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Martin Brundle

Mike Lawrence has written an article for Pitpass.com in which he writes about the growth of the test team in F1 over the years. He goes back to the days when it was three mechanics and a dog – all very interesting stuff – and then follows the gradual development into large teams of professional engineers and experts.

In the course of his article, Mike mentions being present when Martin Brundle and Ayrton Senna had their first tests with Tyrrell and Toleman respectively. Apparently both drivers were immediately so quick that the teams became excited at their finds and the two were signed up promptly to race in the approaching season. The rest is history, of course.

Brundle

Martin Brundle in the Tyrrell, 1985

This made me think about how chance decisions can make differences in a driver’s career, however. At the time, one would have thought that Martin had been given an excellent opportunity; Tyrrell were one of the great teams, a bit down on their luck in recent years but able to bounce back at any moment, surely. Ayrton’s choice seemed a lot more risky – Toleman were new to the game and had not impressed in their first few years.

Tyrrell’s expected revival never happened in the event. They had begun the long slide into eventual withdrawal from F1 and, during his time with the team, Martin never had a car that could compete with the best. From there he went from one team to another, always managing to be there at the wrong moment, putting in some excellent performances but never really having a shot at the championship.

Meanwhile Ayrton was to achieve wonders in his debut year, the Toleman coming good at last, and he would have won at Monaco had not Prost frantically waved to the organizers to stop the race for rain (it had been raining all race long and was actually easing up at the time the Frenchman decided it was too dangerous to carry on). Senna was gaining on him by seconds every lap, however, and we all knew who would have won if the race had not been stopped. It was not long before Ayrton was snapped up by the big teams and the championships began to roll in.

At the time of their first F1 tests, there was not much to choose between the two drivers. I was following F3 quite closely at the time and it was obvious that Senna was gifted – but Brundle was as well. They had a real battle for the British F3 championship, leaving everyone else in the dust, and Senna’s eventual triumph was not by a huge number of points. It was quite possible that such tiny winning margins were the result of differences in capability of their cars, and so we withheld judgement as to which of the two would do best in F1.

To speak of Brundle in the same breath as the master himself seems ridiculous now but things could have been so different had Martin’s luck been better. I have no doubt that Senna’s talent would have forced him to the front sooner or later but, if Martin had been the Toleman driver in 1984 and Ayrton in the Tyrrell, the Brit might well have become the Brazilian’s main challenger in later years.

On such hazards of fate are careers built or destroyed. Derek Warwick’s F1 reputation was ruined by his move to Renault just as they changed from having the best car to one of the worst. Mario Andretti, nothing if not a journeyman driver, became champion thanks to being at Lotus when Chapman produced the 79. The list of broken dreams and lucky strikes goes on and on.

What’s done, is done, however. And, if Martin had become a big star, perhaps we would never have come to know his wry humor in his role as a commentator for television. Perhaps all is for the best.

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Formula One Aerodynamics (Part 1)

I am still fascinated by those upright wings on the BMW Sauber. It may well be that they give the car more stability under braking, as claimed, but they also illustrate the weirdness of modern aerodynamics.

Sauber BMW

BMW Sauber F1.06 – note the McLaren horns on the airbox

Now that everyman and his dog has a wind tunnel, we see a lot of strange protuberances on F1 cars and it’s hard to see what some of them achieve. Renault even say that they don’t know what the little flip-up ears on the nose of the R26 do; they’re just there in case they help.

So the Renault has its ears, the Ferrari has a nose plug and the McLaren has grown horns, and who can say how they make the car faster? Apparently they do, however, as the Toyota attests; it has variants of all three.

Toyota

Toyota TF106

One thing we do know is that all these winglets have to do with keeping the air flow smooth and in the right places. Turbulence causes drag and so the idea is to keep the flow smooth until it reaches the most aerodynamically important part of the car: the rear. Since the FIA have decreed that F1 cars should have flat undertrays until they reach the line of the rear axle, the aerodynamicist is left with a very small area to work with, essentially from the back axle to the rear wing. And, to maximize your tweaks in this area, you need a smooth and predictable flow of air arriving from the front of the car.

The irony is that being first with a new idea does not guarantee success. The most visible instance of this today is the raised nose, first seen on the Tyrrell 019 in 1990.

Tyrrell 019

Tyrrell 019

It was the Tyrrell team’s last hope as they faded towards the back of the F1 grid but it didn’t help them at all. The other teams worked out what the idea was, tried it in their wind tunnels and came out with better implementations. And now all the cars have raised noses while Tyrrell is F1 history.

So why is that raised nose so necessary? Essentially, it’s to do with the business of getting smooth air to the back of the car but also to persuade as much air as possible to go over or around the car, rather than under it. By raising the nose, you allow air to flow straight to the central section above the undertray. At that point, it is separated into two flows, one on each side and controlled by barge boards and winglets. But, by extending the undertray forward a little to form a lip, you can prevent the air from taking the third available route – under the car.

You want as little air under the car as possible; this encourages the formation of a low pressure area there that can then be increased with all your flip-ups and vanes at the rear.

Most of the aerodynamic measures we see at the front of the F1 car are intimately linked with what the air is destined to do at the back. Only the front wing provides large amounts of downforce and this can be altered to balance with the downforce provided by the rear wing.

Aerodynamics is an arcane science and gives rise to some strange formations in F1 cars. I can only guess at what some of the shapes at the rear achieve but we could look at the more obvious stuff in a later post. For the moment, it is sufficient to note that, even if BMW Sauber’s innovation does work, they won’t necessarily be the ones to benefit most from it. Such is life in Formula One.

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