Rest up, drivers and engineers. The 2019 Formula 1 season has ended.
The conclusion of the season also means the conclusion of the 2010s in Formula 1 (F1), which saw some dramatic and rapid developments in car technology. With F1 being such an engineering-oriented sport, the minute details of a car’s design can get complex and confusing to explain. Yet there were two obvious and important innovations to F1 cars this decade: new power units and a simple structure designed to save a driver’s life.
V6 HYBRID ENGINES
For years, the soundtrack of F1 was the screaming V10 and V8 engines placed in the back of each car that pierced through the air and vibrated the earth for miles around. They were loud enough to severely damage your hearing without protection, guzzled loads of fuel and put out insane amounts of horsepower.
However, 2014 was a year of revolution in engine design. The sport’s top brass wanted a change and mandated smaller V6 engines. The power units were fitted with a turbocharger that increases engine power and efficiency, and an electric motor to further improve fuel economy. The resulting engines, while just as powerful as their predecessors, were also quieter and deeper pitched.
Fans revolted, saying they sounded like vacuum cleaners and made the sport boring when they debuted at the 2014 Australian Grand Prix. As the years pass, the V6’s get increasingly powerful, making the current generation of cars the fastest yet. Many fans continue to grumble at the noise, but I disagree. The deeper notes and growls they can make, especially Honda’s engines, are extremely satisfying.
The introduction of this titanium wishbone-shaped device surrounding the cockpit of every F1 car starting in 2018 was controversial. Plenty of fans and a handful of drivers were clueless as to why this structure was necessary. It mildly interfered with a driver’s vision and looked haphazardly integrated to the current generation of cars.
However, one incident changed the minds of those in the motorsport community. During the 2018 Belgian Grand Prix, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso was involved in a collision and flew up in the air before crashing down on the halo of Sauber’s Charles Leclerc and sliding away.
Without the device, Alonso’s car would have landed on Leclerc’s head and potentially killed him. They’re designed to prevent head injuries and withstand the weight of a London double decker bus. It was from this point forward that people realized the halo was crucial, and without it, the worst was possible.
The “vacuum cleaner” engines and the large bar that surrounds a driver’s head are often viewed by the sport’s purists as sacreligious. They believe that F1’s glory days were the years of fuel-guzzling engines that sounded like beasts from the depths of the underworld and lower driver safety standards.
Sure, those days may have passed us, but that doesn’t mean F1 is suddenly a “sterile” sport. Should changes be made to increase the excitement of races? Yes. Does it mean taking a step back in technology and safety? No. F1 is the pinnacle of motorsport and engineering genius, so embracing the low-pitched whine of V6’s and loving the halo’s design will only help the sport’s popularity and growth.