JA on F1 Podcast #5 – How important is innovation to Formula 1?
Posted By: James Allen  |  01 Jul 2012   |  7:34 pm GMT  |  29 comments

This month’s JA on F1 Podcast features a fascinating discussion on Innovation in Formula 1.

We’re really excited about this one and hope you are too. If you like to think about all the amazing ideas that go into this sport and about where the sport might be headed in the future then this show is for you.

In a packed half hour, which you can download and listen to at your leisure, we’ve got all kinds of insights from some innovative engineers and some great thinkers.

Lotus F1 technical director James Allison reveals what happens behind the scenes when one team comes up with something revolutionary, like the F Duct, and the rivals teams try to get it banned.

Caterham’s Mike Gascoyne argues that it is possible to innovate on a tight budget and explains why cost control has gone wrong in F1.

Veteran engineer Frank Dernie recalls the time when F1 engineers had limited budgets, but total freedom to innovate with ideas like six wheel cars and ground effect.

Architect John Rhodes, who redesigned Silverstone, takes a look at the way circuits will work in the future and how F1 can improve the fan experience.

And we get a unique view from outside the sport, from one of the UK’s brightest minds – Sir David King, former chief scientific adviser to the UK government and now fully engaged in shaping the transport of the future. He takes a look into the future and explains how F1 can help to move the world towards a more sustainable existence.

You can listen or download here or on ITunes.

And leave us your comment below on some of the key themes; how important do you think Innovation is to F1? Is a budget cap the right way to control costs or would it kill innovation?

No player? Download the podcast directly.

0.00 Introduction
1.54 James Allison, Technical Director, Lotus F1 Team
10.48 Sir David King, former Chief Scientific Advisor, HM Government
17.58 Mike Gascoyne, Chief Technical Officer, Caterham F1 Team
23.45 Zak Brown, CEO of sports marketing agency JMI
27.12 Frank Dernie
31.35 John Rhodes, Populous architect
35.25 Wrap up

Total duration 35.59

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Mad scientist bit is quite interesting: will have to disagree on oil – speculation, greed. The price is still 15 dollars but unfortunately there’s no way of stopping the current world economic model from cashing in on our needs. Maybe if we started to boycott oil exporting countries it would help; in the meantime, could somebody invent a car that runs on anything but petrol? One more reason to dislike races like Abu Dhabi/Bahrain – oil dollars, no-brainer.

Electric cars actually make some noise, actually a lot of noise. Maybe we won’t even need stereo speakers blasting V10 engine noise from the cars.

How to make races more fan-friendly? Cheaper tickets, that’s all there is. Won’t happen though…


James, surely F1 is doing more damage to the planet and spending a lot of money by flying numerous jumbo jets and multiple semi trailers around the world every second weekend, than it is running 24 cars around for 7 hours over 3 days? Shouldn’t cost cutting and environmental concerns be more aimed at finding better ways to get around the globe?

Jim "Wisemaker" St. George

Wonderful podcasts. Excellent interviews – very high standard. I am eager to hear more.


Superb podcast as usual! Hearing the voices of the main guys in the paddock really gives a sensation of “being there”. People can tweet all they like, but this is a lot more immersive.

Thumbs up for tempo and editing. Even the sponsor message fits in nicely.

The choice of topic was great.

Would love to see some blog posts on innovation that Formula 1 brought to the rest of the world. It is a fun thing to share with friends.


Thanks, feel free to share it


fantastic stuff James,but for F1 fans from China like me, who doesn’t speak English in our daily life,it’s a lit bit hard for us to understand the podcast completely.So,could you please add script or something to help us understand the stuff clearer?Thanks!


I agree with David King regarding ‘de-fossilisation’ – this should be extended to the rule book. Frank Dernie’s ‘two pages of A5’ sounds about right to me as long as current safety standards are maintained and covered in a separate document.

This would allow a return to Dernie’s ‘inventive’ phase of the ’70s and ’80s – 6 wheels, ground-effects, active suspension, whatever. Current use of the term ‘innovation’ is simply a smoke-screen for a sport hell-bent on driving itself into technological ossification.

Both Gascoyne and Dernie seemed to imply that the focus should simply be on a budget cap and that teams should be free to spend it as they see fit, allowing for considerable on-track testing in lieu of wind-tunnel and CFD simulation, and so forth. They are right.


Hi James – Great Podcast. I particularly liked what Sir David King had to say. A couple questions though:

1. Do you think Le Mans has overtaken F1 as a technical proving ground for road car technology? They have both Toyota and Audi competing with Hybrid vehicles, the cars are just as fast and they are encouraging innovation with initiatives like the Delta Wing.

2. If F1 is concerned about the annual operation costs, why not schedule the 20 races in geographical order so they teams aren’t zig-zagging all over the globe? They could easily ensure races are held in the autumn or spring of each country to ensure the best weather.


Hi Mark,

I’ll give you my thoughts..

1. I think Le Mans organisers are more open to innovative, different ideas, but the transfer to road cars may be no greater than F1. The diesel fuel run at Le Mans apparently has little in common with what we can get at the servo. Toyota has run the hybrid system elsewhere in racing, so it is just borrowing from elsewhere. I suspect that Le Mans just makes better value marketing, especially while Audi has limited competition. The Le Mans prototypes are fast, but still about 15s per lap slower around Spa.

2. Very little of the car is retained race-to-race, so you end up with parts going everywhere anyway. The tub is one of the longest lived components, but the teams want to regularly check it for damage, and new developments mean that large amounts of the car get removed and replaced with new bits.

Even if a team never changes a large component, such as the engine cover in shape, for commercial reasons it will have the paint removed and be repainted or be replaced, whatever is cheaper, to ensure the sponsor logos are well presented.



Another amazing podcast. My only criticism is that i need MORE, i am so dis-appointed that i have to wait an other month for number 6.

Does anyone else feel this way or am i the only podcast junkie.


Hi James,

I’m a self confessed formula one junkie and need fixes in regular stints, keep up the good work and call me when you’re in Australia , lets hang out with my mate Joseph above and Rusty from channel 10.




Hi James

Great podcast, talking about the very aspect I write about #TechF1 and Innovation in F1. I have the yellowbooks of 73 & 76 the like of which Frank Dernie is talking about and as he says back then the rules were very open. This leads me to something I’m preparing an article about: Aerodynamic Convergence

If we look through F1 there has always been a very distinctive set of teams that lead the innovation in F1. This leads all the other teams to follow in their footsteps and converge on similar methods. From recent seasons we have DDD, F Ducts, EBD etc, these are all things that as Frank says were available before but had not been exploited. As soon as one team finds that loophole the rest follow and before we know it comes full circle and the FIA close the loophole.

The cost element of F1 is not one that can be dealt with easily but is intrinsically linked to the ever evolving rule set outlined by the FIA. Narrowing the rules will always happen but with that brings elevated cost as the teams search for that additional laptime that will keep them in advance of the opponent.


Off topic does anybody know if Mclaren have had updates or are planning major ugrade packages as i’m starting to wory about lack of race pace ?


McLaren have been tweaking bits all season, all over the car. A major package of changes is expected for this weekend. However, not all packages make a significant difference to the speed relative to other cars. Red Bull will have further changes from its Valencia car, as will most of the field.




The discussion with James Allison was especially interesting. He mentioned that it was relatively easy to get new ideas with contributions from several people from all over the team. This is exemplary as such a thing is extremely difficult in large corporations around the world.

James, I have a follow up question for you which several people here might also be interested in: could you ask James Allison and share your insight about the mechanism they have in place for people to share ideas? How do the team personnel who are not near the top of the company hierarchy contribute? How can one eliminate bureaucracy that eventually creeps up in all organizations?


Will do.


I wouldn’t listen to Populous about ‘fan friendly’ circuits.

The new Silverstone track is dreadful for the fans, some of the grandstands are quite literally in a different postcode to the race track, and the pit lane is a joke, the teams have had to be shuffled around so the spectators in the main stand can see more than a couple of them.

Populous designs make Tilke circuits look perfect.


I really enjoyed the section with Mike.

For me I feel F1 has tilted to far to the ‘action’ this year as I am a fan of the engineering and I am not a fan of the current tyres or DRS. I was far more interested in Le Mans and the technology battle between Toyota and Audi, which produced good racing and innovative solutions.

I would like to see the rule book opened up so that the cars don’t all look the same, but agree with Mike that there needs to be a budget restriction, as I feel it is then sustainable.


Nice podcast James, it’s good to hear some opinions outside of F1 especially from David King. I think it solidifies the current direction to smaller / greener engines and the further developments of KERS to ERS in 2014.I enjoy the news on the technology side and really hope that F1 heads back down the path in transferring technologies to the public automotive arena as this has been missing for many years- obviously the technical regulations need to be reviewed. Already everyday cars are become more advanced and electric and even hydrogen cells being more available (I can visualize the Jetson Era in the next 50 years )

I like Mike Gascoynes comments regarding innovation not coming at 100’s millions of euros in budgets but rather that broader rules was the way forward within smaller budgets. Did you get the feeling that James Allison was less concerned about having those constraints ? I think it’s terrific that Lotus are open to such discussions or is that the old family connection ?? Many thanks


Perhaps this isn’t the proper forum, but it’s bugged me for a while: why is KERS limited to seven or eight seconds per lap? It seems that it directly applies to road cars, and if someone develops a regeneration system that allows you to have 15 seconds of KERS per lap, good for you – let the other teams try to catch up.

William Wilgus

KERS is often a part of Hybrid road cars’ system, as you know. I’ve recently read that here in the U.S., most hybrid car owners are buying non-hybrids when they replace their car. Perhaps the money spent by F-1 teams in complying with the KERS requirement was money ill-spent as far as innovation.


Speaking as an owner of a Hybrid since 2002 with over 120k miles on it, I’m certainly considering another. I’d prefer a plug-in with at least 40 miles all-electric range, though I’m open to another basic hybrid with better than 50mpg(US) when mine reaches the end of its life.

Consumers bought a record 52,000 gas-electric hybrids and all-electric cars in March in the US, up from 34,000 during the same month last year (source, Huffington post), so I don’t see that Hybrid system development is money ill-spent.

Granted, hybrids are still a tiny portion of the US market (just over 3.6%), but it’s growing. Diesels in the US don’t make much financial sense today. The fuel cost is typically 10-15% higher than regular unleaded, so you have to get 10-15% better fuel economy compared with a petrol engine just to break even. I’d want a diesel with an average fuel economy of about 60mpgUS (72mpgUK) to compete with the best hybrid engined cars.

The catch with hybrid power is that certain components (batteries, for example) have a big impact upon the competitiveness of the car, while the power inverter and motor/generator technology is fairly readily understood by all involved.

If one company makes a proprietary battery technology after sinking many millions of $$ into R&D, and provides that to one team only under a sponsorship deal for production costs only, then that team could run away with the championship, to the detriment of the F1 show.

Tyres used to make a silly difference to teams competitiveness, totally skewing the results. One tyre supplier has equalized that variable, and engines are largely equal these days, but a poorly applied KERS rule could give one team a Bridgestone/Ferrari level of dominance which few fans would want to see.

Having said that, it would be good to push the limits at least a little bit on KERS to motivate hybrid innovation.


One thing that does annoy me with the pro-diesel commentary that exists in the UK, motoring media (I’m in Australia) is that the focus is on CO2 only, as that is what is taxed, and not the additional polution that comes with diesel. I remember a journalist saying that a senior Mercedes Benz executive was questioning the future of diesel due to the high nitrous oxide emissions. If you run a diesel in the city only then you’ll clog the particulate filter. You can remove them at the cost of harming the environment, including producing the particles that best infiltrate and clog the lungs.

After that, the oily pumps that leave a smell on your hands and the limited rev range and poor throttle response from a high boost turbo add further reasons why I wouldn’t get a diesel in its current form.


From 2014 it will be a more fundamental part of the engine


Excellent PodCast James!! First time I have listened. I always come to this site for all my F1 news! Thanks so much

William Wilgus

I find that little of F-1’s innovation of recent years has any application outside of the sport. I also find that F-1’s proclamation that it’s endeavoring to go ‘green’ does not coincide with its actions. One obvious example of that is the adoption of tires that are designed to wear out during a race instead of lasting through its entirety—as was the case in one recent year. The exotic aerodynamics developments have nothing to do with real-world cars. Finally, if F-1 was about innovation as it should be, there would not be regulations banning much of it.


whoop whoop, more bathtime listening.


GIve me your feedback, thanks

Terry Pearson

Another informative podcast James, thank you.

Good content and some good commentary, particularly Sir David King about his Grandson, focuses the mind when out like that.

Capping, it will never work, and in my opinion should not even be on the agenda. Let market forces run thier course, even at the risk of back-runners being multi-lapped, front runners with cash, deal with it. Hands up all those that would agree wages should be capped! Thought so, if a company an afford bigger better, then leave the others to to play catchup.

That’s me any my comments, I’m sat comfortably waiting….

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