Over the past few years, it has been observed that, due to frequent regulation changes, Formula One cars have started looking uglier. In order to achieve the maximum while staying within the confines of rules, aerodynamic efficiency has got overwhelming precedence over aesthetics.
It has never been so apparent than after watching the stepped-nose on most of 2012 cars which were unveiled in the last couple of days. And it's not just fans who are shocked about the 2012 avatar. Even insiders don't seem to be too impressed. Pirelli boss Paul Hembrey too feels that this year's cars are a big turn-off and that this could have an impact on the marketing power of the sport.
While the effect of these changes on the saleability of the sport remains to be seen, this is not the first time that F1 cars have managed to shock people because of aerodynamic designs.
In the late 1970s, cars had something called moveable skirts. which were attached to each side pod in order to prevent excessive air going under the surface. This enhanced the aerodynamic efficiency of the car and gave the car a massive spike in cornering speeds. It was precisely the frighteningly high corner speed of these cars that resulted in the skirts being banned. The Lotus 78 of Colin Chapman pioneered in what became known as ground effect concept.
The next year, in 1979, the aerodynamic design impact on the design of the car became surreal. The B version of Brabham's BT46 had a giant fan at the back under the wing. The fan helped to lower the pressure underneath the car and made it stick to the ground more efficiently. The car, driven by Niki Lauda, won that year's Swedish Grand Prix, the only race where this concept existed before it was banned. There were experiments on the underside of the car for enhancing the aerodynamics.
In recent times, the car that comes to mind instantly for its radical design is the 2004 Williams BMW. Instead of the conventional nose cone, it introduced a walrus nose design. It was the 'Oh My God'' moment for every F1 fan. Unfortunately, the new nose cone didn't help the team change its fortunes from the previous year. Williams resorted to the conventional design midway in the season.
As these examples show, the priority of the engineers is to design a car in such a way that it is the quickest on the track. Whether or not they look beautiful or ugly is secondary.