Five of the best F1 innovations found through loopholes
Brawn GP
Posted By: Editor   |  01 Feb 2017   |  1:55 pm GMT  |  134 comments

Has any F1 team made a breakthrough with the new 2017 rules, using a clever loophole? Will it change the competitive landscape?

Success in Formula 1 more-often-than-not comes through having a faster car than the competition and there have been numerous examples of teams interpreting the rules in clever ways to gain an advantage throughout the championship’s history. But Williams’ Rob Smedley has warned that the way F1’s rules are formed has made it more difficult for teams to find these advantages.

In 2017, F1 will introduce its biggest aerodynamic rules shake-up since the 2009 season and the cars will look visually more aggressive. Wider tyres return and the cars will feature wider bodywork and front wings, and wider and lower rear wings.

The teams that started working earliest on their 2017 challenges will be in a stronger position, as they will be the first to test what does and doesn’t work in simulations and wind tunnel work.

But some squads may find a loophole in the rules to gain a significant advantage over their rivals. Brawn GP – along with Williams and Toyota – famously ran an innovative double diffuser in 2009 and got such a large benefit the Brackley-based team was able to rack up enough points to claim both world titles despite eventually being caught in performance terms by the other outfits who were forced to develop their own system later in the season.

Brawn GP

Smedley, Williams’ head of performance engineering, does not rule out that there are loopholes to be found in the 2017 regulations but he explained that such opportunities were becoming harder to find in modern F1 as the teams themselves have a say in shaping the rules.

Speaking to Autosport, he said: “Every time there has been a new set of regulations, at least through my time in F1, those openings have become smaller and smaller. The reason for that is that the technical regulations are pretty much written by senior technical people within the teams. The senior technical people in the teams are of the mind that we’re all looking for a loophole, we are all trying to get the start on our competitors.

“But as these rules get written and because it’s a collaborative process and it’s written by people who are looking for loopholes, then the loopholes are pretty much closed off in the regulations.

Rob Smedley

“This set of regulations has been very much at the forefront of that. We’ve tried to close down the loopholes as and when. Do loopholes or areas of high exploitation still exist? Of course. Have we or other people found them? It remains to be seen.”

Five of the best F1 loopholes

F1 designers have produced some amazing innovations and radical cars over the years. Some historical examples were the ground effect cars of the 1960s and 1970s, the six-wheeled Tyrrell in 1976, and the Brabham fan car in 1978.

But here are five examples from recent memory of cars that featured novel devices to take the most benefit from the regulations at the time.

Mass damper

Fernando Alonso 2006 Renault

Renault developed its mass damper system – a weight suspended between two springs – to help with the vibration and tyre bouncing of its double championship-winning R25 car in 2005.

But the device, which Renault also used on its R26 and was copied by other teams, was controversially banned by the FIA after the French Grand Prix in 2006.

Outboard mirrors

Michael Schumacher 2006

Ferrari was the first team to move mirrors onto the sidepods of its 248 F1 back in 2006 and several other teams – including Renault and Red Bull – made a similar move to find an aerodynamic gain in the years that followed.

But after complaints about poor visibility from drivers, the FIA ruled that mirrors had to be fitted on the cockpit sides on safety grounds following the 2010 Chinese Grand Prix.

Double diffuser

Williams 2009

As outlined above, Brawn GP, Williams and Toyota, started the 2009 season with a double diffuser fitted to the rear of their cars after spotting a loophole in the regulations. The devices generated massive amounts of downforce in the season when F1 had moved to greatly reduce the number of aerodynamic parts teams could run on their cars.

Several squads lodged an official complaint but the FIA ruled the double diffuser was legal and the teans without the device had to quickly implement their own versions.


McLaren 2010

McLaren arrived at the start of the 2010 season with its F-duct fitted to its MP4-25. The system provided an aerodynamic speed advantage, as its drivers were able to alter the air flowing from the front of the car and down the shark fin engine cover to help stall the rear wing.

The device was quickly copied by rival teams but after some variations forced drivers to take their hands off the steering wheel to activate the F-duct it was banned for 2011.

Hidden cameras

Red Bull 2014

In 2014, Red Bull attempted to incorporate F1’s mandatory onboard cameras inside the nose of the RB10 to minimise their impact on the air moving over the front of the car.

Whilst such an approach was technically allowed by the regulations, the team was forced to fit the cameras more prominently after the FIA stepped in ahead of that season’s Monaco Grand Prix.

What would you pick as the best F1 loophole device? Are there any other systems you think deserve praise for their innovation? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JA on F1 Facebook page for more discussion.

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Ground effect! Less need for wings and delicate aero devices as seen today. Chapmans double chassis was a clever idea, so clever, they banned it like Gordon Murrays fan!


Benetton traction control 😉


I like f duct. It was an awesome idea. Perhaps in future you could explore the engineers behind this. Where all this came from?


A major inovation that was from the early 1980s was brabham’s trick suspension that lowered the car to the track after the FIA mandated a 6 cm ground clearance to try to limit ground effects


That sums up why F1 is on a downward spiral for decades.

The more motorsport’s rulemakers tighten the technical straitjacket on top level categories, the more fans leave in disgust at what have become virtually one-make series.

Untie the straitjacket! Set motorsport free!


I think that the diffusers blown (cold and hot) and the subsequent effect coanda, despite very restrictive regulations in the aerodynamic use of the exhaust systems, were a good example of the technical gaps in the interpretation of the spirit of the norms


A bunch of worthless aero.
Which is what much of the $$$ in F1 is blown on.


I agree the 1992-93 Williams active suspension. 2 reasons convince me.

1. If the measure of superiority is the level of dominance it held to consistently win easily and by the largest margins and

2. probably more important Is that any car that allows Nigel Mansell to beat both Senna and Schumacher with ease is an amazing machine


I would go for a cas not mentioned here, if you allow me.
It’s the Brabham BT46B, AKA The Fan Car! Creativity at its best, or worst?


Its mentioned twice in the comments section and once in the article🤔


Who was the team that had a sensor in the nose of the car that detected when the wire buried in the track at each car’s start box went active (when the lights went green) and automatically triggered a computer-controlled auto-start?


I dont recall it but it sounds Bennetonesqe.


Through all these revolutionary things one thing never changed….there was never much overtaking, it is not what F1 is about, F1 is about these innovations and the brains behind them, the good drivers were only competing to offered the best ride as their route to the championship. Now that the FIA has, effectively, stifled innovation and put all it’s eggs, erroneously, into the overtaking basket, F1 has become boring and the more similar the cars get the more boring it will become. Lets face it Formula Ford cars are identical and, unless you are friends/family of a driver, there isn’t much of interest is there?


I think the greatest innovation was when RBR cut a tiny, unslotted, tyre squirt hole in the floor of their car at Monaco. From all the hoo-hah at the time you would have thought it netted them 2 secs a lap.
Then there is the rule that was aimed at slowing down Seb. The banning of the use of different helmets every weekend. Seb really had them scratching their heads for a while.


No mention of the Williams Active Suspension on FW14B/FW15C that dominated in ’92/’93, then banned for ’94. Combined with ABS and TC made for a ruthless package, but it was the AS in my mind that stands out.


Hmm, looking at the header picture again… I’d forgot all about the front wheel covers Ferrari introduced in 2008, and BrawnGP made infamous by painting theirs neon yellow!


It has to be active suspension and ground-effect skirts – bring the skirts back I say, might help sorting the men out from the boys. Really F1 cars should be on the edge and brutes to drive. 17 year old kids shouldn’t be ready for F1, buts that’s a different avenue to go down another day I suppose.


A single central rear mirror on a pole in front of the driver
a design without wings, the whole car being one

The Colani designed Eiffelland was surely one of the most innovative looking cars. Was it a success? No, because a race has curves and the produced downforce shouldn’t only work when driving straight.

A gas turbine, the very flat BMW 4 piston turbo, …


I think Red Bull’s front wing flex (~2010/11?) was a very clever design. I’m not sure whether they used the KERS electrical energy to “activate” it? Also, the Mercedes “S” duct which used a passive system to stall both the front and rear wings when DRS was in use (2011) was very clever.


From the list above the best reading of technical regs has got to be the double diffuser, in terms of pure innovation I have to say the F duct was outrageous in its creativity.


The Mercedes PU engine, recovery systems and software…

One innovation so advanced and ring-fenced that cannot be copied, matched, tweaked or banned due to complexities and massive cost…

…great innovations that leap a team ahead of everyone seem to be better if either it’s a smaller team that came up with it or the advantage lasts for a shorter time.


Reading through everyone’s immense engineering moments it makes me wonder why engineers would try to create rules to inhibit their talents! Surely they want to take each other on and prove themselves. I’m beginning to see why Newey has other projects.


the 1998 mclaren mp4/13 brake steer


The honda-brawn front axle with left-right lock. Cheap and simple yet the FIA killed it.


The torque transfer system? That was well before Brawn’s time at Honda, wasn’t it?


I was thinking that but not sure that’s why I hyphenated the two team names. The system was smart effective and arguably cheap (in F1 terms) there was no point in banning it except to preserve the status quo of winning teams. FIA lost status in my eyes that day.


I think the dual-chassis Lotus 88 could have been the best “loophole” innovation of all time, had they allowed it to race and develop. The concept was deceptively simple and would have solved the biggest problem with the ground effects cars- the need to have them run as low and as stiffly as possible to keep the tunnels sealed to the road, which beat the hell out of the drivers.

Apparently the people race the 88 in historic evens now say that it’s a lovely car to drive.


Mono Carbon Fibre chassis on the McLaren in early 1980’s


After the FIA banned EBDs, the teams still managed to claw a lot of the effect back with coanda effect exhausts..


the line between the loopholes and innovation gets blurred. But the EBD has to be at the top of the list. After 2010 the FIA kept trying to limit the effect w/o much luck. The bulls won everything for 4 years running.


Can someone explains what constitutes as a loophole versus an innovation? The way I see it, anything that isn’t written in the rules is a loophole i.e. blown diffuser by Red Bull. But I’m happy to be corrected.


An innovation is the introduction of new things or methods.

A loophole is something that allows one to use said new things or methods.

An FIA is something that closes said loopholes so that new things and methods are rarely introduced.

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