“There once was a time when the racing world was ruled by savage beasts. They were captured just before the snowy season, when noble brave men had one winter to tame this creature. After months of championship battle, a handful of the best animals were kept for another winter of training, while the others were set free again.”
And so Andries van Overbeeke introduces his vision for the future of Formula One racing. The metaphor goes on—it gets a bit weird, actually—but the moral of the story is this: F1 cars used to be innovative and awesome. Now they’re inbred and lame.
There are all these ideas floating around in the Formula One community. As an artist, it’s your duty to grab to those ideas and create something tangible. Andries van Overbeeke
The Dutch designer loves the sport and, like many F1 fans, has ideas for improving it. That means changing rules, not just to improve safety, but to make the racing more competitive.
F1 has problems. For one, it’s horrifically expensive: Top teams like Mercedes spend hundreds of millions per year to stay in the lead, while those without the cash, like Caterham and Marussia, fall by the wayside. Second, the rules are so rigid, so constraining, that there’s little innovation—a point Ferrari made as only Ferrari can with its amazing concept car protest.
The upside is that while there are problems, there are also plenty of ideas for fixing them. A shift from open to closed cockpits, to promote safety. New rules governing designs to reduce costs and increase competition. “There are all these ideas floating around in the Formula One community,” van Overbeeke says. “I think as an artist, it’s your duty to grab to those floating ideas and create something tangible.” So that’s what he did.
There’s nothing on these cars that doesn’t look like it couldn’t be possible. These are realistic from an engineering perspective. F1 journalist Craig Scarborough
To explore what the future of F1 could look like, van Overbeeke conjured up three concept cars representing McLaren-Honda, Red Bull, and Williams. Not only are they excitingly different, they’re gorgeous. What’s most impressive is how van Overbeeke’s ideas seem totally doable, because they’re grounded in reality.
“There’s nothing on these cars that doesn’t look like it couldn’t be possible,” says Craig Scarborough, a journalist who focuses on the technical and engineering aspects of F1. “These are realistic from an engineering perspective.”
The closed cockpit is the biggest and most fundamental change. It’s an idea that’s periodically suggested to improve driver safety, and van Overbeeke says he first considered design a car with a canopy in 2009, when, in the space of one week, F1 driver Felipe Massa suffered a concussion after being hit in the head by a loose spring, and 18-year-old Formula 2 (F1’s minor leagues) driver Henry Surtees was hit in the head by a loose wheel and killed.
One critique of the idea is that the result would be “shockingly ugly,” in the words of Red Bull boss Christian Horner, according to Autosport. Van Overbeeke proves him wrong. That McLaren is beautiful, even if F1 purists will deride it as heresy. And there’s no reason it can’t be created, Scarborough says: There are some minor technical issues (like making sure the driver can always escape the car quickly), but nothing insurmountable.
You have all these geniuses working for Formula One teams, and they are so restricted. I would just like to see simpler rules. Andries van Overbeeke
Van Overbeeke makes other practical changes. His cars are stripped down, free of many of the aerodynamic appendages that add cost (via extensive modeling and testing) and complication to car design.
The front wings are less complex and delicate than those used on today’s cars. The idea is to make overtaking other drivers easier—and thus make the racing more exciting: Today’s front wings are incredibly sophisticated and designed to produce downforce, keeping the car grounded at huge speeds, Scarborough says. But if they get too close to another car, the changes in airflow upset the aerodynamics—so they have to trail farther behind, making it harder to move ahead.
A simpler, wider wing might produce less downforce, but it would also be less perturbed by airflow changes. That would let cars get close, and make passing more common. Widening the car and wheels could have a similar effect, improving grip and allowing cars to get closer together.
“You have all these geniuses working for Formula One teams, and they are so restricted,” van Overbeeke says. “I would just like to see simpler rules.”
So can these digital designs change the future of F1? The odds aren’t good, but we’re nonetheless better off having a realistic, visual representation of the changes that could help the sport. “In that respect,” Scarborough says, “his designs are incredibly intelligent, and not just a flight of fancy.”