Would wind tunnel ban reduce costs in F1?


It’s not lost on me that Red Bull boss Christian Horner is advocating the removal of wind tunnel testing in F1 as a cost-saving measure given his ace employee, Adrian Newey, is an aerodynamic genius. It’s also not lost on me that Newey has taken a step back from the F1 car program in favor of other projects so what better time to advocate the removal of a system that played into Newey’s strengths? At least that was my initial thoughts.

“If you wanted to go really extreme and be really controversial, get rid of the windtunnel,” Horner said.

“It’s an expensive thing to run and to feed with components and parts. Get back to engineering ingenuity.

“Give everybody the same microchip for the CFD cluster and make it down to the brainpower within the team as opposed to computer or windtunnel power.

“Why not be radical? Why not make everybody have the same processes?

“If I was Bernie [Ecclestone] or Jean [Todt, FIA president], that’s the direction I would be looking at.”

I can’t argue with the cost factor of a wind tunnel. The fact is that most of the teams have one and even the new Haas F1 team’s key element in their arsenal is Windshear—a 290 kph (180 mph) rolling-road wind tunnel in Concord, North Carolina, that is the first of its kind in North America.

Founded by Haas, it is only the third rolling-road wind tunnel of its scale in existence and the world’s first commercially available, full-scale, rolling-road wind tunnel. Windshear is available for hire to all motorsports teams and auto manufacturers. NASCAR, INDYCAR, sports car and NHRA teams utilize Windshear, as does the United States Council for Automotive Research (USCAR), which has conducted tests on production cars at Windshear.

The fact is, Gene Haas also understands Horner’s commentary about leasing the tunnel for business reasons but having such a facility, would he be willing to avoid using it for his new F1 program? That’s the question.

Horner admits that banning wind tunnels wouldn’t sit well with Red Bull but he also mentions a standardization of CFD. Ultimately Horner is advocating something we’ve all been discussing, the ability to control costs through regulations that are designed to be less appealing through diminished returns:

“You can’t dictate how much money a team has and where they choose to spend that money,” he said.

“But what you can do with the regulations is to make diminishing returns.

“So yes, you can have a nice motorhome and a nice pitwall and factory and all the rest – and pay your drivers a fortune.

“But if the regulations were in such a way, then it’s not necessarily going to buy you an advantage.”

I think this is the most logical first step in lowering costs in F1 if you consider that spending a fortune on one particular element isn’t going to gain seven tenths per lap. It’s interesting if you consider this concept in terms of drivers.

Alonso may be worth $40m per year but apparently Hulkenberg or Botta is not. Is there a diminished return on the driver salary scale just as there might be on CFD expenditures? Many would argue there is but I’m not quite as convinced these days and that, for me, could be part of F1’s problem—there is not enough in the hands of the driver to make an exceptional impact either way.

If an exceptional driver could deliver a team 3-tenths or more through sheer skill, then perhaps the paying driver scheme would be less desirable? Probably not but at least it’s a nice platitude to throw around.

Teams spend money on things that make the cars faster. Wind tunnel, aero, brakes, CFD—the one of the only variables they have turned into a revenue stream are drivers and aren’t they one of the elements that should be making the car go faster? To turn the scenario, why not charge the CFD software developer $15m for using their product to design your cars? Why not have Brembo pay you $20m to get their brakes on the car? How about having Windshear pay your team $10m for the privilege of doing the aero test in their facility?

Now I’m sure some manufacturers may pay to have their products used in F1, nothing new here but if it is happening, it’s not reported as broadly as paying drivers. However, the crux on my post is this, is Horner right about regulating diminished returns? We’ve argued that for some time here at FBC but let us know what you think.


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