We all know that Formula 1 is a breeding ground for new ideas and new thinking, and over it’s history we have seen many individual breakthroughs that have then quickly become the norm within the sport. Trying to find that extra edge and speed is something all F1 engineers thrive on, but some teams and cars are notable for bucking the trend and keeping old ideas around much longer than they should be. Here are just a selection:
Forti Corse FG01 – The manual gearbox
Amongst the many ‘here-today gone-tomorrow’ teams that appeared in the late 80’s and early 90’s were Forti Corse. A good F3000 (the rung below F1) squad who had aspirations to more, they secured a budget to build and race an F1 car through the wealthy father of F3000 driver Pedro Diniz, who would drive for the new team in 1995.
Now despite being effectively underwritten by Diniz Sr., the team was not as monied as it’s future rivals, and couldn’t afford to hire the top engineers or designers. In search for a chassis to use, they approached Sergio Rinland, an experienced designer, to consult their team on how to go about making their car. Rinland’s last F1 design had been the neat, if underdeveloped, Fondmetal car used in 1992, and this was reputedly the base for the FG01. A 3 year old blueprint was hastily reworked to incorporate some of the more modern trends in F1 design, such as a raised nose and updated sidepods, but there wasn’t time or money to work on having some brand new kit inside the car itself. The engine was an old Ford unit, several rungs below the standard of the equipment afforded to Sauber (the works Ford squad for that year), the monocoque was bulky and overweight, and the roll-hoop was just that, rather than including an airbox as well as per all other teams.
But the most ‘ancient’ bit of kit on the car was the gearbox. Mated to the Ford engine because of it’s relative age (the ED Ford V8 was old back in 1992!), it was a Hewland 6-speed manual gearbox, which was completely out of touch with the modern semi-automatic paddle-shift gearboxes commonplace throughout the grid, big-budget frontrunner or not. The first semi-automatic gearbox had been introduced to F1 by Ferrari in 1989, allowing the driver clutchless shifting and removing the need to take one’s hands off the steering wheel to change gear. At first it was unreliable, though famously in it’s first race Nigel Mansell won over 61 laps when the car had previously only completed a few at a time before the gearbox expired. Mansell had booked a flight home that was due to take off in the middle of the race, though he wasn’ too sad to have missed having won the race instead… Over the next few years the technology was refined, and the systemwas now available to even the most frugal teams, for whom it was necessary just to keep up with the relentless pace of development in F1.
Forti could not afford that luxury until the middle of the 1995 season, and they had unfortunately already set the tone for their stay in F1. They were to bow out through lack of finances in mid-1996.
Minardi 2002-2005 – Same Chassis
Minardi were always the plucky underdog team, a team that lived at the back of the grid but were a proving ground for those destined for greater things. Giancarlo Fisichella, Jarno Trulli, Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber were all given their first F1 drives by the little team from Faenza. Many top technical staff who flourished at bigger teams also started their work at Minardi, who had a knack for always turning a neat handling car, despite it’s lack of downforce and development compared to the big spending leading teams. Living hand to mouth was part and parcel of Minardi’s existence, with pay drivers filling the seats so the young stars could race and cut-price engines not providing the kind of power needed to compete at the front, but by 2001 the team were in real trouble. Only a last minute deal cut with Australian aviation entrepeneur Paul Stoddart in early 2001 saved the team from closing down. However, Stoddart himself was a hand-to-mouth kind of guy too, and the team saw no leap in competitiveness under his stewardship. Gustav Brunner had designed the neat 2001 car, but had defected to Toyota in the middle of the 2001 season, leaving the relatively inexperience Gabriele Tredozi as lead designer. Tredozi created 2002’s PS02 car, again a neat effort from the Faenza boys, which in debutant Mark Webber’s hands scored a famous 5th place at his home Australian Grand Prix, a race of high attrition. The team would not score any other points that year, and went into 2003 with a lack of funds again.
Tredozi could do nothing but update the aerodynamics and other upgrade work to the basic monocoque of the PS02, which would be rehomologated for 2003 as the PS03. Stoddart was hoping the that revised car would be able to break into the points and become a regular scorer, but in reality with only 12 days windtunnel testing, and a row with tyre supplier Bridgestone that had left the team testing on F3000-spec Avon tyres for several days, it was going to be an uphill struggle for the team. Despite some encouraging pace at some events from drivers Justin Wilson (who left to join Jaguar mid-season, replaced by Nicolas Kiesa) and Jos Verstappen, no points were scored again.
2004’s F1 regulations were essentially static from the previous year, so again in order to reduce costs, Technical Director Tredozi used the same basic tub as he had the two years before in creating the PS04. Cosworth were now providing the team with year-old Jaguar works engines, so the power output was only moderately behind the manufacturer teams, and reliability had been improved from the 2003 car as well, which had failed several times on Wilson and Verstappen that season. The new drivers (both bringing budgets with them in order to support the team) were Italian Gianmaria Bruni (now a top GT racer for Ferrari) and Hungarian Zsolt Baumgartner, who had moved from Jordan that winter. With the newer engines and improved reliability, Minardi were able to score their first championship point since Australia 2002 when Baumgartner finished 8th in the US Grand Prix at Indianapolis. In fact, the team was not all that far off the pace of the now similarly cash-strapped Jordan team (5 points), but also the megabucks Toyota squad (9 points), who were rumoured to be spending almost as much as Ferrari. However, the regulations were changing for 2005 and Minardi would have to find some money in order to modify their cars to comply. By the opening of the season they were still using the PS04 from last year, with Stoddart threatening to withdraw the cars if they were forced to comply with the new aerodynamic regulations, something he said the team could not afford to do. The cars were eventually hastily revised in order to compete, but the chassis and basic car layout still remained the same as the one that rolled out in Melbourne 3 years earlier. A new car was to be made for the rest of the season, and Tredozi, although still working around the initial chassis layout from 3 years earlier, was able to turn out the first ‘all-new’ Minardi in several years in order to race the rest of the season. Minardi were to score their final points finishes in the controversial 2005 US Grand Prix, a race only started by 6 cars (all on Bridgestone tyres) as the Michelin-shod runners withdrew after safety issues with the french supplier’s rubber. In late 2005 the team was sold by Paul Stoddart to Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz, who renamed the team Scuderia Toro Rosso (to the dismay of many F1 fans who wanted the Minardi name to stay) but kept the team based at Faenza. In 2008 at the Italian Grand Prix, the team formerly known as Minardi were to score their first Grand Prix victory with Sebastian Vettel winning at a wet Monza to the shock and delight of F1 fans around the world.