Off the Scale: F1 Cars are Getting Heavier Than Ever Before

Weight Increase

After witnessing Alonso driving his Title-winning R25 around the Yas Marina Circuit, many F1 fans were stunned and noticed two huge differences between said car and the current generation: the magnificent, imponent sound that only V10 engines can generate (even Hamilton was left speechless by its wonderful roar) and the relative shortness of the R25 compared to modern Formula One cars. However, there is a third difference which most F1 fans did not (quite understandably) notice, namely the weight. Sure enough, in the span of 15 years, the minimum weight allowed for an F1 single seater has increased by 144 kilograms, passing from the 600kg limit (driver included) of the 1997-2007 period to the current 744kg. However, to make things more impressive than they already are, we should underline that those weight limitations are referred to an F1 car already filled with water, lubricant and cooling liquid (plus the pilot), the weight of the fuel is not included, meaning that a modern Formula One single seater, at full load, can approximately reach 854 kg, which is very impressive and, as we will see later on this article, a downside in many aspects.

A Historical Issue

This “weight gain” problem is nothing new to Formula One. To be fair, before 1961 F1 regulations did not establish weight limitations, which in turn where firstly introduced in that year. In the beginning, the limit was set at 450kg, but after only four years the bar was raised to 500kg, and it stayed like that from 1966 to 1972. After that, the limit was increased again to 575kg until 1980, only to be set even higher just one year later, 585 kg in 1981. Quite surprisingly, things went against the prevailing trend from 1982 to 1994, when the weight limit was repeatedly lower to 540kg from 1983 to 1986, 540kg for turbo engines and 500kg for naturally aspirated engines from 1986 to 1994. Then again, the trend went back on the trail in 1994 when the limit was decided to be 515kg until 1996. In this very period, it was also established to include the drivers’ weight in the cars’ weight. Therefore the reason why, up to this day, we see the pilots be weighted after every official session in the FIA garages with their helmets and race suit still on. As already stated, the limitation did not change in the 1997-2007 era, but from then on things escalated pretty quickly: 605kg in 2008 and 2009, 620kg in 2010, 640kg in 2011, 642kg in 2012 and 2013, 691kg in 2014 (the biggest jump, all due to the introduction of the Power Unit and its numerous components), 700kg in 2015, 728kg in 2017, 733kg in 2018 (introduction of the Halo system), 743kg in 2019 (because, otherwise, the pilots would have been forced to stay on even stricter diets that could have potentially led to a compromising loss in muscular mass) and finally 744kg in 2020. But considering the huge regulation revolution meant to happen in 2022, F1 cars will still increase their minimum weight, this time up to 768kg.

A Good Diet

As we have briefly mentioned before, a greater weight comes with a greater number of downsides. Precisely, escape routes are bound to be unavoidably augmented in width and length since a heavier car implies a greater kinetic energy and, although it should be dissipated by the force exerted by the carbonium brakes, circuit projectors must assume that a car will not always have perfectly functional brakes. However, larger escape routes mean that even less talented pilots can reach their limits without repercussions, therefore negatively affecting the spectacular nature of the races. Moreover, a greater weight coincides with a major inertia of the car both on the straights and in the corners. But while a powerful motor can compensate for the mass increase on the straight, it can do nothing for the less stability and velocity in the corners. Therefore, a greater aerodynamic load and grip-generating tyre must be implemented to compensate the lack of speed. Nevertheless, a higher aerodynamic efficiency generates in turn a reduction in the number of overtakes per race, which is detrimental to the show. Last but not least, the weight increase is against the very essence of race cars, which are meant to be high in power and low on mass. The great Colin Chapman once said ” Adding power makes you faster on the straights. Subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere”. But since the 80’, the ration weight/power has decreased from 0.7 to 0.5. Anyway, this issue is not always a bad thing, as heavier cars also implies that they are made of more sturdy and therefore safer, preventing many fatal accidents from happening.

The Burden Of The Future

By this point, it should be clear that continuing the actual trend would have negative consequences on Formula One in terms of spectacle and even drivability of the single seater. However the FIA seems to have not understood that concept, or maybe they are afraid of F1 fans’ reaction in case they decide to reduce the speed and the weight of F1 cars. However, they should master up the courage to implement such restriction, which will actually be beneficial for the show: less speed is not a problem as long as fans can enjoy race’ packed with action and overtakes. I mean, they have already added many unpopular rules over the course of their existence, so what is refraining them from implementing the only one which would make sense?

Posted By John Holmes