The F1 pre-season test is just around the corner. Tests have always been the harbinger of teams fully revealing their challengers for everyone to see. They are usually the first indication of a team's interpretation of the rules. Often in the past, teams have come up with innovative interpretations of the rules that gave them a competitive edge, and as a result, left others trying to play catch up.
In this piece, we take a look at some of the innovations revealed by the teams in their pre-season test that forced the other teams to copy the same in order to not be left out.
#1 Double Diffuser (2009 F1 season, Brawn GP)
Everyone remembers the fairy tale story of Brawn GP rising from the ashes and winning the 2009 F1 world championship in its debut season. Not many, however, might be able to recollect the secret recipe behind the early-season dominance achieved by the team.
Their dominance was, in turn, a result of an innovative solution in the form of a double diffuser placed at the rear of the car. On the 2009 grid, only three teams — Brawn GP, Williams, and Toyota — had been able to come up with the double diffuser on their cars.
After multiple appeals and clarifications, the contraption was considered legal. This forced the entire grid to copy and adapt their version of the solution on their cars.
#2 F-Duct (2010 F1 season, McLaren)
The F-Duct is essentially the precursor to the introduction of the Drag Reduction System (DRS) in sport. In 2010, McLaren came up with this innovative mechanism where a duct was created at the front of the car, leading up to the rear wing. It is believed the driver would use his left leg to regulate air flow through the duct. That, in turn, would stall the rear wing, reduce drag on the straights and boost straight-line speed.
Since the duct was within the rules by means of having no moveable aero devices, it was deemed legal for use. The innovation was such a success that every team developed its version of the F-Duct and ran it throughout the 2010 season. The setup, however, was outlawed in 2011 with the introduction of DRS.
#3 Semi-automatic gearbox (1989 F1 season, Ferrari)
The semi-automatic gearbox seems like a necessity at this stage in F1 but there was a time when this was not the case. The gearbox was manual and drivers would have to lift their hands off their steering wheels to shift gears. Ferrari was the first team to come up with the innovation of introducing sequential semi-automatic gearboxes that meant the drivers could change gears with a paddle on their steering wheels itself.
The innovation made it much easier to change gears and made driving more efficient. The Italian outfit would go on to win the 1989 Brazilian GP, the very first race it ran with the new gearbox. The innovation would eventually be adopted by the entire grid over the years as the technology became more mature.