Before the 2015 F1 season got under way and long before Mercedes went on to annihilate the opposition come Sunday, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner proposed that Formula One should re-think the way it works in order to minimise spending and generate a low-cost formula which wouldn’t be such a hindrance to manufacturer and independent teams alike. His proposal was simple: Ban wind tunnels.
Wind tunnels have long been around Formula One. They are used to extrapolate information on the way in which air flow reacts and relates to interacting with the surface on the car, it has aided the design process of cars which are in need of an aerodynamic solution. However, the costs of running these influential tests are extravagant, some teams have in the past had their wind tunnels running 24 hours a day. Teams further down the grid, notably Force India, are today having to send their car equipment some distance to Toyota’s wind tunnel in Cologne, Germany in order to get significant and accurate data on their chassis. This of course adds expense in not only transporting the equipment, but paying Toyota to use the wind tunnel.
The question is, if F1 were to be rid of these expensive contraptions, would the sport be any different? The answer is almost certainly yes. The banning of wind tunnels would reward the teams with the finest designers, something which would suit Red Bull Racing given that they employ the aero-whizz Adrian Newey. It would place the ability of the car in line with the skills of the men who draw and create them. It would mean that if a driver were to complain of a certain issue or element on his machinery, it would be up to the ingenuity of the designer to work around it and aim to create something which would suit the driver best. It would bring together more of a ‘team feel’ in the sport, the driver moans and designer draws, we would be reversed back to an age where computers didn’t have the effect they do today. More importantly still is the freedoms it should allow for aero men. Today the important figures like James Allison and Adrian Newey are bemoaning the lack of opportunity they have with the current rules to create solutions whilst cars slowly all begin to look the same. Their capabilities are being stemmed. With a wind tunnel ban, the FIA should open up more of the areas which could be open to interpretation, allow designers more freedoms around the car to create revolutionary pieces of equipment. Not only this, but a ban would dramatically reduce the costs involved and lower F1 teams budget, something which must become paramount especially as teams like Marussia, Caterham and even HRT couldn’t afford to remain in the (very expensive) game.
In short, Horner’s proposal was laughed off, but Formula One is heading back to the ‘good old days’ proposals of wider tyres, 1000bhp engines and we now even have sparks from the back of the cars, why is it so impossible to imagine a Formula One world without wind tunnels?