The objective for this is to determine what makes for good racing, and then how it would be best achieved through technical changes to the cars.
1. Passing should be a challenge, but not impossible. Clearly the grooved tire era (1998-2008) made passing very difficult, and 2009 was a slight improvement with slicks and the current aero rules. The cars between 1987 and 1997 struck a pretty good balance between the ability to pass and the challenge of passing. The main aim is to revive the concept of “catching him is one thing, passing is another”; right now with DRS, the lead driver is too much of a sitting duck, and I fear we are robbed of many exciting overtakes as drivers have the easy option of opening their wing and driving by on a straight. To make matters worse, unlike slipstreaming where you lose it once you pull out of line from the car ahead, you retain this advantage until you hit the brakes – instead of going head-to-head into the braking zone, in many cases the passing driver can pull over onto the racing line without any challenge.
2. The cars should be difficult to drive. With the advent of the current V8 engines, the cars were less powerful and easier to drive. Rather than a peaky V10 making 950 bhp, the more (relatively) docile V8 making 750-800 bhp was just enough to make it manageable for almost any driver on the grid.
3. The cars should be technologically advanced. Limiting engine development makes the cars less interesting. Endless aero development is interesting to some people, but is largely lost to the general public. Suspension tuning has been almost entirely forgotten since McLaren’s J-Damper. Realisitcally, the balance of development in those three main areas (aero, engine, suspension) should be relatively even.
I will include numbers below so it’s clear which objectives each change relates to.
Methods to achieve those objectives:
Change the wings from complex, multi-element wings to simpler, single element wings, front and rear. This would reduce downforce from the wings which allows cars to run closer (1); it would also increase drag, eliminating the need for DRS as slipstreaming would become much more prevalent (1); and even increase sponsor visibility. Aero development would still exist and be relevant (3), but it will be less effective to spend millions on aero when you can tackle engine development as well.
Revert to pre-1993 tire sizes and wheel-tracks. This would increase mechanical grip, allowing the cars to run closer (1); and increase drag, further increasing the effect of slipstreaming (1). Also, the cars just look so much better when they are wider and run wider tires!
Ensure the tires remain soft and sticky. The move from Bridgestone’s durable tires in 2010 to Pirelli’s sticky but less durable tires in 2011 showed that passing was improved. If we take the Turkish GP from that year, many passes were completed between corners 8 and 9; this was one corner before the DRS zone, thus showing that DRS had a negligible effect, if any, on these passes. Also, there was lots of action in the final three corners of the circuit – these are slower corners where aero effects were minimal. Softer tires could be achieved either by mandating this to a single supplier, which could be difficult to implement, or open up the series to other manufacturers; the latter would ensure that tires are as soft as possible without them falling apart.
One way to ensure that tires wouldn’t end up being bespoke, like the case of Ferrari and Bridgestone, is to increase wheel diameter to 18 inches. The problem with Ferrari and Bridgestone was that the tire was a very important element of the suspension, given that the wheels are limited to a 13 inch diameter. Moving to 18 inch wheels would reduce the effect of the tire on the suspension characteristics, and therefore make it less likely for one team to gain a huge advantage with one tire manufacturer (1). Of course, brakes are inherently limited by the wheel diameter, so some new rules would have to be determined there to prevent the cars from having insane braking capabilities. Perhaps a move to steel brake discs could be possible, which could also have the effect of encouraging outbraking manoeuvers as they allow for greater feel (1). The 18 inch wheels and tires would also then make the technology and appearance much more relevant to modern day cars (3).
Allow more underbody downforce to compensate for the loss of downforce due to the single element wings. Underbody downforce is less affected by proximity to other cars, compared to downforce from wings, and therefore allows for closer racing (1). This also ensures that the cars will remain unbelievably fast in the corners (2, 3).
Give the cars more power. Making it difficult to lay down the power will make the cars more entertaining to watch when alone on the track (2), and the drivers will be more prone to making mistakes which will promote overtaking (1, 2). If the lead driver is too hard on the throttle exiting a corner, the car will slide and he will have to lift off the throttle (2); that will hurt the exit and the following driver will have a chance to strike. Reverting to 900+ bhp
Make KERS/ERS a full-time part of the drivetrain. Having KERS/ERS as a push-to-pass gimmick makes development of the system much less important (3). By making the system full-time, it will gain relevance and also provide the driver with more power at any given time; going back to the previous point, this will make the car more difficult to drive (1, 2). A 600 bhp engine with 300+ bhp worth of electric motors would make for a very interesting package (3). Also, allowing more open development on the electric side could mean a further reduction in engine power for future years, where it could end up at 400 bhp engines and 550 bhp electric motors (3). This would depend largely on what the general public likes and what the engine manufacturers want.
In conclusion, the cars would have wider tires, wider wheel tracks, less efficient and less effective single-element wings with more efficient and effective underbodies; they would also have more powerful hybrid engines that have a greater reliance on the electric side. This would result in cars that are still blindingly quick, exciting to watch by themselves and allow for overtaking in the corners without making it a foregone conclusion. This would also make the cars more amenable to slipstreaming, thus eliminating any need for DRS.
Formula 1 cars would look quite different, but the racing would also be quite different as well, and all for the better.