Top Stories from the Sports pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Saturday, May 9, 1998

Wings Must Go, Formula One Decides

By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune
PARIS - A racing car, wrote F.T. Marinetti, ''is more beautiful than the 'Victory of Samothrace'''

The 2,000-year-old Greek sculpture still sits in the Louvre, minus a head, but with her wings gloriously spread. It is unchanged in appearance since 1909, when Marinetti, the Italian founder of ''futurism'' ‹ an artistic movement that glorified machines ‹ made his comparison. In that time the cars have been transformed. Briefly this season some even gained wings.

But last week, the International Automobile Federation banned Formula One racing cars' latest aerodynamic appendage, which may indicate that aesthetics still count in motor racing.

The extra parts, which were fitted on the side of the car next to a driver's head, are known variously as x-wings, tower wings, side-pod wings, Penguins, candelabra or winglets.

A debate about them started two weeks ago between Max Mosley, the federation's president, and Formula One car designers.

The modernist dictum that ''form follows function'' caused most designers to elect to keep the ugly wings, even though they destroy the beauty of a car's natural lines, simply because they make the machines go faster.

The FIA nevertheless ordered that any team using x-wings at the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona this weekend, or future events, may be excluded from the race for ''dangerous construction.''

''It was purely on safety grounds,'' said Francesco Longanesi, an FIA spokesman. ''We can't take things off the cars based on aesthetics.''

Twice this season x-wings have broken off cars in action, and the automobile federation argues that they could hit a driver. But no objections were heard when the wings were created last year by Mike Gascoyne, the designer of the Tyrrell car. Again, nothing was said earlier this year as Sauber, Prost, and Jordan adopted the wings during the first three races.

But when Ferrari started to use them at Imola two weeks ago, a Formula One icon was being disfigured. After all, a 1990 Ferrari adorns the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Originally part of an exhibit in 1993-1994 called ''Designed for Speed,'' the Ferrari is one of three cars in the museum's collection. In an article about the exhibition in the magazine Art in America, Richard Vine said the racing car ''has all the defining characteristics of a work of art.'' He called it ''ravishing,'' and said it ''expresses a complex meaning,'' and serves an end that is ''transcendental or esthetic.'' Its raison d'κtre, he added, ''is seduction.''

Penguins are not seductive, said John Barnard, who designed the 1990 Ferrari. But while Barnard calls them ''dreadful,'' he had planned to use them on his current car, an Arrows.

''Unfortunately with racing it's all about crossing the finish line first,'' he said. ''Aesthetics take second place. If you've got something that you can bolt on that makes it go quicker, you bolt it on. ''But there's always a touch you can add that may not affect performance one way or the other ‹ a curve here, a radius there ‹ where you're following a line through, that doesn't cost you anything, but aesthetically it makes it look nicer.''

Barnard said that x-wings also got in the way of mechanics working on the car, engineers talking to drivers, and during refueling. But wind tunnel tests show they add downforce and make the car more aerodynamically efficient.

Barnard said the teams' designers, who meet periodically to discuss regulations with the FIA, did take aesthetics into consideration. He said that before this season they were asked to create a larger cockpit for safety reasons. For aesthetic reasons, they redesigned the suggested rectangle into a tapering box.

While he agrees that x-wings could be a safety hazard, he has his own list of ugly elements that should go.

''The next item on that list is the TV camera on top of the roll hoop,'' Barnard said, referring to the camera with which every car must be fitted. ''TV is the God. You can't touch it. Interestingly, you could make an argument on safety grounds with that, too.''

Multicolored paint jobs and sponsor's logos also mar the car's natural line, and that's why he thinks the Ferraris have ''historically had a nicer aesthetic look to them,'' he said. ''Because they're one solid color ‹ red ‹ you see a flow of line.'' His Arrows is solid black, except for the logos.

While Vine said Barnard's Ferrari looked ''femininely voluptuous,'' with an ''implicitly fertile midbody swelling,'' Barnard sees his Arrows as ''a bit like an American football player: It's sort of got big shoulder pads and is over-proportioned, chunky in the middle and tapering off to nothing at the back.''

Christopher Mount, the curator of the MOMA exhibition, said Formula One was popular because of ''the beauty of the automobiles.'' But the rules have made them ''add on all these spaceship-like things'' that ''destroy the basic sculptural form of an automobile.''

So the FIA decision to ban x-wings serves art as well as safety.

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