Meet Dan, a New York City Real Estate Developer and car collector. Despite standing in front of lots of other cars in his picture, his actual car collection is very small and a bit unusual. That’s because his collection consists of only two cars and they are both actual Formula 1 machines. What makes it more unusual is that one of them is fully functional and he will be driving it very soon!
This might not sound all that strange at first, even for fans who watch F1 on TV. However, if you think about what it means to not only own an F1, but to actually be able to drive it as a private owner, it’s not only incredible, but the logistics of it are ridiculous!
F1 cars are the most technically advanced cars in the world. In terms of the engineering involved to create them, they are the absolute pinnacle of motor racing machines. An F1 car has much more in common with a jet fighter than your mom’s station wagon. For as long as the sport has existed, F1 has been the skunk-works of the motoring industry. Exotic materials, aerodynamic research, tire compound development, and groundbreaking energy recovery systems have all been innovations of the science behind this series.
It's difficult to think of an F1 car as a single race car that is entered and driven in race after race, year after year. That's because F1 cars are purpose-built for single racing events. For each race, the F1 teams develop hundreds of one-off parts that are specific to the track their car will compete on. After an F1 car completes a race it is usually disassembled, the engine is rebuilt, and new parts are manfucatured for the next event.
This is why it is not only unusual for an individual to own an F1 car, but an incredible undertaking to actually get one running and be able to drive it at full speed! It's a bit like wanting to fly a space shuttle and having to operate an entire space program to do it.
So how is Dan making this even possible? A couple of months ago I had the unique opportunity to meet with him and hear his story. Today I'm here to present it to you.
Starting With A Chassis
About 9 years ago Dan started shopping around for an F1 chassis which is essentially the shell, wheels, drivetrain, and a few extra bits. It’s very rare to acquire an F1 car with an engine. Usually the engines go back to their manufacturer after a season, so it’s pretty much impossible to buy an F1 car that can actually be driven.
He first set his eyes on the 2007 Superfund Spyker F8-VII in Monaco. While doing his research on a potential private deal of the car, he decided to call Xtrac, the manufacturer of it’s transmission, to ask a few questions. His conversation went something like this: (dialog reinterpreted for dramatic effect)
- Xtrac, how can we help you?
- Hi, my name is Dan and I’d like to get some info on this F8 VII 7 speed...
- …this is Dan, I’m...
- Xtrac, what can we do for you?
- Yeah, this is Dan again, I just…
- Listen Dan, we’re not trying to be rude, but we can’t talk to you. You don’t have any rights for this car. Sorry, we can’t help you with anything!
Turns out that even if he were to buy an F1 chassis, to gain any technical information on it, let alone be able to do anything with it, Dan would also need to acquire the legal rights behind the car. Otherwise the only thing he would be able to do with the chassis is to admire it as a collectible statue.
The next opportunity to buy his F1 car arose in 2009 when Brawn GP was in the process of acquiring BAR Honda. To his surprise, it was a bit more than a shell that the team was offering.
The car was the #10 British American Racing ‘Lucky Strike’ Honda, chassis no. 003-004, formerly driven by teammates Jacques Villeneuve and Olivier Panis in the 2001 F1 season. It was originally slated for the Bonhams auction, but Dan was able to make a private deal with Brawn GP before it even hit the block. In a separate deal he was also able to secure the rights to the car.
Despite his vast relationships in F1, Dan really struck luck in acquiring the ‘Lucky Strike’ as it was quite possibly the most complete car that has ever been available for sale to a private individual. In addition to that, Dan also obtained the legal rights to it. This meant that he could not only obtain technical specifications from all supporting vendors of the car, but he could also do stuff to it!
Doing Stuff To It
Even though Dan ended up rolling away with a bit more than an 8 year old painted carbon fiber shell and a set of used tires, without an engine, he could hardly try to go 237mph with it! Well, unless he found a really, really steep hill and got a really, really big push.
Originally, the car was powered by a 3L, V10 Naturally Aspirated Honda RA001E engine. With the ability to rev to over 17,000 RPM it produced over 800hp! While those may seem like impressive stats to a layman, the Honda engine was actually not that great of an F1 engine. It proved to have reliability issues throughout the races it was used in. So not only it would have been impossible for Dan to get one, but he didn’t even want one.
To find a suitable engine for his #10 Lucky Strike, Dan initially started with an Asiatech V10. After further trials and research, he ultimately ended up commissioning an engine from Cosworth. More specifically the Cosworth LK014, a 3L V10 from the 2003 season that once powered the Jordan team. The engine was also brought up to the TJ spec of the 2005 season which succeeded the LK power plants. The block was completely stripped and rebuilt by Cosworth and included all custom manufacturing during a 16 week process.
Dropping in a brand new engine wasn’t all that simple though. Since the chassis was never designed for this engine, a lot of components had to be re-engineered or developed from scratch to ensure proper fitment for all systems.
All of the assembly work for the car, engine fitment, and some of the part manufacturing was handled by Rennwerk GmbH. Founded in 2010, it’s a small company located in Pulheim, Germany, and is comprised mostly of ex-F1 personnel and engineers from the former Toyota F1 Team.
For the electrics, a proper F1 engine management system from Magneti Marelli was installed. The system was configured specifically for the new engine and existing transmission, body control, and could capture 200 channels of data.
Even though Dan was able to acquire the chassis with its original steering wheel, due to the increased capacity of the new electrical system and the additional algorithms it needed to handle, the steering wheel from Jensen Button's 2006 RA106 car was used instead.
To make the new steering wheel work with the new electircal system, the engineers at Rennwerk had to hack it. They actually reverse engineered the electronics of the wheel which were initially designed for a different system and intalled custom firmware for it so that it would work with the new system. This was done so that the vast array of functionality from the new system was fully accesible by the existing buttons and display on the RA106 wheel.
Fortunately the rest of the components, like the original suspension, KONI shocks, ATL fuel cell, and Xtrac transmission were reused after thorough examination and reconditioning. Except this time, when Dan called Xtrac for help, they would give him information about gear ratios rather than hang up on him.
Making It Safe
Re-engineering and dropping in new components was only one part of the build. Since Dan intended to actually drive this aged chassis and put his life on the line, his engineers had to make sure that all of the structural components were still up to the task of being able to withstand the imense stresses from driving the car at speed.
Rennwerk used everything from x-ray, thermographic, and ultrasound methods, to 3D tomography to analyze the structural integrity of each and every part. In addition to that, they were able to pull usage data from each part.
On Dan's F1 chassis each part is tagged with a barcode that had been scanned after each outing during its years of active racing. This allowed his engineers to gain access to an entire database of mileage information, specs, and manufacturing details for all of the components of the car from Mercedes GP, the former Brawn GP, which was the former Honda F1 Racing, under which the car raced in 2001. With this data they were able to analyze each and every component by examining its usage relative to the rest of the car. This let them accurately determine if it was safe for that component to be installed on the car.
The entire effort to rebuild the #10 Lucky Strike 003 chassis took 7 years to complete! What is even more unique about this build is that Dan actually has factory and vendor support, as well as an ongoing service crew. This is practically unheard of in motorsports for a private car owner, especially for Formula 1!
Having A Spare
In case any new parts were required during the rebuild process of the car, the engineers would have to somehow remanufacture them. While a few things could be custom made, not everything on a decade old F1 chassis could be manufactured easily or in a cost effective way. In anticipation of this, back in 2010, a year after acquiring the first chassis, the engineers set out to look for some spare parts for the car.
At the time as Mercedes had just taken over Brawn GP and all former BAR Honda parts were about to be removed or crushed. Dan asked if his engineers could poke around the F1 Technical Center in Brackley, Northamtonshire, UK, to see if they could find something useful before anything was destroyed. Luckily for them, they found the #9 Look Alike sister chassis, once driven by Oliver Panis, hanging from the ceiling. Dan was able to purchase it from Mercedes so his engineers could use it for spare parts. The shell was fitted with a different aero package that was once used at Monaco. This also gave Dan the option to have his car configured for short track driving with high downforce.
In 2014, flown on a United 747, the spare car chassis was brought into the US. Despite being just a chassis, it still had to be certified with the DOT to make it a legal car that could be imported. This required the issuance of a special chassis designation! It goes to show that nothing about dealing with an F1 car is trivial.
I had the chance to see the spare chassis in person, and having seen modern F1 cars in person before, one thing that immediately struck me was how large the #9 Look Alike was. Historically, these particular F1 cars have featured the longest wheelbases ever. In fact, the BAR Honda 003 has the 3rd largest wheelbase in F1 history at 120.1 inches and a total body length of 179.1 inches. That’s about the length of a mid sized sedan for a single seater. In person, the size of car can be intimidating. Especially from the driver’s view.
Dan allowed me to climb inside and experience it for myself. I found it surprisingly roomy and comfortable to lie down in it with my feet up on the same level as my chin. Of course, I made high pitched engine noises and agressive steering gestures to complete the effect.
Driving It, Almost
The actual venue for the initial drive hasn’t been confirmed yet, but Dan is intending to do something with his good friend Conor Daly who knows a bit about driving open wheelers.
As for the future, who knows? One possibility for Dan to put his Lucky Strike through its paces might be BOSS GP, an open wheel series aimed at privateers of recent and historic open wheelers. Or perhaps use it to terrorize a local track day event like this guys did:
By now you may be wondering what on earth is this article doing on a sim-racer’s blog. Since that is a perfectly reasonable question, here come the shameless plugs.
While Dan told me all about the incredible world of F1 cars and engineering, the only thing I could tell him about was the incredible world of pretend race car drivers who could only dream of his reality.
Interestingly enough, he found it intriguing and decided to give my very own simulator a try. After all, it would be unwise to hop straight into a decade and a half old F1 chassis with 7 long years of development behind it without some form of preparation. Despite having years of experience with driving open wheelers, it made sense to at least practice the basics.
A week later we visited Crimson Simulation, in Norwalk, CT, where Dan was able to test drive the latest and greatest F1 offering from iRacing.com. Naid, the owner of Crimson Simulation, set Dan up on a Mark Lutes chassis with D-Box motion, HE Ultimate pedals, configured to handle his left foot hammering technique of slowing down at 5gs, and a Bodnar V2 wheel to help him better envision his soon to be epic fist drive.
Based on his experience of having driven Damon Hill's 1997 Arrows A18 F1 car, not once, but multiple times, Dan noted how the sim did a good job of conveying the car's transition from mechanical grip to aero grip. He also described to us how the power steering of his F1 car was deigned to decrease as the speed of the car would increase and would require heavier inputs at speed. So we learned a few new things from him and we all had a lot of fun.
Follow Dan in his awesome F1 adventures on instagram @dbythewood.