Designer Rory Byrne may have retired officially from Ferrari’s Formula 1 programme eight years ago, but the Phuket-based South African’s consultancy contract with the Italian company famed for its bright red cars still keeps him very busy.
As the guest speaker at a recent convening of the International Business Association of Phuket (Ibap) he explained that he is “heavily involved” with the design of Ferrari’s 2014 F1 car and also with the new F70 road car, due to hit the autostrada next year.
He’s also a technical consultant with the sport’s governing body, the Fédération International d’Automobile, better known as FIA.
Outside racing he’s been helping Discovery Insurance of South Africa, his country of birth, who wanted to give drivers an incentive to drive better.
Using Rory’s knowledge of telemetry (the monitoring of F1 car performance from the pits), the company installs a data recorder in cars of drivers who take out motor insurance.
The recorder sends back data on acceleration, speed, braking, position and other indicators of driver performance. Good drivers get points that qualify them for cash rebates on fuel.
“There’s an incredible correlation between points earned and accidents,” Rory says. The scheme, a world first, has been a roaring success. “Clients have improved their driving by 17 per cent in the past year.”
But F1 is still closest to Rory’s heart. He’s been involved for decades, designing cars in particular for the Bennetton team and then Ferrari.
“I was so privileged to be part of the most successful team Ferrari has had in its 50-year history,” he says.
That golden period included 2000 to 2004 when Michael Schumacher smashed all records, including five consecutive years as world champion. Ferrari won a massive 71 race victories and six constructor’s championships.
With his continuing involvement with Ferrari he is uniquely placed to look into the future of F1. What changes does he foresee for 2014?
The rule book for F1 is massive. “When I started the rule book was about 10 pages of A5. Now it’s 100 pages A4.”
He thinks this is a good thing. “They had to do this to enhance safety and to hold lap times down to sensible times. If the 1997 rules still applied, the limiter would be the driver’s ability to withstand G forces.”
More changes are inevitable. There has been discussion of closed cockpits being brought in to limit the possibility of drivers’ heads being taken off in incidents like Nico Rosberg’s collision with Narain Karthikeyan in the Abu Dhabi GP on November 4 when Rosberg’s car flew across the top of Kartikeyan’s.
But Rory doesn’t see closed cockpits coming into F1, nor the wheel fairing that has been introduced recently on the rear of Indy cars in the US. The cockpit glass may be raised a little, he says, but F1 is after all, an open-cockpit, open-wheel format.
He can see a downsizing in engines, to 1,600 cc, most likely turbocharged. Cars will have to become more fuel-efficient. As he puts it, “One third of the fuel goes to the wheels, a third goes out the exhaust and the remaining third is converted into heat.”
He sees greater efforts going into energy recovery, not only through the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (Kers) that stores energy created during braking, but also from exhausts. “All of this will find its way into road cars.”
Rory says there are three main parameters involved in F1 car performance.
“Forty per cent is the tyres, 30 per cent the aerodynamics, and 20 per cent the engine. Ten per cent for everything else.”
The tyres are likely to continue being the same for every team. Pirelli supplied all the tyres last year and this year, and will continue through into 2014. The F1 regulations effectively ban qualifying tyres, so not much can be done on that front, and in fact, Rory expects the size of tyres to be gradually reduced.
Aerodynamics then, are a big focus for the top teams. They all have their own wind tunnels and employ as many as 150 people, or more, doing wind tunnel research.
The fact that the formula is open-wheel makes drag reduction a big challenge. “The 2014 regs have been changed to reduce drag. Road cars have a drag coefficient of around 0.4. F1 cars are around 0.9!
“I came up with a radical concept to reduce drag to about 0.5 But it was rejected by teams as being too expensive. I’ve been asked to design a milder version. So 2014 will be about less drag.”
The drag reduction system (DRS) that allows drivers to open a window in the rear wing will remain for now, he believes. He describes it as “artificial”, but does give it credit for making racing more exciting.
“Slipstreaming in the 1950s helped overtaking. But the introduction of down force changed all of that. For 20 years or more overtaking was quite rare.” DRS changed that.
And Rory’s future? He steps down entirely from Ferrari next year and will be doing something that could hardly be more different.
“I had a bit of a health scare two years ago and underwent a detox programme” He was plainly impressed; he and his wife have started construction of a detox and rejuvenation centre in Phuket.
It will open in 2014 – the year the last Ferrari with Rory’s stamp on it takes to track.