I‘ve been called a luddite and accused of being a dullard when it comes to the world’s most advanced form of racing. Some say my inability to understand the basic premise that Formula 1 is and has always been about the technology should not escape me as I have watched the series for decades. To all of you who have been critical, I appreciate your thoughts but I humbly suggest that you may be wrong.
Technology has always been a part of F1, for sure. The drive to go faster has brought in innovations with a singular goal, to go faster around the track. Carbon fiber to reduce chassis weight and allow for more weight balancing. Aerodynamics in which to glue the car to the track in corners while reducing drag for the long straights. Brakes in order to retard the speed from 180mph to just 30mph in a matter of a few feet/meters. Steering wheel controls to adjust systems and brake bias on the car during the race and for individual sections of a track. Traction control to prevent wheel spin on acceleration. Ride height to adjust the gap to the track in order to increase downforce and cornering capabilities. Semi-automatic gearboxes to reduce gear shifts to fractions of a second. Computer systems to relieve the driver of throttle lift between gear shifts. Metals and materials to reduce weight and increase the speed of service and reliability.
The list goes on and on but in all these things, the reason for developing the technology was to further increase the speed around the track. In 2014, F1 changed that entire model and ushered in a technology that had no design in going even faster around the track than in 2013. In fact, it went in a completely opposite direction and bankrupted several teams in the process.
I wrote an editorial piece about the WEC and the 24 Hours of Le Mans this weekend that speaks to that series and the issues it now faces for seeking a similar path. You can see it here.
While many slate my opinion as being that of an old guy pining for the halcyon days, I hear your criticism about the advancement of technology and march to electric yadda yadda yadda. I would suggest that, as an old guy, you may have missed the fact that nothing goes into a F1 car that doesn’t make it faster. THAT has always been the application justification for technology including the Fan Car. The Power Unit went the completely opposite way and regardless of how fast they may be now, they’ve spent millions and millions to get back to where they were in 2013 and before after suffering a 5-6s deficit in lap times. No team used to add technology that would result in 6s per lap reduction in the past.
The slow, steady application of technology for years in F1 has been to make the cars faster and overcome regulations that seek to slow them down through grooved tires, diffuser and drag reduction F-Ducts banning and so forth. Flexible floors and flexing front wings and j-dampers and FRIC systems and dual diffusers and traction control and automatic ride height and two-way data and control communication systems and much more have all been applied to the cars as they made them quicker than the season prior or at least clawed back the loss of performance that a new set of regulations impacted.
Now it seems that Sauber’s Monisha Kaltenborn agrees with me.
“We have in some ways far too technical that even people within the sport do not understand it fully,” said Kaltenborn.
“Do we really need that? No.
“We are not here in a technical world.
“Technical excellence is part of F1 but it needs to be balanced out with other interests as well.”
Ultimately I am not suggesting that the series devolve into 1960’s technology but that, like Monisha, the series de-colonize its head and find a much better balance to the application of technology instead of becoming a R&D lab for manufacturers or a shill for green/sustainability ideologies. This is racing, not a public policy think tank. Let the car makers consider green technologies in their road cars and if there is a compelling component such as KERS that will make the cars faster and is reliable or ready for prime time, then by all means, consider it in F1. But only if it improves the racing element, makes the car faster and increases the entertainment value.
The mobocracy that is screaming for equal distribution of prize money in F1 would do well to scream for the equal application of low-cost regulations that allow for small teams to be competitive under a set of regulations that offer a clearer, more pronounced law of diminished returns on investment. With lower incremental per-unit returns, manufacturer teams will have a much more difficult time explaining to their board members why they need the budgets they have and how they spend their money versus the results they are getting on track. Don’t make it punitive but just tight enough to favor the resourceful among them.
F1 is not Silicon Valley but perhaps this is a series that could use some disruptive technology models. This all very easy for me to say and opine about but It is a seriously difficult task and I do not envy the chaps that are working on this. What I do know is that the hybrid power unit is not the direction the sport needs to continue on. They would be much more competitive and entertaining if they used an LMP2 engine from Gibson and a super cool KERS unit to bring them up to 900bhp with reduced aero and more mechanical grip.
Let me say this about hybrid F1 power units. They are amazing, no doubt. They are immensely impressive but like the LMP1 class in WEC, I think they are a black hole of manufacturer innovation dollars that shouldn’t be the singular goal of F1. Maybe the WEC is the perfect place for this as road car translation is more directly linked but at this point, I am even struggling with that as the LMP1 class is in serious decline. They went from awesome diesel power technology and competitive racing to only two teams with one LMP1 on the overall podium this weekend and this is within a couple of years. It was the LMP2 and GT classes that produced the best, most entertaining racing and those are not hybrid powered.
It may be great for road car innovation—I would argue that point as well as sales of hybrids are still single digit percentages—but I am not convinced that removing the entertainment from racing in favor of slower cars to make a grand point about sustainability or become an R&D lab for car makers is really what racing is completely about. Is it part of it? Sure, but as Monisha says, it shouldn’t be its singular goal.
Hat Tip: Autosport