Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis
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Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis

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

Giorgio Piola has been at the forefront of F1’s technical coverage throughout his career, helping to make the complex sport we love a little easier to understand. In this series of articles dedicated to his illustrative genius, we’ll uncover the cars that have captured his imagination.

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

Piola has been at the forefront of F1’s technical coverage throughout his career, helping to make the often complex sport we love a little easier to understand. In this series of articles dedicated to his illustrative genius, we’ll uncover the cars and components that have captured his and our imagination.

Here we delve into the first half of the 1980s, when ground effect was at its peak (and then banned), carbonfibre chassis became the norm, water tanks to cheat the weight rules, and turbocharged engines sent power outputs through the roof.

Click on the images below to scroll through each year…

1980

Ferrari 312T5 1980 detailed overview

Ferrari 312T5 1980 detailed overview
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The 312T5 was an evolution of the car's championship winning predecessor, but while the flat-12 engine had been part of that success, it was clear that its layout would now start to hinder progress. With most of the teams adopting the ground-effect concept, it would limit the size and shape of Ferrari’s venturi tunnels and so the T5 would be their flat-12 swansong.

Ferrari 312T5 wings setup, Monaco GP

Ferrari 312T5 wings setup, Monaco GP
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

In an attempt to overcome the deficit to the teams around them, Ferrari opted to make some changes to the T5 for Monaco, which completely changed the car’s silhouette. This included a narrower front wing, placed closer to the front wheels – due to a shorter nose and an overhaul of the rear wings position, with it brought forward over the rear wheel axle line and widened to increase downforce.

Ligier JS11/15 1980 exploded overview

Ligier JS11/15 1980 exploded overview
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The JS11/15 continued to exploit the kind of aerodynamic advantage that Ligier had built into their car in 1979 and took victories in Belgium and Germany for Didier Pironi and Jacques Laffite respectively. A stream of other great finishes resulted in Ligier clinching second place in the constructors’ championship too, a great feat for such a small team.

Ligier JS11/15 1980 aero overview

Ligier JS11/15 1980 aero overview
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The JS11/15 could not utilise one of the tricks that its predecessor had so successfully exploited, as it had already been banned following Piola’s discovery of the system and his subsequent illustration of it! Following a crash for Lafitte at the last round of the 1979 championship at Watkins Glen, Piola had made his way to Ligier’s garage and discovered the system hidden away in the sidepods. Squirreled away beneath the radiators the team had positioned a clapet (valve) which opened at maximum pressure, reducing downforce and drag, and increasing straightline speed.

1981

Brabham BT49C 1981

Brabham BT49C 1981
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The Brabham BT49C was a very simple, neat and elegant car that took advantage of the ground-effect concept, with a mini-skirt sealing the side of the car very well. The cutaway also gives us an impressive vista of the Cosworth DFV V8 engine that helped to power Nelson Piquet to one of his three world championships and took Brabham to second place in the constructors’ championship that year.

Ferrari 126 CK exploded view

Ferrari 126 CK exploded view
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The Ferrari 126C was a very important car from Ferrari’s perspective, as having realised it could no longer pursue the flat-12 it switched to a turbocharged engine. It opted for a 120-degree V6 configuration that allowed it to position the turbo in the middle of the Vee, centralising the packaging with a similar overall design concept to its forebear - the T5. Winning in Monaco brought with it extra meaning, as up until then it had been a place considered to be very difficult for the turbo engine.

Ferrari 126C evolution

Ferrari 126C evolution
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The 126C would evolve significantly throughout the season, from a chassis point of view, as it still competed with a tubular frame construction with a skin on top of it. Piola diligently catalogued the changes, and even kept note of the corresponding chassis numbers (bottom right). The team made a concerted effort to stiffen the chassis’ construction, first with the front suspension but then moving back down the chassis, in order that it increase the car’s overall torsional stiffness, allowing it to maximise the ground-effect concept that was prone to warping the cars.

Lotus 88 1981 aero overview

Lotus 88 1981 aero overview
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The Lotus 88 has become a footnote in a long list of designs that own a mythical status in Formula 1, largely because we are unable to assert how good it was. The ingenious double-chassis concept was banned before it could be raced but, while many understood that the car performed exceptionally well during windtunnel testing, they didn't know it was actually a nightmare to drive, with rather unpredictable levels of downforce available at any point. This was due to the airflow passing through the car, rather than over or under it and often led to the car producing lift, rather than downforce.

McLaren MP4 1981 exploded detailed view

McLaren MP4 1981 exploded detailed view
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

For 1981 the McLaren and Project One teams merged, which saw Ron Dennis at the helm of the team, with John Barnard in charge of design. He introduced a feature that revolutionised the sport and one that we now take for granted in contemporary chassis design - carbonfibre composite. Knowing that McLaren did not have the in-house facilities to manufacture the chassis, Barnard employed aerospace company Hercules to do so. The use of carbonfibre raised many eyebrows at the time, but all of the teams soon realised the advantages of this extremely lightweight and resilient material.

1982

Williams FW08 1982 comparison with FW08B six wheeler

Williams FW08 1982 comparison with FW08B six wheeler
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

We covered Tyrrell’s infamous six-wheeler in the 1970s, but while it was the only one to race it wasn’t the only project in existence... Williams had been busy working on a secret 6-wheeler project, as they looked for ways to bridge the roughly 180bhp deficit from not having a turbocharged engine. Its design would use four narrower wheels at the rear, which reduced drag massively, allowed for a very long diffuser and gave much more mechanical grip from the now four driven wheels. Alas, the FIA stepped in and stopped its introduction before it was raced.

Williams FW08 1982 water ballast system detail

Williams FW08 1982 water ballast system detail
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The FW08 was a very clean interpretation of the original Lotus ground-effect concept but took advantage of a chassis with much more torsional stiffness. However, the Cosworth DFV V8 they were using was underpowered when compared with their turbocharged rivals and so Williams set about finding an advantage elsewhere. It did so with a nuance in the wording of the regulations, housing a 60-litre water tank within the right-hand sidepod that would be empty as the race got underway, but could be topped up at the end of the race to meet the minimum weight requirement!

Ferrari 126 C2

Ferrari 126 C2
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The 126C2 saw Ferrari make a significant step forward in regard to chassis design, as the arrival of Harvey Postlewaite saw the team switch to full monocoque chassis with a honeycomb construction, which made it lighter, stronger and generally more nimble than its more unruly predecessor. It was an extremely successful car for Ferrari but a tragic one, as it sadly took Gilles Villeneuve’s life in Belgium, while Pironi would never race in Formula 1 again following his accident in Germany.

Ferrari 126C2 1982 Long Beach rear wing comparison

Ferrari 126C2 1982 Long Beach rear wing comparison
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The battle off the track was just as fierce as ever, as designers sought to find loopholes in the regulations that would give them a competitive edge. Ferrari’s Mauro Forgheiri pioneered an oddly-spaced rear wing interpretation at Long Beach. It, like the water tank trick, deliberately flew in the face of the regulations, splaying the two wing elements (right) so they nearly measured the full width of the car. Villeneuve battled his way to third place, only to be disqualified after the race.

1983

Brabham BT52 1983

Brabham BT52 1983
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Just before the start of the 1983 season the FIA changed the regulations and banned ground effect. This was a blow to the teams as they’d all designed cars around the concept and would now have to hurriedly accommodate the changes. Gordon Murray’s BT52B was perhaps the most adapted car to line up on the grid in Brazil, and featured and elegant design with many features that set it apart from the rest of the field.

Brabham BT52B 1983

Brabham BT52B 1983
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Murray junked the long, skirted sidepods that formerly housed large under wings, as aerodynamically they’d become redundant. Instead the Brabham featured very short angular pods that gave the car a distinctive dart shape. Having tested for the return of refueling during the previous season the Brabham also featured a much smaller fuel tank, a feature that many of the teams’ rivals had failed to capitalise on. It also afforded the BT52 a formidable weight distribution that worked exceptionally well with the Pirelli tyres they were using.

Renault RE40 1983

Renault RE40 1983
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Renault’s turbo project, which started in 1977 with the RS01, was finally set to deliver them a tangible advantage, as the loss of ground effect had destabilised the pecking order. As the car exited the pitlane in Monaco, Piola discovered that the Renault RE40 had been outfitted with three small exhaust outlets positioned either side of the diffuser. Much like the more recent incarnations of this exhaust-blowing solution, championed on several occasions, albeit in different guises, by Adrian Newey, it would enhance the cars ability to generate downforce from the car's underside.

1984

McLaren MP4-2 1984 exploded-detail overview

McLaren MP4-2 1984 exploded-detail overview
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The McLaren MP4/2 was an evolution of its predecessor, with the team continuing to take advantage of the lightweight and torsionally-rigid carbonfibre monocoque. The MP4/2 took further advantage of this manufacturing process though, with the lightweight bodywork being contoured in a way that was previously unachievable. This allowed John Barnard to introduce another design that’s synonymous with modern Formula 1: the coke-bottle shape, which resulted in the airflow accelerating more quickly around the car.

McLaren MP4-2 1984 detailed overview

McLaren MP4-2 1984 detailed overview
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Barnard’s reach went even further still though, as for the first time an engine manufacturer had directly followed the instructions of a chief chassis designer, with the turbocharged Porsche engine allowing for a very clean and tidy installation. Two radiators were positioned in a V-shape, while the intercoolers were mounted vertically behind, further improving the car's aerodynamic profile. Producing around 650bhp, the Porsche engine helped to power both Lauda and Prost to championship glories and delivered both constructors titles to McLaren.

Toleman TG184 1984 detailed overview

Toleman TG184 1984 detailed overview
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Ayrton Senna arrived on the Formula 1 scene and immediately made his mark with Toleman’s TG184. The twin rear-winged machine gave the Brazilian his first taste of success, standing on the podium on three occasions that season. One of those occasions has gone down in F1 folklore though, as at the Monaco GP, having started 13th, he clambered his way up to first place in wet and treacherous conditions. However, when the red flag was shown at the end of that lap Alain Prost was promoted back to first place by virtue of a countback.

Toleman TG184 1984 rear wing detail

Toleman TG184 1984 rear wing detail
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The Toleman TG184 was designed by Rory Byrne and is probably most recognisable due to the twin rear-wing design, which saw the team take advantage of a wider wing ahead of the rear axle in tandem with the standard one behind.

See Piola's view of the 1970s:

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