Giorgio Piola’s F1 tech decades: The big bang 1980s, part two

Giorgio Piola

Here we delve into the second half of the 1980s (click here for the first half), when Brabham went low-line, Honda turbos ruled the roost and hit their peak with McLaren, and normally-aspirated engines reset the playing field.

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Click on the images below to scroll through each year…

1985

Renault R60

Renault R60 Giorgio Piola

Giorgio Piola

Not a particularly successful car but, much like its predecessor it placed the exhaust in a position of aerodynamic prominence. But this car did not have the exhausts placed in the diffuser channel, instead they protruded from the sidepods in the coke-bottle region. Again, this may have laid the foundations in the mind of Adrian Newey, as he has pursued this kind of exhaust-blowing tactic on many different occasions.

Lotus 97T

Lotus 97T Giorgio Piola

Giorgio Piola

The Lotus 97T won three Grands Prix (two of the opening three rounds) with Ayrton Senna and Elio de Angelis, and featured a Renault V6 turbocharged engine that was a little inferior from both a power and reliability point of view when compared to rivals. This only proved that the 97T was both mechanically and aerodynamically sound, with a bad run in the middle of the season putting pay to Senna’s title ambitions.

Williams FW10 1985 exploded-detail developments

Williams FW10 1985 exploded-detail developments Giorgio Piola

Giorgio Piola

This exploded overview of the Williams FW10, which was powered by the turbocharged Honda engine, helps to chart the development progress of the car throughout the season. The team used various aerodynamic and mechanical configurations depending on the circuit it was visiting. The FW10 was the first Williams-designed car to employ a carbon composite monocoque, increasing the cars torsional stiffness and reducing its overall weight.

1986

Brabham BT55 3/4 view

Brabham BT55 3/4 view Giorgio Piola

Giorgio Piola

This was a sketch of the Brabham BT55 done by Piola ahead of the launch and was created to show the direction that Gordon Murray was taking. The idea was to reduce the car’s centre of gravity, which required the designer to tilt the inline-4 cylinder turbocharged BMW engine on its side. This also allowed the entire ancillary and aerodynamic package to follow suit and resulted in a very lowline silhouette.

Brabham BT55 1986 schematic comparison to BT54

Brabham BT55 1986 schematic comparison to BT54 Giorgio Piola

Giorgio Piola

This schematic overview of the BT55 shows in more detail how far this approach gave the car a super-low silhouette. It also shows how this affected the fuel tank design, which was also much lower to accommodate the centre of gravity and aerodynamic principles that Murray was looking for. As a result of these design parameters the driver was also sunk further down in the cockpit, which can be compared with a more conventional layout above.

Brabham BT55 1986 packaging evolution

Brabham BT55 1986 packaging evolution Giorgio Piola

Giorgio Piola

The cooling package on the BT55 was also extensively overhauled throughout the season, as the team attempted to get the best from the BMW engine. The three overhead images examine the variety of positions and orientations that the radiators, intercoolers and turbo inlet were sited in throughout. Conceptually the car was very clever but was also a very tragic, as Elio de Angelis, a man that Piola describes as one of the most friendly, gentleman-like driver to have ever graced Formula 1 was killed at a test in Paul Ricard.

Williams FW11 1986 detailed overview

Williams FW11 1986 detailed overview Giorgio Piola

Giorgio Piola

This cutaway of the Williams FW11 shows off the turbocharged Honda V6 that lay beneath the car's bodywork. It also shows, although only tested, the experimental double Hitco brake disc arrangement. It’s a car that delivered Williams and Honda the world championships that they coveted.

Benetton B186 1986 detailed overview

Benetton B186 1986 detailed overview Giorgio Piola

Giorgio Piola

The Benetton B186 was interesting car, especially the front wing, which had a very big delta shape. Chief designer Rory Bryne, had continued to evolve the design seen on the previous Toleman, utilising a similar radiator and intercooler layout. It also featured one of the most powerful engines to ever be strapped into an F1 car, as BMW pushed its M12/13 inline-four turbocharged engine to the absolute limit. This was no more apparent than in qualifying, when up to 1500bhp could be unleashed!

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1987

Williams FW11B 1987 active suspension schematic

Williams FW11B 1987 active suspension schematic Giorgio Piola

Giorgio Piola

Williams once again wrapped up the constructors’ title with the updated FW11, which in 1987 ran the ‘B’ nomenclature. Piola’s illustration shows the teams electronic reactive ride technology, which improved the car's aerodynamic platform and would form the basis for the next few Williams cars. The system had an accumulator at the front and two at the rear, a distributor for each, a hydraulic cylinder to activate the suspension, a potentiometer which would control the hydraulic damper and ride height, a Moog electro valve, a control ECU and a pump which was connected to the left bank of the engine.

1988

McLaren MP4-4 1988 detailed overview

McLaren MP4-4 1988 detailed overview Giorgio Piola

Giorgio Piola

McLaren’s MP4/4 has a cult status as it won all but one race in the 1988 season. It was a Steve Nichols car, but consulted on by Gordon Murray, who’d arrived from Brabham and had put across a convincing argument for his low-line concept. Although this was a failure on the BT55, the concept reaped significant aerodynamic rewards packaged around the turbocharged Honda engine.

McLaren MP4-4 1988 Honda turbocharger installation

McLaren MP4-4 1988 Honda turbocharger installation Giorgio Piola

Giorgio Piola

A close up of the Honda V6 engine and turbocharger housed within the McLaren MP4/4. This would be the last year that Formula 1 used turbocharged engines until they returned as part of the hybrid power unit era in 2014.

March 881 1988 overview

March 881 1988 overview Giorgio Piola

Giorgio Piola

The March 881 was the first Formula 1 car to be penned by Adrian Newey. It was a very extreme example, with Newey not prepared to compromise on his design philosophy in fear of destroying the very aerodynamic advantage he was looking to gain. The car was extremely well packaged and balanced, with every sinew of the bodywork pulled in as close as possible to aid aerodynamics, a trademark of Newey’s throughout his extensive motorsport career.

March 881 pedals

March 881 pedals Giorgio Piola

Giorgio Piola

In his quest to reduce the car’s cross-section as much as was possible, Newey designed the chassis uncomfortably narrow. This meant the driver had to enter the cockpit in a very specific way, with one leg going under the steering column before being able to bring in the other. This meant that drivers couldn’t even move their feet sideways, so very often they had blood circulation problems.

1989

Ferrari F1-89 (640) 1989 exploded view

Ferrari F1-89 (640) 1989 exploded view Giorgio Piola

Giorgio Piola

The Ferrari 640 is another car that Piola considers to be a milestone machine, given the technology housed within still forms part of what we see on the grid today. However, he also comments on how beautiful this car was compared with its predecessors, with lovely clean lines – it very clearly had all the hallmarks of a John Barnard car.  

Ferrari F1-89 (640) 1989 gearbox actuation view

Ferrari F1-89 (640) 1989 gearbox actuation view Giorgio Piola

Giorgio Piola

Barnard was always at the technological forefront of F1, forever looking to improve and simplify the design of a race car. The 640 featured the first semi-automatic gearbox in F1 and paved the way for a technology that we still have today. It was a normal longitudinal gearbox with hydraulic actuators that took commands from paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel, allowing the driver to change gear more swiftly. The lack of a manual gear shifter also meant the car’s midriff could be shrunk down, improving aerodynamic efficiency.

Ferrari 640 torsion bar suspension

Ferrari 640 torsion bar suspension Giorgio Piola

Giorgio Piola

The 640 also featured torsion bar suspension, front and rear, in place of the damper and spring, which made for very fast and efficient changes in setup. Such was the advantage of this solution that everyone on the grid copied it, and 30 years on it still remains part of the suspension layout up to this day.

McLaren MP4-5 1989 V10 comparison with 1988 MP4-4 V6 turbo

McLaren MP4-5 1989 V10 comparison with 1988 MP4-4 V6 turbo Giorgio Piola

Giorgio Piola

This side view of the McLaren MP4/4 and MP4/5 shows how the car retained both the low-line concept and retain the same wheelbase, even though the regulations had forced the team to switch to a less compact, naturally-aspirated V10 engine. Although not as dominant as the MP4/4, the MP4/5 was still the class of the field and took 10 victories from 16 races.

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