Pat Symonds picks his top 5 F1 cars

Pat Symonds chooses his top 5
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R ennauto is not the same as racing car. A few made it into legend. Surely more than five. But before we get out of hand with an offer from 66 years of Formula 1, we have set a manageable limit for the juror. Simple question: What were the five outstanding concepts of Formula 1?

And who qualifies for the answer more than the longest-serving chief technology officer in the premier class? Pat Symonds found his first job in Toleman’s development department in 1981. He was a race engineer for Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher and worked as a project manager for Reynard, Benetton, Renault, Marussia and Williams.

The choice was not easy for him given the huge range on offer. In the end, he selected the 1967 Lotus 49, 1977 Renault RS01, 1978 Lotus 79, 1988 McLaren MP4-4 Honda and 1992 Williams FW14B-Renault. In an exclusive interview, Symonds explains how he came up with these 5 legends.

What sparked your interest in motorsport?

Symonds: My father was an engineer. He worked on planes and cars. So I was inevitably interested in everything to do with technology and inherited his love for cars from him. We lived in Norfolk near Snetterton Racecourse and attended racing events there regularly. I still remember the first race of the new 1.6 liter Formula 2 European Championship on Good Friday 1967 with Jackie Stewart, John Surtees and Graham Hill. It was the first time that I saw the Ford GT40, my dream car, live. It ran in the framework program. That day I became a racing fan. But I wasn't thinking of a career in racing yet. I just knew that I wanted to design cars. And I was lucky that I found a job in racing right after graduating from university.

What was the first racing car that aroused your interest?

Symonds: The Lotus 49. It was the same year 1967. A wonderful piece of engineering. I was 14 years old at the time. But this car immediately fascinated me. Because everything was so wonderfully coordinated. I call it integrated design. Not just any detail that stands out, but a logically networked overall concept as a modular system. There wasn't anything about this car that was really innovative other than hisEngine. The Cosworth V8 debuted with this car and took the racing engine to a new level. The Lotus 49 didn't look that much different than a Lotus 33 from 1965. The monocoque stopped behind the tank and the driver's head. A motor was screwed to it, which was the load-bearing part of the construction. The engine was not only able to support the rear suspension, but later also the aerodynamic attachments such as wings. And that at a time when some of the opponents were still relying on the good old tubular frame. I am a chassis man, but I also have a weakness for engines. The Cosworth V8 DFV is a prime example of efficient and simple design. Everything is in the right place, everything for the right reason.

And it was a long-lasting concept?

Symonds: Absolutely. The Lotus 49 made its debut in 1967, won its first race, took the title in 1968 and even won Monte Carlo in 1970. That is unthinkable today. And the car has gone through a transformation in the 3 years and survived them well. That shows a good basic concept. And the elegance of its simplicity. In 1968, wings were screwed to the car, first high, then flat. Aerodynamics had arrived.

The next in the sequence is the Renault RS01. What is it about this car that fascinates you?

Symonds: I chose the car because it was an incredible adventure for Renault. It was in use for almost 2 years, from mid-1977 to mid-1979. During this time, it crossed the finish line 5 times and scored 3 points. Not a win. So anything but successful. I like lateral thinkers. And there was a group at Renault that really dared to do something. You looked at the rules and said: there is another way. And how often must you have thought in the first 2 years: Are we really on the right track? And whoever approved this project certainly had to justify himself in many meetings. But in the end they were right and started a new trend. And the turbo engine is back in trend almost 40 years later.

How much courage did the engineers need?

Symonds: A lot of courage. You had to learn so many new technologies. Alone with the engine. Then there were the usual problems developing a car, understanding the new radial tires from Michelin.

You started your Formula 1 career at Toleman with a turbo car . What did you think back then?

Symonds: In 1977 I was still an engineer in Formula Ford. When I heard about the Renault project, I thought there was oneStep too far. But when I joined Toleman in the early 80s, I was convinced that the turbo was the right way to go. It is a tragedy that the turbo pioneer never won a title with his idea. They deserved it for their courage.

Michelin radial tires were also a step into unknown territory.

Symonds: That's true. But this step was more likely to be understood. I did my diploma in vehicle dynamics. In racing, the radial tire was the only correct answer to the growing aerodynamic loads.

It took Renault two years before the victorious concept with two superchargers, intercooler and electronic injection had found. Does that seem like long to you today?

Symonds: Back then it was a bit of learning by doing. But Renault was also handicapped. They had to wait until the technology was there. Back then there were mainly large turbines for truck engines. The little ones had to be invented first. I can still remember 1987 when Cosworth built a biturbo for Ford. And even then, 8 years after the introduction of the Biturbo at Renault, we still had problems getting the small turbines, which rotated up to 50,000 rpm, under control. The evolution from mechanically to electronically controlled turbocharger was even more difficult. 40 years ago it was still in its infancy. There were no electronic control units in the racing car. The first PC was sold in 1981. The first control boxes for engine management were huge devices. At that time you couldn't just buy a microprocessor like that on the market. At Hart, the first engine electronics, which regulated the injection and the ignition timing, improved the response behavior, the consumption, the power and the reliability by worlds.

The Lotus 79 was the perfect groundeffect car. Was the idea not obvious?

Symonds: All good ideas are obvious. You just can't figure it out yourself. What I like about the Lotus 79: It was neither the first nor the last Groundeffect car. But it was the car in which the whole concept of the idea was first developed. The first Groundeffect car was the Lotus 78 from the year before. With the Model 79, Lotus has improved downforce by 30 percent. After a year of training they had fully understood how the principle works. I chose the car because I was impressed by the huge leap in development. I wish we could make such progress today. The Lotus 79 was top of the class in the 1978 season. Just a year later, many had copied and perfected the idea. The 1979 Williams FW07 was the betterGroundeffect car, but it never made that leap.

Isn't it strange that the other designers took two years to develop the concept in 1977 despite object lessons copy?

Symonds: It was the time when aerodynamics were taken to a new level when engineers realized that aerodynamics brings most of the lap time. The teams didn't go into the wind tunnel every day. In England there were 2 systems with a rolling floor, Southampton University and Imperial College in London. They were small and you couldn't measure much. And back then you first had to learn how to use a wind tunnel. It is true that it was obvious to build a Groundeffect car as early as 1978. Much more than with the turbo engine, where you weren't sure for a long time and which you couldn't easily copy. I think one reason was because people understood the basic principle but not the details. For example, how the aprons that sealed the side of the car work. Back then, when developing a new car, you only went into the wind tunnel for at most one or two weeks a year. It was difficult to understand everything in that short time. The Lotus 78 won a couple of races, but it wasn't dominant. It was the Lotus 79. Only then did the alarm bells ring.

The most successful racing car was the McLaren MP4-4 with 15 wins in 16 races. But it did not seem to have a secret. Or did he have one?

Symonds: I thought for a long time whether I should add this car to my list. But you can't just leave out the most successful Formula 1 car. The McLaren MP4-4 should have won all 16 races. It was only thanks to the accident with Schlesser that it didn't work out. And that was bad luck. The car itself was no secret. It put together everything that had proven itself on other cars and perfected this product. Very efficient aerodynamics, an excellent turbo engine, integrated design. All individual components were many times better than those of the competition. That's what fascinates me about this McLaren. One must reward excellence. Formula 1 is all about excellence. Some cars in history have been extremely successful because of the lack of opponents. But this McLaren had potentially tough opponents. It drove against Ferrari, Williams, Benetton. The same applies to Mercedes today.

A characteristic of the MP4 /4 was its extremely flat chassis.

Symonds: The car was built by Gordon Murray and Steve Nichols. Gordon is always associated with his Brabham,Strangely enough, not with this McLaren. And with this McLaren, he finally brought his idea of ​​the flat car to a successful conclusion.

The Honda V6- In 1988, Turbo achieved 680 hp for the race distance with just 150 liters of fuel. Does that put the efficiency of the current hybrid drives into perspective?

Symonds: It was an incredibly efficient engine. There is a very detailed technical description from Honda about this engine. What Honda created back then is still a good basis for efficient high-performance engines today. Honda did something else right: in 1988 they opted for the turbo engine. Despite the fuel limit and the boost pressure limitation to 2.5 bar. In 1988, Benetton and Ford decided to switch to the 3.5 liter Cosworth V8 with 5 valves per cylinder a year before the naturally aspirated engine made its comeback. Ford then abandoned the development of its GB V6 turbo. In retrospect, a big mistake. The engine had learned to run at the end of 1987. And the reliability problems were also slowly under control. It was mostly because of the gasoline that there was so much knock damage. Then it was a damn good engine. At 4 bar boost pressure, we had 900 hp in training and 700 hp in the race. In 1988, Benetton would have been McLaren's strongest opponent if the turbo engine had been developed for another year. Why the Williams FW14B?

Symonds: My best time as an engineer was in the early 90s. It was the time when electronic driving aids came into play. The best car I've ever worked on was the Benetton B193. He had everything on board that you can imagine: active suspension, ABS, traction control, fully automatic transmission, four-wheel steering. We always knew where and in what condition the car was on the racetrack and responded accordingly with the driver aids. I wrestled with myself and my vanity to choose this car, but on the racetrack it never had the success that the Williams FW14B did. Our Benetton only won one race. The bottom line is that the Williams dominated this era. And it had everything on board except for the four-wheel steering. That's why he deserves a place in the top 5.

But it was a long run?

Symonds: Indeed. At Benetton we made our first attempts with active suspension as early as 1988. Williams used his first system back in 1987. It was still mechanical. And they never gave up on development. At Benetton the project was suspended for a while because Rory Byrne and I have docked with Reynard in the meantime. And then wasOf course, the money is still tight. When we returned to Benetton in 1991, it was too late to build something for 1992. We had to concentrate on getting a competitive conventional car up and running.

What were the biggest technical obstacles?

Symonds: First in hydraulics. I called the Royal Airforce to help me with hydraulic actuators. There was nothing on the market that could react quickly enough. However, the Tornado fighter jets were equipped with his system, which was a good base. From then on I knew what to do. The second step was to understand electronic controls. The computers for this were now available. We wrote the software ourselves. There were all sorts of errors. I remember we just couldn't get the active suspension under control during a test at Silverstone. The actuators did what they wanted. I drove from the factory to the track and had someone show me what the problem was. The car trembled even when it was stationary. I took a wrench and touched one of the valves in the hydraulic circuit. Suddenly everything worked. You just had to demagnetize the system. Everyone looked at me like I was a magician. Since money was tight, we couldn't keep replacing the extremely expensive Moog valves to prevent magnetization. That's why we built a steel washer over the valve to get rid of the problem.

It must have been paradise for the aerodynamicists?

Symonds: You were absolutely delighted. The car behaved like it was in a wind tunnel on the track. That is why the aerodynamics were designed to be extremely sharp. For this reason, after the ban on electronic driving aids in 1994, we at Benetton started developing our passive car early on. We suspected that there would be problems with aerodynamic stability if the car suddenly started moving again. Williams didn't do that and paid for it in 1994.

If engineers had full freedom today, we would still see cars as extraordinary as we did then, or that's already all invented?

Symonds: If the rules were free, a car would come out with all the techno tricks there is. An extremely powerful engine, all systems active, ground-effect aerodynamics. It would be easy to achieve centrifugal forces of 7 or 8 g in the curves. The limiting factors would be the tires first and then the driver. We'd have to put them in compression suits like fighter jet pilots so they wouldn't get blacked out. We would certainly do something tooinvent fundamentally new things. The technology never stops.


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