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View Poll Results: Round One - Alfa Romeo 158/159 Alfetta vs Williams FW15C vs McLaren MP4/1
Alfa Romeo 158/159 Alfetta 4 57.14%
Williams FW15C 2 28.57%
McLaren MP4/1 1 14.29%
Voters: 7. You may not vote on this poll

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Old 4 May 2021, 11:37 (Ref:4049589)   #1
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The COAT - Round One - Alfa Romeo 158/159 Alfetta vs Williams FW15C vs McLaren MP4/1

Thirtieth match in Round One, nearing the completion. Another 3-way to accommodate numbers. The Alfa Romeo 158/159 Alfetta vs the Williams FW15C vs the McLaren MP4/1.

Alfa Romeo 158/159 Alfetta (goodwood.com):
The Alfa Romeo 158 is not a Formula 1 car. There, that’s quite a way to start this paragraph on a list of the greatest F1 cars of all time. But it’s true. The 158 was built to race in voiturette class racing, a separate class in Grand Prix racing in the 1930s for cars with 1.5-litre engines, when the full GP cars had 3.0-litre units. Obviously completely blown away by the Auto Union and Mercedes Silver Arrows, as it literally wasn’t in the same class, the 158 was incredibly successful. Powered by a 1.5-litre straight-eight, and designed by Goiacchino Colombo – he of Ferrari V12 fame – they won 37 of the 41 races entered pre-F1. But, in the middle of its run, along came World War II, and suddenly motorsport was pretty redundant.

Post-war, racing began to return, but the automotive industry had either been devastated by the war, or turned itself completely to making kit for the war effort. So old racing cars were dragged out of storage, and pressed into service. The Alfetta was back racing in 1947, this time with a honking supercharger, allowing it to produce over 300PS (220kW). In 1950 someone had the rather fun idea of setting up a new World Championship of Drivers, and at Silverstone that year F1 as we know it (sort of) was born. Lining up on the grid were Guiseppe Farina, Juan Manuel Fangio, Luigi Fagioli and Reg Parnell, all armed with Alfettas.

It needs no retelling that they dominated the race, and then the rest of the season. In fact the only reason the Alfetta doesn’t hold the record for most dominant F1 car of all time is that it didn’t enter every eligible race that season. You could argue that the Indy 500 wasn’t an F1 race, but it made up part of the World Championship and Alfa Romeo skipped it. Therefore the 158 won ‘only’ 85 per cent of the races that season – but 100 per cent of the races it entered. The next season the 158 returned as the 159 and.... well it won again. Now with a reworked De-Dion axle and much bigger superchargers meaning its engine produced 420PS (313kW) the 159 was still the class of the field. But that bigger supercharger meant the car was thirsty – in fact it managed only 1.2 miles per gallon. As a result it couldn’t repeat the same dominance, as former Alfa stalwart Enzo Ferrari’s team challenged with three wins toward the end of the season. But Fangio and Farina still won four races between them, and Fangio the title.

Alfa were double title winners, but short of cash, and retired from motorsport when the Italian government refused to help them meet costs of the new Alfa 160 with its bigger 2.5-litre engine. This, added to a surfeit of full F1 cars, meant that F1 would actually run to Formula 2 regs for the next two seasons. Leaving the impact of the Alfetta as not only one of the most successful F1 cars of all time, but also the first to cause a wholesale change of regulations.

Williams FW15C (formula1.com):
Twenty-five years ago this week, Alain Prost won his fourth world championship – and promptly retired. The car in which he achieved this final success, and which took Damon Hill to his first Grand Prix victories in the same year, was the technologically remarkable Williams-Renault FW15C.

This was the ultimate electronic aids car before most of the technology was banned for 1994. It featured active ride, traction control, ABS braking, a set-up that could be adjusted between corners and the ability – at the switch of a cockpit button – to stall the rear diffuser for reduced drag down the straights. The driver could also choose between manual and automatic gearshifts. In terms of the electronic ‘goodies’, the FW15C can be considered the most advanced F1 car of all time, even though knowledge has advanced enormously since 1993.

The FW15C was an evolution of the FW14B that had taken Nigel Mansell to the 1992 world championship. The 14B had been an active ride adaptation of an existing car, but the 15 was designed at the outset around the new technology, under the technical directorship of Patrick Head and Adrian Newey. Paddy Lowe, recently returned to Williams as Chief Technical Officer, was the systems engineer who wrote and developed most of the software necessary to make the active ride system work.

The use of hydraulic pressure to lengthen or shorten actuators fitted to each wheel (as determined by the computer reacting to the measured loads upon the car) allowed the platform of the car to be maintained in the most aerodynamically efficient position at all times. It was therefore immune to the otherwise inevitable aerodynamic compromise resulting when a conventional car pitches, dives or rolls on its suspension. This capability was worth whole seconds of lap time over conventionally-suspended cars and Williams were the first to fully exploit the technology, in partnership with AP.

Electronic digital control was the breakthrough that allowed the full potential of active ride – which had been tried on and off in F1 since 1983 – to be realised. This, in combination with Moog proportional servo control valves, finally gave the system the necessary response fidelity and reaction time.

Because the car could be kept in a much narrower range of ride heights and rake angles than a conventionally-sprung car, the aerodynamic surfaces could be made much more ‘peaky’ as the downforce was no longer required to be consistent over anything like as wide a range of attitudes. It allowed the front wing and diffuser in particular to be fashioned much more aggressively.

The FW15C was reported to have a lift:drag ratio improvement of 12% over the 14B – this despite a late-notice regulation change for ’93 that reduced the track of F1 cars to 1.8 metres (from 2.0) and which stipulated a minimum height above the ground for the front wing endplates. These changes, together with narrower rear tyres, might have been expected to have made the FW15C slower than its predecessor, but in fact it was significantly faster on almost every track.

Both cars featured exhaust-blown diffusers, but the more aggressive design of the ’93 car, together with development work on the engine mapping from Renault Sport, significantly increased the effectiveness of this feature. In addition, with the RS5 engine, Renault had given its 67-degree 3.5-litre V10 new con rods and revised the inlet and combustion chambers to give an extra 30bhp over the ’92 motor (taking it up to 780bhp). Bernard Dudot’s masterpiece, it remained F1’s best engine by far – more powerful than the Ford V8s in the McLarens and Benettons, lighter and less thirsty than the Ferrari V12s.

Other improvements over the FW14B included the addition of power steering, as the downforce levels being reached were beginning to make it difficult for smaller drivers to extract the maximum from the cars. Given that for ’93, Williams had replaced Nigel Mansell with Prost, this was an important feature.

There was also electrically-powered braking assistance – also to help the drivers exploit the increased braking potential arising from the downforce increase. The driver could choose to use the paddles behind the steering to change gear semi-automatically, or to leave it in auto mode when it would change up and down automatically at the appropriate time. As soon as the driver touched the paddles, it would revert to manual mode.

In the FW14B, the driver could also choose the car’s angle of attack by adjusting the front ride height via a knob. The ideal rake angle will vary according to the speed of the corner – and this allowed the driver to have his cake and eat it. But in the 15C, this feature was automated into the software – so the car would continually be changing its own set-up!

Another neat feature was a button that would lower the rear of the car and thereby stall the diffuser, which reduced the drag of the car considerably. This was incorporated via the software to give the engine an extra 300rpm when used. It was effectively a ‘push-to-pass’ button. Anti-lock braking was introduced from the French Grand Prix onwards.

For ’94, the governing body banned active ride and most of the associated ‘automatic’ electronic technology – and a new, different era of F1 began. So the FW15C stands as the ultimate showcase for where F1 would have been headed but for the interruption of regulation to contain the speed and give more control back to the driver.

McLaren MP4/1(mclaren.com):
The MP4/1 brought a change to McLaren’s established nomenclature, standing for McLaren Project Four, and bore the distinction of being the first carbon composite Formula 1 design. The material had been used for small components since Graham Hill’s eponymous Embassy-backed Cars had used it for their rear wing supports in 1975, but not until the MP4/1 made its bow on March 5th 1981 had it been used for the entire chassis.

Together with Lotus chief Colin Chapman whose controversial Lotus 88 would also use the material, Barnard had come to appreciate not just the lightness of carbon fibre but also its tremendous strength, and his new car would set a trend every bit as influential as Chapman’s introduction of the monocoque chassis two decades earlier. It laid the groundwork for material innovation that has become such a hallmark of the McLaren Group’s activities with cars such as the three-seater F1, the world’s first fully composite road car, and the later Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren as the world’s first series production carbon composite car.

Born out of a singular vision, the MP4/1 remains as much as anything a testament to Barnard’s character, drive and imagination. He had cut his teeth with Lola, and then McLaren in the early 1970s, before moving to Parnelli and Chaparral in the United States, yet it was his relative inexperience in F1 that paradoxically freed him to think outside the box. The focus in F1 at that time, he said, was very much on ground effects. “The objective was to optimise it, and that meant using the biggest underwing l could get which entailed a very small section chassis. I wanted to get my chassis down to not to much bigger than the driver's bum.” To Barnard, the only way to reduce the chassis section while retaining the necessary torsional stiffness was to use an entirely new material rather than just a different gauge of aluminium.

Sometimes controversial but never anything less than a highly gifted and always adventurous designer, he had been thinking about this particular problem long before the merger between Marlboro Mclaren and Project Four Racing. He had also been hearing good things about carbon fibre composites: given the correct application it was clearly light, stiff, and extremely strong — perfect, in theory, for Formula 1.

Very few people knew much about it, however. A contact at British Aerospace provided some clues at a time when the material was being used for engine cowls for the Rolls-Royce RB211 turbofan engine. At the same time, however, its mysterious properties were called into question, Barnard remembers, when someone easily snapped a piece of it in half (actually, a unidirectional piece which he bent the wrong way). Perhaps it was not, after all, the ideal material with which to build an entire Formula 1 car.

Others too, Barnard confirmed years later, “thought we were mad,” and even the man he describes as his design hero, Colin Chapman who was busy working on his technically brilliant but ultimately doomed Type 88 with its complex composite—mix ‘twin chassis’, went on record to say that a pure-carbon car of the sort McLaren was planning simply would not be safe enough.

Typically Ron Dennis showed a far more positive approach, or as Barnard characterised it, “He was very gung-ho. It was a very simple deal between us. He said, ‘you tell me what you want to do technically and I’ll get the money.' That's how it went, and it worked, too!"

Around this time a contact from Barnard's Indycar days with Parnelli and Chaparral pointed him towards the Utah-based Hercules Corporation which had ‘Skunk-Works' research and development section and finally he was in business. Expressly conceived to think the unthinkable and play around with crazy ideas and odd one-offs, Hercules was the obvious place to start building his dream.

Barnard jumped on a flight to Salt Lake City with a quarter scale model of his proposed design in the cabin alongside him and soon after the staff at Hercules set to work the MP4/1 began to take shape. As they lacked the technology and know-how to create curved pieces, the first monocoque was assembled using five major components, each one with flat faces.

It had only a single major aluminium component, the internal front suspension bulkhead, compared to a conventional F1 car of the time which boasted around 50. Perhaps it looked a little rough and wrinkled in places, but it turned out even stronger than Barnard felt necessary, so for the next chassis plies were pulled out of the skin to make it lighter still

Unfortunately the new car wasn’t ready for the start of the 1981 season, so John Watson and his new team-mate Andrea de Cesaris found themselves campaigning the outdated M29C But it was well worth the wait.

In its first two races the sole MP4/1 qualified 11th and seventh, making it to the line for its first race finish in San Marino in 10th. Watson qualified the MP4/1 a promising fifth on its debut at Zolder in the Belgian GP and ran a comfortable fourth until the late stages when gearbox problems dropped him back to seventh by the flag. He qualified 10th at Monaco and was heading for fourth place when the engine broke.

Then came the start of what Wattie would later refer to as his 'Ted Rogers' sweep, referring to the comedian's popular Three Two One game show. From fourth on the grid he finished third in Spain; in France a front-row starting position translated into a superb race drive and second place just over two seconds behind first-time winner Alain Prost. Suddenly, McLaren was back. And then came the 1981 Marlboro British Grand Prix at Silvestone.

Alain Prost led initially for Renault, with team-mate Rene Arnoux riding shotgun. Watson was seventh at the end of the first lap, then was delayed further as he dropped to 10th by the fourth avoiding an accident in the Woodcote chicane at the end of lap three involving de Cesaris, Alan Jones and Gilles Villeneuve. But then he got his head down and charged. Nelson Piquet crashed his Brabham heavily; then Prost’s car burned a valve. Suddenly, the McLaren was up to second place, albeit 25s adrift of Arnoux.

And there it stayed for 30 laps. But on lap 50 the Renault’s engine note changed; as Arnoux slowed, Watson went quicker and quicker and began scything down the gap, cheered on by an expectant crowd of his fellow countrymen. On lap 61 he swooped into the lead, and seven laps later was flagged off the winner of the British GP. It was McLaren’s first Grand Prix victory since Fuji, four years earlier. And the first for a carbon fibre composite car.

Later, came the big shunt at Monza where Watson's Mp4/1 was cut in half after he went off the road in the two fast Lesmo corners. But even as the engine and gearbox were torn off, the monocoque structure remained intact. Wattie had walked away from a 140mph crash, and while the car did not look very pretty afterwards it had not, as so many sceptics had expected, exploded into a cloud of black dust."

It was a win-win situation. The McLaren MP4/1 not only radically improved McLaren's chances but genuinely reinvigorated the sport as well. No less significantly, as rival teams looked at ways of building carbon composite cars of their own, the construction methods introduced by Barnard’s

MP4/1 made possibly the largest single contribution to driver safety of any innovation in the sport’s history. By feeding loads along the axis of the strands in the material, carbon composite cars were able to boast a much higher stiffness-to-weight ratio, making them not just lighter and faster but safer too.

For all its success, the MP4/1 was not the finished article, and with its tendency to porpoise there was certainly room for further aerodynamic development. Nor was it ever a particularly easy car to drive. The nickname earned by de Cesaris - ‘de Crasheris’ - gives some indication as to how well his season went, and also explains in part why after finishing with only a single point he was replaced by Niki Lauda for 1982.

It changed many perceptions, inside and outside the sport. The McLaren MP4/1 had always been interesting because it had become a winner, but now the true advantages of its ground-breaking technology had been demonstrated worldwide. Potential applications for the new material were being identified almost weekly, and videos of Watson's crash were soon being used in the US to convince the military of the material’s value as cladding for attack helicopters in need of underbody protection against fire from below, For this, and for the major leap forward that F1 safety took, the remarkable McLaren MP4/1 deserves all the credit it can get.

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Old 4 May 2021, 11:40 (Ref:4049592)   #2
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For more insight on the FW15C - and much, much more - be sure to listen to this week's edition of Beyond The Grid, presented by Bose, with special guest Alain Prost
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Old 4 May 2021, 13:02 (Ref:4049609)   #3
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S griffin has a real shot at the championship!S griffin has a real shot at the championship!S griffin has a real shot at the championship!S griffin has a real shot at the championship!S griffin has a real shot at the championship!
The Alfa and the McLaren were both pioneers, whilst the FW15 was the height of technology. I'll go with the Alfa, it was that much better than the others it competed against
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Old 4 May 2021, 22:03 (Ref:4049731)   #4
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chunterer is going for a new lap record!chunterer is going for a new lap record!chunterer is going for a new lap record!chunterer is going for a new lap record!chunterer is going for a new lap record!chunterer is going for a new lap record!
Mclaren. It was the beginning of huge gains in safety and performance through strength and weight saving.
And it looked really good too!
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