If there was a recurring theme so far regarding the 2014 cars, it’s the word “complicated”. While some drivers have shared their view of the new 2014 Formula 1 cars, they’ve done so by claiming that the cars are slower in cornering speed but still challenging to drive due to the complexity of the car and the technology.

That narrative was continued by Red Bull Racing as they struggled during the first winter test in Jerez. The team was mired with technical problems along with their engine and ERS supplier, Renault Sport F1. While some were contemplating the paltry 21 laps the team ran in Jerez, others felt it was simply teething pains. For Red Bull boss, Christian Horner, the issues are not a big deal:

“There’s a few things we needed to tighten up on our side but nothing major and obviously Renault have some issues that they are tidying up as well,” Horner told Sky Sports News. “But these cars are so complicated that even small problems can cause big failures.”

Notice that Horner is also claiming a high level of complexity and it brings up a thought. We’ve all seen the complexity of last year’s car and when they compare the 2013 chassis with a car from 2000 or the 1990’s, it is striking how much has changed and how complex the machines really are. I wonder if this year’s 2014 regulations changes have made the car nearly too complicated. I always consider the act of driving and trying to change the radio and in a BMW with iDrive, that can be a challenge requiring you to take your eye off the road. I would imagine that at some point the buttons, switches and dials will become too great and perhaps this will foster new innovation in control systems within a F1 car.

Perhaps a heads-up display in the visor with eye tracking or voice activation…but the noise in a car is really loud so voice may not be an option unless you did very sophisticated noise canceling DSP. Formula 1 used to allow pit-to-car data transfer in which the team could issue commands for the car from the pit wall such as ride height or other engine mapping etc. It may become a topic to look at again if the series becomes too technical for a driver to manage while going 180mph and trying to negotiate corners. What other ways are there to control all of the elements involved in an F1 car?

An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry focusing on technology integration, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • Rapierman

    Way back when I was young, it used to be “turn the key and/or push the button, put the shifter in gear, press the accelerator, press the brake pedal when you need to, turn the wheel in front of you as necessary and by varying amounts depending on the circumstances, shift as you need to (unless you have an automatic transmission)….” and that was it. Under the hood, it wasn’t that complicated, and the dashboard only had what you needed to tell you what the car was doing. You just went from there.

    Where have those times gone? :'( Of course, AC has always been around.

  • Jeff

    My first thought was dismissive; look at contemporary road cars. Touch screen/haptic feedback infotainment systems w/ multiple screens, selectable instrument binnacles, around-view cameras, dynamic rear steer, and so on are now commonplace, and drivers are adapting easily.

    However, I then realized we aren’t driving around at 150+mph in corners with high G loadings; the opinion has merit. I wonder, is the precision such that, in a race, the modern F1 driver must focus all attention on the physical driving, as a baseball player must while assessing whether or not a pitch is a curve/slider, strike or ball, swing to opposite feel or go for the homer? Flipped, could a hitter simultaneously receive tactical feedback from a base coach or tap his cleats while swinging the pine?

    Something for a Westphal/Charsley to answer. It sure seems like the multitasking inside the racing cockpit is difficult. Some (Vettel/Alonso) seem more capable of assessing a race tactically than others (Hamilton, Maldonado), and it’d be interesting to know if that translates to actual car operation as well. Perhaps some past lockups in breaking zones were due to drivers being unable to move the break bias, for example…

    • I’m going to ask Paul about it tonight on the podcast. Alonso said it was really complicated to drive and I figure he knows what he’s talking about. :)

      • Rapierman

        That is something interesting to consider. I wonder if it’s like a fighter pilot’s point-of-view? So much stuff going on that you have to have a “head’s-up-display” to keep track of it all, yet you still have to worry about what’s going on outside in all directions. Does this lead to “information overload”?

        • jeff

          That fighter pilot analogy is so fitting. Perhaps having that as Todd mentioned, and a HOTAS on the steering wheel, would help! HOWR? (hand on wheel rim?)

          • Jeff

            Meant a HUD or helmet display as Todd said.

  • mini696

    To me F1 has always been complicated and that is why I like it.
    They really need to open up the rules again.
    Chasing a tenth through big butt suspension arms is cool, but not relevant.
    Lets see:
    Pit to car communication back – relevant to the prospect of driverless cars.
    Active suspension.
    Blah Blah

    The limited budgets could force the teams to concentrate 100% on one area or 10% on 10 different areas. At the moment it is 50% aero, 50% packaging.


    Limit their budget.
    Open the regs.

    Complicate the hell out of the cars.

    Quit your complaining.

  • MIE

    In the days when drivers used to have to take their hand off the steering wheel to change gear, the were opportunities to make a mistake (miss a gear, over rev the engine etc.) which if the person following was close enough may lead to an overtaking opportunity.

    Now all those mistakes are eliminated, and so we have to invent DuRS and high degradation tyres to enable passing. Make the cars more complicated I say, bring back the possiblity of a forced driver error, and then we can remove the artifical passing aids from the sport.

  • eggo_man

    I think the steering wheel design is what caused Maria de Villota’s accident, so yes they are too complex. If you think about it from a user experience point of view, trying to steer the car around a sharp bend while holding down the clutch and coming to a stop is just a bit too complex. The details on the location of the test, and exact placement of the transport trailer added to the cause of the accident, but it could have been avoided by the design of the steering wheel.

    You could argue to have better safety protocols when evaluating where an F1 car will be driven, but I don’t think it really addresses the core issue.

  • Dan

    they have had more than a few driver aids in the past to help but the systems always end up being banned because other teams think its not fair. Remember Williams Active suspension? Amazing idea that helped the driver by doing all the suspension adjustment hydralicly and the driver could just focus on steering. It knocked 2 sec a lap off everyone else and then was banned. Then traction control, banned. ABS, banned. What’s wrong with driving a complicated car? My ex could steer, talk on the phone, do makeup, change a cd, honk the horn and smoke all at once while driving.