Nelson Piquet and Alastair Caldwell
Jochen Mass, 1977, with the plastic skirts visible on the side of the car.

The car is fantastic, it’s fantastique, I can’t see, I can’t breathe, I can’t find the pedals but it’s fantastic.

1976 Skirts on Formula 1 Cars

Adding ‘skirts’ to the cars creates a downwards force that increases cornering speeds. Teams had to find ways around the rules set down by the FIA that limited the use of skirts.

The other thing I introduced to Formula 1 was the increase of down force by putting skirts around the car. I was very good at reading the rules and seeing what they said as opposed to what people thought they meant. You read the rule and worked out what it said rather than its intention. The two things are often very different. A rule is written to stop you doing something, but it never stopped me doing anything. This time the loophole was between the word ‘moved’ and ‘movable.’

We were not allowed to have any ‘movable’ aerodynamic devices on the car. But ‘moved’ – which is moved by God or wind or whim – I could see no problem with. I put flexible skirts around my car in South Africa in ’76. I took the day off and went riding my motorbike. When I got back, my boss had taken them off the car. I said: ‘What are you doing?’ He said: ‘They’re illegal,’ and I said: ‘Well, by taking them off you’ve admitted they’re illegal.’ He should have waited until I got back; I used to get very annoyed with my boss.

So we ran the South African race without the skirts and I put them back on for the next race. The other teams complained, but I told them to “..go and get the scrutineers, I don’t need to talk to you.’ I didn’t need Tyrell or Chapman to tell me my car was illegal, I needed to hear it from the organisers. They told me that everything on the car needed to be rigid and I said: ‘What is rigid?’ Are the wings on an airplane rigid? No. Even the engine of the car wasn’t rigid. I persuaded them that the skirts weren’t ‘movable’ but when the wind blew they did ‘move.’ So we got our way and, of course, everyone else started doing it.

We had a wedge-shaped car called the M23, and we put plastic bits on that sucked it onto the road. It was quick, it worked. The physical stress on the driver was amazing -- the driver used to throw up and get really ill. I remember Piquet saying: ‘The car is fantastic, it’s fantastique! I can’t see, I can’t breathe, I can’t find the pedals, but it’s fantastic!’

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