John Barnard, a British engineer and designer, has left an indelible mark on the world of Formula 1. With a career spanning over three decades, Barnard has pioneered countless innovations that have revolutionized the sport. Known for his relentless pursuit of perfection, Barnard’s work has propelled numerous F1 teams to success. This article delves into the life and career of this brilliant engineer and explores the revolutionary changes he brought to Formula 1.
Early Life and Career
John Barnard earned a diploma from Watford College of Technology in the 1960s and joined General Electric Company instead of pursuing an academic career. In 1968, he joined Lola Cars as a junior designer, where he met Patrick Head, with whom he developed a close friendship. In 1972, Barnard moved to McLaren, working alongside Gordon Coppuck on projects like the M23 chassis and the team’s IndyCar. In 1975, he joined Parnelli Jones and worked with Maurice Philippe on the Parnelli VPJ4 Formula One car, which achieved its best finish of 4th place at the 1975 Swedish Grand Prix. After modifying the design for the Indycar circuit, Barnard’s Chaparral 2K chassis led Johnny Rutherford to win the Indianapolis 500 and the CART drivers’ title in 1980.
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The McLaren Years (1980-1986)
John Barnard’s success in the United States led him to join McLaren in 1980. He worked on the McLaren MP4/1, the first carbon fiber composite chassis in Formula One, which revolutionized car design and significantly improved driver protection. The strength of the carbon fiber monocoque was demonstrated when John Watson survived a massive crash in 1981. Barnard’s design was soon copied by many rivals, and he later pioneered the ‘coke-bottle’ shape of sidepods in 1983. During his time at McLaren, the team became dominant, winning drivers’ titles with Niki Lauda and Alain Prost, and securing constructors’ honors. By the time Barnard left McLaren for Ferrari in 1986, his cars had won 31 Grands Prix for the team. He also played a role in developing the TAG-Porsche powered McLaren MP4/2, with the 80° V6 TAG engine providing increasing power over time.
the Semi-Automatic Gearbox
In 1986, the strained relationship between John Barnard and McLaren’s Ron Dennis led to Barnard’s departure from the team and his subsequent joining of Ferrari in 1987. Tasked with returning Ferrari to its winning ways, Barnard founded the Ferrari Guildford Technical Office in 1988. Despite starting late on the F1/87 and F1/87/88C designs, he primarily focused on designing the 1989 car to comply with new FIA regulations for naturally aspirated engines.
Barnard’s unconventional approach, such as setting up his office in England and banning wine during mechanics’ lunch, was met with resistance within the team. In 1989, he pioneered the electronic gear shift mechanism (semi-automatic gearbox) which, despite initial skepticism, led to Nigel Mansell’s victory at the Brazilian Grand Prix. The semi-automatic gearbox eventually became standard for all F1 teams.
Ferrari’s 1989 season improved dramatically after resolving early issues with the new gearbox. Mansell and Berger achieved numerous podium finishes, and the team ultimately secured 3rd place in the Constructors’ Championship. The semi-automatic gearbox also allowed Berger to return to racing sooner after a high-speed crash thanks to easier gear changes.
Final F1 Years and Legacy (1992-2008)
In the latter part of his career, Barnard worked with several other F1 teams, including Benetton, Arrows, and Prodrive. Despite the diminishing successes, his contributions to the sport remained influential.
John Barnard retired from Formula 1 in 2008. Throughout his career, he not only shaped the way F1 cars were designed but also changed the very fabric of the sport. His relentless pursuit of innovation has inspired generations of engineers and designers, ensuring that his legacy will continue to thrive.
John Barnard’s time in Formula 1 was marked by his unyielding commitment to innovation and perfection. His creations and designs revolutionized the sport and established new standards that persist to this day.