Guest writer Tim Ferrone concludes his choice of the ten greatest Formula 1 designers of all time.
5. Mauro Forghieri
Mauro Forghieri’s long service for Ferrari began in the early sixties. He designed the cars which saw the team enjoy one of its greatest periods of success in the second half of the seventies.
His ascendancy at Ferrari was accelerated by the departure of several top team staff in a dispute over pay in the winter of 1961/2. Success wasn’t long coming – in 1964 the team won both titles, John Surtees winning the drivers’ championship in the 158.
However, a relatively fallow period followed for the remainder of the decade. The British ‘garagiste’ teams ran the table, equipped with the potent and well-packaged Cosworth DFV. By the late sixties Forghieri realised a technological re-think was required, and halted progress on the team’s V12 engines.
Instead he set about creating an engine that featured opposing cylinders. His aim was to lower the centre of gravity of the car using a flat-12 cylinder layout which also allowed for a lower drive train, and hence smoother air flow to the rear wing. Initially restricted to lower than optimum revs, the engine was soon optimised, and became the mainstay of Ferrari’s F1 efforts for the decade, being used for a remarkable 11 seasons.
Forghieri’s skill was not limited to engine design – his strength was in conceiving an entire vehicle. The first signs of progress came in 1974, the 312B3 scoring a trio of wins and keeping its drivers in the championship hunt until late in the season. Ferrari ended the year runner-up in the constructors’ championship, eight points behind McLaren.
This was the precursor to three consecutive years in which Ferrari and its drivers should have scored championship doubles. Arguably, only Lauda’s fiery crash at the Nurburgring in 1976 prevented them from doing so. The 312T used at this time benefited from improved weight distribution, reduced roll and better aerodynamics.
After Lauda’s departure the flat-12 engine enjoyed its final championship success in 1979. Ferrari comfortable won the constructors’ title and Jody Scheckter the drivers’ championship.
Internal politics took their toll as the team floundered in the middle of the eighties, and it wasn’t long before Forghieri departed the team, at one point going on to design the promising V12 engine for the Larrousse/Lola team.
Perfectly suiting the Ferrari ethic for much of his career, Forghieri’s sheer mechanical brilliance was the cornerstone of Ferrari’s success in the seventies.
4. Patrick Head
When Frank Williams (picture, right) enticed Patrick Head (left) to join his cash-strapped F1 team in 1977, a partnership was formed which would produce some of the most dominant F1 cars of the next 20 years.
Head’s first design hit the track in 1978. The following year his simple yet effective FW06 turned Williams into race winners. The neat chassis made superb use of the ground effect principles which Lotus had already demonstrated the benefits of. Only early-season unreliability prevented it from being a championship contender.
The effectiveness of the underfloor aerodynamics on Head’s latest creation was demonstrated by the fact that it was often found to perform better without a front wing. The team were still racing the car at the beginning of 1982.
Head’s role within the team increased in importance when Frank Williams was paralysed in a road accident in 1986. That year the team were constructors’ champions once more, thanks to Head’s FW11 chassis and the prodigious power of Honda’s turbo engines.
Williams were the class of the field again in 1987 with the FW11B (pictured). It was also during this period that Head began harnessing the use of active suspension, acquiring the knowledge and expertise that would lead to their absolute dominance at the beginning of the following decade.
The partnership of Patrick Head with new recruit Adrian Newey started midway through the 1990 season, and eventually spurred the team on to their highest of highs, delivering constructor’s championships in five seasons between 1992 and 1997. It was a relationship that played to the pair’s respective strengths – Newey aerodynamics, Head engineering.
The departure of Newey and rising dominance of Ferrari lead to Head moving across to the role of ‘head of engineering’ in 2004. However by this stage, the Williams team had begun a slow decline from the sharp end of the F1 grid.
Head was also a superb spotter of design talent: besides Newey, Neil Oatley, Ross Brawn, Frank Dernie and Geoff Willis were all recruited by Williams and went on to excel in their fields.
Thanks to Head’s technical and design stewardship, Williams became one of the most successful teams in the history of the sport.
3. Rory Byrne
Byrne arrived in F1 with the Toleman team, having joined their Formula Two squad. The team made slow but discernible progress over their first few seasons, and gradually the results began to materialise, thanks to Byrne’s improving understanding, manifested in greatly increased driveability and ambitious design.
The 1983 car innovatively sported two rear wings, a trait which which was soon to be copied by the other teams. The signing of a young Ayrton Senna for the 1984 season nearly brought the team’s first victory at Monaco.
After he left the team were taken over by Benetton, and the team finally scored its first win with BMW power courtesy of Gerhard Berger in the 1986 Mexican Grand Prix.
Byrne spent a brief spell with the doomed Reynard F1 project before returning to Benetton. With Flavio Briatore and Michael Schumacher in the cockpit, the team went on to great things.
The team were one of few to get close to Williams in their dominant 1992 and 1993 season, Schumacher picking up a win in each. The B193 bristled with cutting-edge technology including a semi-automatic gearbox, active suspension and, briefly, four-wheel steering.
Schumacher won the world championship in 1994 but the team were dogged by allegations of rule-breaking, particularly concerning the mysterious ‘option 13′ menu discovered hidden in their car, which rivals insisted contained banned launch-control software.
Doubts over the class of the Byrne-era Benettons were dismissed by another consummate performance from Schumacher at the wheel of the Renault-engined B195 in 1995.
Desperate to recapture lost glories, Ferrari lured Schumacher to their team and the top technical staff from Benetton quickly followed, including Byrne.
The 1998 car was his first design, and the following year the team took the constructors’ crown. This was the first of a record six consecutive titles scored by the team, while Schumacher went on to take five drivers’ titles on the trot.
Formula 1’s “dream team” formed an extremely close working relationship with tyre supplier Bridgestone, and aided by a state of the art wind tunnel and unlimited testing, honed their machines to a level the opposition couldn’t match. In 2002 Schumacher finished all 17 races on the podium – an awesome display of performance and reliability.
If Ferrari thought that was good, even better was to follow in 2004. Schumacher won 12 of the first 13 races, ending the year with a record 13 victories.
Fundamental to the success was Byrne’s oft-repeated mantra of ‘evolution, not revolution,’ seeking to slowly hone and refine a car’s potential, rather than wasting time searching for a “magic bullet” in the unlikely event that it might create a vast step gain.
Never was this mantra more obvious than during this period with Ferrari when, from an already strong base, Byrne and his team sought to systematically improve every area of the car, component by painstaking component. He set the benchmark for engineering detail, whether that was by reducing sidepod size millimetre by millimetre, or through the use of electronic differentials, periscopic exhaust outlets and all-titanium gearboxes.
Unlike most contemporary designers, Byrne could be decidedly old school in his approach, making use of drawing board over the near-ubiquitous computer aided design (a trait shared by his main competitor Adrian Newey), but his achievements were underpinned by a supremely hard working ethic.
Byrne began the process of stepping back from the team at the end of the 2004 season, leading to his complete retirement in 2009. However he remains connected with Ferrari in a consultancy capacity.
Byrne’s role in lifting Benetton to their competitive peak, followed by leading Ferrari into the most dominant period in Formula 1 history, highlight the enormous scale and consistency of his achievements.
2. Colin Chapman
Colin Chapman was Lotus. Although the team enjoyed some success after his death in 1982, and subsequent teams have acquired and used the name, the true Lotus will always be associated with their successes under Chapman in the sixties and seventies.
An interest in cars led Chapman to modifying and later building them. He also raced some of his creations competitively.
Success at trials level served only to fuel the desire and led to progression into sports car racing. Already empowered by a minimalist philosophy of design, victories were not long coming, leading to rapid growth and an entry into Formula 1 for the 1958 season.
Incredibly, despite being up against the might of established manufacturers such as Ferrari and Cooper, Chapman’s team was to claim both drivers’ and constructors’ crowns within five years of top level competition.
Chapman was both the team boss and the principle brains behind the design direction of the cars. Ever keen to follow his own path, Chapman’s ethos was expressed as “simplify and add lightness”.
It was a basis that was to prove devastatingly effective, resulting in three constructors’ championships in the sixties, and four in the seventies, as well as driver’s titles for the likes of Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt, Emerson Fittipaldi, Jackie Stewart and Mario Andretti.
Chapman was an innovator, ceaselessly striving for an idea that would give him an edge over the competition. This often involved taking an idea from another field, such as aeronautics, and finding a successful application for it in motor racing.
The monocoque chassis, use of aluminium materials, various aerodynamic principles, inboard brakes, suspension struts, side-mounted radiators, the engine as a fully-stressed part of the chassis, active suspension and, perhaps most famously, ground effect aerodynamics, were among the ideas he conceived, collaborated on or adapted in the relentless pursuit of the ideal combination of speed and handling. Many of these concepts remain fundamental to modern day top level motor racing, which is its own testament to the importance of his ideas.
Chapman was not without his critics. Some felt his pursuit of lightweight materials meant that he was too quick to sacrifice structural integrity to save weight and reduce lap times.
Chapman suffered the loss of two of his world champions within two years of each other: Jim Clark, his great friend whom he’d scored many of his greatest Formula 1 triumphs, and Jochen Rindt, who died before being crowned champion in 1970.
Rindt was another driver who question whether Chapman’s cars took too many risks in the pursuit of speed. Yet he still chose to drive for Lotus, knowing the competitive advantage that came with the risk.
It is hard to overstate Colin Chapman’s influence on Formula 1 design, even approaching the 30th anniversary of his death. It is for his brilliance as a designer, interpreter of ideas and innovator of Grand Prix winning cars, that he is most remembered.
1. Adrian Newey
Its difficult not to rate Adrian Newey as the best of his kind – not just through sheer volume of victories/titles, or because he is currently on a roll, but because he’s the only designer to have won constructor’s titles with three different teams.
Moreover, there can be no doubt that his role in each success was absolutely fundamental in the process. His obsessive pursuit of aerodynamic perfection has left his design fingerprints on every F1 car he’s touched – from Leyton House, to Williams, to McLaren and now Red Bull.
Having achieved a degree in aeronautics and astronautics at the University of Southampton, Newey was quickly recruited by the ailing Fittipaldi F1 team in 1980, prior to a move to March. A period spent as race engineer across various different series followed, giving him a crucial insight into the workings of a racing weekend.
It was in IndyCar that his creative input really began to catch the eye. His outstanding design efforts for March helped secure two championships and the Indianapolis 500 before his North American links lured him back to F1 competition with the US-led (but short-lived) Lola team.
It was on his return to the Leyton House (who had taken over March) that his cars began to catch the eye of the rest of the paddock; extremely sleek and slender in design, he sought then (as he still does) to package everything into the car as tightly as possible, the impact of which lead to drivers Mauricio Gugelmin and Ivan Capelli complaining of having too little room in the cockpit.
But the car’s potential became plain for all to see when Capelli came within an ace of scoring a shock victory in the 1990 French Grand Prix.
It wasn’t long before he moved to Williams. The 1991 FW14 outwardly had more in common with the Leyton House CG901 than the FW13B. Despite suffering reliability problems in the first half of the year as the team ironed out the gremlins in its semi automatic gearbox, it quickly became apparent that the car was the class of the field.
Active suspension in 1992 extended the gap further, allowing Nigel Mansell to dominate in a car that perfectly suited his aggressive muscular driving style. Together they were often a demoralising two seconds per lap quicker than the opposition.
The team repeated their success in 1993 with Alain Prost, the rest of the field still struggling to catch up.
The governing body helped Williams’ rivals by banning much of the technology that had made the FW14B and FW15C so crushingly superior. In 1994, with Ayrton Senna taking over from Prost, the team found the FW16 a tricky proposition.
The team were trying the latest improvements at Imola for the San Marino Grand Prix when Senna, under pressure from Schumacher and yet to score a point, crashed and was fatally injured.
Williams were shellshocked by the crash and Newey, having designed the car, was hit especially hard. A lengthy trial took over ten years to exonerate him from responsibility for the crash.
Despite the trauma Williams held on to the constructors’ title. Newey’s final machines for them put them back at the top, with back-to-back drivers’ and constructors’ championships in 1996 and 1997.
Newey joined McLaren in 1998, in a switch that was well-timed to take advantage of a major change in the aerodynamic rules. The MP4-13 was fast straight out of the box, and Mika Hakkinen went on to win back-to-back drivers’ championships, McLaren taking the ’98 constructors’ crown.
The combination of Mercedes power and the finest aerodynamic package on the grid meant that the McLaren was the class of the field. Ever-innovative, this period encompassed Newey’s design and use of the so-called ‘fiddle brake,’ a second brake pedal that allowed the drivers to independently brake the wheels on one side of the car, and in so-doing reduce understeer.
A relatively fallow period followed during the dominance of the Schumacher/Byrne/Ferrari years, and Newey was ready for a new challenge by the end of 2005. He accepted a role at Red Bull, inspired by the opportunity of taking a mid-field team to the pinnacle of the sport. Too late to impact on the 2006 car, he set about helping restructure the team, and setting up for the future; even negotiating a switch from Ferrari to Renault engines, preferring their capacity to run with smaller fuel tanks and radiators – as ever, seeking the most slim-line and efficient design.
In perhaps his most impressive achievement to date, Newey’s Red Bull had become a front-running team by 2009. The RB5 was only missing one ingredient that would have made it the car of the year from round one: a double-diffuser, a regulations-dodging enhancement that was controversially ruled legal by the FIA.
One was fitted mid-season and, though it was too late to keep Brawn from the silverware, from that moment on Red Bull have been the team to beat in Formula 1. Drivers and constructors titles followed in 2010 and 2011, the latter another season of Newey design dominance, with 12 wins and 18 pole positions from 19 races.
Working closely with chief aerodynamicist Peter Prodromou and chief designer Rob Marshall, Newey stole a marsh on his rivals with the development of exhaust-blown diffusers. The development had first been seen in 1983, but Newey took it to the ultimate.
Engine gasses were used to generate rear end grip both whilst the driver had his foot on the accelerator pedal, and through the use of complex engine mapping technology, even when they did not. Though the majority of the competition were able to catch on to the importance of the effect of exhaust blowing, they were never truly able to bridge the gap.
It speaks volumes for the regard in which Newey is held that the lack of early-season domination of the 2012 car has been greeted with surprise, even when placed up against the enormous resource and technical capacity of the likes of McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes.
Newey himself surmised that the exhaust-blowing effect in particular was so well-honed, that its banning at the beginning of this year was partially to blame for the RB8’s relatively slow start to the season – shades of 1994. Red Bull returned to winning ways by round four of the season and have been on pole position for three of the last four races.
While enjoying a reputation for making intricate and beautiful cars, top flight motor sport is quite rightly a results-based business; and its here that Newey’s track record acts as a powerful indicator of his uncanny ability to focus upon the absolute fundamental areas of design within a given season’s regulations, before going on to design and maximize a car around them.
Perhaps even more so than an Alonso, Vettel or Hamilton, Newey is the one man in the paddock every team would love to have on their payroll.
You can follow Tim Ferrone on Twitter.
Over to you
Of course, there were many names who nearly made the list, and arguably should have done.
What of the likes of Tony Rudd (partially responsible for the ground effect Lotus), John Barnard (numerous innovations, great success in the eighties), Derek Gardner (championships with Tyrell, and the man behind the infamous six-wheeler)?
Should the list include McLaren’s Steve Nichols and Neil Oatley, and the likes of Carlo Chiti, Frank Dernie, Maurice Philippe or Keith Duckworth, vital to the design of many fine cars, yet perhaps not as well credited as others? The list goes on.
Who do you think should have made the cut? Have your say in the comments.
F1 top tens
- Mark Webber’s top ten F1 races
- Top Ten: Track masters
- Top Ten: Memorable qualifying sessions
- Top ten: Jobs for a retired Formula One driver
- Top ten: Unbeatable Formula One records
Read more top tens
Images © Ferrari spa/Ercole Colombo, Ferrari spa, Williams/LAT, Williams/LAT, Ferrari spa/Ercole Colombo, Renault, Lotus/LAT, Red Bull/Getty images, Williams/Sutton, Bridgestone, Red Bull/Getty images