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Can we learn from F1 and Group 5?

by John Curnow, Editor, Sail World AUS 22 Oct 2023 22:00 BST
V and B - Monbana - Mayenne © Gauthier Lebec / V and B - Monbana - Mayenne

No doubt the origin of the proposition came from the latest IMOCA statement. The Class voted, and T-rudders (foils) are out (for now). Clearly, Not a 205 T16 was still playing in my mind to some degree, and based on the readership, with a lot of you as well. Many thanks for that, BTW… Always appreciated.

So as I pondered and digested it all, firstly the Turbo F1 era came to mind. I mean 11,000RPM of screaming metal under 4.0 bar of boost is enough to get any petrol head inspired. 1400hp for qualifying and around 1000hp plus in race tune from just 1.5 litres is pretty mesmerising.

To think that the blocks of the engines that were used to help propel the great Nelson Piquet to an F1 World Championship for Brabham (other teams also used them) were from super humble BMW E21 315s and 316s is still a magnificent mind bend. It’s as trippy as watching Keanu Reeves dodge out of the way of bullets, should you be able to remember back that far. Perhaps it is even like watching Predator for the first time and seeing the invisible cloaking in the trees.

None the less, BMW got these blocks from said little cars coming in for engine transplants after 300-400k kilometres out on roads of Europe. The cast iron nuggets were X-Rayed, and those with no cracks were sent off to Motorsport HQ for just a little bit of enhancement. Just a little bit mind you, for the standard 75 to 90hp was not going to win you an F1 race, now was it.

Towards the very end of the era, Megatron laid the inline four flat to lower the Centre of Gravity, and they still won races, especially on the faster, sweeper corner style circuits. BMW and Porsche owned the turbo era, but the writing was on the wall, and the whole thing died even before the 80s petered out.

Just a little ahead of all of this, the touring cars got very inspired with what you might call the zenith of Group 5 (often called Gen IV). Snow plough air dams up front, rear flares as wide as a kitchen bench with part of the original bodywork still underneath to show you just how much it had stepped out to handle dragster width type rubber. Induction vents akin to an F-14 Tomcat, and slats above guards for brake cooling, are almost as memorable as the big rear wings that were dragged around in the fresh air, mostly high above the car itself.

935 Slant Nose, 3.5CSL, and even M1 are model names that would be as incendiary to little boys’ blood as the 110+RON fuel the cars burned. Oh. One other thing. They sounded REALLY good, too. They could develop say 1100hp for qualifying, but you know, two laps and you were done (most often with the obligatory puff of smoke). Expensive business that… And for God’s sake, do not wave a Catalytic Converter anywhere near them… No. No. No.

So what does it all mean? Well, without it, there would be no ground effects and adaptive suspension, to name just two. Your Grandma’s shopping trolley would not be powered by a 900cc turbo three-cylinder donk. Without it we would not have GT1 and 2 or Le Mans specials (like say Mazda's four-rotor Wankel 787B) as they are now. Adjustable wings, active damping, underbody panels, venturis, and diffusers would not be on road cars, to say nothing of traction or stability control, let alone PDK or DSG. So flappy paddle me that Batman.

Whatever, I hear you say.

Well. Take on reverse bows that were most commonly associated with ancient Viking boats and Capital Ships from the turn of the 19th Century. What about almost zero rocker, deck spreaders, chamfers, flared topsides, J-foils, aero standing rigging, T-rudders, and hard chines. Can you see it? Are these not the nautical equivalent of all that has preceded in this here ditty?

Were you not as inspired as me when you saw the vertical tiller in Charlie Dalin’s new MACIF Santé Prévoyance?

Have you too pondered how the crew have gone back into the pilothouse after decades of being exposed to it all? How about the wheelhouse now being ahead of the accommodation in the latest skimmers, which makes sense from both an observation, and also comfort POV?

The AC75 has donated off its ‘The Incredibles’ (created by Buddy Pine, a.k.a. Syndrome) machine style foils to vessels like the Flying Nikka, and delightfully magnificent Baltic 111, Raven.

Exciting times. Old is new, and new is new. The electronic wizardry to drive these boats, trim sails and Lord knows what else is awesome. To me, this is Group 5 and F1 and Group B all wrapped up together, and I could not be happier. It is both brilliant as a technological triumph, and artistic in a brute force over ignorance kind of way that spells out HEDONISM, and is that not pure wonderment in an era of PC that is so totally OTT?


OK. There it is. There is so much more on the group’s sites for you. Simply use the search field, or ‘edition’ pull-down menu up the top on the right of the masthead to find it all. Please enjoy your yachting, stay safe, and thanks for tuning into

John Curnow
Editor, Sail World AUS

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