Despite concerns about tyre wear in warm weather conditions, Lewis Hamilton was once again in imperious form securing a comfortable pole to flag victory, lapping every car except for those on the podium.
This week he has secured the outright lead for most career podium finishes, climbing above the legend that is Michael Schumacher, the racer he aims to eclipse for total victories, now being only three behind.
In the build up to the Spanish GP there has been speculation aplenty about an impending Technical Directive to be applied from the Belgian GP onwards that will eliminate the special engine settings in the cars that were introduced in the turbo-hybrid revolution of 2014.
These modes typically allow teams, noticeably in qualifying, to run with higher revs and a richer fuel mix, enhancing speed while placing an additional strain on the engine.
Teams have created upto a dozen settings that provide a balance between reliability and performance. A letter sent to teams in Barcelona indicates that they will be required to race in the same setting that they use in qualifying.
Needless to say, the dominant Mercedes team believe it is an attempt to nullify the superiority they have shown since 2014.
It’s such a good car that another team has allegedly tried to copy it, despite the apparent differences to the hydraulic spring on the Mercedes and the S-duct nose on the “Pink Mercedes”!
Technology, or the controversy surrounding it, is frequently at the forefront of paddock and press discussion.
With that in mind as a follow on to the celebration of 70 years of F1, I will this week take a look at some of the technologies that make this race series the global leader that it is.
Mercedes currently holds six consecutive constructors’ championship titles, level with the all-conquering Ferrari from 1999. There are various ways in which a car could be considered to be superior to its’ rivals – highest wins per race in a season (or a percentage derivative), 1-2 finishes for the team or pole positions for outright pace.
By any calculation the Mercedes is setting new standards, primarily as a result of its power unit. The current W11 car benefits also from the revolutionary Double Axis Steering system along with a less-heralded rear suspension that allows an “extremely adventurous” aerodynamic opportunity and greater downforce.
No team, however, can yet match the win ratio achieved by McLaren in the 1988 season that was the first of four successive titles. With Prost and Senna behind the wheel the team maximised the superiority of the Honda engine and McLaren chassis that exploited the new regulations that had raised the turbo boost limit and adjusted the fuel load permissible.
Other teams have dominated at times of impending regulatory change, notably the Ferrari of ’52 and ’53 and again in ‘61, Williams of ’96 and the McLaren of ’98.
Ferrari’s dominant car of 2002 was arguably a result of their exclusive use of Bridgestone tyres while the Adrian Newey Red Bull that Vettel drove to four consecutive titles emanated from his mastery of aerodynamics (excluding the tyre controversy of 2013).
Yet there are other developments that have been so ground-breaking that, in keeping with the DAS of the Mercedes, are so revolutionary that they are subsequently banned or force tightened governance.
While Lotus may not have invented “ground-effect” they certainly perfected it in 1977 and 1978 with their Venturi Tunnels (or skirt) that “sucked” the car to the ground. This principle was outlawed in 1982 although will intriguingly be making a comeback in 2022.
The Bernie Ecclestone-owned Brabham team attempted to counteract the impact of this car by introduced the fabled “fan car” although unreliability with overheating meant that it was doomed, yet not before it had divided opinion on the pit lane!
One of the most easily identifiable yet divisive cars was the six-wheel Tyrrell of 1976. Unfortunately, the enhanced braking and grip was undone by its unreliability and need for a smooth race track, not common in the day! Ferrari, Williams and March tried to copy the concept before it was banned.
In 1983 Lotus first attempted to introduce a concept developed for ambulances, namely active suspension. However, it was Williams who dusted off the technology in 1992 and combined it with electronic driver aids, traction control and an adjustable ride height thereby allowing Nigel Mansell to cruise past the opposition.
Bahrain was one of the first countries to witness a shift in the balance of power from Ferrari to Renault in 2005 when the latter introduced its mass damper concept. The weight suspended between springs was used to reduce vibration but was controversially banned after the French Grand Prix (thankfully not before) in 2006.
2009 saw the introduction of new FIA aerodynamic regulations aimed at slowing cars although these left a loophole as large as those introduced on the floor of the car that activated airflow over a second diffuser.
Several teams were developing their own systems yet it was the Brawn that led the way (by a second a lap). Their competitors simultaneously objected and copied although too late to prevent them from claiming the title.
The following year it was the McLaren that introduced the F-Duct, a small hole in the cockpit that allowed the driver to manually create a pressure change that channelled air over the rear wing. This was quickly outlawed but ushered in the Drag Reduction System (DRS) which is prevalent today.
One of the most controversial developments was the 1981 twin-chassis of the Lotus designed by Colin Chapman. The outer chassis, independently sprung, was designed to take the pressure and produce massive levels of downforce while the inner one held the cockpit. Along with the McLaren MP4/1 it was the first to make significant use of carbon fibre.
Protests were lodged and the car was banned from competing, despite constant protests from its designer! Disputes escalated to the point where the team (and any host race allowing it to compete) was threatened that it would lose its status!
Whenever a single team dominates it can result in “boring” racing at the front of the pack. However, in my opinion, such excellence should be celebrated for the benefits that it ultimately brings to us all as technology is transferred to road cars.
Major technological (and safety) developments:
1952 Hard shell helmets made mandatory
1961 first 4 wheel drive car
1962 1st full monocoque
1963 Fire retardant overalls made mandatory
1968 Full face helmet, separate aerofoil wings
1971 Slick tyres
1976 Six-wheel car
1977 turbocharge, ground effect
1978 Ingenious fan car
1981 carbon fibre monocoque chassis
1989 semi automatic gearbox
1990 traction control
1992 active suspension
1993 anti lock braking
2003 head and neck support device (HANS)
2009 kinetic energy recovery system (KERS), double diffuser
2010 blown diffuser, f-duct
2011 drag reduction system (DRS)
2014 turbo hybrid engines
2018 halo protection
2020 dual axis steering (DAS)