November 18, 2017

Modesty panels, modernism and the aesthetics of #F1 2013 regulations

F1 cars have never looked like elegant road cars, but they have always had a pleasing aesthetic of their own. There is always something beautiful about an object that does what it is supposed to and nothing else. The modern F1 car is a prime example – it is designed to take one man very quickly around a racetrack. It does that very well. Anything else it does pretty badly. But because the car is designed with that one end in mind beauty is a necessary result.

‘Form follows function’ is a dictum championed by modernist architects and artists, though it was originally coined in 1896 by Louis Sullivan. He explained his reasoning by adding ‘All things in nature have a shape, that is to say, a form, an outward semblance, that tells us what they are, that distinguishes them from ourselves and from each other. — Unfailingly in nature these shapes express the inner life, the native quality, of the animal, tree, bird, fish, that they present to us; they are so characteristic, so recognizable, that we say, simply, it is ‘natural’ it should be so.’

Sullivan had hit on a vital element of design, and it is one that F1 designers have grasped wholeheartedly. Nothing on an F1 car is extraneous. The great designers like Adrian Newey produce cars that are fast and beautiful.

This year the regulations were changed to increase driver safety, resulting in a dropped nose at the front of most F1 cars. Derided as ugly, it is only the logical outcome of a design process that has to meet certain parameters. It therefore embodies beauty.

The technical regulations for the next season have just been released and they allow for F1 cars to be fitted with ‘modesty panels’ to cover the step in the nose. This is an attempt to return ‘beauty’ to the sport, but is actually an aesthetic travesty that will ruin the essential essence of F1 design.

‘Ornament is a crime’ could have been stated about F1 car design. No one ever designs a car-part for F1 because it looks good.  For this very reason F1 cars look good. As soon as a part of an F1 car is added for a misplaced sense of aesthetics the overall car design loses integrity.

It will be up to teams to decide whether they used a modesty panel, and it is to be hoped that most will not. There is a beauty in design that doesn’t will only be ruined by an automotive F1gleaf.

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