The end of the pursuit of speed

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Juan Pablo Montoya, Williams, Monza, 2004

Juan Pablo Montoya, Williams, Monza, 2004

When did Formula 1 stop being about the pursuit of speed?

Since the beginning of the world championship changes have been made to the formula in the name of safety and cost controls.

But those needs have become increasingly dominant and, as a result, the sport has never been as tightly regulated as it is today.

Somewhere along the line the governing body decided it wasn’t enough merely to limit the rate of development. Now the goal appears to be fixing the cars at their current performance level.

That much is clear when you look at how average lap speeds have stagnated in the last decade. Monza, a circuit which has changed little in 35 years, provides a good indication:

Fastest lap speeds at Monza, 1976-2010

Year 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Average Speed (kph) 206.019 212.887 214.11 220.765 223.394 236.004 234.286 241.153 245.405 248.341 250.18 242.864 249.403 252.989 257.415 253.949 257.209 249.033 245.933 247.135 250.295 244.413 251.989 248.953 253.658 259.827 258.564 262.242 260.031 256.753 256.34 248.682 251.398 254.444

Juan Pablo Montoya’s 262.242kph (162.95mph) lap of Monza in 2004 set the high watermark. Today’s F1 cars lap around 10kph slower.

To the prior constraints of safety and costs we can now add a third, as Formula 1 faces growing pressure to be more environmentally responsible.

The consequences of that for the regulations are already known: in 2013 engine capacities will be cut from 2.4 litres to 1.6, and hybrid technology will play a greater role in engine design.

Red Bull’s X2010 project for “Gran Turismo 5″ offered a fascinating glimpse of what F1 might look like without technical constraints.

But can designs like this only exist in the virtual world? It’s an idea I explored here a few years ago.

Would anyone dare to create a rival to Formula 1 that could usurp its claim to have the fastest racing cars in the world? And where could they race that would be safe enough?

Have your say in the comments.

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150 comments on The end of the pursuit of speed

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  1. antonyob said on 1st March 2011, 10:34

    speeds irrelevant now, speed thru corners is fun but if you go to a race they are plenty fast enough, probably too quick to see properly. on telly of course it would be great if they did 300mph but i think the 100k or so who actually pay wouldnt be thrilled at sitting in the next county to guarantee safety.

    An armchair fans argument basically

  2. Sasquatsch (@sasquatsch) said on 1st March 2011, 10:48

    There is no end to the pursuit of speed.

    Formula 1 teams will always wanting to be faster and faster. And every time when the rules change, you can see a dip in speed and within a couple of years the speed is on the same level as before, as you can see in the graph.

    One of the reasons for the dip in speed is that the FIA cares about public awareness. And public awareness concerns safety, environment and costs.

    IMHO It is not the intention to keep performance at a certain level, but when performance exceeds restrictions in (one or more of) these three areas, the FIA has to do something about it.

    I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I even encourage it, because I think the Formula 1 must be trendsetting, not trend following. Engineers are smart enough to get the most out of the new regulations. Besides it encourages innovation, which in turn can be used in other areas, like environmental healthy high performance engines.

    Maybe in some parts the restrictions have gone too far, like the engine freeze or the Tilke circuits, but in general I approve the direction the FIA is taking.

    But a free regulation formula (as a separate class) is not a bad idea, as long as it is within the limits of cost, safety and environment.

  3. antonyob said on 1st March 2011, 11:31

    bit simplistic, the shuttle was in service for 30 years and a video’d crash was the catalyst for it being eventually shelved. Concorde was finished by the Paris crash that video’d the plane on fire, it first saw the light of day in 1968 so hardly a poor run.

    You can state a case for video’d events losing the publics confidence but not for obselete tech reasons

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 1st March 2011, 12:18

      But both were just looking for a reason to call it. Both were way to expensive to make sense, so the decision to take them out of service was coming for a long time.

      Actually they were far to expensive, to get anyone seriously into finding a better, cheaper way (i.e. wasting less ressources in the proces) to get there, in effect hampering further progress.

  4. Oliver said on 1st March 2011, 13:03

    Te question then becomes, wat purpose does F1 serve? If it is just motosport entertainment, then it is not doing a good job of it vis a vis the assocated costs. But if it is high performance
    motosport prototypes, then it is serving its purpose.
    There are well over 50 categories and sub categories of motor sport catering to specific needs. We should make F1 safer but we don’t have to make F1 about electric cars. Another category can be created for that purpose.

    Regulations provide the constraints to which all teams must strive to overcome. And teams will always strive to go faster that was how RedBull won last year, by being faster.
    But speed can be achieved in two ways, straight line speed or and cornering speed. If the FIA feels cornering speeds are the most dangerous parts of the equation, then takeaway all the downforce. If its the straight line speed, then limit the power of the engines.

    But if its alternative power or other eco themes they are after, then they should introduce it in touring cars or formula ford. When I want to watch eco, i tune to the Tour de France.

  5. antonyob said on 1st March 2011, 15:11

    kowalsky

    manual gear changes and bumpy tracks. simples.

  6. BasCB (@bascb) said on 1st March 2011, 15:22

    Could BMW be hopping onto the flexible traction concepts in sportscar racing/LeMans in the future? http://www.nrc.nl/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/2011-03-01T093543Z_01_GVA07_RTRMDNP_3_AUTOSHOW-GENEVA.jpg
    That car looks pretty exiting.
    I think, that if F1 does not move on towards exiting new engine options it could really develop into obscurity.

  7. hamifan said on 1st March 2011, 16:45

    why not let the FIA design the cars for the whole grid. then they will be able to control how little or how much they spend on the cars. also, we will then be able to see who really are the fastest drivers?

    • Sasquatsch (@sasquatsch) said on 2nd March 2011, 10:18

      The essence of Formula 1 is that each team designs it’s own car. So that should stay.

      There are a lot of other race types that use a single chassis (like SuperLeague, Indycar, etc) and I don’t think that’s the way F1 should go if it wants to keep ‘the pinnacle of motor sports’ label.

  8. theRoswellite said on 1st March 2011, 18:41

    Incredible…I’ve never seen so many truly varied ideas! (remotely controlled cars, Formula X, FIA designed cars)

    So, in the spirit of the thread how about the following…

    Overall lap times can be reduced, I think this was the original question, and relative corner speeds maintained within the safety constraints of the current tracks by allowing movable aerodynamic devices. The cars could have a totally straight line low drag configuration and a high down force cornering configuration, and of course all the settings in between. This is the direction the regs are headed now with the rear wing….all possible…but perhaps not desirable as this would, through the disruption of the static air mass, make passing even more problematic.

    An answer….to both the speed question and the passing problem?

    Excess hp (electro-enhancement continued and increased as a percentage of overal hp), low drag cars (no wings), larger tires (increased cornering speed), and moveable suspensions (increased cornering speeds)…all of these could be immediately implemented. As you can see, they would decrease lap times with the massively reduced overall drag, improve a following cars ability to stay closer to the car ahead by taking advantage of the lower drag zone which is created, thus improving passing.

    Simple.

    And a final benifit….you would see the return to car racing, not “aircraft” racing.

    Of course there is no chance that this will be done, except in slow incremental steps, as it would require a step into the unknown and the billion dollar enterprise that is presently F1 is if nothing else…conservative.

  9. The problem, as far as I can see it, is that we are now generating levels of G-force – especially with the more efficient carbon fibre brakes – that the human body can endure. It’s all very well having the best, fittest drivers in the world driving the cars, but there are already some corners where the sheer force of the blood in the brain causes momentary blackouts.

    Now imagine a crash like Senna’s, or worse, where two cars collide and someone’s killed. And it’s caused by the driver blacking out at the wheel through excessive Gs. Can you imagine the backlash?

    Perhaps the answer maybe isn’t to limit the speeds, but to limit the overall package. Sure, top speeds make headlines, but can we afford to limit G force by restricting the brakes. Or, on the other hand – can we afford not to?

    • theRoswellite said on 1st March 2011, 21:18

      @SC…and limiting the size of the brakes extends the braking zone, which correspondingly limits the accelerating zone from the previous corner in numerous situations which would then decrease the speed of corner entry thus reducing the G-forces you correctly commented on.

      Also, if the concern is lateral G-forces, a most direct way to see a decrease is to reduce the area of the contact patch by reducing the width of the tire, the introduction of tread or the alteration of the coefficient of adhesion in the tire compound…unfortunately all of which increases the importance of the down force coming from the wings and we are right back to the passing problem we are now trying to address.

  10. spudw said on 1st March 2011, 23:25

    Formula 1 should stay at the forefront of speed and quickness in motor racing, yes. But I’d question whether that is the be all and end all. Already they are not the ‘fastest’ cars, as relative to IndyCar ovals, F1 circuits don’t provide for near constant 200+mph open-wheel racing.

    The problem for F1 is that the fundamental formula has been exploited to the maximum and it needs an overhaul. Racing at any level is meaningless without some kind of formula, but F1 has more or less maximized the design on cars that depend on downforce. Teams have poured too much money and have realized too much success in designing incredibly quick and highly nuanced cars. Of course, this has degraded the show (in the eyes of some) over time, as the general design evolution of F1 cars is not conducive to on-track passing (as witnessed in Abu Dhabi 2010).

    Unfortunately, the sport’s response over the last decade has been to tinker with the formula and to introduce gadgets (KERS, moveable wings, etc) instead of taking the brave approach of reworking the fundamental formula into something that produces the best cars, of course within broad formulaic constraints – essentially hitting the reset button. So, get rid of the wings and put on big, fat tires and let the teams develop those cars until, in 20 or 30 years, that formula starts to fail to produce good racing.

    Outright speed comes and goes, but ultimately there are practical, safety and biological limits to how fast people can drive racing cars. I’m more interested in watching racing that is, yes fast and quick, but is also unfettered by compromises and patchwork solutions in an artificial attempt to ‘spice up the show’. If they start turning on the sprinklers in the middle of F1 races as yet another proxy solution for finding a formula that presents teams with new and more viable challenges, and provides fans with out-and-out racing that isn’t muddled with gadgets and add-ons, I may not tune in any longer.

  11. Alex said on 2nd March 2011, 7:41

    Speed isn’t everything, but I do agree that the regulations are way too tight.

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