When the 1.5-liter Formula 1 for 1961
was announced, the British teams threw
up their hands and threatened to create
a breakaway series. Called the
Intercontinental Formula (for 3-liters),
it ran concurrently with F1 and bombed
after a handful of national races. It might
have prospered had not Enzo Ferrari
reneged on a promise of support. His
Scuderia was too busy dominating the
Change has always provided chance
for those with plenty of change to spare.
Ferrari benefited when Alfa Romeo’s
withdrawal and the overdrawn BRM project
left F1’s cupboard bare and 2-liter F2
had to fill the gap from 1952-’ 53.
Mercedes-Benz waited until the launch
of 2.5-liter F1 in 1954 – specifically July’s
French Grand Prix, held at a track that
suited its car to a tee – before rewriting the
book on how to go motor racing on an
industrial scale. (As it had 20 years prior
with the introduction of the 750kg formula.)
When the flat-bottom regulations were
confirmed stupidly late for 1983, Bernie
Ecclestone’s Brabham designed and built
a brand new car in a matter of weeks and
Nelson Piquet drove it to the second of
his three world titles.
WHEN OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS
And when turbos were canned for
1989, the McLaren/Honda/Prost/Senna
superteam continued where it had left off,
having been one of the few to bother with
forced induction for a valedictory 1988.
And so it goes: the narrow-track and
grooved tires of 1998: McLaren; the
2.4-liter V8s of 2006: Renault; the
turbo-hybrids of 2014: Mercedes-Benz.
It’s hard to spike the sport’s big guns.
But not impossible.
The 3-liter formula of 1966 was met
with almost universal praise – but once
again the British were caught short of
suitable power. Whereupon a wily
Australian scored four consecutive world
titles using an uncomplicated engine
originally intended for a road car and
powering a simple chassis bearing his
own name: Brabham.
And in 1994, already using its
endurance-racing element to maximize
the strategic benefits to be had from the
reintroduction of mid-race refueling, a
team named after the Benetton clothing
brand absorbed the sport’s instant recoil
– including a 15 percent reduction of
downforce – from Senna’s fatal accident
to forge a new era, with the burgeoning
Brawn/Byrne/Schumacher axis at its core.
For some, F1 rule changes are a disruption to momentum; for others, they’re an opportunity to excel.
1954: Mercedes-Benz built cars to the new
2.5-liter F1 rules, but delayed its entry until
the French GP. The streamlined W196s were
perfect for the super-fast Reims track,
coming home 1-2 in their era-redefining debut.
When ground effect cars were banned,
Gordon Murray built the BT52 as a dart,
with weight biased to the rear. It worked.
In the switch to 3-liter rules, Jack
Brabham exploited the turmoil by going
the “simple as possible” route. It worked.