In RACER Magazine: Flying Too Close to the Sun

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In RACER Magazine: Flying Too Close to the Sun

Formula 1

In RACER Magazine: Flying Too Close to the Sun


Brabham designer Ron Tauranac, though somewhat more wary than Lotus’ Colin Chapman of unchecked development in an unexplored area, upstaged his rival at the Italian Grand Prix in September 1968. Not only did he introduce a radical new rear wing, but he also repurposed the old, lower item across the front of his BT26. (This just one year after trying a drag-reducing bubble canopy at the same Monza circuit.)

Conceived with British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) aerodynamicist Ray Jessop, the new wing hinged at the centre of its span and its loads were shared between sprung and unsprung elements via canted inner as well as outer vertical struts. A wire from its trailing edge to a cockpit lever (calibrated in Jack Brabham’s case) flattened its incidence – a process reversible only in the pits – but even when “locked,” the wing oscillated from dihedral to anhedral under braking.

Jochen Rindt put his Brabham-Repco BT26 on the pole for the 1968 Canadian GP at Mont-Tremblant. Designer Ron Tauranac had trialed the car’s high, suspension-mounted front wing at Monza as F1’s “wing war” reached a new level of complexity and fragility.


“Tauranac was a canny bugger,” says Peter Wright, who joined BRM from Cambridge University in 1967 and was responsible for its aerodynamic R&D. “He may have set the wing so that the incidence changed according to ride height; when the rear comes up under braking it may well have increased the incidence and given more downforce. Who knows?

“Everybody was experimenting. Tasked with a self-adjusting wing, my solution was electrohydraulic, with a button on the steering wheel. John Surtees tested it at Silverstone [in 1969]. He did a couple of laps before pressing it. Then came straight back in: ‘Hmm, interesting. The car jumped from one side of the track to the other.’ That’s how it was then.”

Brabham’s front wing, mounted to the suspension’s inner pivots, was shelved after a few laps of Monza. But a fortnight later Jochen Rindt, canards removed (because of overheating), used one to set pole for the Canadian GP at Ste. Jovite, Quebec.

Chris Amon, overriding his Ferrari’s automatic adjustment of its rear wing at two points on this undulating track – for a total of three seconds – equaled Rindt’s time and dominated much of the race, despite a failing clutch that eventually broke the gearbox. Thus Denny Hulme, fixed wing restored above his McLaren’s M7A engine – he’d won at Monza without it – claimed a consecutive victory.

Everyone had a rear wing by now.

Cooper joined the club at the Nürburgring in August, its Vickers Aerospace aerofoil mounted amidships on tall, close-coupled struts and, by Monza, self-adjusting via sprung plungers that held it shut until overcome by air pressure as speed increased.

BRM’s BAC wing – a thin aluminum skin on a balsawood core, autoclaved in a mold – was fitted first to a P126 at England’s non-championship Oulton Park International Gold Cup that same month. Hub-mounted via inclined struts, it was braced laterally and also by cables running from the roll hoop.

Graham Hill clinched the 1968 F1 title at the season-ending Mexican GP.

“Those struts were my idea,” says Wright. “They redirected load into the middle of the contact patch without putting a tilting load into the uprights. Not having endplates wasn’t necessarily a mistake. It would generate more downforce, yes, but more drag too. A decent span didn’t need an endplate was the theory.

“There was a wonderful book [“Theory of Wing Sections” by Ira Abbott and Albert von Doenhoff, first published in 1949] that collated all the research, mainly NASA’s. It was our bible before simulation, finite-element analysis and data systems.”

Hulme had drawn level with Lotus’ Graham Hill with two rounds remaining. His title challenge, however, would end with a brace of accidents – the second caused by rear suspension failure, despite running without a wing – whereas Jackie Stewart’s United States GP victory in October halved his gap to Hill, runner-up at Watkins Glen, to three points.

This story is excerpted from an article appearing in The Great Cars Issue of RACER Magazine, on sale now. To subscribe now at a special discount rate, click here, or to buy The Great Cars Issue online, click here.

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