A dream I have

Formula 1 is about speed, technology, strategy, engineering and singular driving skills—at least it used to be. Today, it’s about something else.

Regulatory power was transferred from former FIA president Max Mosley to a new protagonist in the diminutive form of Jean Todt. Jean is a man who doggedly gets things done and his agenda, once set, becomes a singular focus just as it was in the heady days of Ferrari’s domination with the Frenchman at the helm.

The FIA’s mission of road safety was unceremoniously placed on the back burner while sustainability and “Green” initiatives became the grandest quest for Jean ‘Ponce de León’ Todt. This quest was wrapped in ideology from world-saving to series-salvaging to manufacturer-luring proportions. Who are we to disagree with this multi-faceted new Bimini?

This march toward “green” begat the V6 turbo engine which, comparatively speaking, sounds like a kidnapped engine with a duct-taped mouth in the trunk of a car in a Jason Borne movie. Regardless, fans just need to shut it and get used to the sound…nothing to see here, I’m sure we’ll all come to love the throaty whine of the turbo era.

The “innovation” also produced new battery technology called Energy Store (I don’t know where the old batteries go to die but suffice it to say, not where old elephants go to die) and a beefed up KERS unit that many claim was the enlightenment of the road car industry as those chumps are incapable of designing any of this creative technology that F1 has graced them with—never mind they’ve been doing this for some time now and need no help from F1 thank you (let’s stop marginalizing road car engineers, they are brilliant people doing brilliant, innovative work).

Becoming a series that mirrors the future of road car and racing technology isn’t easy and F1 has proven that hundreds of millions of dollars can be spent to go from a V8 engine that gets 3mpg to a brand new sustainable, “green” V6 turbo power unit that gets 5mpg. Wow! What a savings!

A circuit as long as Spa Francochamps will go from 63 gallons of fuel used to 38 gallons for the race and that’s a total savings of 550 gallons per race (22 cars) if I have my calculations correct on my F1B abacus. At $4 per gallon, that’s a whopping $2,200 saved for that weekend! Not all circuits are as long as Spa but even if they were, that would recognize a total of $41,000 of fuel savings for the entire year.

Ok, it’s race fuel and perhaps it’s more like $8 per gallon and with that staggering per-gallon price, the series would save roughly $83,000 for the season! With that kind of savings, you could purchase one steering wheel and a couple Gil fuel flow sensors for a Mercedes car! Maybe that on-track savings takes a small bite out of their off-track fuel expense when they fill up their haulers at $900 per truck/lorrie.

Some boast that all of this innovation happened in less than 18 months but I recall writing about these plans well over two years ago so I am not sure where that figure comes from—but it really doesn’t matter because clearly F1 has the right formula now. The driver is back in the driver’s seat and managing some increased torque that makes the car twitchy on throttle out of a corner. Uh…ok.

The gambit worked! Fans are elated with the new look, sound and strategy of F1. Fuel mileage races are what the fans asked for and more passing, which we haven’t seen yet but these are early days…give it time, give it time. I’m sure being a second or more slower than the cars last year will pay dividends in the end and we need to be patient and stop complaining before the new format has time to stretch its green legs.

If we truly love F1, we’ll remain silent (this includes you Sebastian Vettel) and follow the current narrative. We’ll garner equal passion for “green” technology, manufacturer enticement, technological constructs that attempt to thwart the elephant in the room which is aerodynamics (the holy grail of F1 that is not to be touched) and do all of this while sending checks to 15-year-old kids so they can start building a war chest of cash in order to pay a team for the privilege of driving one of these machines of inevitability.

Formula 1 is about power. The new power of the hybrid system really has drivers challenged and hanging it out there although Romain Grosjean said they are actually driving at less than 50% these days. That twitchy torque has sated my desire for awesome racing and I no longer care if the drivers and teams are going flat out for as much of the race as they can because we all know that not everyone goes flat out for 100%—except Jaime Alguersuari of course.

I have become sensitive to all of the hidden elements that fans can’t see that comprise or conspire to make F1 the most technologically advanced racing series in the world. Things like MGU-H and MGU-K utilization (I have no idea when they are being used but I know they are and that’s good enough for me), DRS button presses, graining or degrading tires and narrow operating temperature windows in which the tires actually work. I’ve grown to love the way in which pit stops are measured in nanoseconds and how the series has adopted a nanny state mentality on penalizing all but the most minuscule of altercations under the broad umbrella known as “causing a collision”.

F1 has finally got it all right. They’ve sussed the entirety of their “show” and found that elusive formula that makes watching F1 fun. Change is good even if it isn’t better. These days, good is good enough. If we want great, well, we need to right-size our expectations.

Sure, we need to recognize that F1 has changed and must change to stay relevant with the future. We certainly wouldn’t want to be “on the wrong side of history”. We need to stop being so negative and find the good things in the series. There is racing going on, the cars are very technologically complex and this benefits road cars somehow (you just need to trust that this is happening now because it did in the past) and we need a cost-cap in F1 and we need to be more environmentally sensitive. These are facts, not opinion, mind you, and it’s time we see this as F1’s new mission…for all we know, our very lives may depend on it according to the FIA and its world vision.

I have often thought that in the hereafter of our lives, when F1 owes no more to the future and can be just a racing series… that we may meet, and F1 will come to me and claim me as its fan, and know that I am its fan. It is a dream I have…

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