F1 Winter Break
F1 in the future – The Cars
F1 in the future – The Cars
Posted By: James Allen  |  26 Dec 2009   |  11:38 am GMT  |  63 comments

F1 cars have been essentially the same shape for sixty years – petrol engined single seaters with uncovered wheels – apart from the Mercedes cars of 1954.

But does it have to stay that way? If technology allows cars to race very close together – or cluster racing – but safely, then the wheels would need to be covered up and the shape would change completely.

An engineer will say that to answer the question of what the cars will look like in the future you need to know what the rules will say in 2050.

It’s an obvious point, but the rules dictate what the cars will look like and what technical features they will be allowed to have. For example in the 1970s and 1980s the rules were fairly relaxed and the engineers came up with some amazing cars – we had six wheeler cars, ground effect cars, a fan car, a car with two chassis and so on.

The rules may have been relaxed, but the resources the teams had to exploit them were limited. Since the advent of massive TV income to the sport, the situation has been reversed and now the rules are very restrictive and yet the budgets are enormous, so engineers spend thousands of hours and millions of pounds testing out tiny modifications which will give a fraction of a second improvement to lap time. At the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix, McLaren are alleged to have spent round £4 million to develop a new front wing for Lewis Hamilton’s car which gave 1/10th of a second improvement in lap time. This is something the sport is trying to get on top of now with the resource restriction agreement.

So in what major ways might the rules change in future? The technical advisers and researchers under Max Mosley’s FIA regime were focussed on trying to restrict the areas in which the teams are allowed to compete against each other. This was said to be in the interests of cost control, to get the budgets down. So engines and gearboxes, for example, are basically all the same, the specification is frozen until 2012, there is no scope for improving them and thus hundreds of millions of pounds are saved on unnecessary development.

Suspensions, brakes, wheels and hubs are another area, where the public is not aware of the differences between the designs and yet millions used to be spent on refining brake ducts. This has been stopped, as has tyre technology, where a single tyre manufacturer supplies identical tyres to every driver.

But Mosley’s regime wanted F1 to innovate in some key areas, like KERS, and fuel economy, which would benefit the motor industry and society more generally. That is likely to continue under new FIA president Jean Todt, but he may choose to go about it in a different way. Also the influence of the manufacturers is greatly diminished; now most of the teams are privateers who do not have road cars to think about.

As tyres are one of the most effective ways of controlling the cornering speeds in F1, a perpetual problem, it is likely that control tyres will still be used in future. The harder the tyres, the less grip and therefore the slower the car goes around the corner. We will not be at the point where cars hover above the ground, like Star Wars. Four tyres will still be the only contact points between the car and the road. And the absence of competition between tyre makers in F1 will mean that the pace of development of racing tyre technology will be relatively slow. That said, engineers say a set of tyres will be able to last an entire race weekend, practice, qualifying and race if the sport wants it that way.

It is not possible to know what the rules will allow 20 years from now, but Tony Purnell, the FIA’s former technical consultant says, “Society will dictate the rules.” He believes that F1 is an entertainment and the public, as the customers, will dictate what is and is not acceptable according to the mood of the times. “Forty years ago it was inconceivable that fox hunting would be banned, and yet banned it was. Today you could say the same about F1 racing and it’s our job to make sure it stays acceptable to the public and in tune with the times.”

Therefore the emphasis will be on sustainability; the engines will be incredibly efficient. Today’s 2.4 litre V8 F1 engines produce around 750 horsepower and burn approximately 2.5 kilos of fuel to cover a three mile lap. In 20 years the engines will have to be many times more efficient than that, as road cars will probably be returning figures of around 100 miles per gallon by then.

Tomorrow we will look a little more closely at the engines.

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What’s up everyone, it’s my first pay a visit at this website, and paragraph is genuinely fruitful for me, keep up posting these types of articles.


Agreed money, but what I’m saying is getting the most from the least resorce, both fuel and sticking to the budget restrictions. Then let the best engineers and the best drivers do battle!


With fuel efficiency being key now refuelling is banned diesel power should be an obvious alternative with the aim of being able to run F1 cars on bio-diesel.

Safer, greener and of some benefit to the engine manufacturers.


I suspect there will be an expectation that F1 will remain the fastest cars around an normal circuit. This is probably going to keep the downforce levels up. 1978 showed the way to make this work while allowing the cars to overtake – car generated suction. The fan could have a fixed set of operational parameters so that the car generated, for example 3.5 g in all instances (tyres depending), rather than huge gs at 300 km/h and 1.5 g at 80 km/h around a Monaco hairpin.

If we want the noise to be part of the spectacle (so to speak) then a hydrogen-burning combustion engine would be the way to go. Turbos would be good too – more variety in tone and not quite so hard on the ears.

Active suspension could be used to make the ride more comfortable, so the drivers could spend more time drinking beer and chasing groupies rather than training and saving energy on a weekend. (I recently re-read the Keith Botsford assisted Alan Jones autobiography from 1981. There is a classic chapter on Jones describing hooking up with the girls at the races, and some thoughts on their intellectual abilities too. It would have gone down well with his wife too see it in print…).

With regenerative braking, the carbon brakes could go, in part on OH&S grounds. Without wings and covered wheels, there’d be a balance between weight, angular momentum and having a long car to reduce drag – think long-tail 917.

There would probably be a rule change in sports cars so that they must have roofs so that they are clearly different from F1 cars.

The sponsorship will still be English spelling, but it will all be for Asian countries and international banks as everything else will be too poor to take part. With no oil the Middle East will have less of a role too.


I think it will be difficult to move away from the internal combustion engine. For many of the sports core fans and petrol heads in general, we have grown to love the speed and the sound associated with petrol driven rear-wheel drive.

Despite the clear environmental benefits I’m not sure that the public will embrace fuel cell technology.

For sure, cut costs, look at standardizing component parts but please don’t move away from fire spitting, high revving V8s.

There are many who have had posters of classic muscle or sports cars on their bedroom walls. Fewer people, I suspect, idolize with Sinclair’s C5 in the same way.

Whatever rule changes are implemented in the future please don’t spoil the F1 show.


Forget any current advancement on aero and current look of the F1 car. Unfortunately this will be a thing of the passed and time is catching F1 far more rapidly than the current Formula 1 car can run away from. Sustainability is the one and ONLY key factor here. Now before I continue any further I confess that I am not a “green” flag shaker or world eco friendly warrior. But even I as an aging dinosaur of F1, have accept, that before long F1 will be banned by world leaders as a bad example of ll that is good for the future of our planet. Sad I know, but times are changing far more rapidly than any gas guzzling power-plant can travel.

The first sign of this is the banning of refueling. The next as has already been suggested, a total fuel usage per season. For this to happen the engine freeze will be lifted and KERS enforced along with many other energy saving devices. oh yes tires that last a full season!

The end result will soon prove to be a road car look, all be it a concept car but with all the speed of the current levels and harvesting a carbon footprint of zero. This change will still prove to be the pinnacle of motor sport. Because as man has four wheels and a steering mechanism (if that’s what they are), the blood of a race driver will live forever.

As sycophantic and extreme as this might seem, if these changes are not addopted and pretty quickly, there will be no “green flags” falling on F1 in the future.


Hi James

Had a question to ask about tyres. With Bridgestone set to leave F1 after next season, is there any idea who is going to manufacture the control tyres?

Or, will it go back to different tyre manufacturers like before?


F1 is hoping Bridgestone may stay on in some capacity, otherwise Michelin may look at it. I spoke to Pirelli and they said that technically it would be hard to get up to speed on that kind of tyre in one year. It could turn out to be a problem.


I’m keeping it simple cos I’m not as clever as some of you people…

I’m basing my wish list on my theory that there actually isn’t that much wrong with the cars, we get a good race on decent (non Herman Tilke) track.

Andrew’s wish list:

– Keep Kers. It should make racing good and is a good area for research – imagine this technology on your road car.

– Ban double diffuser. It has undone all the good work on overtaking

– Keep adjustable wing (but find a way to show the audience when it is used). James, do you know if the drivers actually adjusted them that much?

– Ban wheel cover things. Just for the look. I think they have already though havent they?

– Bring back sparks and flames!

That’ll do until the next subject comes up.


I want to see a banning of carbon based fuels.. F1 could look at hydrogen or bio fuels. That would be so good for the automotive industry and the planet.

Opposite Lock (Ken)

When cars are withing tenths of a second per lap, overtaking is pretty unlikely except when the drivers are unequal in skill. The area to exploit in F1 is in braking. I believe if they would ditch the carbon brakes and require steel/carbon or steel/ceramic brakes, we would see a lot more overtaking in the braking zones. Pure carbon brakes are not suitable for street cars, their costs are enormous and their operation temperature ranges are very narrow. Sure, the current carbon brakes are amazing. But do they add to the show? Wouldn’t technology in developing more efficient steel alloy brakes make far better sense? Plus, it would dramatically improve the racing and bring back late-braking skills into the driving skills.

Crid [CridComment @ gmail]

If fenders can make it safer, I’m for fenders.

On the other hand, it’s nice that you can put on a contemporary nose in fifteen seconds. But does it matter?

When was the last time someone had a nose replaced and went on to win? Anybody know?


As far as the budget cap goes it is really hard to say what would be a reasonable figure for any team. One of the best thing about F1 is the indroduction of highest quality new technologis. Of course rich teams like Ferrari & Mclaren are going to be against the budget cap because of their ability to adapt new technologies throughout the year and use them efficiently by some really talented group of people. As an F1 fan I love it!!! It really amazes me how some handful of teams are able to change the performance of the car through out the year. Hamilton’s world title in 2008 is a reflection of that. The car was really strugling to match the ferrari until the monaco grand prix. We all know what happened next including the crash gate. Yes I agree with Purnel that the society will dominate the rules in future. But with an inadequate budget cap teams will be strugling to be enviroment friendly. Earlier this year a farmer won a lawsuit against the Barcelona track management because his cows stopped producing milk as an effect of the noise from the track. Budget cap is not gonna stop the noise. On the otherhand, teams will not be able to use the resources available with so much restriction. F1 has changed forever since the terrifying death of Senna in 1994 as far as the safety is concerned. That still didn’t prevent Massa nearly losing his life in Hungary. As a matter of fact a young british driver lost his life earlier that week. So bad things will still happen no matter what changes are introduced. As a fan of this extra ordinary sport I prefer great battles when the championship is decided on the last race of the year. In relation to this I’d like F1 to relate to English Premier League (the most watched league in the world). The big teams spend huge amount of money to transfer players from one team to the other. Teams like ManU, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Man City spend more on players’ wages alone than what Ferrari & Mclaren does for the whole F1 callender. Small teams like Burnley, Stokes, Birmingham etc. are really just happy to be in the league. Those teams are happy to avoid relegation each year, winning the premiership is beyond their dream. Similiarly, F1 must be free to technology to become more environment friendly even if the budget cap is still introduced. We have seen many new teams over the years. They will always come and go. But Ferrari & Mclaren kind of teams are the ManU, Liverpool, Arsenal & Chelsea of the sport. Inadequate budget cap will only force these teams away. Can anybody imagine F1 without these teams? In the end I must say, whether you like it or not Michael Schumacher is the most successful driver of F1 history & his comeback will certainly bring hell of alot of good this sport (much needed one). Happy holidays


The way that teams develop their cars will not change much in the future. Teams all want to win, they want to do whatever they can to achieve that goal as no team is in Formula One to “take part”. Formula One is the pinnacle of motor sport and should still be in the future (pending no more FOTA breakaway threats)

Drivers work for years to get to the top and they are sometimes not rewarded with what has taken them so long with a justified drive. Look at Jenson Button though various twists and turns it took 21 years to claim his dream of being World Champion, but it wasnt without the sacrifices from himself and his family to get him to that stage. Button is I believe one of the best drivers with in the sport and for many years has been handicapped with the machinery he has been given. Lewis Hamilton on the other hand was given a great opportunity straight away and grabbed it with both hands. If Button had been given the right machinery he would have had many more race wins and perhaps more chances of winning the World Championship. My point is that it is not fair to handicap the best drivers with mediocre machinery and in the future, especially the near future I hope that more standardisation is introduced into the sport. This would include tyres, brakes, gearboxes, dampers, types of materials, aerodynamic packages etc. By standardising these parts and many more it would hand more emphasis back to the driver which is the way it should be and this would also save the teams a lot more money.

On the grid next year should be 26 of the best drivers in the world. From a fans point of view I dont want to see a driver not be as quick as the guy in front of him because his car isnt as competitive, I want to see closer racing for the entertainment value because if the driver is at the back of the grid, it is not because his car isnt very good, but because he is purely not as quick as anyone else out there. I dont care what brakes or type of gearbox he has in his car, I want to see a driver stand on top of the podium simply because he is better than anyone else out there.


Not sure about covered wheels. If you were designing a formula from scratch you might hit on covered wheels as a way to encourage close car-to-car racing. You might mandate tin-top cars, too — both would certainly improve the aero. But open wheels are an integral part of the way the top formula has developed. They demand more skill from the drivers and are part of making the F1 car the surgical instrument that it is, rather than the bludgeon that is (say) a NASCAR car. Even allowing for a higher standard of technological development, close the wheels and stick a roof on and you’re near as dammit to an LMP car — entertaining racing, but not F1.

Re the safety angle — the tragic death of Henry Surtees notwithstanding, to be blunt, there are many ways to die in a racing car, and death as a result of wheel separation or crashes caused by wheel-to-something-else contact are very far from being common. Removing all risk from motor-racing would mean drivers touring around in limited-power electric karts surmounted by padded egg-shaped structures which would insulate drivers and surroundings from all harm. It would be extremely safe. Whether it would be enjoyable, for drivers, spectators or sponsors, is another matter.


I’d like to see:

– a video camera on the drivers feet

– the FIA develop serious F1 fan input F1. Time to get punter feedback, after all they are paying.

– KERS back with external indication to the crowd that it is being used

– regulate the maximum amount of downforce allowed

– the elimination of front and rear wings

– narrower tyres

– the return of fuel stops



Hi James,

You mention that “the specification is frozen until 2012, there is no scope for improving them and thus hundreds of millions of pounds are saved on unnecessary development” in reference to engines and gearboxes; but then state at the end of the article that “Therefore the emphasis will be on sustainability; the engines will be incredibly efficient.”

Surely if the engine issue is so important then having a freeze on development can’t be in the best interest of the sport? And any research and development wouldn’t be uneccessary as you have mentioned?

For Formula 1 to stay relevant and a leader in motorsport and =associated technologies then freezing development on a crucial component like the engine is doing the exact opposite. In a time when green technology and power to efficiency ratios are more important than ever – why then is Formula 1 not leading the way?

From articles I have read it seems the teams are in agreement that the engine should not be a performance differentiator; no one wants to see 26 identical cars on the track however in this new age of cost cutting then surely certain components should be common and research and development costs shared.

KERS is a prime example of how much money can be wasted on having 6 different constructors spending millions on a part that would only see one full season with an option for a return in a few years.

As much as the aero wars entertain and amaze us – there isn’t benefit outside of F1 for a front wing tweak to give 1/10th more through a high speed corner at 150 mph.


Well the point is it’s about cost containment now, but looking forwards sustainability is the most important factor


Yes cost containment is necessary; as well as sustainability. However how sustainable is your business if you decide to halt research and production on a key component for a few years to cut costs? By the time you re-enter the market with new products you are obsolete.

I’m also interested in how this is all going to shape up when the GFC is all over?


James,in my view,I’m pesimistic that Formula 1 will still be there 50 years from now,unless they manage to do something about the fuel and turn their cars into something environmentally friendly.Like,solar fuel,perhaps.

Otherwise,it will find it hard to survive and still using petrol as their fuel,because we will have had run out of petrol by that time.

By the way,James,off topic,but can you write an investigation about who The Stig really is as a New Year present for us? I’m really curious about it.And I suspect he is one of the Formula 1 drivers.So,it’s still a relevant article to be written on your blog.Thanks.


The only true free power that could be used in F1 is solar so let this be free regardless as to whatever rules imposed on the teams.

If this happened solar cells would suddenly become considerably more efficient as well as smaller 8)


To allow for efficiency being the main development theme, one would have to allow a complete redesign of the cars’ shapes. Aerodynamically, uncovered wheels are like shooting oneself in the foot before running a marathon. I hope future regulations limit the amount of fuel allowed per race, and that teams are free to gain speed by improving their overall efficiency, thus gaining usable engine power when balancing power with fuel consumption by adjusting their ECU etc. BUT have that freedom of research and development restricted to areas which are deemed important nowadays: (lightweight) crash security, but mainly improving fuel mileage / CO2 footprint, for example by better engine efficiency, exploring different engine/propulsion concepts, inducing less drag, … and NOT by perfecting your single-use, disposable titanium wheel nuts costing 1000$ (and probably lots of CO2) apiece.


Teams should be given a fuel allowance at the start of the year. This would include ALL driving including test both on a Friday and out of a race weekend.

This would really get the boffins working overtime and would spice up the show come the last few races as teams started to eek out their allotment 8)


As usual great insight from James! By the way is it possible to know the fastest of all from any of the F1 cars from the past and the present?


If you look at average speeds on a circuit-to-circuit basis, 2004 was the peak. Last year of the V10 engines and the tyre war are the key factors. The 1985 British GP pole lap at Silverstone stood as the record for a long time until 2002 at Monza – Barrichello is officially the fastest ever driver with pole at Monza in 2004. The difference is circuit design. Silverstone was modified in 1987 and that brought the speed down before a major re-work in the early 90s. The turbo era cars didn’t have the downforce, so they ran huge wings and these kept the top speeds down to 350 km/h mark on the straights. In 2004 the speeds were more like 372 km/h at Monza for the fastest cars. Button got a BAR-Honda without its wing on up to something like 410 km/h in 2005


Skirts with turbo engines.


I reckon you’r eon the right track with the covered wheels – I was thinking of writing as much when I’d read your article yesterday. At some stage the risk-aversion of society will dictate that the greatest single cause of accident risk is wheel-to-wheel speed differencial, and they’ll be covered.

I also reckon that at some stage in the future all F1 cars will be fitted with ejector seats. Think about it – rather than spend fortunes developing the safety of the ‘cells’, simply arrange to have the driver removed from the equation in time instead. Not sure how it’ll be achieved; I mean the technology would be simply, but in terms of execution do we leave it up to the driver to activate it, or race control, or the team, or simply have it like a road car’s airbag whereby the moment sensors in the exterior register a certain force of impact the seat activates within 1/100th of a second…

It would certainly give the crowd an added spectacle – if course if the first register of the impact was the result of a car rolling, then the seat would obviously fire off into the ground, or sideways into the track or crowd. But then it couldn’t be that difficult to have further sensors in place to prevent the seat ejecting if the car is anything other than 20* either side of level…

Anyway, you read it here first!


Great idea….

Perhaps we could also throw random hazards at the drivers. Sprinklers have been mentioned before but what about blinding lights, smoke, big jumps or a kilt wearing lunatic.

That would really sort the men from the boys.


You’ve been flying in too many fighter jets Howard – and sniffing the avgas. Instead of having energy-absorbing bit of car around the driver, the driver gets added energy – the same forward speed and the ejected velocity and no time to deploy the chute or anything else to slow the drive down before hitting something solid. The cars would weigh more, so the cornering speeds would be lower.

It would also remove the medical helicopter to outside the circuit…


Nonsense. Automatic chute deployment. I’m not talking about 2012, but in 15-20 years time? Damn right it could be utterly feasible.


How about fitting the cars with a force field like fitted to the Star Ship Enterprise, that’s make F1 super dooper safe :LOL:


I agree with Bill. Why is KERS going after just one season. In 10 years had it remained it may have been something really special!

The other thing I have been saying for years is that the rules should be relaxed on most things, but the rules should stipulate a set amount of fuel per weekend. Let the teams build a monster W16 but let’s see how much fuel it drinks. Economy should be the key moving forward. The ability to achieve the most from the least would help keep the greenies happy, make some positive solutions to everyday life and set the men from the boys.


Money, that’s why.


I think that the major area of engine development in the future will focus on the fuels that teams may use. Smaller, turbo diesel-engined cars may be the way to go if fuel efficency becomes the deciding factor in race wins.

As James said, what was unthinkable a few years ago suddenly becomes thinkable – if you’d said, 20 years ago, that a diesel-engined car would win the Le Mans 24 hour race, you’d have been laughed out of the pub.


I always saw F1 as the king of motorsport. Where all the teams are giving their maximum to get the best.car.ever. So if the best front wing costs 4 million, they’ll spend 4 million on a front wing. Or if it takes 20 people to make the fastets pit stop, they’ll use 20 people. This is what F1 makes special, and not just another motorsport.

I must admit being disappointed with all the regulations AND budget restrictions nowadays. This is not a good combination and stops innovation. On the other hand: there will be a moment that the FIA admits this (less viewers/visitors) and will start releasing the rules again (and/or the budget).


I agree, the FIA should be there as referee’s and that’s all.

These teams are business’s and should be allowed to be run as their owners/shareholders dictate.

The big teams will always be the big teams or are there people who really think Ferrari and Force India will be the same in terms of budgets, manpower and resource in a few years time ❓


The customer decides – ref to fox hunting :!? What utter rubbish this is; 1) Fox Hunting was nothing more than an attack on the so called upper class in the UK by the Labour party, most normal people don’t give it a seconds thought, 2) If the customer decides then how come we are stuck with so many races on tracks and countries that are not worthy of having an F1 race ❓

F1 is (or always has been) the pinnacle of motor sport where technologies and know-how were pushed to their limits.

Sure F1 could have tyres that lasted a full season and likewise engines but if this were the case it would case to be F1.

F1 should be set free with the only rider set by the FIA other than safety as it is at present (no more is needed, F1 is safe enough) is a reduction in the amount of fuel a team can use

I’d like to see a fuel limit for the SEASON, allowing the teams to decide how to use it, be it in testing or during the race with them deciding which track to really attack. This would add another dimension to F1 and the fans and would likely throw up so great action as the season unfolded 8)


Oh yeah, I like the idea of an allocation of fuel for the season!

It would definitely add a new dimension for the teams, allowing them to decide whether to run a standard amount of fuel at each race or to use a larger amount of fuel over part of the season to help build up a big lead (like Button this season) and then run “lean” for the rest of the season hoping to defend the lead and take the championship. It would also be interesting in a scenario (such as the latter part of 2006) where you had a driver that was in contention for the title but had a DNF (imagine Schumacher at Suzuka 2006)and his main title contender (Imagine Alonso) was likely to win the race. If the team (Imagine Ferrari) was willing to sacrifice the teammate’s season (imagine Massa) by getting him to run “full revs” for the rest of the race(regardless of the fuel that he used up) to win the race and take points off the other title contender (Alonso) even if that meant that the supporting teammate (Massa) might not have enough fuel left to finish the season. Bit confusing to explain (and might not work if there was no refueling allowed during the race), but basically it would bring a whole new dynamic to the strategy side…


Tony Purnell also gave a talk just days before Honda pulled out last year, explaining how he thought it inconceivable that a team ‘with racing in it’s blood’ like Honda would pull out of the sport any time soon.

So I’m inclined to take his words with a pinch of salt.

F1 is fundamentally a sport of technological competition, if it ceases to be the pinnacle of motor racing then spectators will lose interest in it, and teams lose their incentive to be part of it.

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