F1 faces a seismic design shift with the advent of canopies – but how do you make them look as cool as a Lotus 72D? Charles Bradley demands to know...
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And when there are millions of eyes on Formula 1’s cars, that’s a lot of beholding going on. So when something as seismic as adding radical cockpit protection like Red Bull’s Aeroscreen happens, a lot of opinions are going to spout forth.
So here’s mine…
Formula 1 cars have been open-cockpit single-seaters since day one. Yet you can argue that as early as the mid-50s, Mercedes’ W196 ‘Type Monza’ streamliner proved you can buck a trend.
Times change just as requirements do – to simply dismiss a move to a car with a canopy on the grounds of history would be blinkered. But you must acknowledge too that a move away from that is a huge move.
It will offend sensitivities. I’m certain that more people will be annoyed than delighted. The vocal minority will probably swear they’ll never watch a race ever again (well, until the next one). But if it saves one life, it’s worth it. And I like my F1 stars alive.
My true problem with canopies on F1 cars is this: it must look good. And we must be able to see the drivers’ helmets clearly, not have them hidden away behind some caracoat shield.
Cockpits can be cool
Today, Jenson Button went on record as saying he prefers the look of an F1 car with a canopy – basing his opinion on the powerboat racing he used to enjoy as a child. Something I lapped up as a kid were science-fiction shows and movies – think Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing Fighter or Buck Rogers’ Starfighter – so epically-futuristic machines fitted with canopy cockpits are fine by me too.
But… I cast my eyes across Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull on track in Sochi this morning and saw: a funny sticky-out nosetip, a steeply angular front nose section that looks a bit like Alain Prost’s conk, then a flat section, and then a cockpit (or “riot shield” if you’re Lewis Hamilton) mounted on top.
Instead of a flowing cohesive look – like a Lotus 72, which had quite a large wraparound cockpit frontage – I see surfaces that have been constricted by rules. Modern F1 regulations have created a front-end that looks like it’s been designed by at least three different people who don’t talk to each other.
And when you consider the millions of dollars that are spent up and down the grid each year that has resulted in these cars looking so lumpy, you have to question the sense of it all.
You can’t blame the aerodynamicists for doing their job to create these shapes – as each little shaving of surface can produce laptime. But it’s about time the rules were changed to mandate more attractive-looking frontal sections to these cars, just like MotoGP should ban those dratted winglets.
Time to turn concept into reality
Another thought from my past: When I was a kid I was really annoyed that I’d see these glorious, achingly-cool concept cars at auto shows, yet the production cars that rolled off the line were still boxy and boring.
Why didn’t they just make the cool-looking ones?
It’s like with these concepts we’ve seen from Red Bull,Ferrari and McLaren about their vision for the future of F1. Bring it on already!
You wouldn’t build an ugly supercar, so why should we accept anything less from F1? Especially with the opportunity of new rules for 2017…
I’ll leave you by recalling a conversation I had with Peter Stevens, the designer of the iconic McLaren F1, who labelled the current F1 noses “visual abominations” when they came on-stream in 2014.
He suggested that aerodynamicists have forgotten (or perhaps never been taught) the art of making something look nice, and that, “There is always the opportunity to present a good design solution rather than an appalling one”.
I agree with that 100 percent. Now who’s going to do something about it?