F1′s generation of ugly cars should be a temporary sight

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Caterham CT01

Caterham CT01

Most people who commented on the first pictures of the Caterham CT01 yesterday had the same initial reaction: it’s not a looker.

Its stepped nose, which became an instant subject of derision, is a consequence of new rules aimed at improving the safety of the cars. So will we see something similar on every new car this year?

We can expect much the same from Ferrari when their new car is revealed next week, according to Stefano Domencali: “It?s not that pretty,” he said of the team’s new car, “because the shape defined by the technical regulations does not leave much scope.”

The man behind the CT01, Mike Gascyone, expects other teams to produce similar solutions: “I think you?ll probably be seeing this type of nose on most of the cars this year.”

The rules now require the front portion of a car to be no more than 550mm high. But the section of the nose immediately behind it may be up to 625mm high. Therefore, assuming designers continue to prefer the aerodynamic gains offered by high noses, the CT01 will not be the only car to sport a distinctive snout.

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, Spa-Francorchamps, 1996

Raised cockpit sides don't look as bad as this any more

In the coming weeks we will discover whether any of other designers have successfully married the rules on nose dimensions to a more attractive form.

It brings to mind the introduction of higher cockpit sides in 1996. They looked dreadful to begin with, but were eventually incorporated into car design in a much more subtle way.

But this is F1, and aesthetics are not going to have priority over performance. Ugly and fast trumps pretty but slow.

Of course, whether a car is “ugly” or “beautiful” is entirely subjective. Everyone has a different view of when F1 car design was at its best: whether it’s the aerodynamically complex creations of the mid-2000s, the low and wide cars of the mid-1990s, the squat turbo beasts of the eighties, the diverse machinery of the seventies, the tapered cigar tubes seen in the sixties or their front-engined predecessors.

But the stifling of innovation, coupled with some exacting technical specifications in the rule book, has combined to make the current cars look decidedly odd.

Fernando Alonso, Renault, Monaco, 2009

Since 2009, the front and rear wings look like they belong on different cars

The 2009 aerodynamic regulations, introduced to increase overtaking, succeeded mainly in giving the cars an ungainly appearance rather than creating more passing.

The front and rear wings now have disproportionately odd dimensions – low and wide at the front, tall and narrow at the back – and the passage of three years has not made them more pleasing to the eye.

Add to that the stepped noses which may prove ubiquitous in 2012 and we have a decidedly unattractive new generation of F1 cars.

Hopefully some of the bright minds in other teams have devised more elegant solutions to the nose problem which will spare us from seeing a grid full of these awkward creatures.

If they don’t, it should still only be a temporary problem – albeit one we’re going to have to put up with in the medium-term. The proposed 2014 technical regulations will move the nose 300mm lower, which should give teams the opportunity to do away with this unsightly compromise.

The forthcoming rules change will also reduce the width of the front wings, which should also go some way towards improving the cars’ appearance.

But this is also a symptom of something more troubling: the limited scope for innovation and consequent lack of variety in modern F1. The ever-tightening rules are forcing convergence in car design upon the teams, to the extent where F1 increasingly looks like a single-spec series.

A view which is only going to be reinforced if there are 24 cars with alligator noses on the grid in Melbourne.

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Images ?? Ferrari spa/Ercole Colombo, Renault/LAT

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101 comments on F1′s generation of ugly cars should be a temporary sight

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  1. iceshiel said on 26th January 2012, 14:22

    I think the dropped nose looks very aggressive. It is not elegant but it has a lot character and I like it.

  2. electrolite (@electrolite) said on 26th January 2012, 14:24

    The 2009 aerodynamic regulations, introduced to increase overtaking, succeeded mainly in giving the cars an ungainly appearance rather than creating more passing.

    I liked the look of the 2009 cars, for the most part. Especially the BGP001 and RB5. Contrary to most, the ’05-’08 cars were pretty ghastly to me, with all those bits on I thought they looked ridiculous! When people harp on about the MP4-22/23…Rant over.

    I don’t think we’ll ever get uglier than 1996. Well…

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 26th January 2012, 14:32

      @Electrolite

      I liked the look of the 2009 cars [...] Contrary to most, the ’05-’08 cars were pretty ghastly to me, with all those bits on

      I wasn’t talking about the entire design of the 2009 cars. I appreciate that a lot of people liked the cleaning up of the intricate aerodynamic components around the sidepods.

      I was specifically referring to the distortion in perspective between the front and rear wings we now have. It may have become familiar over three years but it still looks wrong.

      • Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 26th January 2012, 14:46

        @keithcollantine you got a very bad example of the 2009 cars there, though! that Renault was so ugly!

      • electrolite (@electrolite) said on 26th January 2012, 14:47

        Indeed – I’ve also realised that concerning the RBR I got the wrong model!

        I think retrospectively we’ll definitely look back and realise even the prettiest cars in this era aren’t actually pretty at all!

        I agree with the penultimate paragraph…

        Teams should be able to follow more than one path – a more extreme version of what we’ve seen the last two years now (high or low noses, flat or duck bill, shark fin or no shark). So there are two or three differing paths of car design per year that teams can follow. At the minute they’re all morphing into one… (Hopefully someone gets what I mean and can word this better, dissertation is destroying my mind) It would take some clever rule writing though.

        • BasCB (@bascb) said on 26th January 2012, 20:50

          Yeah, I think that really is what makes it feel less interesting for innovation.

          There are not many options for completely different (design) strategies to be comparably effective nowadays.

      • Magnificent Geoffrey (@magnificent-geoffrey) said on 26th January 2012, 21:08

        @KeithCollantine

        I wasn’t talking about the entire design of the 2009 cars. I appreciate that a lot of people liked the cleaning up of the intricate aerodynamic components around the sidepods.

        I was specifically referring to the distortion in perspective between the front and rear wings we now have. It may have become familiar over three years but it still looks wrong.

        Yeah, I completely agree with that. Aesthetics probably don’t matter to me as much as they do to others, but I think that lower and wider rear wings would make the cars look far nicer than they do now. I don’t know whether that would completely undo all the downforce effects that the OWG intended them to have, but if it wouldn’t I say we should lobby them to change it!

      • one thing repeats in the history of the spòrt. Even if there were years of mostly ugly cars, the one that dominated was not bad at all. The brawn of 2009 was very nice even if the rest were not. I have a coleccion of f1 cars since the 70′s and all are a head turner.

    • David-A (@david-a) said on 26th January 2012, 23:16

      @electrolite

      I think the original MP4-22 was one of the best looking cars ever, until they wrecked it with the bridge wing.

  3. NestorLeone said on 26th January 2012, 14:28

    Aaaaahhh the great diversity of the 70′s!!!! That was something really increibile that such different approaches would compete against each other so closely!

    They weren’t always pretty cars anyway…..

  4. Becken Lima (@becken-lima) said on 26th January 2012, 14:30

    Hopefully some of the bright minds in other teams have devised more elegant solutions to the nose problem which will spare us from seeing a grid full of these awkward creatures.

    I hope so.

    Maybe this solution could be dependant of how high was the nose of the 2011 generations of cars.

    Applying the new tech rules above the nose of the 2011 cars you will see that McLaren, for example, wouldn’t suffer so much with that problem:

    You can see here:

    http://papayaorange.com.br/2012/01/caterham-lanca-perry-sera-que-a-mclaren-seguira-este-design/

    Looking to this illustration, you can really expect that kind of ugliness in the new Ferrari — exactly the way was predicted in the Caterham car.

    • McLarenFanJamm (@mclarenfanjamm) said on 26th January 2012, 17:11

      Looking at that, every team except McLaren could end up looking like the Caterham or, conversely, they could all end up looking like the McLaren. Of course it all depends on how the airflow works between the nose and the sidepods, McLaren’s solution might only work with the u-shaped side-pods.

  5. Dingeme said on 26th January 2012, 14:34

    In the last 12 years of formula 1 the best looking cars were (for me) the 2009 spec ones. The Ferrari F60 was nicest one:
    http://www.formula1.com/wi/597×478/manual/dcd0912ja01a.jpg

    But since the fuel ban, the cars have become to long.

  6. Mike (@mike) said on 26th January 2012, 14:34

    But the stifling of innovation

    I think that the Caterham looks so odd is a sign that innovation is rife as obviously it’s not what the FIA had envisioned.

    I think the whole innovation is dead line I read so often is rather absurd. I mean, innovation is everywhere in F1. Just because it shows itself in a different way to fan cars doesn’t cancel out it’s existence.

    Just look at things like the F-Duct the EBD, Caterham’s nose and countless others to see real life modern day innovation. (And that’s only a select few of the the really obvious ones).

    Innovation is engineers designing ideas around the stifling rules, as it always has been and hopefully always will be.

    • Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 26th January 2012, 14:45

      Agree: just because it’s not THAT obvious, it doesn’t mean innovation isn’t there.

    • GeeMac (@geemac) said on 26th January 2012, 15:25

      Yes, and when whe get innovations like those they get banned. If that isn’t stifling of innovation I don’t know what is.

      • Mike (@mike) said on 26th January 2012, 17:20

        Everything on an F1 car is regulated, and it has to be for obvious reasons. We have many innovations which are kept each year, and we get more new ones every year. Usually the bans have good reasons behind them, like the EBD – as the FIA felt that using exhaust gases to increase aero performance was the wrong way to go.

        I’d just say that many of the things that get banned have taken advantage of a loop hole in the technical regulations when they were conceived. (Like both the double diffuser and the F-duct.)

        I read on Wikipedia that innovation is the creation of new processors and technologies.

        Now if that doesn’t scream F1 nothing will.

      • Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 26th January 2012, 18:40

        think about it the other way. Limiting the designs forces the engineers to look to ther options and try to make the same/better effect without what was banned.

        It leads to even more innovation and advances, and it equals the competition in some way.

  7. Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 26th January 2012, 14:39

    I don’t mind the look of the cars nowadays: the F10 was pretty in my opinion. And others have been ridiculously ugly.

    It certainly has improved since BMW and Honda tried the new wings. But i’d not say they look anything worse than the 2008 cars: the wings had relation to the dimensions of the car, but the winglets, spoliers and other things spoiled them! The F1.08 was particularly bad looking!

    BTW, I think the rules made cars uglier only recently, with the new wings. The development of the cars made them ugly over the years, the need for more and more aerodinamic efficiency made them look horrible.

  8. wasiF1 (@wasif1) said on 26th January 2012, 14:46

    I still think the cars in 2006 were the best design in my 9 years in F1.

  9. Does lowering the nose really make it safer? I think the look of the cars is one of the great things about F1, if all the cars look like this then there’s no way they’ll be on my computer background at work!

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 26th January 2012, 19:54

      @brawngp In their 2011 specification some of the cars’ noses were higher than the anti-intrusion panels around the cockpit (you can probably see how if you poke around the technical regulations). So I think you can make a clear case for changing them on safety grounds.

  10. Tim Katz (@timkatz) said on 26th January 2012, 14:56

    The ever-tightening rules are forcing convergence in car design upon the teams, to the extent where F1 increasingly looks like a single-spec series.

    Shows what a stupid business this is.
    I bet if you took off all the stickers and paint, noone would be able to tell one car from another.

    • GeeMac (@geemac) said on 26th January 2012, 15:28

      Sounds like an idea for the next F1F quiz if you ask me!

      • Guilherme (@guilherme) said on 26th January 2012, 15:34

        That would be pretty easy though. I remember Scarbs once did something of the sort, but the only bit of the cars available for us to see were the front brake ducts! And I think I only got one car wrong if memory serves me right :P

        • Silverkeg (@silverkeg) said on 27th January 2012, 0:04

          I believe you are wrong on that point. We are at a point in F1 where every car is distinctive in my eyes.

          They all seem to have there own unique twist. Toro Rosso and McLarens sidepods, Caterham and Force India’s Roll hoop, Renaults (Lotus) Exhausts. That was last year, I believe we will see similiar variations this year as well.

    • David said on 27th January 2012, 7:18

      Only if you are not, mind the pun, an F1 fanatic.

  11. As already mentioned its a very subjective thing whether or not a F1 car looks good or not. I also think a lot has to do with when you started watching. My first race I ever saw on tv was Hockenheim 94 so I would love to see a return to the 412T2′s and FW16′s era though of course that will never happen on safety grounds but todays cars are not pretty. HAVING SAID THAT i liked the Ferrari F150th Italia last year but the narrow body and even narrower rear wing doesn’t make the current generation of F1 cars look mean enough. Oh well, as long as the racing is good!!

  12. Dodge said on 26th January 2012, 15:00

    Thank you Keith for an interesting story. It would be fantastic if this CT01 is completely different to any other car on the first test and has the speed margin that Brawn had towards the start of 2009, wishful thinking I know.

    People will hate me for saying this but the 1996 Williams was my favorite F1 car by far, other than that the Ferraris of the 60′s looked fantastic and that comes from a Mclaren fan.

  13. Girts (@girts) said on 26th January 2012, 15:01

    What can I say? F1 never stands still and the past has seen creatures with weirder noses than the new Caterham’s. I particularly like this one.

  14. Ivano (@) said on 26th January 2012, 15:03

    I’m still for the 2000 to 2007 cars. Low and sleek.

  15. K. Rieke, NY, NY said on 26th January 2012, 15:10

    I liked the cars of the 80s, and also the clean ones of the 2000s. But my favorites were the 70s, because of the variety and individual creativity by the designers that was allowed – encouraged – by the rules. The trend of the rules now dictating that all the cars look SO alike is stifling what makes F1 interesting for me, which is the technical high-wire acts that the teams used to conduct to come up with a unique solution to the problem of “getting to the checkered flag first.”

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