Motorsport technologies are on the cutting edge of what is possible with engineering, as well as what is technically legal within the letter of the rules, even if that conflicts with the spirit of them.
This is often known, especially in NASCAR, as working in “the grey area”, as whilst they are technically legal, they are sometimes so radical and game-changing that they quickly see themselves banned on either safety or competition grounds.
From automatically shifting motorsport gears to radically complex restrictor plate bypasses, here are some incredible innovations that were perhaps just too good to last.
Formula One technical specifications and rules change regularly, with 2022 introducing a completely new grid of cars.
However, some historic rules remained in the book for a very long time, the most famous and long-lasting of these being that cars were not allowed to have “moveable aerodynamic devices”.
This meant that you could not have a wing that had low downforce on straights and high downforce in the corners outside of the standardised DRS system introduced in 2011, but that didn’t stop some teams from trying.
In 1999, several teams developed so-called “bendy wings” that flexed backwards at high speed, reducing drag and allowing for faster straight-line speed.
However, after several high-speed crashes, the FIA brought in a series of flex tests to try and stop the issue. However, in 2006, 2014 and even as late as 2021 teams have been trying them.
Possibly the greatest example of an innovation quickly banned on competition, cost and safety grounds, the McLaren engines in 1999 were scarily powerful thanks to the use of the expensive and elastic metal Beryllium, which made the engines deliver more power per stroke.
The FIA banned the substance on exceptionally controversial grounds near the end of the year, as whilst the substance was toxic, once it had been produced into parts it was perfectly safe, according to McLaren boss Ron Dennis.
Restrictor Plate Bypass
Restrictor plates are used in several different competitions to reduce power output and slow down cars, which not only helps keep drivers safer but also reduces costs and improves competition.
This means that teams will try every elaborate scheme possible to get ahead, and one team, in particular, found a way to bypass this restriction in a way that even the governing body called “beautiful”.
Toyota Team Europe had seen success in the World Rally Championship throughout the 1990s but in 1995 they fitted an elaborate bypass that fooled everyone, and whilst they were eventually caught and banned for both 1995 and 1996, the trick was so respected it didn’t affect Toyota’s reputation whatsoever.