What do 1982 and 2022 have in common if considering the sport? Ground effect but in different fashion.
Back in November 1982, the FISA or FIA as it was known back then clamped down its regulations and put an end to the ground effect era of Formula 1 cars by announcing that for 1983 flat bottom would become mandatory for all cars from the trailing edge of the front wheels to the leading edge of the rear wheels.
This put an end to one of the greatest eras of cars and principles introduced by Team Lotus in July 1976 with the Type 77 which Peter Wright had designed along with his team. This principle was the wing car, extending the pontons over the length of the car to house a wing-shaped underbody drawing the car closer to the ground as speed increased therefore creating suction.
The above principle shortly transpired to the rest of the field, Team Lotus pushing it further with the Lotus 79 in 1978 and all teams by then having gone the extent of copying and developing their own cars. Ferrari, Renault, Williams, McLaren, Brabham all followed as well as the smaller operations and by 1982 there were no cars on the grid not using the principle.
While not the best option for straight-line speed, the cornering speed had gone through the roof as long as the cars would stick to the track. As speed rose, the safety of the drivers also became an issue, porpoising being one, to understand, as the underbody shrank closer to the ground it created a stalling effect which resulted in the cars jumping off. There were also concerns with drivers blacking out due to that but also for the fact that cars were required to run as stiff as possible to achieve maximum efficiency and remember back then, the circuits were far from smooth.
Did anyone say it was a bumpy ride?
Yet the ground effect era proved to also be a very tense political time. Not everyone was happy about it and certainly not Ferrari, Renault, and Alfa Romeo who due to their technical choices in terms of engines or architecture of the car meant it was more difficult for them to exploit the aerodynamic advantage that the smaller yet competitive teams had worked out.
The FISA and FOCA war came to its peak during those years as well and it proved a very political time in rules and regulations but one that would shape Formula One as it is known today as the Concorde agreement basically originated from there, January 1981 to be precise.
So what’s the parallel between those eras?
Back then, the big manufacturers complained of ground effects to the governing body for multiple reasons, in the early years of the principle Ferrari used a flat-12 assembly for its engine, plus the chassis technology was not up to the standard used by the garagist and Brits’ which is why they complained about it. A large and long engine added to a chassis lacking stiffness proved complicated to make the ground effect effective, even though Jody Sheckter would go on an win the 1979 Championship for the Scuderia.
Understanding the packaging troubles with a view of the 1981 Renault Turbo.
Renault and Alfa Romeo suffered from the same issues, mostly on the engine architecture side with the Turbo engine and ancillaries proving difficult to stage if you considered that the longer and larger the venturis, the better it was. They would in fact be re-joined by Ferrari on that once they switched to the technology as well. For Alfa, it was about the V12, a long and wide engine that suffered from it’s weight as well.
There is a parallel here with Mercedes struggling to make the most of the regulations in the early stages of the season, lobbying and pushing on both the technical and driver side for more control by the ruling body to help solve its own problems. And yet backing off when it actually is not a good idea anymore as they come to grips with the aerodynamics.
Then came the fact that the ruling body tried to slow the cars down, sliding skirts were outlawed in 1981, and fixed skirts came along with a ruling introduced for a minimum ride height of 60mm. One that would see the teams implement trick damper technologies to get around it. That just echoes the fact that even if today you can achieve ground effect without totally closing the gap to the floor or the need to use skirts as flexing is the new thing, the teams through setup are pushing it again in the same way.
It’s all interpretation and according to the way it’s controlled, isn’t it? Looking at the way the governing body has been responding with the recent technical directives and the way they intend to regulate certain parameters or change the way cars were controlled in relation to the floors or underside plank just shows that it’s all the same again.
Yet, I don’t think we’ll see another war between teams and the governing body as the Concorde agreement stands but it could in some aspects come back due to the cost cap and rising inflation. It’s all very interesting to read how much people forget that as we bring back the old, the resulting problems are the same, and the way it’s being answered too. It just confirms my old saying, history is a loop, it comes and goes but it’s the same old, same old.
One thing though. If you would want to get around the issue of porpoising, bouncing and ensure the ride height is consistent, wait for it… …And bring back the Lotus 88. Oh no, it was banned already.