Unexpected proof that F1 must let design geniuses run amok again


Amazon’s installment of Pete Lyons’ excellent book on the Shadow racing dynasty came the same weekend as I spotted the ingenuity of the small McMurtry Automotive team and their incredible Speirling car that stormed the hill-climbing circuit at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. and set a new all-time record in the process.

These two seemingly disconnected automotive threads are, in fact, intrinsically linked through the wonders of invention and refusal to conform.


The diminutive Speirling reminds me of Trevor Harris’ early design for Advanced Vehicle Systems (later to become Shadow) with its tiny wheels and mighty Chevrolet V8 engine shoehorned into Harris’ wacky Can-Am design somehow. Both were drawn with a simple spirit: small is best.

Pictures from Goodwood with people standing next to the Speirling illustrate the staggering proportions of this car and considering the driver Max Chilton is one of the tallest racing drivers today, I guess the car could be made even smaller for a size by Lando Norris. pilot.

24 26.06.2022 Goodwood Festival of Speed

Similarly, the man who financed Trevor Harris to produce the first Shadow Can-Am race car, Don Nicholls, towers over the DN1 in images taken in 1970, marking the first race of the AVS Mark 1 in Mosport Park.

And the similarities don’t stop there. Both the McMurtry project and the Shadow project have been overseen and funded by eccentric, wealthy entrepreneurs with a passion for doing things differently and being nonconformist.

David McMurtry is the Dublin-born chief executive of Renishaw, the scientific technology and engineering company he co-founded in 1973, and has decided to spend some of his considerable wealth on the McMurtry Spéirling project.

The recently deceased Don Nicholls was probably a much more mysterious figure than McMurtry, but then again, before the Internet, it was much easier to be. It was rumored that Don was a CIA agent at some point in his life and even a spy for the US, but one thing was for sure: he had a great passion for cars and racing and, boy, it was noticeable


Shadow went on to be a winner in both Formula 1 and Can-Am, quite an achievement, and while McMurtry Automotive’s ultimate ambitions are a little less clear, what is certain is that both brands share an innovative, no-holds-barred and bold approach to automotive design that, over more than five decades, continues to capture the public imagination.

Strange balls’ maverick design has that element of danger about it: will it fail miserably, or has someone just found the key to unlocking potential never before imagined? And that is precisely why we love them.

And that got me thinking. I previously wrote about the FIA ​​financial regulations for Formula 1 and Formula E and if these work, and God willing let’s hope they do for the economic sustainability of our sport, then surely we could be ushering in a golden age of innovation. , advanced design concepts that will capture the imagination and captivate racing fans around the world?

You see, if financial regulations work as intended, much of the prescriptive rule making that results in major motorsports manufacturers producing nearly identical cars in various racing series could be scrapped and only safety/impact regulations met .

Launch of Gran Turismo 5 in 2010

Imagine what Adrian Newey could produce without the shackles? The design he produced digitally in 2010, the X1 Prototype, which was designed by Newey in conjunction with the creator of Gran Turismo Polyphony Digital for PlayStation, was highly acclaimed and gave us all a taste of unrestricted design freedom.

With a maximum amount of money to spend in any one season and compliance with safety and impact regulations, racing designers could produce whatever they wanted. Move streamlined devices? Fatty ground effects with sliding skirts? Fan-car technology: McMurtry showed at Goodwood how effective it can be, and fully active cars would be allowed.


Who knows, Patrick Head, Gordon Murray and other design gurus might be tempted to come out of retirement to play by those rules.

What David McMurtry and his team of talented engineers (and some of them are former F1 drivers now free) have done is show the art of the possible.

Yes, the 1978 Brabham BT46B fan car was probably banned for safety reasons, but with today’s knowledge and understanding, the fan car concept should be embraced. The same goes for moving aerodynamic devices, active suspension, etc.

Just because they were banned decades ago, why can’t we revisit these concepts with the wisdom of decades more knowledge, wisdom, and knowledge of the materials at our disposal?

Yes, I admit that my glasses are definitely tinted pink, but if we can successfully control total spending, then we will have economically sustainable racing and there can be no reason why design engineers, for decades, the outcasts of the sport they eyes of the rule makers: they cannot be redeemed, encouraged to innovate and surprise.

Amen to that, Don Nicholls and David McMurtry.