Biggest change to the F1 rules since??

Posted on

| Written by

The banning of 'skirts' meant radical change for the 1983 F1 cars

Pat Symonds remarked recently that the radical changes in the F1 rules for 2009 were the biggest he’d seen since 1983.

The ‘formula’ in Formula 1 has been changed many times since the world championship began in 1950. Which were the biggest changes in recent F1 history?

1983: Flat bottoms

In 1983 a new rule requiring the cars to have flat undersides robbed them of a huge amount of cornering speed. Teams had been using ‘skirts’ along the side of the cars to produce ‘ground effect’ which sucked them to the ground, generating enormous grip.

However if a skirt failed mid-corner it led to a catastrophic loss of grip. There were several horrific accidents and a series of fatalities before flat-bottomed cars were mandated, severely limiting the ground effect.

Read more about ground effect aerodynamics

1989: Turbos banned

No turbos in 1989, but McLaren and Honda kept on winning

Teams were slow to follow Renault’s lead in 1977 when they began developing a turbo-powered F1 car. But once Renaut’s rivals cottoned on to the potential of turbos, it ushered in a new era of explosively powerful engines, exotic fuel blends, computerised boost management, and huge expense.

After several attempts at restricting the turbos, the governing body instead chose to ban them at the end of 1988. But it did little to change the balance of power, with McLaren-Honda continuing its domination for three more years.

Read more about turbos

1998: Grooves and narrow cars

Narrow-track cars with grooved tyres looked strange on their 1998 debut

In the late nineties the FIA made a concerted effort to drastically cut cornering speeds. It aimed to limit downforce by reducing the maximum width of the cars, and required teams to use less efficient grooved tyres.

The resulting cars looked decidedly strange, And, far more dependent on downforce than before, they struggled to race each other closely.

Only two drivers on the F1 grid today have experience of pre-grooves F1: Jarno Trulli and Giancarlo Fisichella (plus Rubens Barrichello if he can get a drive).

Read more about the banning of slicks

2009: All change

This year the teams have to grapple with a reversal of key parts of the 1998 rules changes: bringing back slicks and widening the front wing. But that’s not all.

Bodywork aerodynamic devices have been severely limited, the front wing is now moveable and teams can use Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems.

And they have to figure out how to implement these changes at a time when testing is more tightly restricted than ever before.

History tells us these radical changes could have one of two different outcomes. In 1998 McLaren were miles ahead at the start of the season, and only Ferrari were able to get near to them.

But in 1983 eight different drivers won the 15 races and three were still in contention for the championship at the final round.

Which scenario do you think is more likely to happen this year?

Read more

Images (C) Ford, Honda, Ford

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

23 comments on “Biggest change to the F1 rules since??”

  1. I hope it’ll be wide open – the up-and-coming teams such as BMW, Renault and Red Bull will have a year’s development and stability (plus Vettel in RB’s case!) to build on 2008’s promising showings.

    It’s possible that one team – most likely McLaren or Ferrari – nails more of the new elements than its rivals, and makes a dominant start, but I’d predict that the balance of power will vary from track to track, which means plenty of winners!

  2. I’m willing to bet all my money on Honda winning both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships.
    Trulli will win at least 12 races this season.
    Mark my words.

  3. Oops, I meant Toyota.

    1. I liked the original (with Honda) better :D

  4. I think the status quo will remain more or less. BMW ought to have a strong chance, along with the usual favourites of McLaren and Ferrari, but I don’t see anyone else getting too close.

    I’m not sure Williams will be able to keep up even if they make a strong start (like last year), Renault aren’t the force they were (which is a shame, given their lead driver is arguably the best out there), and RBR….well they have the potential to be the surprise package, especially with Vettel, but a lot of that hinges on how successful and competitive the Renault engine/KERS turns out to be.

  5. I do love a good fantasy. Way to go, Damon! :D

  6. Fingers crossed there will be no run away’s this year…

  7. I think that for the first half of the season one or two teams will be further ahead than the others, but then towards the end of the season, as teams copy each other´s solutions, they will tend to equalise. A very important factor will be the improved Renault engine, which means that also Red Bull will be up there.
    With less testing allowed, the teams with a better simulator like McLaren will do better.
    I also think that in the short term all KERS-related issues might unbalance the order.

    In general, I think we are at point where the world of F1 needs to choose between being a high-tech laboratory or provide great racing. With the new, more realistic world that is going to come out of this crisis, and Bernie´s company taking 50%, both of the previous objectives at the same time are impossible. It is simply too expensive.
    A F1 car is the wrong place to do high-tech research for production cars : all the tech needed for road cars for the next couple of decades already exists or is being intensely investigated, and the present financial crisis has accelerated this research. And the same goes for green tech : KERS already exists in road cars like Toyota. F1 is not the place to investigate green tech.

    I think the emphasis should be on rules that make for better racing through a simplification of things and drastic lowering of costs. And as of the recent changes, along with the limiting of testing, I believe that the teams with the best use of simulation tech will pull ahead, now and in the near future.

    1. “In general, I think we are at point where the world of F1 needs to choose between being a high-tech laboratory or provide great racing.”

      The vapors around the “racing” in F1 are becoming rather dense. Some perspective: First, F1 has always been a technical laboratory. And that’s why major manufacturers have been and are still involved. As soon as F1 looses its status as the leading edge of racing, it will have no draw distinct from A1GP, especially to manufacturers. The manufacturers involved are not in F1, versus say, the DTM, because they want photo-finish “great racing” to draw fans. They want to be seen conclusively vanquishing their market competitors before the eyes of fans who care about superior engineering and to burnish the brand among everyone else.

      Second, the “racing” is no worse than it was in some supposed glory days of the 90s or whenever it was that the cars supposedly looked nicer. Boring walkovers by the superior driver and car have been the main course of F1 for generations, and the rise of the upstart interloper have been the sparkling accompaniment. Millions awoke before dawn to see Prost and Mansell lap the field, and whether Jordan would again battle the giants. And more and more people continue to watch the races and buy the merchandise.

      Third, F1’s contribution to relevant consumer techonology is immense. It can count more valuable contributions that the US space program—which no one can name beyond Velcro. The idea that active suspensions, turbos, CF manufacturing, carbon brakes, complex ECU software, aerodynamics research, etc., in passenger cars didn’t benefit from F1 is silly—F1 can continue to drive technology.

      Of course, both the spectacle and the financial potential of the sport could be improved, as well as the safety, but none of those things are inconsistent with pushing relevant technology. Without the technological element, F1 has no mandate.

    2. @ dmw – interesting points…

    3. @dmw
      Yes,of course if it were possible it would be great for F1 to try out new high-tech things, I´m just concerned about the cost. If it´s too high-tech it will create a great difference between the richer and the poorer teams
      ( and fewer of these racing at all )
      cheers !

  8. A small part of me hopes that we see an entire radical shake-up of the whole grid, so we see, say, Williams, Red Bull and Toyota duking it out for the championship.

    However, that’s largely wishful thinking and very unlikely.

    But I can remember a few times when a team third or fourth the previous season suddenly became the new dominant force, so maybe BMW will hook it all up, start very strong, and will have to defend an early season advantage from a Mclaren/Ferrari fightback later in the year.

    I suspect the midfield will be jumbled about a bit, but with bigger gaps between them so its more clear cut who is where in the pecking order than compared to 2008.

  9. Funny you bring 1983 up Keith, I have been watching all my BBC races from that year recently. 1983 despite being close at the end of the season, there was quite a uneven field spread across the grid, with Non Turbo cars designated to being quite a few seconds off the pace, there is not such a significant variable this year however there the only factor I can think that is similar here is KERS – To have or not to have???!!

    I think that whenever there is change in the car design like this, it actually stretches the field out – therefore the gap between the last car on the grid is much larger than the gap to the fastest car. I think that 2009 looks likely to have a 1998 effect with the first two teams being almost bullet proof and the rest scrabbling over the remaining places. What brings the field closer together is consistency in the rules not changing them.

    1. I think that whenever there is change in the car design like this, it actually stretches the field out – therefore the gap between the last car on the grid is much larger than the gap to the fastest car.

      I agree, although with standard tyres I don’t think the spread will be as pronounced as we’ve seen in the past.

  10. What about the changes brought about for the 1994 season?

    1. Well, most changes during and after the 1994 season were minor, and predominantly aimed at improving safety, not major tweeks to the ‘formula’. For instance: reduced front wing and diffusor sizes, increased size of cockpit sides, increased minimum weight (by 25 kg), lengthening of the cockpits and imposing of pump petrol.

  11. I think you are leaving out the reintroduction of refueling and most importantly, the banning of active suspension, which took away a huge Williams advantage from the previos two years.

  12. @ garyc
    You’re right. Those were quite big changes. I was only referring to the changes post-Senna.

  13. I would love to see something similar to 1983, but realistically speaking, I think that McLaren and Ferrari will steal the show, as usual. Although I leave the door open for BMW, as last year they were very good, and although I personally think (just a feeling) they will disappoint this year, the truth is that they started testing with KERS and the 2009-spec aero much sooner than the rest of the field, so…

    And although I’m a big Renault fan, it looks like the R29 is faulty like the R28 (or more like the R27) and they will play catch-up for the rest of the season, and then in 2010 … well, will there be a RenaultF1 in 2010?

    But again, I do hope that this season will be similar to 1983, having, like last year, 5 teams winning at least, and some of them fighting more regularly!

  14. I think the changes brought in this year will be more profoundly felt than some are suggesting. You have to remember that in 1998, the Ferrari/Schumacher combination was still evolving. McLaren by far had the best car in 1998, and probably in 1999 too, which owed as much to the Adrian Newey design as it did the prowess of Hakkinen and Coulthard.
    Ferrari 2009 are a different team, built on the success of the dominant Schumacher years of 2000/2004.
    As for this season, I can see a lesser team upsetting the apple cart, especially Toyota and BMW Sauber, who have both improved over the last few years. This may spell bad news for Renault and Williams, who were once both so powerfull, and I really think they will struggle. Renault’s main saving grace is Alonso, who will certainly hustle the car, and will prove vital in its development as the year progresses.
    When the chequered flag falls in Melbourne next month, I think its going to be a BMW Sauber crossing that line first, with the Toyotas also in the top portion of the grid.
    The acid test will be in the early summer months, when the weat is sorted from the chaff. That is when things become more complicated and difficult.
    BMW Sauber sunk like a stone after Canada 2008, after enjoying there best ever start to a season. To be serious contenders, they have to maintain a good pace, that is what Ferrari and McLaren are good at.

  15. I think it is a certainty that McLaren will start the season with an advantage. We have read about all the teams who stopped developing cars half way through 2008 to concentrate on their 2009 cars. McLaren started their 2009 car 18 months ago and are already 2 months into the design of their 2010 car. It is unlikely that any of the chasing teams will catch them.

    McLaren introduced KERS to F1 so they had a better starting place than anyone else. Again it is unlikely they will be far behind the best KERS system if it is not theirs.

    Where McLaren have a huge advantage is in the modelling of tyre behaviour. The modelling tools they have a far more sophisticated than anyone else’s including Ferrari’s. When they had to switch from Michelin to Bridgestone they did it almost seemlessly. When the full race tyre was introduced for one season they had an advantage at the start of the season.

    Combine new tyres, new technical regs and KERS and it is clear that McLaren will start the season with an advantage. If I was Lewis Hamilton I would be confident of keeping the number one on my car.

  16. Please bring a ban to refuelling. This way Bernie will see more ‘drama’ he’s looking for…

    1. They are banning refuelling. You just have to wait until 2010.

Comments are closed.