Turn, turn, my wheel! All things must change
To something new, to something strange;
Nothing that is can pause or stay;
The moon will wax, the moon will wane,
The mist and cloud will turn to rain,
The rain to mist and cloud again,
To-morrow be to-day.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow~
The 1968 Formula One season had ended with the new rear wings continuing to evolve dramatically in elevation and dimensions at each succeeding race. After their introduction by Lotus at the Monaco Grand Prix the new technology had spread through the whole paddock like a bush-fire. However, it wasn’t all plain sailing, with 1969 continuing to be a year of ongoing innovation which, eventually, was restrained by further fine-tuning of the regulations.
South African Grand Prix
The first Grand Prix of 1969 was held on March 1st at Kyalami in South Africa. The cars were now starting to look like a new breed of exotic birds with their varied display of the new spidery rear wings which were also spreading to the front of many of the cars.
There were a number of failures of the new devices during practice and during the race Jack Brabham, who had been on pole, suffered a rear wing collapse while he was in second place and was forced to pit for repairs. He ended up retiring on lap 32 because of suspension problems with his car, most likely caused by his wing collapse. Jackie Stewart in his Matra had passed Brabham at the end of the first lap and proceeded to maintain the lead the all the way to the finish line where he finished eighteen seconds ahead of Graham Hill.
Spanish Grand Prix
Two months later the Spanish Grand Prix of 1969 was held at Montjuïc Park which had only been used for a few minor races since the 1930’s. In 1966 it had been re-opened, resurfaced and had barriers installed and it was now ready to host a Formula One race for the first time.
Lotus were continuing to raise their rear wing ever higher in an effort to get it out of the turbulence created from the chassis, with other teams quickly following suit. This more radical design, associated with its direct connection to the un-sprung wheel assembly, resulted in a structure that was very prone to accidental damage. Colin Chapman, whose goal was always to have the car as light as possible, wasn’t keen on further reinforcing his wing supports. Jochen Rindt had already stated his dislike for the high wings and had begun a campaign to try to get them banned.
Unfortunately, Jochen Rindt was about to prove his point in just the way he was trying to avoid. Graham Hill was on lap 9 of the race and had just crested the rise after the pits when his Lotus became airborne, resulting in a substantial negative load on his already fragile rear wing. His wing folded upwards and then failed dramatically, and the car crashed heavily into the barriers. He was able to emerge from the wreckage unscathed.
Eleven laps later, while leading the race, Hill’s teammate Jochen Rindt was to suffer an identical failure in precisely the same place. He then proceeded to collide with Hill’s car which had been abandoned by the side of the track, which flipped his own car resulting in it landing upside down. His car was rolled over by the marshals, and he was pulled unconscious from his car by Hill, who was watching the race by the side of the track where he had crashed. He was fortunate to have only sustained a broken nose and some minor cuts and bruises. I suspect he also had a significant concussion which wasn’t taken as seriously then as it is now.
Monaco Grand Prix
After the dramatic crashes at the Spanish Grand Prix, the teams were warned before their arrival at Monaco that high wings would be banned for the race. As well as the crash risk there was concern that the wings would be in danger of colliding with the brickwork of buildings overhanging the track and chunks of them flying into the crowd. However, the organisers at Monaco didn’t have the power to ban them, and only the Commission Sportive Internationale (CSI) could make that decision. This decision had not yet been officially legislated.
The Lotus team arrived at Monaco with Graham Hill having to drive the car he had used the previous year due to both the Lotus cars having been totalled during the race in Spain two weeks before. Rindt was not racing because he was still recovering from his injuries (which almost certainly included concussion!). Lotus initially went out for the first practice session on Thursday with their old rear wing that they had used at Monaco the year before but when they noticed that the majority of the field were going out for the first practice with their high wings intact, quickly changed back to their high wing as well.
Rear Wings Banned
Phil Kerr, mechanic to Bruce McLaren, commented that the CSI “held a lengthy meeting after the first session and confirmed the ban on wings but allowed the use of small front aerofoils. The ruling would also apply to the Dutch Grand Prix and then be reviewed. This resulted in the teams hurriedly making rear spoilers of varying shapes and sizes for the remainder of practice and the race.”
As was usual, only about half the teams actually attended this meeting and Rob Walker stated that he was informed of the regulation change by a note slipped under his hotel room door.
The only objection to the banning of the high rear aerofoils came from Ken Tyrrell, team principal of Matra, who stated that his car was designed around using wings and it would be hazardous to drive without them. He accurately stated there was nothing in the regulations against them, but despite vigorous argument with the President of the CSI, he was unable to change the decision. Jack Brabham was also angry as he felt they should have been given more warning about the change.
The limited dimensions decided on for the front wings (they were not allowed to protrude above the bodywork or outside the wheels) resulted in the teams having to get out their files and hacksaws and chop bits off their front wings to suit the new regulations. A commentator at the time said that “Hill’s Lotus, naked without its aerofoils, looked like a page from racing history so familiar had aerofoils become.”
Ferrari and Lotus fitted their curved rear engine covers that they had used the previous year, but Matra would rely on its front wings alone. In the end, the cars went as quickly as ever! Jackie Stewart was still the fastest in his Matra, and he took his first career pole position beside Chris Amon in his Ferrari. Graham Hill was back on the second row in fourth. By the end of the race, Graham Hill had taken the lead as in front of him Stewart, Beltoise and Amon had all dropped out with mechanical failures, achieving his fifth victory at Monaco in seven years. It was to be his last Grand Prix win.
Jackie Stewart continued to dominate the rest of the 1969 season, winning 6 races in total, some with huge margins over the rest of the field. He was the only driver to have won the Driver’s Championship for a French team until Fernando Alonso did so for Renault in 2005. However, because Alonso’s Renault was built in the United Kingdom, Stewart is still the only driver to win the world championship in a French-built car.
In the above video of the Monaco Grand Prix, the commentator stated that following the race it was announced that high rear aerofoils were banned for the rest of the year. The only other reliable source I found that talked about the banning of high wings was written by Phil Kerr, Bruce McLaren’s mechanic. He stated that “The CSI decreed in France that wings would again be permitted but had to comply with regulations covering width and significantly lower height.”
The new regulations stated that:
- The maximum height, width and locations of the wings are controlled
- Aerodynamic devices have to be of fixed geometry with no movable parts
- They have to be rigidly attached to the body work
The second regulation caused the most difficulty as the engineers now had to compromise between cornering speed and straight-line speed. Before this many teams had been experimenting with changing the angle of the wing between the corners and the straights. This regulation would not be altered until the recent advent of DRS.
These new limitations were an attempt to curb the imaginative and often dangerous experimentation of attempting to use the latest technology to its best advantage. Because of the changes to rear wing aerodynamics, designers were now faced with trying to work out other ways of increasing the newly discovered gold-mine of down-force to improve grip – something which has remained a pivotal design goal ever since in Formula One.