Imagining ‘Formula X’

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?

Read more about banned technology in Formula 1

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14 comments on Imagining ‘Formula X’

  1. DanielPT said on 31st December 2007, 9:01

    I would like to see Formula X, but to be fair such cars must be driven remotely, and that removes a lot of interest to a sport. Perhaps to be able to take on such G forces, eventual drivers should wear something like a space suit (like astronauts). With cars like that, spectators are out of question, so that should be only televised. I think Formula X could exist using remote tracks and higher safety measures. That is, unless, world discovers new protection technology and medicine/genetic advances that can change all this.

  2. watch remotly controlled cars – televise the world scalelectrix challenge or the equivalent for remote controlled models – you need he driver input for spectator interest also lots of good points there in having the ability to use any engine combination – would it also include different tyre supplier? – that is one bland area now all teams use the same – try a roadcar with different tyres on and you do notice a difference in handling between makes

  3. Vertigo said on 31st December 2007, 10:31

    If Formula X happened it would probably be as one-off races, as a whole series would be too dangerous and wouldn’t make any money if spectators couldn’t turn up. I’d watch it on the TV though.

  4. Robert McKay said on 31st December 2007, 13:23

    I remember reading the article you are referring to (very interesting it was), but it does sound a bit too “Wipeout” (Playstation game :-D ) to me. I think the salient point here is that technology is only one part of the F1 story to the vast majority of people. If it was at the absolute cutting edge you’d be in danger of alienating a lot of fans. I’m not saying that all F1 technology should be road relevant, etc. (a la Max Mosely), but I think this level of technology would be too much. Look at this year, many people are happy that the TC is being turned off because it puts one important thing back in the drivers hands.

    As long as you weren’t replacing F1 with FX then it’d be an interesting experiment, but would they be able to exist and survive together?

  5. The FIA survey of 2006 shows that a vast majority of people want the F1 to be the fastest series and the cutting technology too but at the same time the results showed that a good portion of people wanted a better balance between technology and friver aids.

    As for the FX idea, i like it but you can’t do it without limit.

    Did you know that in 1980 teams studied G-suits?
    Because the downforce increase double from 79 (and it doubled again in 81) they planned that soon pilots would have to wear G-suits.

    I actually that it would be great.
    No need to imagine 10G’s..

    Today the average G’s force is 3,5 (which is huge) bu t it’s always for short periods of time (instead of CART former races), it is more violent (occurs very fast and in many vectors) but more sutainable.

    If you put the average G’s to 5g this become more damaging so let’s imagine a today’s corner taken a 3G is taken at 5G you end up with some high spedd corners at 7g+ which will require G-suits to be sustained over a 2 hours race.

    I don’t think the conditions poses a problem too much, of course it makes the difficulty even harder but i think that’s bearable.

    The real problem is security as impact force increases with the square of the speed.

    I’m opposed to a slowed down F1, but i’m not really urged to see a FX too.

    I’d say, let the F1 improves it’s performance slowly like it did from 2002 to today.
    This let teams, FIA to study the dangers and take measures to bear with it.

    a 2007 spec F1 in 1994 would have been banned if FIA and drivers knew they would take la rascasse at monaco at 160km/h, accelerate from 0-100 it less than 2 seconds and brake under 6G (seen it this year at fuji speedway).

  6. Number 38 said on 31st December 2007, 15:11

    All the above was a ‘fun read’ as the theme was so modern, the readers apparently considerably younger than me, the word “playstation” didn’t exist the last time formula X was tried.

    If you’re an old dinosaur as I you’d remember Formula Libre, it was a ‘no rules’ class run for 3 or 4 or 5 years in the USA. Essentially homebuilt cars with extraordinary power to weight ratios, It was 1959
    when I saw my first Formula Libre race and I recall one or two that flew and many that crashed or broke. Design inovation was rampant, it was worth it alone to see what the human mind can imagine and perhaps we’d like to see more of that in today’s F1, but the successful became dominate, the less successful became invisable and the whole thing died quietly.

  7. Steven Roy said on 31st December 2007, 16:35

    I read the article at the time and I thought it proved that the idea that technology was important in motor racing was rubbish. Technology only became a focus when aerodynamics ruined racing by making overtaking way to difficult.

    If the racing is good enough no-one cares about the technology. If you don’t believe me go to youtube and watch a couple of the Dijon 79 videos then ask yourself if you would have enjoyed it any more if you had read the technical specs of the car beforehand. Or would you happily watch racing like that every season if it meant that technology had to go back 20 years.

    I am reading Jackie Stewart’s latest book and one thing he mentions is that in the 66 or 67 Italian GP the lead changed 30 or 40 times. Not because of pit stops but because the circuit and car design encouraged cars to run closely together and pass each other. Modern technology has eliminated racing like that.

    The days when unlimited technology was possible are so far in the past that they are not worth considering. There is nowhere that you could safely run the cars. There is no-one who could drive them. Most importantly there is no way they could run close together and overtake.

  8. by restricting teams are forced to exploit every tiny detail in the book…they can develop wings for example..then they will go to the limit there..and how longer you search the more expensive it gets, cause those last details are the hardest.
    so restricting will not make things cheaper just like that…
    budget restriction might be the only way..

  9. AmericanTifosi said on 31st December 2007, 17:07

    I’d watch it on TV a few times, but I do favor bringing ground effects back. Anything to make the cars faster yet harder to drive can only be an improvement.

  10. openwheelfan said on 1st January 2008, 1:32

    I, like most red blooded men love to see things go fast. That being said, I find this subject interesting. The gains made in technology would be great but I shudder to think at what cost. Not just in all around safety for both fan and driver as stated above but also in racing. As F1 is today most of the real racing is in the pack like P4 – P12. With a no limit car there may no passing thus no racing what a bore. I remember when Micheal Andretti said that he could no longer feel the road back in CART days. This was the year that Scott Pruit qulified at 240 mph at Fontana. Cars were travling at 238 mph into the turns at Indy that year. Yes I liked the speed until I realized that the drivers were being put at a greater risk then normal. I hate to be complacent I often (always) disagree with Max but I love to watch and always will. I also think that Formula X would burn out of control, first, in cost. Teams and manufactures simply will not be able to outspend each other for ever. Look at the Cold War the Soviets just could not spend as much as us and they burned out. And all that money would be a wasted so spend it with F1. Formula X sounds like a good dream that will end up as a nightmare!! But this is just my opinion.

  11. As someone mentioned above, replace “X” with “Libre” and you can say we had this here before.

    For me the best part of F1 is to go to few races a year and enjoy the fast and noisy beasts close. That would be impossible with FX type of racing… In Monaco I sat right behind the fence, front row, 2 metres max from the cars, and they were not even going fast in that section. Absolutelly great seats :-) But while it was great to be that close, it was already a bit scary. I imagined few times what can happen if 2 cars colide and debris starts flying …

    Then you sit at another track facing the end of the start finish line, where the cars are supposed to break from 300 + to less than 100 km/h, and even if you are 100 metres away and separated by gravel and fence, sometime you wonder if it would be enough should someone take off like Ralf Schumacher in Australia few years back …

    FX would definitelly have to be without spectators on track. It would draw good TV audiences for few races for sure, but I am not sure how long would that last. But as we already have many A1 races without spectators, and A1 keeps going on, FX might be able survive :-)

  12. Ok if that is a basis(cold war – spies even?) – then honda have cried uncle – freeze spending ferarri have agreed with max to limit development ? – unless using other formulae can be construed as other department functions – no data to be swapped ??? – I beleive my name is max and I’m a god in italy called ferrari – OOoops – sorry mind slip there!! – apologies all round – maybe?

  13. Sadly, rules have a place,, but it only a reference point for innovation. Remember, in these restricted F1 days, a fine was delivered this year for 100 million (Euros/dollars, I forget which).

    I do feel that “open” levels of innovation should be able to exist (and have felt this way for years).

    It is racing, rules will still need to apply. However, clever rules applications are what will make racing and innovation play well together.

    Do you want “greener” vehicles, fine, instead of liquid fueling capacity limitations, simply measure the allowable energy payload in kilowatt hours, and note that only units of 10000 kilowatt hours or less of energy can be loaded onboard (a la pitstops). Any power generated while in motion can be stored and utilized during racing.

    Maintain a single tire spec, but let the aero go crazy. Traction control,, fine,, but you’ve got to develop it yourself.

    This allows companies to play with a variety of different solutions, and possibly different chassis, aero, and powerplants for different tracks! (don’t you want to see the solar array bodies on the cars in Dubai?!)

    I.C.E. engine technologies are amazing, but the clean fuel technologies are not coming from F1. Find a way to go fast, while going green, with super high performance vehicles and you’ll have everyone’s attention!

  14. theRoswellite said on 16th January 2008, 7:21

    Wow…what a subject:

    1) Formula X will equal “fighter aircraft” technology, only those able to spend impossible sums will have a chance.

    2) Rules tend to keep the cars the same, which keeps them together on the track. With no rules you will have a race where the latest “it” machine will be gone at the end of one lap…not “racing”, but a “demonstration of technology”.

    3) Race fans identify with drivers, not computers.

    4) Speed is relative. Is a race better because the cars are going 210mph instead of 170mph? (Or, would it be better if there were an average of 12 passes a lap, as opposed to 4.)

    5) Wings have ruined F1 racing. The disruption of the airflow which occurs when one car follows closely behind another means the following car loses down force, which is too significant a loss in any cornering or heavy breaking part of the course. Also, if the car is sliding at an angle to its path through the air (a drift), airflow over the wings decreases and the whole cycle repeats itself. In F1, at present, we are watching “aircraft” race as much as cars.

    6) The spectator needs to be CLOSER to the cars and drivers, not more removed, and there are many ways this can be done safely.

    Finally, openwheelfan says that the Formula X would end up being a nightmare. I think we are all living the nightmare right now. (This from a guy that experienced the pre-wing era…)