Features - Interview
AUGUST 1, 1993
BY JOE SAWARD
When Gerhard Berger parks a Formula 1 car and says it is dangerous, you have to believe him. It takes a hell of a lot to register a shock on the Austrian's Richter scale. But at the recent British GP at Silverstone Berger did just that, complaining that his active suspension system was too scary for him. John Barnard and his team of engineers at Ferrari Design and Development in Shalford, Surrey had to take it on the chin.
"I'm not enjoying myself," admits John, "because we are sweating blood at a time when we ought to be concentrating on a new car. We are being pounded to get results because three years ago Ferrari let the ball slip and dropped the active system it was working on. Other people plugged on and have gone through the pain we are now having out of the public eye. We are having to do it in the middle of a racing season. Ferrari is always in the public eye so when you have a problem like this it is 100 times worse for us.
"At the end of last year we thought active was going to carry on and we took the decision to make a car which was committed to having active suspension. We thought we could solve it but the problem of electronic roll control has proved to be much more difficult than anyone ever thought.
"And there is a certain temperament at Ferrari which is different from the British one-foot-in-front-of-the-other approach, where you slog along, with a stream of oaths or whatever, and you get there in the end."
What about jean Todt's methodical approach?
"My first impressions are that he is a tough little guy," says Barnard. "He seems to be able to take a direction and stick to it and, at times he can be pretty hard-nosed. All of which is potentially a good thing for Ferrari. He does have to gain experience of F1 because it is different to all other forms of racing. It is hard both on-track and off-track and you have to gain that experience. This whole casino over the rules and regulations has been something he never envisaged."
And what does Barnard make of the current brouhaha over the rules.
"We seem to be going into a flat spin and I can't really remember a situation like it, where we have been so uncertain for so long. I remember in the past when we complained of things being forced upon us with no notice, like flat bottoms and so on, but this one has gone on and on. I thought I could follow what was going on up until the World Council meeting in Paris after the British GP. After that I'm afraid I completely lost the ball. What we seem to have ended up with is a status-quo for the end of this year with active suspension out for next year, but gearboxes staying as they are. By that I take it they mean fully automatic gearboxes because we are now running fully automatic upshift and downshift.
"The problem is that things are being said by people who don't really understand what we already have. You ask what about continuously variable transmission and they say "No CVT". It seems to me that we are going to have to write a new set of technical regulations. And I have to say I am completely amazed that everybody has agreed in Hockenheim on something as basic as that.
"The whole point of what the other teams were arguing about is the basic principle of stability because this active suspension thing was bought in on the sporting code. There was some logic to that argument, but now we are talking about new technical regulations for next year.
"I've started designing a car for next year and I spoke to Patrick Head (of Williams) and it sounds like he is doing the same thing. We have to build a car which is adaptable because we don't know what the rules will be and we cannot wait that long to start a brand new car. When I do a car I do it from the ground up, every nut and bolt. That is a long project. We started designing a passive suspension car on that basis and then we got a bit nervous and started making allowances for hydraulics and things like that. The problem now is that I still don't know what I am allowed to do. It is all very well saying "no active", but what does "active" mean? The arguments about what constitutes moveable aerodynamic devices can go on forever. If I do a mechanical active system - is it an active system? If I build a system which has anti-squat and anti-dive built in without electronics, is that allowed or am I playing with the aerodynamics? The questions go on and on and we cannot resolve it until we get new technical regulations - and they have yet to be written."
And what would he like in any new regulation package?
"I still think that F1 has to try and move with the times," he says. "We have to recognize the need for efficiency, ecology and so on. There is an argument doing the rounds that if we have smaller engines and less horsepower than Indycars people are going to laugh at F1. It is absolute rubbish. F1 is still going to be F1. We have to recognise the way things are going in the future and we are looking at running fuel-burning dragsters in the year 2000. That is conceptually wrong. We won't interest manufacturers in that sort of formula. I am much more interested in going down the efficiency route.
"At the moment in 1995 we are going to have stepped underbodies. We are pretty sure about that, although nothing is sure in the world of rules and regulations at the moment. This would be coupled with other regulations limiting the aerodynamic side. It would make sense to me in those circumstances to have a smaller engine and a lighter car. Potentially you would end up with a car which would not be a lot slower but much better in term of efficiency.
"A 2.5-litre V6 engine in a 450kg car would still be a quick package and we would be moving in the direction that cars are going. I think that would be much more interesting for manufacturers - which it seems is what people say they want.
"I have to say that most of the manufacturer interest in electronics concerns the engines and what they can learn from them. F1 pushes everything to the limit, especially the engines and I think the manufacturer interest in other aspects of the cars is much less because what we need from a racing car is so far removed from what they need on their road cars. I don't think that a lot of the technology is applicable to roads cars.
"I am prepared to recognise that we are in a sport - somebody has to make that statement because it gets easily forgotten - and we need to put on a good show. Everyone keeps telling me that and I agree because if you turn on the TV to watch F1 I think that by and large it is boring. The ardent fan is still interested but for people on the edges I think it is relatively boring. If you turn on a Grand Prix motorcycle race, you can see wheel-to-wheel, shoulder-to-shoulder passing on every lap.
"Everyone tells me we need to close up the grid and from this aspect I think that traction-control, ABS and four-wheel steering are a waste of time. They already have them in road cars so what are we proving? Nothing. I cannot see the value of doing things like that. We are supposed to have a Drivers' Championship. Well, let's see the drivers show their skills.
"But we don't want to cut out technology completely, so there is a balance to be achieved.
"What is a fundamental point in getting a close show is that it is absolutely necessary to have engines which are closely-matched and to get that you have to have limitations on the engines. Obviously we have to tread a very fine line between not allowing a manufacturer to get enough out of F1 while at the same time keeping down the costs so that smaller teams can achieve something decent.
"We have had the same engine formula which has been around for about 10 years and its shouldn't come as a surprise if it changes. If we change it, we do two things: we can bring things together and cut costs. If we did that I think we would attract big manufacturers. The way to do that is to say: "Here are the new rules, you have two years notice. If you want to come in you can do so at the start of the new formula and not when other manufacturers are three laps ahead of you and you have to catch him up as is currently the case and makes no sense at all. I am in favour of seeing a change. It is better to recognise that, think about it and do something than continuing with what we now have, which is virtually unlimited engine technology.
"I also object to the fact that every year the cars get knocked by new rules to reduce downforce or whatever. Nothing ever happens to the engines. People say don't touch the engines because you'll upset the manufacturers. What about poor old blokes who build the cars?
"Don't we count?"