Caterham CT01

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

CommentPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

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.


Browse all comment articles

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

101 comments on “F1’s generation of ugly cars should be a temporary sight”

Jump to comment page: 1 2 3
  1. 1991-1995 for me. These new ones are going to be horrific if the Caterham is anything to go by. Cant we do away with shark noses? They only ever looked good on old Benetton’s to me. The massive front wing and skinny rear wing are rank too. And i preferred cars with proper fat sidepods!

    1. Amen to that! The sidepods seem to be almost disappearing and it makes the cars look odd and out of proportion.

  2. The 1996 Ferrari isn’t an example of the rules making cars look ugly temporarily, but of John Barnard not reading the rules correctly, and, in consequence, implementing an overly conservative head protection.

    Look at the 1996 Williams, for one, to see how the same rules could be interpreted in a much easier-on-the-eyes way. Same rules, no whiplash collar. Also, quicker, which is why Ferrari abandoned its design post haste.

    The problem here clearly is that the quickest solution seems also like the ugliest.

  3. Jack Leslie (@)
    26th January 2012, 17:41

    I do not think the CT-01 looks ugly.

    Yes it looks different but i think it looks aggressive and defined. It is not the most elegant or smooth design but lets be honest, Caterham got no where with conservative designs in 2010 and 2011.

    I hope it helps them climb up the order.

  4. I expect to see some openings in the other cars where the step takes place.

    I know there are driver legs and suspension arms to fit in there, but that steep step is surely going to create too much drag (I mean drag that doesn’t result in downforce).

    Some openings could exploit the boundary layer running along the top of the front section of nose perhaps?

    1. Aren’t openings in the nose allowed only for cooling the driver (a result of the 2008? Ferrari using a slit for aero purposes)?

      1. @BasCB Indeed. But ‘openings’ is again a subjective term. Imagine a ‘snow plough’ located there that sent air to the sides and not directly at the step, almost akin to the roll bar designs. That could direct the boundary layer to the floor.

        1. Hm, makes me curious what the rules would say about something like that @John H, although it might be a problem to then still meet the rules about the vertical dimensions of the bulkhead, I would guess it might be troublesome getting the snowplough to be accepted of part of it.

  5. In equal cars Alonso is certainly the benchmark. He is doing his best in what even Ferrari have admitted has been only 3rd competetive mostly, with the occasional glimpse of being 2nd best for 2 or 3 races at a time! Now Bullcr4ps have no EBD designed car lets hope the playing field is more level from the start. Dont want any sudden surprises on the start grid for the first race! Thats IF Im even gonna get to see it with this BS BBC/Sky cr4p!!! But the more equal the cars, the better Alonso gets. The 150 Italia was pretty but pink….too soft on the tyres to be any good… so testing up in a couple weeks,,,cant wait!! #:)

  6. I’m certainly sad about the very tight restrictions on current F1 design. Innovation is still there but it’s small tweeks rather than grand leaps. That means the effect is small but the risk is small also. Before with grand leaps sometimes they worked, sometimes not, and invariably caused reliability problems which at least allowed other teams a look in. But now it’s all down to detail, which causes the Noah’s arc, two by two syndrome in qualifying. Fortunately in the race good driving can overcome some of the deficit (although that again is more difficult now DRS favours the better car over the better driver).
    I was excited by Renault’s front exhaust last year, it looked promising in the first few races but then proved a dead end. That is the way of most F1 innovation over the decades, but now it is so difficult to do. Unfortunately the rules are agreed by committee and radical changes are almost impossible to agree by committee. Personally I favour the idea put forward by I think it was Frank Costin (the grandfather of modern F1 aerodynamics), the only rule should be how much fuel the car can use, everything else except a few basic safety rules should be free.

    1. the only rule should be how much fuel the car can use, everything else except a few basic safety rules should be free.

      Agreed !

      Although I doubt there will ever be such a thing as a few basic safety rules in F1, and even I have to admit that it’s probably a good thing that there won’t.

  7. I’d suggest a trip to a museum if you want to see things that are pretty. Otherwise, just be aware that the appearance of contemporary F1 cars is the direct result of a public outcry for more overtaking and limiting Ferrari’s budget.

  8. Without a doubt, the 96 Ferrari is my favourite one. The sheer boldness of the lines is just beautiful. What a great looking car.

  9. Can’t we just have all the cars look like the ’08 BMW? Please? :)

  10. I somewhat disagree about the restrictiveness of the regulations being to blame. I think the early 70s cars were the ugliest of all, but the regulations were quite free then. That’s my (subjective) opinion of course, but if you hate mis-shapen noses…it’s lucky that the sleeker designs proved to be more efficient, in that respect.

    Of course, the difference in the front wings is down to the regulations. But if they were totally free I think the wide front wings, which I consider to be ugly as sin regardless of the difference in size to the rear wings, would have become a reality at some point. Though probably more draggy than their predecessors(?), the car designers love them as they protect the front wheels, partly removing an aerodynamic headache for them. The fact that they’re only going to be slightly narrower from 2014 might be down to this.

    And ironically, had the regulations been even more restrictive, mandating a lower nose further up, we wouldn’t be seeing noses like the CT01, but ones like the MP4-26. And the CT01 is the result of one design philosophy; though it will probably be the most common one, I think we will see McLaren and one or two others go down the MP4-26 route.

    Let’s not also forget that whilst the previous generation of F1 cars was proportionately more balanced, they were less restricted and more ugly (I think). Plus, if you restricted the cars so they couldn’t look too different from the FW15C, maybe not everyone would like them but I bet it’d have more fans than the CT01, despite being a result of hypothetically more restrictive regulations.

    I guess my point is, it’s not how restricted the cars are, it’s how they’re restricted.

    1. I guess my point is, it’s not how restricted the cars are, it’s how they’re restricted.

      I tend to agree with that @icthyes, I would like teams to have more options / choises what direction to head in with their development, but have limits on how broad a package they can use (to keep teams from spending their way to the top)

  11. C’mon its not that bad at all. In fact overall I like the CT01, especially the livery. We’ll see how that nose looks in Ferrari red!

  12. Hope Adrian Newey can make some miracle on the RB8

  13. ShaneB457 (@shaneb12345678910)
    26th January 2012, 21:02

    Am I the only one who has gotten used to the new look already?

    1. No, I’m starting to like it already.
      Have to and will…

  14. I quite liked the Williams walrus wing, so don’t ask me!

  15. But this is F1, and aesthetics are not going to have priority over performance.

    Keith, why is it that F1 is still sticking to open wheels when the drag they cause is well documented?

  16. FIA should have just removed all the crap from 2008’s cars without changing their dimensions. Slicks were only fair after the cars had lost some 200hp 3 years prior.

    1. +1

      The mid to late 2008 test cars with reduced aerodynamics (for 2009 purposes) were the most attractive F1 cars in years, and nothing has come close since.

  17. My favourite looking car of all time is the 2007 Ferrari. Having said that, I completely disagree with Keith that the current designs of F1 cars (from 2009-present) are not pretty. Although I found most of the 2009 crop to be butt-ugly, with a few beautiful exceptions, the 2010 cars seemed infinitely more elegant. The past two McLarens for instance have been a thing of beauty. F1 is constantly changing, to me the car designs mark an era out almost as much as the prominent drivers.
    I have no doubt that the public will grow to accept the ‘strange’ new cars quite quickly, as they have done countless times in the past. For instance, the 2008 cars with all their veins and aerodynamic devices look incredibly cluttered.
    Time changes all things, including perspective on what makes an F1 car good looking.

    1. Hear, hear.

  18. The Cars From 1998 to 2008 (Mostly Mclaren’s) Are Nice.. Now the cars are way to long. And the cars are way to slow. bring back refuelling to. And some decent tyres.

    1. The 2010 and 2011 Red Bulls have lapped many tracks faster than ever in history, with cornering speeds higher than ever before. But okay, you perceive them to be ‘way to slow’.

      1. Sort of proves just how much it was needed to change something after 2008. With those cars and both KERS and DRS and with the softer Pirelli tyres, who knows what speeds we would have seen!

  19. I miss the cars of 2008 :(

    The last year of extreme aerodynamics and great looking cars.

  20. I imagine I’m in the minority here, but I loved all the little wings and fins on the cars. To me, it’s fascinating to think that every little bit of bodywork plays some role and makes the car go faster (in theory, at least.) As such, the 08 Sauber’s my favorite F1 car… and most of the 09 onward cars look dreadfully boring to me — except perhaps the 09 Renault, which would have looked pretty good if not for the horribly disproportionate wings that we have now.

Jump to comment page: 1 2 3

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments are moderated. See the Comment Policy and FAQ for more.