Unintended consequences are a common theme of the human experience. It is impossible to foresee all of the opposite reactions to an action try as we might. Especially because some of those can take decades to fully be fleshed out. Racing’s flirtations with aerodynamics is a prime example. In the 1960s when outfits such as Chaparral and Lotus were making strides, it did produce a thrill as the fledgling science unleashed hitherto unheard-of speed.
For the better part of 20 years, that was OK. Where the unintended part came in was that, as knowledge of air manipulation expanded, speeds climbed to levels that the organizers started imposing limitations for the safety of competitors and spectators alike. Rightly so. Coupled with the world we live in now dominated by radial tires – a discussion for another time – we pretty quickly entered a phase begun 20 years ago of noose-like regulations converging designs to zero.
The box to play in has become so small, that we now have what we anticipate is going to be a lot of this kind of thing shown below on the 2019 Haas F1 car. The Haas is the first of the new-rules cars to be unveiled with a full-width front wing and heavy limitations on end-plate design as well as the number of elements on the wing itself. The result is the undertray of the car itself is now replete with a rat-maze of vortex generators all intended to trick air into behaving itself. A massively complex and colossally expensive part to produce. And it will shatter the first time it’s bounced off a curb or a competitor’s tire brushes it. Job security for the lay-up men then.
And the racing will still suck. An oft-heard refrain is for spec-cars, but most rulebooks these days are a very close approximation of that concept if not defacto. It means miniscule, minute, intricate designs that do make the car faster, but don’t make them more raceable or attractive. Racecars used to have a beautiful aesthetic and actually raced. Now, it’s a race of microchips and calculations. The passing was all done in CFD and windtunnels.
Sanctioning bodies always use the word parity. Parity might make the stakeholders happy in a narrow sense; that they all feel like they have a shot. It would be nice to have a day again of bricks and bias-plies, where the skill and daring of the driver mattered once more. Or at least mattered as much as the engineer’s.
See you in Louisville.