even more astounding is some onboard footage I came across of Juan Manuel Fangio racing around the old Nordschleife Nurburgring in the 1950s. It made my eyes well up, and is the most humbling piece of racing footage I have ever seen. It’s absolutely beautiful to watch and should be an inspiration to every driver. The steering never pointed straight for more than a second throughout the entire lap and he basically destroyed all his competitors.

It’s time to go back to the drawing board and look closely at the philosophy of auto racing, revisiting the entire concept of how racing cars are designed and built. New technology is fascinating but racing in any form should, in my opinion, always be about drivers, first and foremost.

Part 2 - Identifying key issues

Part 3 - Proposed solutions

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Johansson urges Manor to Follow Haas approach

Stefan Johansson

Former F1 driver Stefan Johansson has urged Manor to consider following the lead of the 2016 entrant Haas.

Manor, the former Marussia team and clear 2015 backmarker, has admitted in recent days it is wary of the threat posed by the incoming Haas' novel approach to F1.

Haas is pushing to the limit of the existing rules in terms of 'customer cars', buying as much as possible from its close technical partner Ferrari.

"They're pushing it as close to that as the rules will allow currently," Swede Johansson, who raced until the early 90s for teams including Ferrari and McLaren, said.

"They've done their homework, they've listened to the right people and it's the way to do it."

However, Haas' rival small teams are pushing back hard against the push to free the 'customer car' model in F1, insisting that manufacturing a chassis almost entirely alone is part of the DNA of the sport.

"Well, I don't understand the attitude of some the smaller teams," Johansson told his website.

"At the same time they're scrambling for every penny because the cars are so expensive to make now and they can't afford to pay their people or their suppliers in many cases.

"If I was Manor and I was offered a Ferrari I'd jump at it," said Johansson. "Who wouldn't? Their budget would be less than it is now. The car would already be developed and sorted and you could run the team with probably 60 people. It just makes business sense.

"With a customer car you still get to be part of the show, you still get money from Bernie and you could actually make some money if you do it right. As far as I'm concerned it's the way to go," he added.