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"There's a lot of junk out there today. If you want it straight, read Kirby." -- Paul Newman

That Way It Is/ John Barnard has some useful thoughts and opinions for racing's rulemakers

by Gordon Kirby
Back in the eighties and nineties, John Barnard was one of the sport's most influential racing car designers. Barnard first made his mark in the mid-seventies by revolutionizing USAC Championship racing with the Parnelli VPJ6B and 6C Indy cars which brought the Coworth DFX turbo V-8 to USAC and then CART. A few years later he designed and produced for Jim Hall the equally revolutionary Chaparral 2K, the first real, ground-effect Indy car.

Barnard's success with Indy cars prompted Ron Dennis to hire him and Barnard became technical director of the newly-minted McLaren International team. Dennis was the managing director and chief shareholder in company with Barnard and Creighton Brown, and also Teddy Mayer and Tyler Alexander, co-owners of the original McLaren team. Barnard designed the ground-breaking McLaren MP4/1 which was the first carbon-chassised Formula 1 car and in 1984 Dennis, Brown and Barnard bought Mayer and Alexander's shares in the team. After switching from Ford/Cosworth to TAG/Porsche turbo engines, McLaren's Barnard-penned cars won the F1 world championship with Niki Lauda in 1984 and Alain Prost in 1985 and '86.

At the end of 1986, Barnard was head-hunted by Enzo Ferrari and worked as the Italian team's technical director for three years before moving to the Benetton team for a few years. Barnard returned to Ferrari in 1992 for a five-year stint through early 1997 in which he witnessed the beginning of the Schumacher era chez Ferrari. Barnard worked for the Arrows team from the spring of 1997 though '98, then spent a few years as a consultant to Alain Prost's team.

Since then Barnard has been out of Formula 1. His B3 Technologies company, based in Guildford, southwest of London, does all kinds of design and consulting work. Barnard also spent a year doing work for Kenny Roberts' Moto GP team and has become a big fan of two-wheeled racing. Barnard and his wife, Rosemary, have two adult daughters, Jennifer and Gillian, and a son, Michael, who's in his final year at university. John is enjoying a slower pace of life these days and contemplating retiring to Switzerland.

"I come into B3 Technologies most days to sort through my emails and talk to my managing guys here," Barnard says. "Then I disappear home and do all sorts of things from hacking away at the rhododendrums to anything and everything."

Recently, Max Mosley and the FIA have been talking a lot about F1 adopting green technology in 2011. Barnard chuckles at the prospect, believing a move in this direction should have been initiated by the FIA ten years ago.

"I did an interview a few weeks ago for a TV show that's being produced about green technology and I said in this interview that to be honest, I think Formula 1 has missed the boat," Barnard remarked. "I think Formula 1 should have been entering into it ten years ago. It should have been going on for a long time.

"I do think the first step really is to avoid wasting energy," he added. "The first problem you've got is there is so much energy wasted. The energy expelled during braking, for example, as well as the heat expended by the engine."

Barnard points out that the technology to convert waste energy into power or electricity is becoming more and more common in road cars but remains untouched by racing cars.

"You've had electronic retarders on lorries for donkey's years and there's all sorts of stuff like that that could be incorporated," Barnard said. "Just now, BMW have launched the new 1 series which has got the stop-engine technology for city driving so that every time you stop the engine stops. I think it's got electronically-clutched alternators so that they only generate when you're braking. So when you're trying to lose energy they are producing energy into the battery.

"That's just coming on road cars now and where is it on a Formula 1 car? Nowhere. I think that's terribly wrong. I think racing should be pushing the limits on all those techical issues. If they had done that I think these technologies would have accelerated much faster than they have done."

During his tenure ten years ago as Arrows chief designer, Barnard hoped to introduce some early examples of energy-retention or restoration technology to his new car for Arrows. But his efforts were denied by the FIA who wrote such things out of the rulebook.

"In 1997 and '98, when I was doing the Arrows thing, we were looking at electrically-driven auxiliaries, generating power during braking and all those sort of things to effectively save power and store energy for acceleration and so on," Barnard recalled. "That was a pretty small team, even by the standards of those days, but we were still looking at it and big manufacturers like BMW and Mercedes-Benz must have been well into that stuff in their R&D departments.

"But all that got flattened by the regulations. Quite why it was stumped, I don't know. But you just come straight back to politics and money, I suppose, and who's waving the biggest potential check.

"I think most of the technical people would have done it a long time ago," Barnard added. "In Formula 1 in about 1996 when there was a last chance of an engine reg change, certainly nine out of ten of the technical people would have gone for it then. There was talk of an engine change to 2.4 liter V-6s, but again, politics came into play and that change went out the window. Those sort of things could have happened a long time ago which I think would have borne fruit for the whole ethos of saving energy."

Barnard believes, like Mario Ilien, that the internal combustion engine still has many years life left in it. He thinks fuel cells will provide the best answer for car manufacturers, but again like Ilien, sees another ten or twenty years passing before the relevant technologies and delivery system infrastructure are in place to make fuel cells a practical alternative.

"I still don't buy into the electric car because they still haven't solved the battery problem," Barnard commented. "I think ultimately you're probably looking at fuel cells as the real energy source. In Europe, I wouldn't mind betting it'll start coming along in ten to fifteen years. In places like the States where the country is so big and the infrastructure required would also be huge, it might be twenty years. But there's a lot of pressure coming down all 'round the world for politicians and industry to do something."

Barnard hopes the arrival of turbo diesel Le Mans cars from first Audi and now Puegeot is a harbinger of more green technology in racing. "You're getting diesel cars at Le Mans now which I guess is just the beginning because I don't think anybody in racing is using any of the energy-saving technology," he said. "As I say, you've already got BMWs out there with alternators that only work under braking conditions and I should think you could almost bolt that on a racing car tomorrow. That's only a very small thing but there are all sorts of elements like that."

Barnard believes adopting hybrid technology would be a great promotion and marketing tool for Formula 1 for all the right reasons. "You would only have to get a hybrid racing successfully to immediately get a whole other set of people wanting to buy hybrid cars," he remarked. "I guess many Hollywood stars have been waving the green flag by buying a Prius and if racing adopted hybrids it would just change the whole perception of them to a whole other group of people."

In this space last month Mario Ilien told us he believes there's all kinds of new businesses that would come into racing which are currently building and developing energy-restoring and hybrid components.

"I think he's absolutely right," Barnard concurred. "The sport would benefit because lots of companies would start using their R&D budgets to go racing because there's nothing like racing to get you an answer quickly. As we've always said, it's the next best thing to going to war in terms of making people have to do it. Again, I think it should have happened a long time ago."

A few years back, Barnard was asked by the FIA to formulate a package that would produce better racing, encouraging more passing and close racing. His recommendations included cutting downforce and horsepower and increasing drag.

"It must have been around 2000, I was consulting for Prost at the time so I was seen as sort of an independent who wasn't closely aligned with one team," he commented. "So I was asked by the FIA to go and look at the aerodynamic package with a view to knocking forty to fifty percent of the downforce off. I started looking at drafting some regs whereby the overall size of the box was increased and all these barge boards were eliminated.

"One of the things we thought we had to do was increase the tire size so you were back to running enormous rear tires like we did in the eighties. You would get some grip back from that but you would also add drag because one of the problems in knocking all this downforce off is you lose drag with it. Therefore, you start looking at incredibly high straightline speeds and approaching corners at a zillion mph which means brakes become super important and run-off areas become problems.

"So you can't just chop downforce, you've got to add drag and one of the ways was to go back to big rear wheels and tires. I think there's still a combination that can be done like that. You've got to chop downforce and increase drag. It's as simple as that."

Most Formula 1 teams like to boast how much they've improved their CFD (computational fluid dynamics) programs in recent years and Barnard says there shouldn't be any problem in using this technology to design a workable and effective aerodynamic package which would produce good racing.

"One thing I'm pretty sure about is the CFD stuff in racing has gone forward by leaps and bounds over the last five years," he said. "It's probably applicable to a road car more than a racing car now. Open wheels have always been a problem, but I'm pretty sure they've overcome a lot of that now. So you've got your computing capability now and it must be possible to sit down and do a package that has enough drag to avoid tremendous top speeds together with reducing downforce so that your cornering speed comes down."

Nor does he have any doubt that horsepower must be substantially reduced in company with changes in the aero package. "The other thing is to go back to the engine and reduce horsepower. Today, they're rev-limited to 19,000 rpm and how fantastically impractical is that in terms of applying it to road car technology? If you're dealing with half the horsepower there are a lot of things you can't do aerodynamically. You can't drag around these barn door wings and barge boards and so on. It's a combination of attacking all areas.

"The problem you get thrown back at you when you talk like that is people say the fans come to listen to a screaming, three-liter ten or twelve-cylinder. If you make it a six-cylinder coughing out a meager 400 horsepower then nobody will be interested. But again, it's just how you sell it, isn't it?"

Most recently, Max Mosley has talked about going to 1.5-liter, four-cylinder F1 engines producing around 400 horsepower for 2011. "I can't see that happening in one jump," Barnard commented. "But again, I think 1996 could have been the start of bringing it down, step-by-step. Maybe you get to 1.5 liter screamers, who knows? I have no idea. Maybe you go back to turbochargers or superchargers to get the efficiency up. It's all about efficiency."

He harkens back to his days with McLaren in the mid-eighties with Lauda, Prost and TAG/Porsche turbo engines. "We were running more efficient racing cars in those days," Barnard observed. "When we were winning races at McLaren in the mid-eighties with the turbo engine it was all about using the fuel the best way. You had variable boost and variable fuel. They have variable fuel maps now but it was much greater then because of the boost.

"You could run a different race from the beginning to the middle to the end. You had boost that you could literally wind up just to pass somebody. It was all about efficiency because we were only allowed a certain amount of fuel. Now, they've gone completely away from that and I think that's wrong. I think they should bring back an efficiency element to it."

Certainly, the arrival of the Audi and Peugeot turbo diesels has created more interest in Le Mans and ALMS racing. Barnard hopes other sanctioning bodies will do more to encourage more efficient fuel and engine technologies.

"I know the car companies are doing lots of development with the diesel," he said. "Even small outifts like Judd are doing diesel development. It's all there to be done. It comes back to the governing bodies embracing it and making it happen."

Like many people in Europe, Barnard has lost touch and interest in IRL or Champ Car racing. He has absolutely no interest in spec car racing.

"The cars are all the same, aren't they?" he asked rhetorically. "I don't know any time in the history of racing where that has worked. Everybody says, 'Oh, if they were all in the same car, all on the same tire, all with the same engine, then we would see who the drivers are.' But that just doesn't do it, does it? It just doesn't work.

"The driver has to be involved in the set-up of the car, in the technical side of it," Barnard added. "That's what it's all about, surely. The best drivers are those who do the best job technically. That's where they find an advantage. That's where the real test of the driver's ability lays."

Barnard doesn't understand or care about the political war that has torn American open-wheel apart. But based on his ground-breaking experiences in USAC and CART a quarter of a century ago he had little faith in Indy or Champ car racing ever developing into a serious, professional form of motor racing.

"The American open-wheel scene was always pretty precarious, wasn't it?" he remarked. "In the days when I was over there I always felt that, apart from the Indy 500, it was always a bit of a weird thing that Europeans did."

Today, Barnard's motorsports passion revolves around motorcycle racing. "I did a stint working with Kenny Roberts in 2003, heavily involved in MotoGP and I just think it's fantastic. To be frank, I don't watch Formula 1 anymore. I watch MotoGP and anytime I get the chance, I go and see it. It's great!

"Those guys earn their money. They fall off all the time, not just the bad ones, and from one race to the next you don't know who's going to win it. Honda are seen as the gods who know everything about racing 'bikes, but they went twelve months without winning a race until Dani Pedrosa won recently."

Barnard thinks MotoGP's primary shortcomings are the domination of the Japanese manufacturers and the lack of big-time sponsorship. "The only problem is there's a stranglehold by the Japanese companies which Ducati have managed to virtually break," he commented. "But they are pretty much on their own and it would be nice to see a few other companies or teams give the Japanese a go. But even so, it is fantastic racing. They've just brought in a new, smaller 800cc engine formula and of course typically the 'bikes are going quicker this year than they were last year.

"The problem is there isn't the money there like there is in Formula 1. They just cannot get the sponsorship. Part of the problem is you just don't have the space that you have on a Formula 1 car, but there must be other ways of promoting the sponsor's name and making the thing work better commercially."

He believes Formula 1 and the British newspapers' coverage of the sport has been consumed by political intrigue and sensationalist writing. "The biggest news in Formula 1 has been what they call this Stepney-gate thing at Ferrari. That story has filled the papers for Formula 1 news for the last three or four weeks and I guess you can say, it's crying out for something interesting.

"Lewis Hamilton is the latest thing and he's obviously a pretty exceptional shoe, but typically, he's been overshadowed by the Nigel Stepney thing. Then at Silverstone he went to go before the lollypop went up and that was splashed all over the papers, 'Oh, he's finally cracked!' What nonsense! But that seems to be what it's all about these days."

Like many of us, Barnard believes the sport and F1 in particular has become far too corporate. "A lot of it is our problem," he mused. "We look back to the seventies and the eighties and we think it was much better then, much more interesting. But I don't know. I think one of the problems is when you've got a team with a thousand people in it, not including the engine, you're not following a team anymore. You're following Mercedes-Benz, or BMW, or Renault.

"Maybe they've achieved what they wanted which is a perfect corporate front. Consequently, you get this perfect corporate image which is as boring as god-knows-what. I think that's half the problem. People want to see characters and individuals."

It surely would be healthy for the sport to give some credence to Barnard's thoughts and opinions. Thanks John for an interesting and, dare I say, relevant conversation.

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
Copyright 2007 ~ All Rights Reserved

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