Why has F1 banned so many innovations?

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Paul wrote in to ask the following question about F1’s most controversial technologies:

I need help in locating information on all banned F1 technology. Do you where I can find this information? Any help that you can provide is greatly appreciated. Thank you for your help.

Formula One is a struggle between car designers striving for every last hundredth of a second of performance and the governing body struggling to keep costs in check and guarantee the drivers’ safety. For these two reasons many innovations have been banned.

Some of these developments were outlandish such as the six-wheeled cars of the seventies and eighties. Some threatened to unleash new extremes of performance if they weren’t kept in check, such as ground effects and active suspension.

Sometimes innovations spread throughout the entire field, while on other occasions only one team had mastered a new technology which, when banned, prompted claims they had been singled out. Especially when the entire concept of their car was rejected.

It’s a fascinating subject which often tells us as much about the politics of F1 as well as the sport and technology. F1 Fanatic previously ran a 16-part series on the topic which covers many of the most famous banned technologies as well as some of the more obscure ones.

Turbos: Banned in 1988, revived in 2014
You can read the entire Banned! archive or find each individual article below:

This is not an exhaustive list but it should make for a good starting point. And since these articles were written some of the technologies have been un-banned and new innovations have been outlawed: turbos and slicks have returned, while exhaust-blown diffusers and other devices have been banned.

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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...

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43 comments on “Why has F1 banned so many innovations?”

  1. Without delving into the article yet, I had to chuckle at the list of banned innovations containing ‘slicks’. Without context some might find that impossible to fathom for the pinnacle of Motorsport. What? They banned tires?

    1. If you click on the link, which is every article in the band list .. it takes you to a page providing a full and descriptive explanation of the item in the band list

  2. Most innovations are banned for safety reasons. To slow the cars down to the the circuits are safe enough. A prime example is ground effect. The cornering speeds were so high any driver errors of car failures could be very dangerous.

    Another main reason is cost. Beryllium, the complexity of some modern technologies and the like contribute to cost. Cost is the enemy of a competitive series. If only a few properly funded teams can enter what’s the point? This is the main reason why the assertion that F1 need to be technologically advanced and the pinnacle of automotive engineering is flawed.

    The other main reason is for the sporting challenge. For example driver aids such as traction control and ABS are banned. Also things like active suspension, four wheel steering, mass dampers etc make it a engineering and manufacturers championship rather than a drivers championship. The car driver balance in terms of performance contribution should be about 50/50 if there are the two championships. Unfortunately it’s about driver 5% and car 95% at thge moment so there a big problem straight off!

    Sometimes things get banned because the rules are badly written, like the Lotus 88 and the BT46 fan car. I’ll never forget Ferraris response the Chapmans assertion that the 88 had two chassis and both independently complied to the regs. They added a second rear wing to their car saying the rules didn’t say you can’t have two!

    The one banning that made me most annoyed was the mass damper. Not because it was wrong to ban it but they had to reinterpret and bend the wrong rules to do it. They determined it was a moving aero device because it affected aero dynamics. It wasn’t even in the airflow! There are loads of moving parts on an F1 car that affect aero in that sense, like duh suspension components. They haven’t been banned. The mass damper was illegal because it used it’s mass to affects the car performance and it MOVED. The ‘mass’ was in actually ballast that was not fixed. There was already a rule to ban this and they didn’t use it. Bizarre, but then F1 can always been a bit bizarre. That why we love it.

    1. “Most innovations are banned for safety reasons” – Yeah right! Active suspension improved car’s dynamics hence safety. If FW16 had active suspension I’m absolutely sure Ayrton would be today with us. Active suspension ban was the stupidest thing FIA ever did. Not to mention that a car with active suspension could use one set of tyres per race with slight reduction of performance.

      1. Cars without active suspension could do the whole race on 1 set of tyres.

        Also regarding Safety, Why not ask Alex Zanardi how safe active suspension was.

    2. Sean Newman, the Lotus 88 was developed in 1981, whereas the double width wing produced by Ferrari was in 1982 at Long Beach. In that case, Ferrari were using it as a protest against teams like Williams, Brabham and Tyrrell illegally (and quite blatantly) running their car underweight – Ferrari used that race as a way of telling the other teams that, if they continued to break the rules that blatantly, Ferrari would do the same.

      As for the ban on beryllium, I believe that there was more to it than just the cost issues – beryllium dust and fumes are highly damaging to human health, as it is a known carcinogen and can cause severe irreversible damage to the respiratory system. I believe that the initial call to ban beryllium back in 1999 was made on health grounds, with cost, although important, being a secondary issue.

      Boomerang, on what grounds do you believe that active suspension would have saved Senna? I thought that the official crash investigation concluded that the cause of the accident was a failure of the steering column.

      Furthermore, you have to bear in mind that the FIA was under major public pressure to ban active suspension systems because there had been accidents directly caused by failures of the active suspension systems of the time.

      In the practise sessions for the 1993 Belgian GP, Zanardi was so severely concussed after a practise crash caused by the active suspension system suddenly dropping the rear corner of his car as he was going through Radillion that he forced to sit out the rest of the 1993 season. Two races later in Estoril, and Berger lost control of his car after a pitstop when the rear left suspension suddenly dropped down, throwing him into a spin and nearly taking out Warwick as he was pitched head first into a barrier.
      With a direct causal link between failures in the active suspension systems of the time and those accidents, one of which had seriously injured a driver, there was popular support for eliminating active suspension systems – it was feared that, if anything, they might be more likely to be the cause of an accident.

      1. “I thought that the official crash investigation concluded that the cause of the accident was a failure of the steering column. ”

        Wrong, The official investigation concluded that the car bottomed because Ayrton was running a tighter line than others & hit the worst of the bumps which disrupted airflow through the diffuser & caused a sudden total loss of rear downforce. The rear of the car stepped out (Which Michael Schumacher pointed out straight after the accident), Ayrton corrected but the car regained traction as he was steering to the right & this drove the car in that direction (Similar to the Gordon Smiley accident at Indy in 1982).

        The broken steering column theory is largely disregarded by those in Motorsport who understand the dynamics of what actually happened and/or have actually seen all or some of the data available.
        People keep bringing up the in-car video that shows the steering wheel moving ‘oddly’ (Team have always said the wheel movement was fine) but this completely ignores in-car footage from Damon Hill’s car that weekend (As well as Ayrton’s) which shows the same movement in the wheel (Go find footage from the warm up which includes nearly a lap from hill’s in-car camera). They also seem to completely ignore the fact that if the wheel was moving ‘oddly’ given his experience & well documented feel for the cars Ayrton would have felt it & pitted.

        1. @gt-racer, the Italian press reported that the final judgement of the Supreme Court of Cassatio in 2007 was the cause of the crash was due to the failure of the steering column, with Patrick Head ultimately being declared guilty of criminal negligence for ordering the modifications to be made to the car (although, because the Italian legal system puts a time limit on prosecutions for negligence, Head could not be imprisoned after the case). http://www.gazzetta.it/Motori/Formula1/Primo_Piano/2007/04_Aprile/13/senna.shtml

          1. I know, But nobody within the motorsport community takes any of what happened with the Italian legal system seriously because a lot of the stuff that was put forward in those trials that claimed to prove the steering failure was heavily flawed & some of the data from the car & evidence from people within F1 was not taken into consideration.
            As I understand it in the later trial which ended in 2007 they didn’t even look at Michael Schumacher’s testimony which described how Senna’s car looked to be acting in the moments before the accident for example.

            There’s also the stuff around the in-car camera & footage going missing or whatever which is heavily flawed & shows a complete lack of understanding of how the systems in use at the time worked & how they were operated. I know that those who worked on that side of FOM were frustrated at how Italian prosecutors were unwilling to even try to understand the system that was used & why & how decisions to change the signal to another car was made.

            Like I say most people within not just F1 but the Motorsport world at large fully reject the steering column theory & fully believe the ‘bottoming out’ theory which is why pretty much every categories around the world made changes to the floor (Banning flat bottoms so that a car that does heavily hit the deck retains airflow to/through the diffuser) in the aftermath of Senna’s accident.

          2. Here is the in-car from Damon Hill’s car in the warm up. If you look at the yellow button on the wheel you see that there is the same movement in the wheel that many use as proof that Ayrton’s steering was broken.


            Williams & every driver that drove that car have always maintained that the steering column/wheel was designed with some flex in it & that it wasn’t sign of impending failure. This video as well as one put out by Williams that was used in the original trial proves that.
            Incidentally video from Damon’s car was deemed inadmissible as the prosecutes argued that it was irrelevant to Senna’s car so the Italian courts never got to see it.

          3. @gt-racer, I would say that the overall picture is perhaps not quite as clear cut as you state.

            With regards to your statement that “the motorsport world at large fully accepts the bottoming out theory”, Newey himself has stated that, in his opinion, “The honest truth is that no one will ever know exactly what happened”, suggesting that opinions on the matter aren’t entirely certain as to the cause.

            Whilst he thinks that it is unlikely that the steering column was to blame, he hasn’t completely ruled it out as a cause either – he has accepted that the welds on the steering column were already beginning to crack due to fatigue and admitted that the column would almost certainly have failed at some point whilst in use due to the poor design of the splice details.

            That said, his personal theory for the cause of the accident disagrees with both the bottoming out and steering column theories – he believes the most likely cause of the accident was a right rear puncture causing a loss of control and that the car bottomed out as a side effect of the tyre failing (i.e. after the point at which Senna would have already lost control of the car due to the tyre failure).

      2. Thanks for putting me right on the Lotus 88 and the two winged Ferrari. I didn’t research it, it was my crusty old memory! I know Postlethwaite cited the Lotus 88 twin chassis as the inspiration for the two winged Ferrari rather than a direct response.

        I think the sentiment holds true though, badly written or enforced rules often lead to bans. Sliding skirts of the late 70’s and early 80’s are a prime example. Sliding skirts are moving aerodynamic devices which were already banned. So how did Chapman get that past the scrutineers?

  3. … apologies for my spelling and grammatical errors. F1 regulation get my juices flowing.

  4. 3 word to describe it.
    “Equal Playing Field”.
    To make all the team equal, they cut down on radical innovation. Remember when Ferrari complain to FIA regarding the Ground Effect car?
    Does these innovation affect the financial of the team? Depends. If the team are every innovative, they can beat the best team on the grid with limited budget and great innovation.

    The reason why F1 nowadays are very expensive is because teams are wasting their time on fine details like controlling vortex, diffuser configuration, ers settings, chassis balance, etc. These fine details required a very skillful engineers, expensive equipments and facilities.
    F1 are lacking of new ideas and everyone seems to copy each other. If all the cars are the same colour, it’s very hard to distinguish the constructors/manufacturers as compared to LMP1 cars.

    1. But if having a level playing field was a priority for Formula One surely they wouldn’t give massive financial bonuses to some teams and nothing to others.

  5. ColdFly F1 (@)
    22nd August 2016, 13:42

    Wow – great article, with all the references to banned innovations. @keithcollantine
    We should call this F1kipedia!

  6. F1 in the beginning regulated competition by changing the size and configuration of engines. This worked well up til the start of when aero technology started to come in. Ever since then a game of catch up has been played between the rule makers and the engineers, with the engineers given so much freedoms in the early days of this revolution its now impossible to close the gains and things they have learned. The other aspect is financial, teams were able to raise sums of money that they were never asked to give back to the sponsors and they spent it. Now we see teams with $200m budgets who cannot spend on engines or aero tech so spend it on blow diffusers and other exotic gains.

    The appeal of F1 (to me at least) is that constant improvement and development is allowed and encouraged. By banning the ideas that really do go “too far” or are just anti competitive it does keep a lid on F1 going wild. everyone will always disagree on if fans sucking cars to the track or moveable ballast is acceptable or not, but what it does do is provide a talking point about how do people think up these things. But to leave you with one thought, nearly everything on your road car has come from F1, without this you wouldn’t have power steering or ABS.

    1. Well, now that @keithcollantine has started spoiling us with such great articles, my curiosity has shot through the roof, thinking of the technologies that road cars or other machines enjoy today because of F1.

  7. WilliamB (@william-brierty)
    22nd August 2016, 13:54

    …because F1’s blinkered, small-minded commercial rights holders don’t want to advocate the merits of dynamic, blue-sky thinking and thus expose how its abysmally archaic management has stunted F1’s commercial growth.

    …I’m sorry, it appears my FOM-tourettes have relapsed.

    1. WilliamB (@william-brierty)
      22nd August 2016, 14:05

      p.s. @keithcollantine I am sorry to report my inner nerd wants to kiss you for this particular article. Enough of this, otherwise my inner nerd will start writing you love letters!

  8. Was fascinating to be reminded under the ground effects article that cornering speeds got so high that drivers, particularly at hot venues, were near collapsing behind the wheel and on the podium from the strain of manhandling these beasts.

    Not saying we need that again, but what a stark contrast to the relative cruising these guys do now. As safe as the cars and tracks are now, these guys definitely need to be challenged more, and hopefully next season and onward will see that happen.

    I don’t think they need blindingly quick cornering speeds through aero downforce, but rather a little more emphasis on ground effects combined with the greater mechanical grip from the tires for closer racing. It’s about closer racing, not just higher speeds and lower lap times just for the sake of claiming those things as ‘improvements’ to the sport. Gadget tires that were supposed to vary strategies, and DRS to mask aero over-dependence have proved to not stop processions after all. Dirty air remains the biggest enemy to close racing.

    My hope for next year…as they talk about increasing downforce to increase cornering speeds, the bigger tires going hand in hand to handle the downforce, improve cornering speeds, and the appearance of the cars, I hope it is the ground effects with the floor work and the rear diffuser that takes precedent over wings. So even though the wings will be wider, I’m hoping that the extra drag from the bigger tires, especially on the straights, restricts them from running too much wing, and that they can therefore back off on wing rake, ensuring high top speeds, and depend on ground effects and tires in the corners, which should result in closer racing.

    1. An interesting thing just occurred to me, as I reminisced about the final scene from Grand Prix at Monza…bear with me for a second…

      Apparently early racers designed using wind tunnels were better streamlined than their predecessors, but actually produced greater lift compared to their predecessors, which discredited wind tunnels for a while.

      I remember reading somewhere that Indycars actually can run net lift at certain tracks despite what’s going on with the wings.

      So: Couldn’t you design a section of wing (say, the currently regulated center section of the front wing) to produce lift but then stall out in dirty air, thus in effect adding back downforce? I was thinking with the Indycars that the net lift is pretty stupid UNLESS dirty air starts messing with the ability of the wings to produce lift, thus in effect causing the wings to act like they are supposed to.

      I don’t think it’s a stupid idea, but it’s quite possible it’s a completely unworkable concept. If it’s brilliant though, you heard it here first! :D

    2. @robbie, is that necessarily a reflection of the cornering speeds, or could it be taken as a reflection of the physical fitness levels of the drivers in the ground effect era?

      In the 2000’s, the typical G-forces that the drivers experienced were higher than in the ground effect era, especially around 2004-2005 – yet, despite the fact that we saw the drivers race in extremely harsh conditions in some races that year (the Bahrain GP of 2005 holds the all time record for the hottest ambient air conditions at nearly 42ºC), I don’t recall any of the drivers suffering from that sort of physical exhaustion.

      The introduction of ground effects saw cornering speeds suddenly rise in a relatively short period of time, but the sort of physical training and preparation that the drivers received in that era took quite a few years to catch up with the new level of performance of the cars. Would the drivers of that time necessarily have struggled as much if they had a comparable level of fitness training and physical preparation as they have in the modern era?

      David, since you ask, the confusion seems to come because, in oval trim, a number of teams were using rear wings that had a very small positive angle of attack or even appeared to have a slightly negative angle of attack. However, because the teams are using highly cambered wings, the rear wing would still continue to produce downforce even if the angle of attack was slightly negative, even if it looked to the average viewer as if the wing should be producing lift.

      The main reason for running the wing in that configuration was to try and reduce the induced drag of the wing – on an oval, it was more common for the cars to be drag limited rather than traction limited.

  9. Banned technologies is what attracted me to Formula One in 1977. Driving by a hobby store I saw in the window a 1/12th scale model of the P34 Tyrrell six wheeler. Over the next 6 months as I was building the model and found fascination in the sport, I studied the venues in so many countries and began learning about the history of Grand Prix Racing. I also wittnessed the brilliance of Colin Chapman, then Gordon Murray, Patrick Head and many others.

    Formula One has always been a level of racing where when all elements of a team come together the results or success becomes what other teams imitate hoping their own version of that success will bring them victory.

    Often the crazy stuff knocks the sport on its butt and through domination the rules makers have to ruin it.

    Teams come and go and if you have all the parts to the puzzle you can rule the roost for years. Thinking of Seb and now Lewis as current examples of having all those puzzle pieces.

    Sure we need to level the playing field with rules but F1 is at its best when the smarter teams get it figured out.

    I urge the rule makers to cut out the nonsense of things like DRS and these multiple power sources and just give the drivers what they want….fast cars with loud engines and big tires. Let the drivers do what they do best, race hard enough to approach the edge

    Ask Alonso

    1. Controversy has always been a big thing that attracts me to this sport. It’s one of the reasons why I find this Mercedes dominance so boring: they are winning without some controversial advantage. With Red Bull we had flexible wings and noses, bizarre engine mappings, holes in the floor of the car etc. The races were maybe boring, but at least it was a pleasure to read F1 media.

      1. Very true: I love the drama too.

  10. Aschwin van der Elst
    22nd August 2016, 16:23

    It’s missing the double diffuser from 2009 …

    1. And double DRS

      1. Michael Brown (@)
        24th August 2016, 2:24

        And Lotus’s reactive ride height from 2012.

  11. Two additional items for the “banned list”:
    High, suspension-mounted wings (~1970)
    Tall ram-air boxes (~1976)

    It was never clear to me why air boxes were banned, high wings was obvious.

  12. Add CVT to the list.

    1. ColdFly F1 (@)
      23rd August 2016, 6:00

      was that ever tried in F1?

        1. ColdFly F1 (@)
          23rd August 2016, 7:56

          Thanks @maxv, great find.
          @keithcollantine, should be on the list.
          PS – I found the ‘museum somewhere, it’s the DAF museum in Eindhoven (NL). Might visit it before this weekend’s race (short trip across the border).

  13. I also think another reason is that some soft people don’t like unfair advantages. But another reason is that cars like the Tyrrell 6-wheeler, the Brabham Fan Car or even more recent ones like McLaren’s 2nd brake pedal or ultra-exotic engine materials is because the FIA could never have known that such cars and devices could be utilized for racing, or that they would even work, or that they could never have imagined such stuff existing anyway- they were just more simple times. The FIA makes everything so restricted because they know that F1 engineers- particularly the British ones in the top teams- have so much money that they can do anything they like, and that includes innovating to gain an unfair advantage- sometimes at the expense of safety.

  14. Any engine that wasn’t a reciporcating piston engine was banned in 1983 (Turbine, rotary, even experimental stuff like sarich orbital engines). And what about 4-wheel drive? That had to have been banned at some point, even though it was a flawed concept for F1 cars anyway…

  15. More stuff banned by F1:

    Driver’s helmet design change. Banned to kill a bit of enjoyment. If a helmet design confuses you, you need to seek help immediately.
    Driver’s doing dounts. Banned because someone celebrating happiness is not allowed in F1.

    1. True originially about the donuts Tiomkin, though now it is discouraged by the teams because they can’t risk the gearbox and engine penalties if they have to replace them!

    2. Michael Brown (@)
      24th August 2016, 2:29

      Back when drivers could change their helmet every race, Vettel was the only one who did it either every race or almost every race. This is a massive problem to the FIA.

  16. @keithcollantine

    Just a quick question. How many of these innovations were devised by Ferrari?

    1. @todfod

      ferrari is in charge of the banning..

  17. I’ve gotta tell you guys at F1F. That McLaren break pedal system put a huge smile of satisfaction on my face. So, simple yet, very effective at what it did. If a driver had been in Formula one or lower series for a combined 7-8 years on average, a third pedal would be easy to intuitively pick up, as they’d have been using clutch pedals, which also is 3 pedals in the cockpit.

  18. LovelyLovelyLuffield
    24th August 2016, 9:29

    Some of this stuff can be made mandatory and spec with no problem.


    1. Mass dampers (this heavy, this place in the front, no more, because we can definitely check that thing out about 11 times the entire day, from Thursday to Sunday)

    2. Flexi wings (as part of a bigger active aero package that includes a rear wing that can do DRS and air-braking, active exhaust-blown double diffusers, and fore and aft steering rudders that will offset a basic low-drag, low-downforce body)

    3. 4-wheel steering (which will be a joy to have with a car that has rudders)

    4. Active suspension (does F1 have MagneRide? No? That has to change), and

    5. Downforce fans (teensy-tiny fan mounted in the middle, limit on fan speed but it will be adaptive anyway, so…)

    To quote Clarksonius the Infantile Pillock: “How hard can it be to implement this?” and “What could possibly go wrong the moment I drive a car that has all that?”

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