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Too much innovation can hold F1 teams back, says research

Formula 1 racing teams that relentlessly focus on new technology could damage their chances of winning, according to a new study.

Teams introducing innovations that go further than new technical regulations require tend to perform worse on average than those who simply meet the requirements, researchers at City University London found.

This suggests that constantly striving to introduce new technology as quickly as possible is not as strong a strategy as optimising existing systems, the researchers said, particularly in years when there are major regulation changes.

‘Innovation is very important for Formula 1 but the problem is too much innovation and most of all too much exploration,’ lead researcher Dr Paolo Aversa of City’s Cass Business School told The Engineer.

‘Technology works as architecture and a modular item has to combine with all the other elements in the car. If the technology adopted is too raw it might actually increase complexity over a certain point that causes more problems than benefits.’

The researchers studied car performance for different F1 teams between 1981 and 2010, analysing how much their cars were altered each year, comparing that to the minimum technological requirements of changing regulations, and factoring in other strategic decisions that could affect the seasons’ results.

‘When the complexity of the technological update of the regulation increases, the performance of the car on average decreased and the more the regulation changed the more trouble the cars had,’ said Aversa.

‘You would think that the people who did more innovation would do better because the car would do more than the regulation asked, but they actually performed worse.’

The researchers used the example of the 2009 season when two relatively new and inexperienced teams, Brawn GP and Red Bull, won first and second place in the Constructor Championship, respectively, together taking 14 of that season’s 17 races. 

Both teams used cars that complied with the latest F1 technical updates but avoided the new kinetic energy recovery system (KERS), which wasn’t mandatory but was trialled by more experienced teams – Ferrari, Renault, BMW and McLaren – during the season.

Aversa said he thought that some F1 teams put an over-emphasis on innovation and that, despite other benefits such as prestige or the development of new technology for the mainstream automotive industry, they would sometimes perform better if they took a slower approach.

‘Sometimes you have a lot of things in your technological assets that you can further exploit that are still not optimised and that would give you a much better result than trying to do something new to prove that you are an innovator,’ he said.

Readers' comments (7)

  • This is short term thinking, the development eventually wins.
    F1 is one of the best platforms for development, it attracts huge amounts of money, the worlds best engineers and great publicity, leave it be!

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  • Really? Where would F1 be without the monocoque chassis or aerodynamic wings or carbon fibre or advanced crash structures or carbon ceramic brakes? All of these advances where at some point 'new' and therefore according to this study they were perhaps detrimental to the teams success. The current crop of F1 cars would suggest that was not the case. I agree with Tony, in the long run revolution is better than evolution.

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  • The report doesn't say that F1 shouldn't introduce new technology. Just that too much new technology introduced too quickly can damage teams' performances.

  • Exactly how many World Championships has the good Dr. won?

    The article shows a complete lack of knowledge of the subject as the reasons Brawn and Red Bull were so succesful were nothing to do with not using KERS.

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  • Just Snowboard Dude is leading to, Brawn had the domination they did by sacrificing 2008 to develop a car for 2009 and get a head start i.e. blown diffuser. Red Bull just used good solid engineering and as they did in the following years pushed the boundaries of the rules.
    F1 can not be won by resting on your laurels, it takes a combination of revolution, evolution and innovation and to try to distinguish between them is a very hard task.

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  • The study does *not* claim that innovation is detrimental of team performance or that teams should stop innovating (what a non-sense that would be, especially in F1!). The study statistically demonstrate (taking into mathematical account the totality of the factors influencing the F1 races) that too much EXPLORATION for innovation is detrimental, particularly in the years when the regulations require a major re-design of the cars.

    Let me explain where the fallacy of common understanding/reasoning is. People assume that every time a team pushes its R&D will get a good/working/useful innovation.That is wrong. Most of the search for innovation ends up with failures, and useless or even negative solutions. Once in a while, one research actually delivers something useful and effective. But at which cost? What happens in the middle? Now, while the pioneering team struggles to implement the new best thing, the others wait and look, and focus on improving their car. Once the pioneering team has learned at high cost how to make that innovation work, the others copy it in half time and with less risks and costs. If this happen in a year where the car technology is already messed up because of a general restructuring of the car design, the design complexity of the pioneering teams gets so complex that actually the teams start performing worse than if they had simply waited until the technology would become reliable and standardized for everyone.

    All in all, the article suggests that OF COURSE adopting good and new technological solution is a good thing, but being the first one to push the the technological boundary might be too risky when the technologies are very raw, unreliable, and the regulations might change and ban that solution.

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  • Can the research be extraploted to other equally technical areas? The America's Cup, for instance?

    If this research can be read across, the racing should still be taking place in Rhode Island, 1960!

    I'm all for revolution sandwiches with a generous filling of evolution. And a glass of champagne to wash them down.

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  • F1 engineering in now a wholly inbred, incestuous dead end.

    Little of what is defined by the rules has any practical benefit in the 'real world' any more. What was in the past a great test bed for automotive engineering is now an exercise in money making, nothing more.

    It is also mind numbingly boring to watch.

    The only real future for F1 as an engineering innovator is in Electrically powered cars using whatever energy storage technology that is preferred.

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