Over a pint a former Tyrrell mechanic once told me where the idea came for the hideous ‘X-wings’ that the team brought to the sport came from.
This was in 1997, at which point the team was in its death throes – the last year in which boss Ken Tyrrell was still at the helm.
The perennially cash-strapped team were as light on funds as ever, and were on the brink of being sold to British American Racing to ultimately form the Honda team we know today.
Yet even in that late stage of the Tyrrell team’s life designer Harvey Postlethwaite still showed great ingenuity in the face of adversity. Precisely what you’d expect from the team that gave the world the six-wheeled F1 car.
The X-wings – or ‘pylons’ – were born of a desperate need to instil more grip in a car that was fundamentally short of both horsepower and downforce. The F1 regulations prohibited downforce-generating wings in various key areas of the car, but at the time the space above and to the side of the driver’s head was fair game.
The basic building blocks of an F1 car is carbon fibre – not a cheap material. But the team had plenty of old wings knocking around from which they were able to make crude uprights and mini-wings to fix onto the sidepods of the car, to generate more downforce.
Hey presto – the X-wings were born. Who says F1 and recycling can’t go hand in hand?
They were, of course, grotesquely ugly. Even so by 1998 other teams were using them, particularly at high-downforce circuits such as Buenos Aires.
One team, Prost, found they couldn’t run the wings on both sides because it inhibited access to the refuelling flap – so they ran one on one side on clockwise tracks, and one on the other side on anti-clockwise tracks.
By the San Marino round even Ferrari were using them. McLaren’s Adrian Newey would have nothing of it, of course. And nor would the FIA who subsequently banned them for being ‘unsafe’.
To be fair to them, a Sauber had lost one wing during a pit stop when it was torn off by an air line. But would anyone really have objected if they’d axed them on grounds of taste and decency?