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The FIA and the Aero Boys

I see the aerodynamicists are wanting a share of the F1 limelight now, no doubt encouraged by the engineers becoming stars alongside the drivers and team managers. Willem Toet, BMW’s head aero man, has been talking about the FIA’s proposed CDG (Centreline Downwash Generating) wing and the alternative proposed by the aerodynamicists. He wants the aero boys to be consulted by the FIA before any rule changes are made.

BMW

Well, good luck to him, say I – getting the FIA to listen is an achievement nobody has managed so far. But the whole business does illustrate how the FIA has gradually expanded its powers into areas that should not be the concern of a governing body. Their job is not to design cars, it is to set a basic framework for the technicians to work within.

So, for example, they might set the maximum engine size at 2.4 liters but to specify number of cylinders is overstepping the mark. The whole point of F1 design competition is that the engineers be free to experiment and invent within given parameters. By entering what is really the design arena, the FIA have created a situation where complexities multiply and their task of overseeing things becomes impossible.

Twenty years ago cars were becoming faster than drivers could safely cope with, thanks to ground effect technology. The solution applied by the FIA was both simple and obvious – they ruled that cars should have flat bottoms and no skirts. That is a perfect example of how a governing body should function – no messing around giving exact specifications of what is allowed and what isn’t, no introducing their own design that everyone must use, just a simple, bald statement. And designers had to work within the new rule, like it or not.

During Mighty Max’s presidency the FIA has increasingly forced its way into areas that are not their business. The CDG wing is just one instance of this; other examples are legion. For instance, that long-running bugbear, overtaking, should not be any concern of theirs. The more they meddle with detailed specifications to the finest detail, the worse things get. Until they get back to their primary task of setting the basic formula and leaving the technicians to decide what they will create within those boundaries, we can expect only more and more interference and lawsuits from the FIA.

We approach a situation where the FIA designs the whole car through the rulebook. Already the only thing that distinguishes one car from another is the paint job. Ultimately the rules will become so constrictive that F1 might as well be a one-make formula, all because the FIA thinks its “experts” are better designers than the guys who actually create and race F1 cars. It is a ridiculous situation.

The criticism always leveled at the freedom proposed by me is that the cars will become too fast. But the FIA never consider the most obvious solution to that: the halving of engine size. Their thinking is that F1 must have larger engines than lower formulae or it loses its credibility; but this is nonsense. In the early 60s the engine size went as low as 1.5 liters and it did not result in the sport being disregarded. To the contrary, that formula produced some of the best racing ever seen and a long list of drivers that became household names.

It makes no sense that the FIA should be fiddling about with design nuances in their quest to keep speeds within acceptable limits when there is such a simple and straightforward alternative available to them. If they were to use engine size as a control, rather than interfering with the type of wing allowed, the engineers and aerodynamicists could get back to their task of trying to out-think the competition and we could have our sport back, the sport that pits the most skilled drivers and smartest engineers against each other.

Yeah, I know – fat chance.

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