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This is an as yet "unpublished" article i'm working on. It should cover technological development in F1. It overlaps with a few other articles, but my idea is that:

  • History of Formula One could be about the racing stories, drivers, rules, business side of things and of course touching on the broad technological trends, but without getting too into it.
  • Formula One cars should be mainly about current cars - an overview of their specification and the very recent developments (move to high noses... single keel... twin keel/zero keel; cooling chimneys; undercut sidepods; pylon mounted rear wings).
  • Technological History of Formula One could be about the development of cars through the decades (mid-engines, turbos), including the interesting stories about ideas that went nowhere (e.g. Lotus gas turbine, Brabham fan car).

Technological History of Formula One[edit]

1951 Alfa Romeo
2007 Renault
For details of current Formula One cars, see Formula One car, for a general history of the sport, see History of Formula One.

This article outlines the technological development in Formula One from the inception of the Championship in 1950 to the present day.

Over the years the cars have changed in many ways, and a number of technogical innovations introduced with the aims of increasing speed, reliabitly and safety. Rule changes introduced by the FIA have affected the development of the cars.

Some of the innovations introduced in Formula One have been successfully transferred to road cars.


For more general information, see Automotive aerodynamics, Ground effect in cars
Mercedes-Benz W 196 "Typ Monza"

low drag - streamlining - Mercedes-Benz W196 Typ Monza other detail work.

Ron Tauranac - aerodynamic benefits or otherwise of inboard suspension

Anti-lift - trim tabs at the front of the car and other measures (just careful shaping of the nose would do it) to stop the slippery 'cigar tube' cars lifting off the ground at high speed. Even if they didn't fully lift off early 1960s cars could wander across the track alarmingly at high speed because there was little download on the front wheels).

Wind tunnel devlopment MIRA wind tunnel was being used by Brabham (hobby horse, broken record etc...) in the early 1960s for the kind of detail design work referred to above, anti-lift and low drag, so wind tunnels should perhaps be first mentioned before downforce and wings.


  • Downforce - the realisation that cornering speed could be increased by forcing the tyres onto the tarmac.

wings downforce

  • The use of wings to increase the cars' grip was pioneered in the late 1960s by Lotus, Ferrari and Brabham. Early designs featured wings directly to the suspension, but several accidents due to wing failures led to a rule change stipulating that wings must be fixed rigidly to the chassis.

side mounted radiators - Lotus 72

Lotus 78 - the first ground effect car

ground effect , skirts Early ideas in late 1960s, first use in F1 on race track in 1977 by Lotus Lotus 78

British Racing Motors developed a 'wing car' concept, in which sidepod fuel tanks were shaped like upside down wings, although the sides were not sealed to the ground. A wind tunnel model was built, but the concept went no further (Ref - recent issue of Autosport).

The purpose of Lotus' experimentation in 1976 was revealed with the Lotus 78, which brought ground effect to Formula One for the first time, using wing-profiled sidepods sealed to the ground by sliding lexan skirts. Generating radically increased downforce with radically less drag[1], the Lotus 78s driven by Mario Andretti and Gunnar Nilsson won five Grands Prix in 1977.

For 1979 Ligier, the resurrected Williams team and surprinsigly Ferrari, despite the handicap of the Flat-12 that obstructed wind tunnels, produced wing-cars designs that were more effective that the Lotus 79. This forced Lotus to hastily introduce the new 80 that overplayed the ground effect concept (it was originally intended to run with no drag-inducing wings, merely ground-effect sidepods) and never proved competitive.

Brabham BT46B "Fancar"

Brabham BT46B "fan car" 1978

For 1978 the new Lotus 79 made a more radical and mature use of the ground effect concept. Many other teams began experimenting with the technology, but Lotus had a head start and Mario Andretti won the Championship, becoming the first driver to win both the American IndyCar championship and the Formula One title. Brabham outbid Lotus in generating downforce with BT46B "fan car", a revival of the "sucker car" concept used by Jim Hall's Chaparrals in CanAm in 1970. The car exploited a loophole in the regulations, however, the team, led by Bernie Ecclestone who had recently become president of the Formula One Constructors Association, withdrew the car before it had a chance to be banned after winning its only race with Niki Lauda at the wheel at the Swedish Grand Prix.

One of the most unusual developments is the introduction of cars with more than 4 wheels. The only six wheeler to be raced was the Tyrrell P34, although March, with the 2-4-0 and Williams with the FW08B aslso developed six wheeled cars. The intention of the P34 was to reduce aerodynamic drag by using 4 small front wheels rather than the usual 2. Although this also had advantages for the mechanical grip of the car, its main purpose was to improve aerodynamic performance.

Diffusers were first introduced on the 1986 Williams FW11. These are upswept panels at the rear of the car, which acclerate the air passing under the car, producing venturis.[2]

The performance of diffusers is greater if the under-car airflow is increased. However, the efficiency of front wing aerofoils is greater the closer they are to the ground, which had led to cars having low noses. An ingenious resolution of these conflicting requirements was introduced by Harvey Postlethwait's 1990 Tyrrell 019.[2] This car feaured a raised nose, with the wing elements mounted on anhedral supports. This idea was further developed by Benetton with the 1991 B191 and was eventually adopted by all teams.

consistent ground clearance desirable - active suspension

The moved to raised noses has meant that the lower suspension wishbone had to be mounted on a "keel" extending from the underside of the chassis. At first a single keel was used, but the suspension geometry has been further developed to increase under car airflow. One approach is the twin keel, first introduced by Sauber

Another approach is to abandon the keel entirely, an approach referred to as "zero keel", and mount the wishbones on the chassis - this results in heavily sloping lower wishbones, compromising suspension geometry and adjustment, but improving aerodynmaic preformance.

After Ayrton Senna's fatal accident at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, which was partly blamed on the sensitivity of the car to ride height, the FIA introduced a number of rule changes. The minimum ground clearance was regaultated by means of a wooden plank fixed to the bottom of the car. Any car found to have an excessivley worn plank would be disqualified. This regulation remains in place today, and to date only one car has been disqualified for a transgression of this rule.

In 2005, the rules for front aerodynamic design were altered in order to produce less downforce on the cars. One of the changes was raising the front wing of the car, which meant that the teams had to redesign their front wings in order to create this lost downforce. Many of the teams, including B.A.R, McLaren and Williams introduced a significant "dip" in the middle of the wing, so that while the ends of the wing are the correct distance off the ground, the centre creates almost the same amount of downforce as previously. In pre-season testing, Sauber introduced an extra plane that runs seperately from the centre of the nose to the endplates of the wing, whilst Ferrari added a small area of extra wing planes, attached to the bottom of the front wing.

flexible body components rear wings in particular - BMW, Ferrari 2006

The rear wing of a modern Formula One car, with three aerodynamic elements (1, 2, 3). The rows of holes for adjustment of the angle of attack (4) and installation of another element (5) are visible on the wing's endplate.


Various engine types have been used over the histroy of Formula One, with a number of changes in the FIA's regulations.

At the start of the World Championship in 1950 the original formula called for 4.5 litre naturally aspirated or 1.5 litre supercharged engines. This was changed to 2 litre normally aspirated for 1952-1953, and the rules changed again for 1954, with 2.5l normal and 750cc supercharged options allowed.

The change of regulations for 1954 conincided with the end of the ban on German motrosport teams imposed after the first world war. Mercedes-Benz re-entered Formula One with a dominant car, the W196 equipped with a highly advanced straight 8 engine featuring desmodromic valves and fuel injection.

switch to mid engines[edit]

Although the mid-engined Auto Unions had been successful in Grand Prix in the 1930s, all Grand Prix cars in the F1 World Championship had used engines were located in front of the driver (see FR layout), until 1957. The switch to a Rear Mid-engined layout was pioneered by the Cooper Car Company. Cooper initially used this layout since it allowed chain drive to be used on their motorcycle engined F2 cars, but positioning the engine close to the center of the car has benefits for car handling (since the moment of inertia is reduced). Jack Brabham finished in the points for in the 1957 Monaco Grand Prix in a rear-engined Formula 2 Cooper. Cooper then devleoped a Formula One car, and in 1958 Stirling Moss won the Argentine Grand Prix driving a mid-engined Cooper powered by a 2 litre Coventry-Climax Straight-4. The Coopers became dominant, and Jack Brabham won back to back Drivers Championships in 1959 and 1960. Since then, every champion has driven a mid enginged car, and front engined cars were abandoned.

In 1961 the rules were again changed, now specifying 1.5 litre normally aspirated.

3 litre era[edit]

3 litre 1966 saw a return to more powerful engines, with the rules changed once again, allowing engines 3.0 litre normally aspirated, or 1.5 litre supercharged engines. The 3 litre era initallly brought a wide range of engine configurations, as teams tried various options to fit the new rules. Ferrari was the great favorite with a 3 litre version of his well tested sports car V12 design, but the engines were underpowered and the cars heavy; an enlarged V6 held some promise but Surtees left mid-season after a dispute with team manager Dragoni. Cooper turned to a development of an otherwise obsolete Maserati V12 that was originally designed for the Maserati 250 F in the late 1950s while BRM made the choice to design an incredibly heavy and complex H-16. The big winner was Jack Brabham, whose eponymous racing team took victory two years in a row with the stock-derived Repco V8 unit and simple, effective spaceframe chassis. With SOHC heads and no more than 330 bhp[3], the Repco was by far the least powerful of the new 3 litre engines but unlike the others it was light, reliable and available right from the start of the new rules. The Brabhm won championships with JAck Brabham himself in 1966 and 1967 with Denny Hulme.


In 1967 Lotus introduced the Lotus 49, powered by the Ford-Cosworth DFV V8 engine that would become the most successful engine in Grand Prix history. Champman had been instrumental in persuading Ford to bankroll the engine's development.Its final version (the DFR) was still in 1991.

s to dominate Formula One for the next decade. Like the Repco the Cosworth was light and compact but it was a real racing engine using 4-valve DOHC heads and delivering much more power - Cosworth had aimed for 400bhp and exceeded this when the engine first ran. The DFV was designed to be fully stressed (an idea pioneered by the Lancia D50)[4]. This engine

turbo era[edit]

The regulations which had been introduced in 1966 also allowed for 1.5 litre forced induction (turbo or supercharged) engines, but no Formula One team had attempted to use one, feeling that the fuel consumption and turbo lag (boost lag) would negate any power adavantage. Renault was the first to exploit this rule, in 1977 with its RS01.[5]

Although the engine was at first unreliable, its power advatnage was soon obvious and several teams copied this approach. Renault persisted with the turbo engine, despite frequent breakdowns that resulted in the nickname of the 'Little Yellow Teapot', and finally won for the first time at Dijon in 1979 with the RS10 that featured both ground effect and turbo engine.

High engine speeds are problematic for conventional valve springs, and in 1986, Renault introduced pneumatic valve operation for the engines it supplied to Team Lotus. [5]

The regulations were changed for 1989 to allow only 3.5 litre naturally aspirated engines. A number of different configurations were used: V8s, V10s and V12s. After the 1994 season the capacity was reduced to 3.0 litres.

The Renault team's 2006 engine, the RS26. Renault's first V8 engine in Formula One

In 2006, the rules were changed so that 2.4 litre V8s were mandatory (with temporary concession made to allow Scuderia Torro Rosso to run restricted 3.0 l V10s), and for 2007 an engine homologation scheme was introduced to limit engine development.

Unusual approaches[edit]

gas turbine - Lotus Lotus 56

Chassis structure[edit]

Early cars used a steel space frame chassis, with unstressed body panels.

The Lotus 25 was the first F1 car to use a monocoque chassis.[6] In 1962, the Lotus team ran the Lotus 25 powered by the new Coventry-Climax FWMV V8 engine. The car had an aluminium sheet monocoque chassis instead of the traditional spaceframe design. This proved to be the greatest technological breakthrough since the introduction of mid-engined cars, but the Lotus was unreliable at first. The car still had a tubular frame that supported the engine, the gearbox and the rear suspension wishbones.

Lotus 49 with Cosworth DFV engine as fully stressed member.

In the late 1960s, the concept of using the engine as a stressed member was introduced. This reduces the weight of the car, and increases stiffness since the engine effectively acts as a part of the chassis. The 1967 Lotus 49 was the first car to use a fully stressed engine, Colin Chapman designed a monocoque that ended just after the driver's seat, with the gearbox and rear suspension mounted directly to the newly introdcued Cosworth DFV engine.[6] The weight reduction this allows gave the car an advantage, and the technique was soon copied. This concept is still used in all F1 cars, the carbon fibre monocoque includes the survival cell and fuel tank, and the engine and gearbox are bolted on to the back of the "tub", with suspension mountings fitted to the gearbox.

Aluminium honeycomb monocques were used

In 1981, john Barnard introdcued a major advance in chassis technology - his McLaren MP4/1 was the first to have a monocoque constructed entirely of Carbon fiber reinforced plastic (commonly referred to as carbon fibre). This was 25% lighter and 50% stronger than the rival aluminium honeycomb cars of the time. [6] Within a few years this technology, previously used predominantly in the Aerospace industry, had become universal in F1. The advent of carbon fibre has siginifinclty improved crash safety [7], as well as improving grip and therefore cornering speed through the increased stiffness.

Another 1981 car, the Lotus 88 used an alternative method of improving cornering performance. The ground effect cars were now deloped to such a point where they were becoming difficult to drive - the aerodynamics necessitated extremely stiff suspension to maintain consitent downforce. A solution was found by Colin Chapman, to use two chassis.[8] The first chassis carried the wheels, engine and transmission, with very stiff suspension. The second chassis carried the driver, and was mounted to the main chassid by soft springs. This arrangement allowed the driver to be cushioned from the bumps, whilst the car suspension and aerodynamics could be set up to optimise the handling and aerodynamics. The concept was banned by the FIA, and never raced.


Early cars featured manual transmission and rear wheel drive. Several teams have experimented with four wheel drive due to the possible increased traction. In 1961, Ferguson Research Ltd. introduced the Ferguson P99 which was entered into several non-championship races as well as the British Grand Prix[9]. Other teams later experimented with the concept, notably Lotus, McLaren, Matra. Williams and March also tried 4 wheel drive six wheelers. WEight handicap. Everntually outlawed.

Up until 1989, all Formula One cars had converntional manual gearboxes, operated by a gear lever which required the driver to remove his hand from the steering wheel. A semi-automatic gearbox was introduced in 1989 by Ferrari on their F1 640. This allowed faster gearchanges, and was eventually adopted by all teams.

A recent trend is the development of so-called seamless shift gearboxes, which deliver uninterrupted engine power to the driven wheels, even during the gear changes.[10] This elimates the usual pause in power delivery (typically 0.015s), and the time saving adds up considerably, with an average of 2500 gear changes per race. McLaren developed a seamless shift system which it planned to use for its 2004 MP4-19 which involved a twin clutch arrangement.[11] However this was deemed to effectively constitute a continuously variable transmission system, which is outlawed by the FIA regulations, and the system was abandoned. The current seamless shift units opearate on a different principle - the next gear is pre-selected by a mechanical system before drive is disengaged from the current gear. The system is carefully controlled by software to produce a seamless gear shift. In 2006 Williams, Honda, Super Aguri and McLaren all ran seamless shift gearboxes, and it is likely that only Spyker will use a conventional gearbox in 2007


For general information on vehicle suspension systems, see Suspension (vehicle).

deDion axle

wishbone, fully independent

in board, pushrod activated

The 1981 Brabham BT49C used Hydropneumatic suspension, rather than conventional springs. Rather than improving suspension performance, the logic behind this idea of Gordon Murray was to improve aerodynamic performance by exploiting a loophole in FIA regulations. A miniumum ride hieght of 6cm was specified, but was measured when the car was stationary in parc fermé. Murray's hydropneuamtic suspension was designed so that although clearance was above 6cm when stationary, at speed the suspnsion compressd, reduceing ground clearance sufficiently to induce ground effect.

Active suspension - in which the position of the wheels was adjusted by hydraulics was developed in order to maintain a constant ground clearance and eliminate pitch and roll, in order to improve aerodynamic performance. The concept was first tried in 1982 by Team Lotus, and several teams later experimated with it. However, the first successful use of active suspension was by Williams, with the 1991 FW14.[2]. Active suspension was banned for 1994.

The mounting posiion of lower wishbones


electronic aids[edit]

The cockpit of the Tyrrell P34.
A modern Ferrari steering wheel, with a complex array of dials, knobs and buttons to control various electonic features.

traction control


launch control

Williams FW14B

telemetry (including two way, now banned)



mention 6 wheelers - now banned

grooved tyres

rain tyres - intermediates, monsoon

qualifying compounds

The entry of Renault also brought Michelin's radial tires to Formula One. Goodyear, who enjoyed a monopoly before the entry of Michelin, was still using the cross ply design for racing. Goodyear saw the entry of Michelin as a serious threat and made a notable effort in research and development to develop its own radial tires. Tyrrell's 1977 season was disastrous because Goodyear was too busy to continue to develop the unique small tires required by the P34. Without continuing development, the tyres became less competitive and the six-wheeled concept had to be dropped.


Brake discs on the Williams FW27.


drum brakes

disc brakes

carbon fibre brakes, introduced by the Brabham team in 1976 (Another aerospace link here - inspired by Concorde's brakes, apparently.)

Test/development techniques[edit]

The development of a Formula One car involves a number of techniques.

Track testing

Wind tunnel

Computational Fluid Dynamics,

F1 inspired road cars[edit]

McLaren F1

Ferrari F50

See Also[edit]


[12] [12] [7] [7] [13] [13] [2] [2] [5] [5] [10] [10] [6] [6]

  1. ^ Reportedly the internal name of the project that gave birth to 78 was "Something for nothing", Lotus external consultant Peter Wright, one of the designers of the 1970 March 701, brough the idea.
  2. ^ a b c d e "The Concise Encyclopedia of Formula One", David Tremayne & Mark Hughes, Paragon, 1998, ISBN 0-75254-464-0, Technology
  3. ^ Probably 285 bhp at its beginning and 330bhp at final stage of development
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b c d "Inside Renault's F1 scrapbook", Autosport magazine, 25th January 2007, p38-41
  6. ^ a b c d e "When stressed is best", F1 Racing magazine, UK edition, July 2005, p36-37
  7. ^ a b c "Autocar:100 Grand Prix Greats", Alan Henry, Autocar: An F1 Special, Top Ten Innovations, p36-41
  8. ^ "Lotus 88", article
  9. ^ Christian Moity, La Ferguson P 99 Climax (1961-1964). La preuve par quatre. Auto Passion n°136 May-June 2001 p. 42-49
  10. ^ a b c "F1 Gearboxes Go Seamless", F1 Racing magazine,UK edition, January 2007, p24-25
  11. ^ " F1 Racing magazine,UK edition, February 2004
  12. ^ a b "Grand Prix Data Book (1950-2005)", David Hayhoe & David Holland, Haynes Publishing, ISBN 1 84425 223 X
  13. ^ a b "Autocar:100 Grand Prix Greats", Alan Henry, Autocar: An F1 Special, 1995, Top Ten Cars, p26-31