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


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

  1. Hamton Treal said on 29th January 2012, 10:41

    Really??? Who cares what the cars look like anyway? I just care if they’re fast. Form follows function, and the true beauty of these cars is their performance. Always has been; always will.

  2. crimson said on 5th February 2012, 13:40

    some ppl might have diffrent tastes to most others wen it comes wat looks pretty, but i bet that if u did a poll u will see most ppl hate the ugly looks of the modern f1 cars,im also sure most ppl would hate everything about modern f1,borrrrrrrrrrreing,ugly cars on boreing dulllll tracks that r only slighlty faster than the much less famous le mans or gp2 cars,seriosly now, wats so special about f1 ???????

  3. I remember when I first saw the Benetton B192, I thought it was pretty ugly; the dropped nose looked like the wing had broken off when viewed from the side, compared to the crow’s beak appearance of all the other cars.

    Wings used to be considered ugly too; the eye adjusts to these things. I think Keith’s point about stifling rules is the far more significant issue here. Already I am getting used to the appearance of the cars this year.

  4. Bobdredds (@bobdredds) said on 14th February 2012, 21:43

    I like them personaly and I think the reaction against them is a bit premature. I used to love the cigar shaped cars of the 60′ until I found out how dangerous they actually were. The new design is different and the McLaren looks like a dinosaur in comparison, albeit a well designed one. They look more agressive and a bit scifi like a starfighter to me.:)

  5. Alesici (@alesici) said on 18th February 2012, 13:16

    “I personally don’t mind the high noses, but if a regulation is introduced on the grounds of safety, then it must achieve its intended objective.”

    Not only must it achieve its intended objective, but more fundamentally a safety regulation must not make the cars more dangerous. As an engineer, I believe it makes them significantly more dangerous, which alarms me.

    I found out today that the static ‘crash’ testing that checks to see whether the nose can be pushed off the chassis applies only to horizontal loading. With no vertical test to pass, the majority of the new designs of noses will inevitably be weaker than the old ones if they ever get pushed downwards, and particularly, upwards. This weakness applies to the nose’s overall discontinuous structural shape and in particular to the 4 connections to the chassis.

    With such an abrupt step so close to the rear face of the nose structure, it would be unwise to maintain the positions of the 4 connections at the outermost corners of the face, as the loads on the upper 2 connections would not be transmitted smoothly into the nose’s main structure without a major stress concentration, resulting in a localised failure near these connections when loaded.

    Therefore the (wiser) designers will have been forced to bring the upper 2 connections down, closer to the lower connections. I believe I’ve seen this decision in some of the designs. But bringing the upper and lower connections closer together reduces their leverage distance, which will mean that to resist a given upward (or downward) load on the nose, these connections will have to bear a greater tensile or compressive load than they would have with the designs from the previous regs, where it was a no-brainer to position the 4 connections at the outer corners. But with the push off crash test only being in the horizontal axis, and the horizontal spacing remaining unchanged, there is no design incentive for these connections to be increased in strength (and weight).

    Upwards loads on noses are by no means unheard of, particularly when one considers the primary danger of open wheel racing, whereby the car behind hits the upward spinning rear face of the tyres on the car ahead. If the nose is lost, the primary ‘crumple zone’ has gone, and in this scenario, the car is still traveling (through the air) at relatively unabated speed. A frontal impact with no nose would produce prodigious decelerative g-forces upon impact, owing to the massive strength and stiffness of the chassis itself, as well as its now flat front face.

    I don’t know what the rule makers were thinking when they introduced this rule. I appreciate it is hard to specify rules in an entirely watertight way, but how much more difficult would it to have been to define a triangular ‘no-go’ volume instead of a rectangular one. This could have also gone further in lowering the nose tip, thereby achieving the rule’s intention, which has now been shown to have failed, with news that the Ferrari nose tip is now higher than in 2012.

    The new rule has also failed in that the noses tips are far sharper and slender than ever before, such that they will be more adept at piercing another car in a T-bone shunt. I believe that they are so much sharper because of the reduced height from top to bottom of the rear part of the nose following the step. So even in the exact scenario for which the nose rule was introduced to make safer, it has instead made the cars more dangerous.

    Those hoping that the Mclaren will beat everyone and therefore force all the teams to adopt their prettier, stepless low nose, well, could have to wait a long time, as it would require a completely new, lower chassis design, which is a big step to take for any team.

    No, it is up to the FIA to realise their mistake and alter the rule so that it defines a triangular rather than a rectangular section. Everyone designs new noses, all the above problems solved with relatively minimal outlay. It would probably disadvantage Mclaren a bit, but, well, safety is important.

    Sorry, I am posting this comment here and also where it was spotted that the new Ferrari nose is higher than the old one (http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2012/02/18/182/), as I want to raise awareness of this issue. I am really surprised nobody has piped up on this – it’s not rocket science. I think the rule has been in the public domain since last summer.

    Can I have my first COTD please? :)

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