Imagining ‘Formula X’

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Mazda 787B, Le Mans, 1991Has Formula one lost sight of its purpose to be the ultimate form of motor racing with cars at the absolute cutting edge of technology?

The FIA’s recent plans to reduce teams’ use of wind tunnels is just the latest in a long line of steps taken to reduce the development of Formula 1 cars.

What if a new formula was created – ‘Formula X’ – in which no limits were placed on cars’ technology, dimensions, engine sizes or anything else?

In 2003 F1 Racing magazine and Williams envisaged a restriction-free Formula 1 car. With six wheels and ground effect aerodynamics, they projected it would lap Silverstone 13s faster than an F1 car of 2003 (around 11.5s faster than today).

This was despite it having the same engine of the time (3.0 litre V10), grooved tyres and the same minimum weight limit – all of which could be improved upon even further were they de-restricted.

But what would the consequences be of racing cars to the ‘ultimate’ Formula X regulations?

G forces

First of all the consequences for the drivers would be staggering. Ground effect aerodynamics – which create a vacuum beneath the car to increase cornering speeds – would force drivers to endure tremendous forces while cornering. G-forces of over six times gravity would probably be the minimum, and as those forces increased the effect they have upon drivers’ bodies rapidly moves into un-chartered territory, even for jet fighter pilots.

In 2001 the American CART championship had to abandon a meeting at an oval circuit in Texas because the combination of the banking and car downforce was causing drivers to suffer blackouts and crash. F1 would be forced to monitor G-forces extremely closely – or allow the machines to be driven remotely.

Tracks

The enormous increase in cornering speeds would force massive redesigns to circuits.

Existing run-off areas would be inadequate, probably even at brand new venues such as Shanghai and Bahrain. Racing on street courses like Singapore and Valencia would likely be out of the question.

It’s doubtful it would be possible to create a circuit where the crowd could both watch in relative safety and be close enough to see anything.

Technology and costs

One might expect that costs would increase enormously. But it is hardly the case that costs have decreased very much under the current rules, so it’s difficult to imagine.

It would certainly lead to more diversity among the cars. Radical new aerodynamic solutions including moveable downforce-generating devices would appear. Teams could run all manner of different engines – not just V10s and V12a but rotary engines (as in the Mazda 787B Le Mans-winner, above), gas turbines and more.

Traction control, instead of being banned in 2008, would be joined by other driver aids such as ABS braking and active suspension.

So the question is this: could Formula X exist? Would it need an entirely new, custom-built calendar of circuits, possibly with no spectator enclosures at all?

Would you want to watch it?

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