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Part I: Improving the Breed
Part II: Improving the Brand
Part III: F1 For the Road - Ferrari
Part IV: F1 For the Road - McLaren
Here, in a series of articles, we investigate the input of Formula One on the road car industry, and assesses whether the manufacturers are in it for its marketing or its development potential.
Part I: Improving the Breed
The argument is Brand or Breed, and it's a subject of much discussion. Some sides argue that the development potential of Formula One is what attracts the car companies, whilst others claim the only reason they are there is to push their products. It is a matter of opinion which argument is correct - in this article, the Breed will be investigated, followed by another article on Brand.
By unwrapping the Formula One car from the outside in, it is quite a surprise what you can find. Although the ultimate racing machine is a far cry from granny's Peugeot or daddy's Mercedes, it is possible to spot some family resemblance. The first step of this argument gives a good example.
The Bridgestone tyres used by all teams in Formula One are one of the most closely linked areas between F1 and the road. Bridgestone use the series to test their theories and although there is never a direct link between the two, the road and race teams share data to develop design ideas. Goodyear stated that their involvement in Formula One was fifty percent brand, fifty percent breed, and cited carcass design, manufacture and production technique to have benefited majorly from the sport. Meanwhile the low profile tyres that keep “would be racers” on the road have benefited greatly from their heroes' testing.
Looking into the past, one design development that is key to both F1 and granny and daddy's cars is steel disk brakes. Although introduced at Le Mans, their development in the sport has led to their standardisation, and so improved safety in road cars. However, don't expect a similar motion for Carbon fibre brakes - the operating temperature required for them to work at full potential is way above that available in a road car.
Another improvement assisted by Formula One is now long gone from the sport. Active suspension came to the forefront of F1 on Ayrton Senna's Lotus in the mid-eighties, and culminated in Nigel Mansell's all conquering Williams of 1992. It was much before this time that it began on road cars, but although not invented by Formula One, the development and publicity received from the connection ensured it's movement to road cars of the future. Another suspension feature now common to a number of road cars is Formula One's independent wishbone suspension, which was developed in the sport as long ago as the 1930s.
One area where Formula One has become a leader is safety, and the ethos of separable and crushable structures has improved road car safety immensely. This type of construction can lessen the impact felt by the driver by absorbing some of the force, where with a rigid structure, the full force is transmitted to the driver. Formula One's governing body, the FIA, has helped improve road safety through its connections with the European Union, and the importance of safety in F1 has been used by Max Mosely as a shield to criticism of the expense and extravagance of the sport.
The F1 car body must be aerodynamic as well as safe. Since the 1970s, there has been great emphasis on this area of design, but the principles applied in F1 teams, who aim for maximum downforce, are the exact reverse of those in the road car industry, where minimum drag is the target. Despite this, road has still benefited from race. The intense requirement for better and more accurate testing in Formula One has seen teams go from the odd day in a 25% model wind tunnel to three-quarter year testing in 50% tunnels, and the money input by teams to develop these test facilities has also been to the gain of the road car.
A Formula One engine takes some punishment. It is, therefore, an excellent intense environment to test new theories and ideas - and there have been plenty: Variable-valve timing, ceramics, engine management diagnostics, and turbocharging have all been invented or developed by the sport. One particular company to use its racing knowledge for the road is Cosworth, designers and manufacturers of the Jaguar powerplant, who have race and road factories across the road from one another!
Although mainly a gimmick, semi-automatic transmission can now be found on road cars, although the connection between its F1 and road development is more marketing than design development. Despite this, it is a technological transfer that has been taken up keenly by car buyers.
Formula One acts as a route to the road car for many components, none more so than the complex electronics. With F1 cars being fly-by-wire, and virtually-do-everything-by-wire, the complex developments lean heavily on the aerospace industry for their invention. However, the function of Formula One here is to develop them for the track, and in turn, this helps their development for the road. The exotic materials used in Formula One are another example of this, and although many are too expensive to be found on road cars, this may change in the future.
Perhaps the most growing area of Formula One in recent years, with the number of road car manufacturers joining the circuit, is the transfer of skills - indeed, Jaguar had suggested that there will be the consideration of movement between their race and road teams to exploit the full benefit of this. Prodrive also state that through engineering race and rally cars, their engineers bring this experience to their road projects.
Looking at all these examples paints a very rosy picture of the racetrack assistance in road car design, but what about looking at a road car? Few of the customer attracting features are seen in Formula One - no electric windows, heated seats, and cruise control is by it's very name not the stuff of racing cars! Airbags, too, are not found in Formula One.
But to see the whole picture, you must step back. Formula One is a testing ground for technology. It is attractive because of its rapid development, and the fact that it allows products to be tested to their upper limits. On top of all this is the sport's pot of gold: Through hitching up with teams, automotive manufacturers can ensure sponsors' cash is used to develop new ideas. If these ideas make it to the road, the customers will benefit from decreased costs of development, and Formula One will have again brought new technology to the road - it's happened before and it's sure to happen again.
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Part II: Improving the Brand
Formula One is a global circus, sending its message to the eighteen countries it visits, and having television viewing figures totaling 57.8 billion - what better place for a car showroom? By becoming involved in an F1 team, any automobile manufacturer can be whoever they want to be. Image is everything in car sales - your car can be bulletproof, beautiful or luxurious, but if it is marketed at the wrong people, it won't be a success.
This is where the image-mongers of Formula One come to play. For many years before Mercedes came into Formula One, their cars were viewed as being suitable for the older, more sedate driver wanting luxury and refinement. Those qualities have not changed, but through Formula One, Mercedes have managed to shift their image to appeal to young go-getters as well as the more mature already-gots. They have also taken design cues from the Formula One cars - no leap of technology, just a different styling to give a sportier image. And it works. Toyota knows it works. That's why they joined the party!
In fact, the branding of what was the old Stewart team is an interesting topic. When Ford bought the team, it had a number of options - the company owns a huge amount of car companies. They chose to run their team under the Jaguar name, but underneath, it's no more Jaguar than Ford or Aston Martin - or Stewart for that matter! The reason it's a Jaguar is image and competition. Ford saw Mercedes blowing away the competition on the racetrack and in turn on the road. With its other main competitor BMW joining the fray, and Toyota on the way (who could even badge their team under the Lexus brand), Ford had to go for it and get the Jaguar name up there. So Formula One has become a marketing race between the major luxury car manufacturers.
So then, why has Renault come back into Formula One? After a number of years dominating the sport, the company pulled out, reasoning that they had achieved all they could achieve and, in a similar vein to Goodyear when they were scared away by Bridgestone, Renault also claimed that in being at the top of the sport, their reputation would only go down if someone else started winning. Whilst last in Formula One, Renault were winners, but whilst many of the public knew that 'Our Nige' won his World Championship in a Williams, and Schumi was successful in a Benetton, fewer knew that the power behind these victories was that of Renault. This is why the French company is back!
It seems a new level of branding is required in Formula One now. No longer is it good enough to be simply a supplier to the team, partnership and in-line branding are the key words now. To get the most out of Formula One, car companies are buying up part- or full-shares in teams. Mercedes have bought into McLaren, and Honda into BAR, whilst Ford had purchased the whole Stewart team and re-named it. Renault has the same
This in itself is a clever marketing tactic, and shows the strength of branding. Renault felt that by buying Benetton, they can put cash into the team and improve it .This has already paid dividends for the Renault team with back to back Constructors Championships in 2005 and 2006. They have already walked away with the spoils - and the useful product sales assistance of being World Champion. This also is the route that Honda has taken with BAR. Meanwhile, Toyota are going it alone. That's a risky business, and their road car reputation could plummet if they arrive and don't immediately start winning - just look how the pre-season hype-developed interest in BAR fell away when they failed to appear at the top end of the grid.
Looking into the past, motor racing in general appears to pay dividends in terms of marketing. However, the once great World Sportscar championship benefited from increasing manufacturer input before collapsing to nothing when they all pulled out. This has also happened to a lesser extent in the British Touring Car Championship, and the influx of manufacturers may be a little concerning for the future of Formula One - perhaps this is why Bernie Ecclestone has just sold fifty percent of his business! If the team a manufacturer supports is not in the winning frame, it will look bad on their brand, and as more firms enter Formula One, the marketing gains will reduce. The danger is that manufacturers will only be the sport whilst they make money from it, and if so, that suggests they are in it for its marketing potential.
So do they do it all for Brand, or all for Breed? Well, at the end of the day, the two go hand in hand. Formula One does develop areas for the road car, and thus uses sponsors money to improve the breed. The branding opportunities of Formula One are gigantic, and it cannot be denied that the main reason for the influx of car manufacturers in the sport is to take advantage of these. However, by improving sales using the car buyer's interest in Formula One, the car company will become stronger and have more opportunities to explore technology. So branding indirectly improves the breed too, and if you're a winner in Formula One, you will be a winner on the road!
In the late 80's and early 90's, it was Ferrari vs. McLaren in Formula One. At the same time, both brought out road going supercars. Now they're challenging for the championship again, both companies are developing competing road cars. We take a look at the past and the future of the off-track Ferrari-McLaren battles.
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Part III: F1 For the Road - Ferrari
It was in 1990, when Ferrari were experiencing a resurgence in the World Championship with Alain Prost all but winning it in that year, that Piero Ferrari aired his idea. It was simple. Take one Ferrari Formula One car and morph it into an all-new Ferrari road-going supercar. And so began the F50 project.
Driven by customers asking why the company could not build something close to a Formula One car that could be driven on the road, the engineers at Ferrari began looking into the areas of their Grand Prix machine which made it just that. The power in their road engines, they decided, was enough, but it was concluded that it would be possible to bring across much of the technology of Formula One onto a road car.
The Ferrari F40 (the car's predecessor) had looked as though it was a carbon fibre chassis, but this was not the case. It was simply a tubular frame chassis with carbon parts.
Ferrari decided they could do better and set about designing a full carbon fibre monocoque that would give a stiffer chassis. Although not visible, cars twist under load, and a structural designer's job is to create a chassis that will deform to a minimal amount under normal accelerative and cornering loadings. Through using Carbon Fibre, the Ferrari engineers were able to achieve a stiff chassis which is also very light - so stiff, in fact, that they claim the roof can be removed without the usual ill effects to handling. It therefore handles better, without having the penalty of the extra weight usually required for structure stiffness, and importantly, this was a key innovation brought from Formula One.
The second important area is the F50's much acclaimed 'Formula One derived' engine. This is based on the 3.5 litre V12 unit which powered Prost and Nigel Mansell in the 1990 season, but it's relations are loose. The road going powerplant took the F1's 65-degree vee, used the same 5-valve per cylinder design, and retained the block length. Everything else, however, is different. It had to be - although the F50 is a remarkable car, the requirement to replace an engine every 200 or so miles as in an F1 car would be ridiculous! Some of the exotic materials have made it onto the road engine, however, with titanium playing a part in the internals. The capacity was increased to 4.7 litres, and the engine hits the rev limiter at 8,700 rpm, quite some way short of the 14,000 attainable with the F1 engine - pneumatic valve springs made such revs possible, but these were too unreliable to be used due to air leakages (which have been often seen to cause problems in Grands Prix), and were replaced with steel springs for the road engine.
The engine is mounted directly to the carbon fibre monocoque, and this caused problems as carbon fibre is a great transmitter of vibrations and sound. An F1 driver is alright wearing a helmet and earplugs, but Ferrari felt it couldn't demand this of the road car driver! Some modifications were achieved, but the engine remains loud - so Ferrari used its raw, unrefined qualities as a selling point!
Aerodynamics was a key area in the F50's design, and is also partially derived from F1. The road car design team actually used the F1 team's wind tunnel for development - a situation which would never be seen now, with teams never having a spare minute in their tunnels. The time spent was worth it, as the car can actually produce correctly balanced downforce at the front and rear, using an apparently F1-derived wing at the rear, which assists in making the handling exceptional.
Part of this handling equation is the suspension, which is a unique innovation to have come across from Formula One. It uses independant double wishbone suspension, with pushrods connecting to inboard springs and dampers, just as Prost and Mansell's F1 car did. However, in standard road car design, rubber bushes are used to act as cushions at suspension mounting points, and reduce the transmission of road noise. These are to the detriment of handling, and for that reason, they do not exist in F1. There, the suspension is mounted directly to the chassis or gearbox with rigid ball joints (somewhat like a hip joint). Ferrari went with this method for the F50, deciding that as this is an F1 car for the road, handling could not be compromised - besides how could the extra road noise add anything to the sound of that beast of an engine sitting behind the driver! To the surprise of the industry, the suspension was a success, and the ride was not as harsh as expected, but despite this, we have not yet seen any other road cars use this technology.
The technology brought from Formula One into the F50 is now ten years old - and how F1 develops in ten years! There is no semi-automatic gearbox on the road car, a technology which was not even reliable on the race cars in 1990, and the brakes, although F1-derived, are steel and not carbon as the temperatures developed in even a road car such as this were, and still are, not high enough to allow the material to function well enough.
The supercar era is (unofficially) over, and now manufacturers are using F1 developments in more limited fashion. Ferrari's F360 Modena, shows that even in their 'non-exclusive' range, the F1 involvement comes through. The new car uses traction control, and drive-by-wire technology, as well as the (now mandatory on all sports cars) F1 style semi-automatic paddle gear change. Its performance, although road car bred, has benefited from the thoughts of the racing engine designers. Oh, and the paint job. It still looks best in red!
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Part IV: F1 For the Road - McLaren
Ironically it was the evening after McLaren's defeat at the hands of Ferrari - the team's only loss of the 1988 Formula One World Championship - that the dream of designer Gordon Murray began to develop into reality. He had always wanted to build a sportscar, and now he had the brief to make the best car possible, regardless of cost. McLaren Cars was set up to oversee the project, and the design process began in mid 1990, around the same time that Ferrari's F50 idea was conceived.
The McLaren F1 was to be "The Super Sports Car to end all supercars". Rather than the Ferrari F50's unrefined and brutal F1-for-the-road concept, McLaren wanted their 'F1' to be a fast, usable, and safe driver's car. It would not be directly developed from a Formula One racer, but would use the technologies predominant in the sport.
Many Formula One players were involved in the design of the F1, and this ensured that the process was unique. The initial thoughts were on what defined an F1 car for the road, and unlike Ferrari's view, where the engine was used to give the 'F1 feel', the entire concept here was based around offering the driver a single seater experience. This aim was achieved using the car's three person lay-out, which puts the driver in an uncompromised position in the centre of the car. The engine choice was, in fact, initially to be a racing-derived Honda. However, in a step which created the important difference between McLaren and Ferrari's concepts, it was decided not to use an F1-based engine to power the McLaren - so much would have to be changed that they decided it would be cheaper to start from scratch. The Honda connection fell away, and it was eventually down to BMW to supply the powerplant (a company, ironically, the main rival of McLaren's current engine manufacturer Mercedes). With these two decisions made, the next step defined a further difference between standard road car development and that of the McLaren F1.
Rather than beginning to sketch the styling of the car, the team headed for the wind tunnel. In obtaining a well-handling supercar, it was decided that there should be no compromise in aerodynamics. To allow a high top speed, a low drag coefficient target
was set, but significant downforce was also required to offer good high speed handling. To achieve this, underbody flow was developed using a flat floor with a diffuser, much the same as with the Ferrari F50, and as seen in Formula One. In addition, the design incorporated a throwback to Formula One days goneby. Using a principle similar to that found on the rapidly banned Brabham fan car, the diffuser design was tweaked to work with the cooling airflow. This obtained very efficient downforce, and another F1 concept had been employed.
Concerned that the Ferrari F50-style race-derived suspension would create an undesirable ride for a refined car such as the F1, Murray took the principal of race design and put it into practice to obtain a well balanced car. Good handling requires the car to have little resistance to movement in turning (it requires a 'low polar moment of inertia'). To achieve this, the components, which must weigh as little as possible, should be positioned close to the centre of gravity. Compromises in this area for road cars usually lead to less efficient handling, but as we have learned already, the word compromise was not in Murray's vocabulary. With careful attention to detail, the desired aim was achieved, and the McLaren was able to ensure a good ride and good handling through the use of race car style double wishbone suspension but with road car style bush mountings. The handling was also improved by reducing the unsprung mass of the car (wheels, tyres, suspension), as this improves the amount of time the contact patch of the tyre and the road are together.
Despite their differences, the one most common thing between McLaren and Ferrari's supercars is their overall construction. Both use the Formula One technology of a carbon fibre monocoque, and both are still the only cars to have done so - probably because this is one of the major ingredients creating their lottery-level price tags. Cost aside, the solution is an ideal one, as it provides the required strength with low weight. Such strength, in fact, that the McLaren F1 became the only car ever to be able to drive away from a crash test at the Motor Industry Research Association. Before this, however, McLaren had proven the monocoque's safety in an improvised test of their own, when the original prototype, the XP1, dramatically crashed in the deserts of Namibia. Despite numerous rolls followed by the car being engulfed in flames, the test driver walked away unharmed.
One of the most important achievements of the McLaren F1, and one that was key to McLaren International's requirements, was the development of a new British car company - McLaren Cars. The supercar was to be the tip of the iceberg, but the company has appeared dormant, concentrating on developing the GT versions of the F1 with which they achieved Le Mans success. That is until now. The success of the McLaren Mercedes Grand Prix team has led to a collaboration on a new flagship Mercedes sports car. The fantastic looking Mercedes SLR is McLaren Cars' new baby.
Through Formula One, Mercedes has left behind its luxurious but sedate image, and made way for a sportier form.
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