The Future of F1 – What I would like to see and why

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.


5 thoughts on “The Future of F1 – What I would like to see and why

  1. Great article; overall, I agree on all counts, being a great recipe for more sensible and entertaining Formula 1.
    I can’t fully agree on #2 – that the cars are easier to drive. While it’s true that their characteristics have changed with the V8 era, they are still quite a monsters to drive and pilots would love a bit less physical push, I’m sure.
    People who had the chance to drive the current V8 specs have told me that the unprepared person is giving up on lap #2 – your neck is gone, you hands are shaking, but you can feel the downforce pushing you to the ground. Still, very demanding to drive them.
    Let’s not forget that we had a traction control a while ago.

    One other direction, If I may – teams are complaining about having to spend too much on development, given that engine is frozen? Well, the enormous emphasize on aero has given us VET three times world champion, a new era, dominated by CFD and expensive wind tunnel hours + fast prototyping machines. While these are not bad at all, their influence is a bit over the limit, and spending less would mean less aero importance dictated by the rules, which should start allowing innovations back in F1.

    • Regarding #2, I’m not talking about the average person. I’m talking about the average F1 driver compared to the great F1 drivers. It’s obviously a narrow spectrum (the worst F1 driver is still very very good), but there is still a spectrum there and the cars should show that. The Petrovs of the world should not outqualify the Kubicas or the Kovalainens.

      Yes, the current V8s are wild… just not as wild as the older V10s. Right now, the brakes and the aero are more challenging to conquer than the power. Each driver can lay the power down with relative ease, and I believe the racing suffers because of it.

      Regarding spending on development, they are focused on aero because realistically that’s all they can work on that will provide a major effect. If you only give them single-element wings to work with, there will still be development, but they’ll be looking for other modes of development (suspension, chassis, engine, ERS, etc). The money will be spent one way or another, it will just end up being spent in other areas as well.

  2. This is a cool thought exercise, and a fun article!

    I have a couple of suggestions, and a question as well.

    To achieve the first two goals, (I’ll paraphrase them, challenging passing, but not impossible, & cars s/b challenging to drive), may I suggest the single modification to your proposals of using slightly narrower tires?

    The second suggestion is that since these are lightweight, small single seater cars, the 18″ wheel diameter appears extreme and inefficient in relation to the vehicle’s needs, (and from a style perspective, perhaps gaudy). Certainly having a tire profile ratio between 60 and 50 would be more relevant to modern road cars. But using giant tires for aerodynamic inefficiencies seems incongruent to the real world as well. Stripping away downforce by mandating smaller wings is very wise, as it will drive aerodynamicists toward to low drag efficiencies, which is relevant to road cars. Oversized tires are not relevant.

    I have a question regarding your comments on the brakes… By “insane braking capabilities” with enlarged discs, are you referring to the heat dissipation or the braking torque? My understanding is that one only needs enough brake torque to lock a wheel, in other words to go beyond the maximum possible traction capabilities of the tire and any expected road surface. Otherwise, the function of the brakes / discs is to dissipate the energy that they have absorbed. Perhaps I’m over looking something here, though!

    • The problem with narrower tires is that we end up in the same spot as the grooved tires we had a few years ago. The reduction in mmechanical grip results in aero becoming very important, which ends up killing the racing.

      The 18s are only suggested to mitigate the effects of the tire on suspension, and in turn mitigate the likelihood of a tire manufacturer and a team partnering up to make bespoke tires. A good compound helps any car, but a specific construction will be very car specific in terms of advantages.

      Regarding brakes, it would just be in terms of brake torque. At top speed, there is not brake modulation; they push the pedal as hard as they can, and only start modulating once the aero effect increases and the brakes are able to lock up a wheel. Moving to larger rotors would make the braking force far too high at 300 km/h.

      Lastly, with any form of motorsports, you need to balance relevance with coolness, for lack of a better term. The ultimate in road relevance is production rallying. F1 is always going to be on the edge of relevance. Hybrid technology is a good path, but running skinny, small wheels and tires doesn’t lend itself to the pinnacle of motorsports. Wide tires are relevant to supercars, and realistically F1 doesn’t need much more of a relationship than that, in terms of tires. In this case, the “show” matters more than the relevance, and wide, sticky tires would definitely help the show.

      Speaking of sticky tires, i just picked up some stellar summer tires for my road car. They may not last more than five years, but road tires should be tossed at that age anyway. Given that, sticky tires are relevant to me and my road car.

      (please excuse any typos… This was composed on my phone)

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