Formula one is at the forefront of technology and design, and this pressure on the designers to come up with revolutionary ideas, often creates radical designs, some of which may have been better left on the drawing board.
Possibly the most famous of these ‘out there’ designs, is the Tyrrell P34. Better known as the Six-Wheeled car, the design of the body was quite normal of its era, but the extra 2 wheels at the front, created quite a stir in the world of Motorsport. Designed by Derek Gardner in 1976, the four smaller wheels apparently reduced drag that would have affected the car if there were two larger wheels instead. They also created a greater area for the brakes to take effect, which decreased stopping distance. The cars first race was at the Spanish GP in 1976 and it turned out to be one of the top cars of the early part of the season. This was backed up by its first and only win at the Swedish GP in the same year. Jody Scheckter and Patrick Depailler secured first and second place respectively, giving Scheckter the honour of being the only person to win a grand prix in a six-wheeled car. The car was modified for the 1977 season. It was given cleaner aerodynamics, and was made wider and heavier, but it was not to be as the car had lost its advantage it had held over the field the year before. The car design was then scrapped for the following year, and Tyrell went back to a less radical design. Tyrell had little further success and sold up to BAR in 1998.
Almost considered as weird as the Tyrell P34, The Brabham BT46 is known for having a fan on the back of the car. The fan benefitted the car greatly, as it generated downforce by sucking air from underneath the car. The fan was connected to the engine, so that faster the car went, the faster the fan would work. This led to the drivers, especially Niki Lauda, commenting that the car was strange to drive as it meant that drivers had to accelerate into corners to create downforce, which was different to any other car they had driven. The car won the Swedish GP in 1978 due to the car being able to drive through an oil spill at high speed due to the increased downforce. This was its only success though as it was soon ruled illegal. The designer – Gordon Murray – claimed that the fan was used to cool the engine, which was partially true, but the rule of banning moveable aerodynamic devices soon took affect, and the car was banned from the next race onwards.
Whenever new rules and regulations for the cars come in, designers from all teams try and come up with ways to make the car more aerodynamically efficient, but still within the set guidelines. The Lotus E22 is a good example of where this may have gone too far. The Lotus has two ‘tusks’ instead of the regular one on most modern Formula One cars. Lotus say that this is to improve airflow underneath the car, and to comply with the new regulations for the 2014 season, which say that the nose of the car must be below a certain height. As this would mean that the nose would have to be steeper, and therefore introduce more drag, this work-around is actually a very good idea. One of the ‘tusks’ is shorter than the other because the rules also state that there must be one ‘projection’ and any others must be further back. The Williams FW26 from the 2004 season also has a similar concept, with two connectors from the nose to the front wing to allow for air to pass underneath the nose, without breaking the rules. Another weird feature of the Lotus E22 is the Rear Wing. The Central Column has been offset to allow for the kink in the exhaust pipe. This is absurd, as it would be thought that the Airflow out of the exhaust and the curved central pillar would put a greater force on one side of the wing, but the designers must have found an advantage from it, or it would not be on the car.
All of these cars are radical and a bit ‘out-there’ but they are the result of the continuous push for development and the extreme levels of competitiveness that F1 forces on the teams, and the car designers.