Comparing a Formula 1 Car in 2014 with Its Equivalent from 2004

Neil James@NeilosJamesFeatured ColumnistAugust 16, 2014

Comparing a Formula 1 Car in 2014 with Its Equivalent from 2004

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    Formula One has changed a lot over the last decade.

    Conspicuous consumption has given way to token attempts at cost-cutting, Hermann Tilke's creations dominate a landscape once filled with variety and the "racing incident" has all but disappeared.

    The cars themselves have changed too. Superficially, a 2014 car looks the same as its equivalent from 2004they still have front and rear wings, four wheels, sidepods which cut in at the rear, broadly similar shape and the same basic dimensions.

    But a closer look reveals they have very little in common. The casual fan will spot dozens of differences; those of a technical mind will see hundreds.

    Here are some of the main ones.


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    They failed then as well...
    They failed then as well...JOHN MOORE/Associated Press

    The tyres are the most important part of any car, so they're a good place to start.

    The main visual difference is that the 2004 tyres were grooved. This method of reducing the contact patch was made in an effort to reduce cornering speed in the name of safety.

    Full racing slicks returned in 2009.

    They were different performance-wise too. In 2004, there was a tyre war going on between two different suppliers. Six teams used Michelin tyresMcLaren, Williams, BAR, Renault, Jaguar and Toyota. The other four used BridgestonesFerrari, Sauber, Jordan and Minardi.

    The two suppliers did whatever they could to give their teams an edge over the competition, battling to out-do each other in areas like grip, durability and adaptability. Thousands of testing miles were completed in the quest for even the smallest advantage.

    By contrast, today's tyres are made by a single supplier, Pirelli, who are given instructions by the FIA on what sort of tyres they should produce. The result is rubber engineered to wear out quickly and offer up limited levels of grip after a very short period of time.

    Another big difference is that in 2004, the suppliers could bring whatever tyres they wanted to each race. This is not the case nowPirelli start the year with a selection of just four compounds, two of which must be used at each event.


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    A Mercedes FO110-series V10.
    A Mercedes FO110-series V10.Morio / Wikimedia Commons

    The 2004 season was one of the peak years of the V10 era. There were seven suppliersMercedes, Ferrari, Honda, Renault, BMW, Toyota and Ford/Cosworth.

    BMW were among the class leaders. A paper by their former engine chief, Mario Theissen, reveals their three-litre, naturally aspirated P84 V10 weighed 86 kilograms and had a peak power output of 940 horsepower.

    Its peak revolutions per minute (RPM) was in excess of 19,000.

    Each engine was required to do a single grand prix weekend, a distance of approximately 800 kilometres.

    Gearboxes had seven forward gears and were not required to do minimum distances.

    Our current 2014 cars have more than just a simple enginethey have power units. A turbocharged 1.6 litre V6 lies at its heart, with two energy-recovery systemsMGU-K (kinetic) and MGU-H (heat)generating additional, electrical power.

    The class of the current field is the Mercedes PU106A Hybrid. Per F1Fanatic, the turbocharged engine alone produces around 700 horses, and the electrical power adds another 160. The unit can weigh no less than 145 kilograms.

    Maximum RPM is limited to 15,000, but none of the teams go anywhere near that12,000 is closer to their usual operational limit.

    Each driver is allowed five of each power-unit component (engine, turbo, MGU-K, MGU-H and energy store (battery)) to use over the course of the 19-race season. This means each should last an average of around four race weekends.

    Gearboxes have eight forward gears, and each one must do six consecutive events.

Weight and Dimensions

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    Silvia Izquierdo/Associated Press

    Per the 2004 technical regulations, a car from 10 years ago had to meet the following criteria:

    Width1800 millimetres
    Height950 millimetres
    Minimum Weight605 kilograms

    For 2014, the rules are as follows (per the 2014 technical regulations):

    Width1800 millimetres
    Height950 millimetres
    Minimum Weight691 kilograms

    Not much has changed in terms of the car's measurements; the maximum height and width remain the same. Only the weight has changed significantly.

    However, the rules on the specifics have become a little tighter. In 2004 the technical regulations section relating to dimensions took up just over four pages; in 2014, it takes up 10.

Front End

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    Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

    If we ignore the noses for a moment, the most obvious difference is in the detailing of the front wings. The dominant Ferrari F2004's front wing was a simple affairlittle more than three precision-engineered foils made up the bulk of the wing.

    Later in the season, they switched to an even simpler, two-foil design.

    A quick look at the dominant car of 2014, the Mercedes W05, reveals a stack of finely crafted elements at either end of the wing.

    Another big difference is that the 2014 wing is flatter; the 2004 version curved upwards at the extremities. The 2014 wing is wider, with a "blank" central section.

    The 2004 car is also much simpler around the brake ducts. In 2014, these are much more elaborate and a critical part of the front aerodynamics. Matt Somerfield's diagram shows the McLaren solution.

    Finally getting to the nose, the F2004 had a somewhat chubby, medium-height nosecone which actually looks like it belongs on a racing car.

    The W05 has a very low, flat nose, which looks like it belongs in a modern-art museum.

Rear End

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    Clive Rose/Getty Images

    The 2004 cars had much wider rear wings made up of two elements. The endplates were square and large, partly to provide more room for sponsors.

    A 2014 rear wing is a much more complex animal. Narrower and taller, it also has two elements but the endplates are sculpted and feature a number of vents and holes to optimise airflow.

    The diffusers of 2004 were also simpler.

    But cars from "back in the day" were more complex elsewhere. They featured additional wings and winglets around the rear of the car, now outlawed by the regulations.

    McLaren, for example, had baby wings at the rear of each sidepod, with a heavily sculpted extension of the sidepod to direct airflow over the rear wheels, visible here.

    And speaking of the sidepods, they're now much more Coke-bottle shaped and visually simple. This image of the 2014 Red Bull RB10 demonstrates this well.

    But the biggest difference is the DRS system. Wings from 2004 did not lift up, letterbox-style; as we all know, 2014 ones do.


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    Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

    The 2004 V10s had twin exhausts, one on each side. The various teams used different exit solutions, but most common was the simple chimney system.

    The exhausts exited through chimneys close to the rear of the engine cover. The hot gasses then travelled over the rear bodywork, providing an aerodynamic boost.

    The gas was kept as separate as possible from the normal airflow by bodywork, an example of which is visible on this top-down view of the McLaren MP4-19.

    Years of exhaust-gas abuse led the FIA to mandate a single, centrally exiting exhaust (seen here on the Williams) for 2014. It's simple, effective and inoffensive.

    But the major difference in this category is the sound. While the old V10s had a magnificent, ear-splitting scream (have a listen), the V6 turbos kick out a quieter, less hair-raising note (audio here).

Steering Wheel

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    RICARDO MAZALAN/Associated Press

    The steering wheels of 2004 were complicated. Unless you knew what you were doing, operating them to their full potential was near-impossible.

    The Ferrari version, seen here, was among the most complex.

    But even that looks dated compared to the mind-boggling wheels the drivers are presented with in 2014.

    Here's a picture of the Sauber version. It has around 40 different buttons, dials and switches, controlling everything from engine modes to gear shifts, DRS to brake balance.

    It makes the car go around corners too.

Lap Times

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    Ker Robertson/Getty Images

    The final comparison is speed.

    The 2004 cars were the fastest in F1 history. Huge, meaty V10 engines coupled to a low weight limit saw them set lap records at most of the venues they visited.

    Our modern 2014 cars are hamstrung by tyres which aren't good enough, less-powerful engines, heavily restricted aerodynamic rules and a higher weight limit.

    But despite all that, they're not really that slow. Here's a comparison of pole-position times at three circuits used then and now:

    Circuit2004 Pole2014 Pole

    A clear win for 2004.

    But after so many changes designed to slow the cars down, the designers and engineers deserve a lot of credit for keeping the gap so small.