F1 saves planet, one perception at a time


Pay attention kids, this is what I’ve been warning you about. I’m not one to criticize Alan Baldwin because I think he does a fine job of it but the notion of a “Green” F1 has already started and it’s riding on the backs of the media anxious to shovel dung for the series. I’ve shoveled plenty of dung for F1 in my day as well so as I said, no ill intent toward Reuters or Mr. Baldwin. What is more germane to the argument are the words used. It’s important to know what words mean.

The FIA said, “”a commitment to improving sustainability and addressing the needs of the automotive industry” regarding its new 4-cylinder 1.6-litre turbocharged engine specification with a rev limit of 12,000rpm and equipped with a hybrid kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS).

What Mr. Baldwin—and many others will follow suit while non-motorsport media will parrot—says is, “It also re-positions the sport in a much more environmentally-friendly arena”. How do we know that? Reduced consumption engines that are smaller and required to produce 12,000 rpm at the same speeds are consider an “environmentally-friendly arena”? Do we know the resources that will be burned just create an engine that can withstand the punishment F1 delivers?

The amount of capital, resources, raw materials and labor that will be used to develop this new engine will be staggering. The cost to ship the F1 show around the world outweighs any “environmentally-friendly” notion the sport could ever gain by running this engine specification. But does any of that matter when perception is on the line?

The reality is, and I am fully aware of the notion, that F1 needs to be perceived as doing its “part” in the world rush to be perceived as being environmentally friendly. Never mind the details because like many “green” initiatives, the onion-skin layers reveal pragmatism run amok when you really dig deep into the notion. You find that being “Green” in many cases is actually not “green” at all.

So too is this new notion for F1. The most important verbiage in their statement is, “addressing the needs of the automotive industry”. That, my friends, is something you can bank on. This is the crux of the future of F1 as the show is stressing from the economic weight of our current financial decline. Green only makes sense when it makes money. F1 can be perceived as attempting to be green just as well as the automotive industry can design and build an electric car that nobody wants (read Chevy Volt).

The initiative is driven by the same notion that Williams F1 owner Patrick Head shares in Mr. Baldwin’s story. “One can say ‘isn’t it just a load of bullshit?’ and ‘is it really appropriate for Formula One?’. But tell me one motoring magazine now that isn’t full of all the electric vehicles or hybrid vehicles.”

It may still be “bullshit” but because everyone else is serving bullshit, we should as well. Head believes in the green initiative but every article or interview I have read or heard has him engaged in apologetics in defense of “Green”. What we can assume, folks, is that F1 is after a perception and in the end, is that wrong? It’s built on perception because it is entertainment. It’s precepts of gentlemen racers locked in honest battle to determine who can build the best car left in the waning hours of the 1970’s.
In 2009, FIA president Max Mosely set out to show the world that F1 does not need manufacturers. In 2010, the series found very quickly that they most certainly do need manufacturers as Mosley’s gambit failed to add any meaningful impact to lure the privateer from hiding and back into the sport. What we found is that the weight of F1 is so enormous that a privateer can’t afford the motorhomes let alone the entire racing operation. That takes serious cash and the only thing “sustainable” about F1 at this point is the theory that it takes serious amounts of cash to participate.

So why did the FIA change the engine specification to a 4-cylinder Turbo with many teams in favor? They want to use a spec that is as ubiquitous as possible so manufacturers can enter the sport with little duress on creating a new V12 engine that they have no interest in developing as it isn’t salient to their future product portfolio. There is nothing wrong with that folks. I endorse their move but note that Ferrari were nonplussed by the new engine specification. Why? It’s because a 4-cylinder turbo is nowhere near their future product development or interest. Ferrari doesn’t see a long-term future for their sports cars with a 4-cylinder engine in them. That isn’t Ferrari!

If you watch the teams and their positions long enough, you can see their business model materialize right before your eyes. The FIA and commercial rights holder CVC know they need serious players in F1, not the HRT’s or anemic Virgin Racing. They need Toyota, Honda, VW, Mercedes, Renault and any others they can get. That’s just good business and if we have to call it “green” then don’t let me spoil the party but it’s insulting to be pandered to by eco-warriors by suggesting that F1 is now doing its part to be green…there is nothing “Green” about F1 and there never will be until they are all running electric motors and then we have the battery disposal issue to deal with. Let’s just call this new engine specification what it really is…bait! We can leave the politics of “Green” at the door please.

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