The passing of Chapman in 1982 didn’t
end Lotus innovations. In ’87, the team
introduced electronic active suspension
on its 99 T (TOP LEFT). While complicated,
heavy and troublesome, the active system
helped to maintain a consistent ride
height and proved especially useful at
slow and bumpy circuits such as Monaco
and Detroit, where Ayrton Senna drove
the car to victory both times. However,
the complexities of active ride proved
beyond the ability of Lotus to develop
fully. It was left to Williams to fully
realize their advantages with its
all-conquering FW14B of 1992, which
benefited from traction control as well.
John Barnard, designer of the first carbon
fiber McLaren, had moved to Ferrari for
1989 and immediately came up with a car
that, while not as ground-breaking as his
MP4/1, featured a different innovation
that also would become an F1 standard.
The pointed nose and narrow, shapely
monocoque of the Ferrari 640 (TOP RIGH T)
made it one the most beautiful grand prix
cars ever, but its breakthrough tech was
“One of the most beautiful grand
prix cars ever, its breakthrough
tech was its gearbox”
its gearbox – a 7-speed semi-automatic actuated by steering
wheel paddles, at a time when all F1 cars were shifted manually.
The car won its debut in the hands of Nigel Mansell, but this
was a fluke as the radical gearbox proved very unreliable.
However, the advantages of its quicker shifts (and the reduced
strain on engines that it provided) made semi-automatics
standard issue by the mid-’90s.
As F1 grew increasingly technically sophisticated and budget-intensive, opportunities for smaller players to make a splash
declined, but Tyrrell demonstrated with its 1990 design that
good ideas don’t require unlimited budgets. Actually just an
evolution of Tyrrell’s modestly successful 018, the 19 (ABOVE
LEFT) broke new ground with its nosewing, which was elevated
and featured an anhedral, or inverted V shape. Designers
Harvey Postlethwaite and Jean-Claude Migeot hit upon the
raised look as a way to improve the car’s underbody airflow.
Bemusement of rival teams at Tyrrell’s upturned beak turned to
consternation when they ran the numbers and found that the
low-budget squad had trumped their own wind tunnel-honed
shapes; in short order, raised noses
became de rigueur. The anhedral wing
shape, however, was not seen again.
Rising from the wreckage of the canceled
Honda F1 program, Ross Brawn’s team
went from plucky survivor to superpower
overnight, thanks to the “double-decker”
exhaust diffuser on its BGP001 (ABOVE
RIGHT). The diffuser’s controversial
aspect was the hole in the rear which
increased the speed of airflow as it
headed toward the higher rear venturi
section, where it expands and creates
more downforce. Rival teams first argued
that this violated the regulations and
then, when the FIA ruled the design
legal, scrambled to emulate it.
Given the massive difference in budget
between Brawn GP and the sport’s other
top players, it was not surprising that
this soon brought the team down to earth
– although not in time to deny Brawn’s
Jenson Button the World Championship.
The most lasting contribution by the first
and last car to carry the Brawn name may
have been in proving that the F1 formbook
can always be shaken by one good idea.