The F1 FAQ

Atlas F1

The F1 FAQ

by Mark Alan Jones, Australia

Have a question about Formula One statistics or history? Well you're not the only one, and it's about time someone came up with the answers to Formula One's most Frequently Asked Questions. Send us your questions, to - we may not know everything, but we will sure make the effort to find out

First thing's first:

In the last issue of The F1 FAQ I said that Ferrari did not build an Indycar since the early 50's. I was thereafter flooded with e-mails saying that Ferrari had actually built an Indycar in the 80's or 90's. I've since been able to find out that, indeed, in 1987 Ferrari publicly unveiled an Indycar - designed by Gustav Brunner. The car never raced and kicked about for a while before finding a home in fellow Fiat subsidiary Alfa Romeo's CART workshop. I'll have some more detailed information on the forgotten Ferrari in the next issue. Promise!

"Besides any contracural limitations, is there any reason why F-1 drivers no longer seem to drive at Le Mans anymore? I can remember back to the days of Jackie Stewart, who did both, but it seems that the twain never meet anymore. Bob B."

Back in the 50's, the 60's and even as near as the 80's, the best Formula One drivers saw the allure of the biggest sports car race on the planet. As late as 1991, Lotus driver Johnny Herbert lifted the trophy at le Sarthe alongside Jordan driver Bertrand Gachot (whose burgeoning career would turn to ashes within 2 months of the pinnacle of his career) and former Rial driver Volker Weidler, breaking Japan's duck with the Mazda 787B. Alexander Wurz won Le Mans in 1996 but his Formula One career was still 12 months away at the time.

Formula One team owners demand exclusivity on the services of their drivers. artly so as to not dilute their corporate image by supporting the sponsors of another team, but also because of the potential loss of services in the event of an accident. Dual World Champion Jim Clark lost his life in a relatively unimportant Formula 2 event at Hockenheim - depriving Team Lotus maybe as much as another 5 seasons of the Scottish genius. Frank Williams in particular is very strict on extra curricular activities, which also includes his touring car drivers, although he's had to make a few exceptions. Jacques Villeneuve was able to get out of the standard anti-skiing clause. Jean Christophe Bouillon, one of his Touring Car drivers will race at Le Mans this year, although Bouillon had to fight for it and almost lost the drive to kiwi Greg Murphy, after Laurent Aiello said no to Williams because he wouldn't let him race Le Mans.

Williams also admits he would never have been able to stop Alan Jones from drinking beer, or Keke Rosberg from smoking. Also contributing to this was the decline of Le Mans image. By the mid 90's Le mans had lost much of its lustre, there was very little manufacturer interest. The World Sports Car Championship was collapsing. Suddenly Formula One drivers weren't interested in it anymore. Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell never showed much interest, nor has Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen or Jean Alesi. Many of Formula One's current stars now only see Sports Cars as an after Formula One career. Currently, interest in Le Mans is climbing again and the manufacturers are flocking back, but as yet there is now stable supporting championship. Maybe the gun drivers will return, but if they do - it will more than likely because of a sponsor or a manufacturer link between an F1 team and a Sports Car team.

"I have heard that McLaren is 'mapping their engines' once and then the engine can 'learn'. What exactly is 'engine mapping' and how does the engine then learn?"

Once engines have graduated from engine school (you'll notice that Cosworth seem to have been repeating a few years of school recently) and become fully fledged Formula One engines, and after being installed in the cars, the teams (not just McLaren) do a few laps to get a feel for a circuit - via its various sensors around the engine that measure, among other things, centrifugal forces acting on the car, position of throttle, amount of fuel and air reaching the cylinders, oxygen content of that air, engine rpm, engine load, temperatures at various points, etc.

After a few laps the engine computer has a good idea of the shape of the track and a starting point for the engine mapping. From that baseline the computers build up a memory of what the engine has to do at each point of the circuit to maintain peak efficiency. It will also account for a change in atmospheric conditions - an increase in elevation will have an effect on the amount of oxygen getting to the engine, which will then alter the efficiency of the fuel air mixture prior to sparking, which may produce a less powerful explosion in the cylinder once the fuel is ignited, thus affecting power produced. In this way, the engine can 'learn' the circuit, and the engine settings can be 'mapped' for all operating conditions to get maximum power.

"Hi! This question occurred to me as I was reading on the Mika Salo / Toranosuke Takagi situation. Has any team, excluding accidents of injuries to drivers, operated an interchangeable 3 driver line-up in the past or is this a first?"

Firstly, Mika Salo was sacked so Arrows will race Spanish rookie Pedro de la Rosa and promising japanese racer Toranosuke Takagi for the whole season. Three drivers line-ups were common in the early days of Formula One, but the big teams had three or four cars in each race. In more recent time, both Ligier and McLaren raced with three drivers line-up for different reasons. In 1995, Ligier had Olivier Panis as a lead driver and the French driver was showing signs of real promise. For their second car they had wanted the experienced Martin Brundle, but to appease Honda - who were suppling engines for the car - Brundle alternated with Aguri Suzuki, the only Japanese driver to stand on the podium. Brundle drove 11 races while Suzuki drove the other 6.

At McLaren in 1993 the situation was a little different. Ayrton Senna was leaving McLaren. one way or another. Either the FIA weren't going to issue him with a licence, or Senna was leaving in disgust, or he was signing with another team. So Ron Dennis signed Mika Hakkinen - a young upcoming driver who had impressed in two seasons with Lotus - and it was arranged that Michael Andretti would drive the other car. Suddenly the FIA stamped Senna's superlicence and he wasn't going to Williams. When faced with the dilemma of running the greatest driver available, or a young rookie, or a wildcard driver from CART, Dennis made the only decision he could make and got Senna back into the McLaren.

After examining the contracts on the other two drivers and measuring commercial pressure, Andretti got the second car and Hakkinen became the team's test driver. After a - shall we say - 'character-building' season, Andretti left the team saying Dennis still owed him 5 races and he'd be back. We haven't seen him yet. Hakkinen took the seat and immediately impressed.

The last time anyone ran three cars was in 1985 when Renault occasionally fielded a third car for Francois Hesnault in addition to regular driver Derek Warwick & Patrick Tambay. In the unlikely event that Hesnault scored any points they would not have counted for the constructors championship.

"When was the last time all cars finished a race? Thanks Clive H, England"

It's only ever happenned once. 15 cars lined up on the grid at Zandvoort for the 1961 Dutch Grand Prix and all 15 finished. That race was won by the great German Wolfgang von Trips, ahead of Ferrari team mate Phil Hill. Emerging star Jim Clark (Lotus-Climax) was third in only his second visit to the podium. Next was the privateer Lotus of Stirling Moss, Richie Ginther's Ferrari, and Jack Brabham in the factory Cooper scored the last point. From there finished John Surtees (privateer Cooper), Graham Hill and Tony Brooks in the BRM's, Dan Gurney & Jo Bonnier in the Porsche's, Bruce McLaren's factory Cooper-Climax, Trevor Taylor in Lotus's older car, and the two privateer Porsche's Carel de Beaufort & Hans Herrmann. Also of note was, that there was not a single pitstop that day either.

"Why do Indy car (CART) teams make wing adjustments during a race (presumably to compensate for changing track/tyre conditions, fuel load, etc.) while F1 teams do not? It seems that this is a legitimate form of real-time tuning that could be a benefit, so what's up? Craig F"

One word - Superspeedways. In CART, several venues are held on superspeedways - which are required due to their great speed and the paramount importance of drafting quite different aerodynamics. In street circuit and traditional racetrack trim, the CART cars use a front wing similar to Formula One. A two element wing with Gurney flaps curved upper element, large wing end plates etc. On superspeedways, because of the greater emphasis on straight-line line speed than slow corner speed, CART then run single element wings that create very little drag (or downforce), and those front wings are adjustable by sticking an Allen Key into a socket and giving it a few turns to increase or decrease wing angle.

With a two element wings it's not that simple ot make adjustments, as both the upper and lower wing have to be adjusted separately to achieve a balanced change. Also, superspeedway races in CART tend to be 400 or 500 miles long compared to under 200 miles in Formula One, thus making pitstops much less time-critical in CART. The yellow flag pitstop in CART also gives teams more time to work on the car. In Formula One, pitstops are immensely time-critical. Plus, with the flexible wing ruckus going on at the moment, a race adjustable front wing may not be legal anyway.

"Has there ever been a team with both its cars painted in different liveries? Alan O"

While Larrousse used in 1994 two different colour schemes in the same year, it doesn't really count as the team's two cars always looked the same at each race. Both cars ran the red & white chequered livery of Kronenberg twice during the year, while the rest of the season was in Tourtel's dark green. Ligier ran two different looking cars in the last two races of 1993, with Martin Brundle's car painted a very stylish scheme, compared to Mark Blundell's rather plain looking car. In 1986 Keke Rosberg's McLaren was in the white and yellow colours of Marlboro Lights for the Portuguese Grand Prix, compared to the usual white and red on Alain Prost's car. The idea was only used once mid-season. In the mid 70's Vittorio Brambilla's March-Cosworth was orange (the perfect reason for having the other car in another colour) while Ronnie Peterson's was blue.

"Why do F1 cars have 13 inch wheels??? Road handling improves greatly with bigger alloys, we all know that. And before the carbon brake discs period, bigger steel discs were always welcome, and bigger wheels would've offered the necessary space for that. Antoine K"

Because the FIA says so - you gonna argue with them? Ask Craig Pollock about arguing with the FIA. Seriously though, most open wheeler Formulae use a control tyre. Those that don't still have set dimensions for the tyre and therefore the wheel. However, FIA President Max Mosley has recently suggested that Formula One should use a lower profile tyre - which would lead to bigger wheels. Mosley's reasons were aesthetic, not performance-derived.

Below are the legal dimensions for a 1999 Formula One car:

  • Max. complete front wheel width: 355mm
  • Max. complete rear wheel width: 380mm (-1.0mm)
  • Max. complete wheel diameter: 660mm (-0.4mm)
  • Min. complete front wheel width: 305mm
  • Min. complete rear wheel width: 365mm
  • Wheel bead diameter: 330mm(+/- 2.5mm)
  • Max. front tyre tread width: 270mm
  • Max. rear tyre tread width: no restriction

Editorial Remark:

    We receive quite a few questions from you all, and it is absolutely impossible for us to research and respond to each of you, be it here or privately. Please, don't feel discouraged if your question was not replied to; it might come up in the next column. And don't forget - you can always look for answers at the Atlas F1 Bulletin Board.

Mark Alan Jones 1999 Atlas Formula One Journal.
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