Have you ever wondered about the make-up of the people who drive Formula 1's development war; the angst that motivates them? Here's Renault technical director James Allison: "I live in a state of perpetual fear. I fear that everything is always going to be not quite good enough - and I think it's better to feel that way. If you feel that everyone is going to destroy you, it makes you stay really intense in order to prevent that happening. I think that's just normal."
Even if that's not a universal attitude, it's an illuminating insight into the psyche of racing. When applied to the incredibly complex technicalities of F1, the angst can only intensify - there are so many potential wrong answers!
Yet although the design and development process of an F1 car is data-driven, the research numbers taking many of the decisions for you, that fear of failure creates a horrible dilemma: is the data hiding a better solution? For example, when Allison was overseeing the design concept of this year's R30, one of the early decisions was regarding the dimensions and shape of the nose.
By the standards of 2010 cars, its nose is wide and low. "At a certain point you have to commit to what you're doing," he explains, "and as that time came, our numbers were saying wide and low was better than slender and high. On the other hand, you can come at it philosophically and say, 'Right, we believe a high, slender nose is going to allow the greatest amount of high-energy air to the back of the car and so therefore we will commit to that and make it work.' But it feels ever so pig-headed making something that you know is slower at that point than your lower, fatter, less-fashionable nose."
Robert Kubica, Renault R30, 2010 © LAT
Taking an intuitive, holistic approach over the numbers is a terrifying leap of faith for these men of science, a theme McLaren's Paddy Lowe takes up when he talks of his reaction to seeing the Ferrari F10's tilted engine/gearbox at the beginning of the year: "That was a very interesting risk to take because it's the sort of design decision you have to take very, very early and you may not have the data yet to know for sure it's worthwhile."
But the fear it will instill in the rival engineers can be imagined: What if it does work? What if their risk results in them roasting us alive on the track? They will have risked their way ahead of us. But conversely I don't want us to take a risk - because of the fear of failure. And if I take a risk and it fails - and the numbers were there all along telling me I was going to fail - what defence will I have?
Sometimes the vision and the numbers don't tally and a call has to be made. It's a place our own Gary Anderson has been many times before. He's a big believer in the three-piece front-wing concept, for example, distrusts the better figures you get from a two-piece, points out that the Brawn lost its magic last year at precisely the moment the team switched to a two-piece.
"In the wind-tunnel a two-piece tends to look better," he says. "It gives higher peak downforce and makes the car look less pitch-sensitive. But that's only because the airflow is stalling at the front under dive, so you're losing front downforce to balance the loss of rear downforce. When you run it on the track it's confusing for the driver because he doesn't know if he wants more front end or more rear end because it's changing through the corner as the pitch comes off, so he gets stuck in a little box of options."
Then there's Adrian Newey. They say he can visualise what the air wants to do, the way Keith Duckworth used to be able to sense the gas flow in a combustion chamber. With that sort of intuition at his core, Adrian tends to work until the numbers match what he feels. It's enough to strike fear into the opposition.
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