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F1 Biography

While gazing at the “2000 Formula One World Champions” Ferrari poster on my three-year old ‘s bedroom wall (yep, he’s that cool), I got to thinking about how the Grand Prix car of today is visually not too far removed from it’s predecessor of a decade ago. Sure, there are now winglets and barge boards galore, but the general shape of the car is relatively unchanged.

This train of though brought to mind the ever changing design process from season to season, a process and progression with results that do not seem quite as obvious to the naked eye as it has in decades past. Of course the aerodynamicists are hard at work all year long, tweaking and modifying bodywork continuously, but as the cars continue to get faster with each season, the stringent FIA rule book seems to have forced the latest big innovations, such as double diffusers and F-ducts, to the deepest, darkest recesses of the modern F1 car.

I wanted to get the F1B readership’s thoughts on the current state of car design in contrast to the past, esthetics, functionality, et al. Are you happy with minor bodywork changes from season to season, or would you prefer that a team’s new car be a more obvious visual step over it’s predecessor? What do you think might bring about the next big, noticeable change in the appearance of Formula One cars? Is it even important at all if the cars look different from year to year?

In hopes that seeing them all together in one place might spark some discussion, below are the WDC winning cars which have kicked off each decade of Formula One’s history. I personally hope that, in the future, the 2020 title winning machine (HRT? Mazda?) might look as different from Vettel’s RB6 as Prost’s 1985 McLaren varied from Lauda’s Ferrari just a decade before.

Alfa Romeo

The Alfa Romeo 158 which took Nino Farina to the inaugural WDC in 1950 was originally developed in 1937! From pre-war through to the end of F1’s third season, the 158 and it’s derivative, the 159, would win 47 of 54 GPs, including every one that Alfa entered in 1950.

Cooper Climax

Just ten years later, engines had moved to the back, but the cars still retained their wingless, cigar shape. Jack Brabham took the miniscule, “lowline” Cooper Climax T53 to five straight mid-season wins on his way to the 1960 title. Like the Tipo 158, the T53 would have a long career spanning four seasons.

Lotus 72

The original master of F1 innovation, Colin Chapman’s Lotus 72 featured large wings, inboard breaks, side mounted radiators and an overhead air intake all on a unique, wedge-shaped design; the basic shape of F1’s future. Raced over six seasons, the 72 would take twenty wins, three constructor’s and two driver’s titles (Rindt in 1970 and Fittipaldi in 1972).

Williams FW07

Following Chapman’s lead with the Lotus 79, the Williams FW07 was a full on ground effects car designed by the great Patrick Head. Between it’s debut in the middle of ’79 and the end of ’81, the FW07 would take fifteen wins, two 1st places and a 2nd in the constructor’s championships and the driver’s title for Alan Jones in 1980.

McLaren MP4/5

Based largely on the previous season’s MP4/5, the MP4/5B was but one in a line of McLarens which won each WDC bar one between 1984 and 1991. It put Berger and Senna on the podium for every round in 1990 and took Ayrton to his second title.

Ferrari F2000

From the pen of Rory Byrne, the high nosed F1-2000 was a direct development from the previous season’s Constructor’s Championship winning F399. With improved aerodynamics, this car also stood on every podium in 2000 and Michael Schumacher was able to take Ferrari’s first driver’s title in 21 years.

Red Bull RB6

Mastermind Adrian Newey’s RB6 was easily the fastest car on the 2010 grid. It garnered Red Bull’s first driver and team titles, with champion Sebastian Vettel and teammate Mark Webber taking 9 of 16 races.

  • Williams4Ever

    Excellent post!!

    Great to see evolution of car rather evolution aerodynamics in F1
    Scrolling the page up and down itself is great learning experience.

    Can’t help but put three oft quoted statements from Old school F1 guys here, that will add to the context of evolution(??) of F1 cars

    “Aerodynamics is for people who can’t build engines”- Enzo Ferrari
    “I don’t have time to read gauges, I’m racing!” M Andretti
    “Back in my day, tires were skinny and the drivers were fat”- Fangio

  • Wayne

    Much as with roadgoing cars, it looks like the optimum aero shape has been found. In the future, racing speeds should be limited to what tracks will handle. Pro racing should always be a place to find and test new technology.
    Rules should seek to find the balance between “Spec” and “Rich get richer/Poor get …”

    • It’s a balancing act Wayne. I tend to agree with Pat Symonds on this topic, less prescriptive regulations and a more realistic budget cap to operate within. The bigger challenge may not be winning races but policing a budget cap…therein lies the problem.

      • MIE

        The basic shape hasn’t really changed since 1970, which is really down to the regulations rather than that being the optimum configuration. I would much rather see less regulation (if costs could be controlled), but it may end up with greater time differences between the cars and less racing.

  • Dusty

    What a great post. One thing to keep in mind its that for 2013, I think I read, they will be allowing more ground effects so don’t expect the bottom of those cars to remain as flat as they are now.

  • Ali
  • Meine

    I like the Alfa Romeo 158 the most

  • GC8Steve

    Excellent post. I have the same poster in my room.