How Did We Get Here or At What Point Did F1 Make A Wrong Turn

While we are all riding high and/or being distracted due to Lewis Hamilton clinching his third WDC at the expense of teammate Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel in an action-packed Austin Grand Prix followed by F1’s glorious return to Mexico with its visually stunning track at which Rosberg got one back over on Hamilton in front of over one hundred thousand very enthusiastic fans, I would like to point out that F1 as a sport is still at DEFCON 5.

Red Bull engine situation should not happen – Todt, 

FIA pushes new engine plans after Ferrari cost cap veto, 

Amid Red Bull crisis Ricciardo eyes NASCAR race, 

McLaren: No charity over Red Bull F1 Engine situation, and lastly 

Red Bull situation prompts call for V8 return in 2016.

Those were just a few of the many headlines that have been popping up over the last three months, there have been many more. Respectfully I pulled these from ESPN F1, GrandPrix 247, Autosport and from this blogsite Formula1Blog. Take any one by itself and it looks like just another news story the Media uses to sell ad space. Take them all together and there is something more dire going on. Read between the lines and F1 as we know it is headed over a cliff. 

I don’t think I can remember when there was so much uncertainty swirling around this sport and its future and what that future will look like. We are now twenty-one months into the formula change to turbo hybrids, and combined with the development freeze the results are not impressive, nor does the future look promising. I can only imagine what the inner circles are like right now with F1’s power brokers all misaligned and so many moving parts in a constant state of flux.

How the hell did F1, the greatest racing formula with the smartest minds, the best drivers and tons and tons of cash to spend get to such a place?

As always there is neither one person nor one simple part of F1 or how it has been run for the last twenty or thirty years that is to blame. It is a combination of many things, some of which could have been seen coming miles away, others not so much, that have all conspired to set F1 on a collision course with itself and the bad things that happen when big money, big manufacturers, big egos and big championships are at stake.

One Problem – It’s Complicated

Is it any surprise that the F1 car has evolved into the most unique and complex machine that it is today? Is it any wonder that anybody with a racer’s DNA would not put a device/aid on or in their race car to make it go faster and so what if it makes it a bit easier to drive as a bonus? Is it any wonder that since the wind tunnel was discovered to provide an advantage that at some point they would be running 24/7 all year long? The natural evolution, after decades of this continued ‘improvement’, is a car so complex that it is barely comprehensible to the average human, let alone buildable and reliable without gigantic expense.

To Simplify Or Not To Simplify? That Is The Question 

Allow me a bit of leeway here, go with me for just a second. Does anyone who follows Formula 1 want an IndyCar style formula for Formula 1? This is exactly where my mind goes reading what Max Mosley (who has been on this kick forever it seems) and Bernie Ecclestone are talking about in the interview a few weeks ago for German channel ZDF were they stated “Tear up the rule book!”. (Thank you Todd McCandless for bringing it to our attention). This is the logical end game if one is to think about where they are headed. 

Let’s break down the IndyCar formula. There is only one chassis and Dallara supplies it. As far as I know the teams are only allowed to perform set-up work, i.e. dampers and springs, geometry, shifting ballast around. There is undoubtedly a little more to it, but you get the idea. If I am incorrect please don’t hesitate to call me out, but I am pretty sure that what the teams do is fine-tune the car to the track and to the driver’s liking and to the best operation temps for the Firestone red and black stickered tires, that is it. 

Teams have a choice of two engine manufacturers. Presumably no single team receives anything but the same spec engine from a given manufacturer. In this case it is between Honda and Chevrolet. Aero? Aside from the front and rear wings there is not much in the way of down force as we have come to know it in F1. Development of this Spartan aero package? There are absolutely no aero updates over the course of the season, none that I can see at least – the cars look exactly the same from the first race to the last. I might as well say it if you won’t, “Boring!” Oh, and by the way they even still use a gear lever in IndyCar. So on the surface of it this is right up Max Mosley’s alley. 

I watch IndyCar all the time (because at the end of the day I just like racing in general) but let me tell you it is not that exciting unless seven car pile-ups are your thing. Aside from that, the cars are seriously unappealing to look at, the racing is generally sloppy (I have never seen so many restarts of a restart in my life) and while there are quite a variety of winners and you can win from as far back as the middle of the grid or almost dead last as Juan Pablo Montoya did at this year’s Indianapolis 500 (which is refreshing I must say and might be IndyCar’s only redeeming quality), on balance, this formula is not interesting or compelling, not even to Americans. You only need to look at the turnout overall to know its market share is nowhere near F1’s when compared to the European fan base. And I might add that F1 has to compete with many better-established racing Formulas, DTM, WEC, BTCC, WRC and several more on the other side of the pond, although one could easily make the argument that NASCAR sucks up so much of the air in the room it is a wonder IndyCar can even survive. 

And while I am all for the removal of Driver Aids (most of them anyway) I don’t want to see the technology aspect of an F1 car diminished while doing it. F1 is the combination of the best of the best doing their best and that includes engineers as well as drivers and strategists. I am just saying to Max and Bernie, taking the innovation or the constructor’s part of the series out of F1 is to take the F1 out of F1. 

But F1 now has to ask itself, is this the answer to the proverbial question? Is this where we want the series to go? I don’t know your answer, and would very much like to, but I can assure you my answer is definitely no. I am not saying I don’t think F1 doesn’t have a problem; it does and has had one for quite some time. But indicative to human nature, F1 is reluctant to do the work to solve its issue and thus is in a state of denial and just keeps kicking the can down the road hoping its problems will solve themselves. That is surely coming to an end. There is nowhere the can can be kicked anymore. F1, it is time wake up and smell the gasoline…

Another Problem – It’s Competitive

Or to be more accurate, it’s a little too competitive. The prize is so glorious, and man’s desire to be the best so strong, that for decades F1 has been breeding a highly competitive, take no prisoners set of super-teams. Is it really that astonishing that any one team, be it Ferrari, who time and time again I am reminded F1 can not live without, or Red Bull, who now I’m told would also be a monumental loss for F1, or Mercedes, who were finally wooed back to the top tier of Grand Prix racing, is really just in it for themselves? As Negative Camber, our COO Todd McCandless, has pointed out in numerous posts already, Mercedes, by following its forebears and engaging in behavior that is nothing short of self-preservation at the expense of everyone else (it is a wonder how anything really gets done in F1 quite frankly) has now unintentionally helped create an engine Formula that is completely untenable, their works team notwithstanding.

The Maybes 

In hindsight maybe the V6 with all the ancillary components, battery, turbos, ERS, KERS, etc, was not the way to go, not because of the sound even though the F1 fan base still feels betrayed with the new engine’s sound or lack thereof, and again as McCandless has shown us with several articles now, not even the parity issues, not the issue of year old engines and not-so-up-to-date software, but solely due to the cost of the damn thing. Just let this settle for a moment or two. A supply of PU’s, let’s just call them engines for chrissakes, costs twenty millions dollars. $20,000,000.00. If there was a way to spell it out more sarcastically I would do it. 

Maybe F1 went too far too fast. It really says something that Renault, the manufacturer who lead the way with F1 turbo technology the first time around back in the 80’s and who also pushed for the change most recently, has failed and failed miserably to get it right this time around. Oopsy…

 Maybe the manufacturers, who are now thought to possess too much power, should have been told yes, you can bring this new engine package to the F1’s sandbox, but you cannot charge the customer teams any more than the price tag of the old V8’s. Maybe Caterham would still be around, maybe not, but remember Tony Fernandes quit F1 due to the fact that FOM and the FIA did not make good on its promises to cap costs and restructure how the money is handed out to the constructors. This is now an official complaint in the form of a lawsuit to the EU about how F1 governs its own affairs. I’m skeptical that this will have any real effect on the powers that be, but who knows, I am sure pigs fly somewhere. 

And by the way, American baseball, basketball and football have all flourished under cost control measures, whether it be a salary cap, or luxury tax, or a combination of the two. The very problems that are plaguing F1, cost and lack of competition, were ruining these sports, and the cost control measures have brought competition back and leveled the playing field.

In response to F1 engine crisis, Cosworth is back in the conversation again, or was for a day or two, but didn’t we already go down this path? Because if I remember correctly, when Mr. Mosley crafted his grand plan while still in charge of the FIA (before his fall from grace) that is exactly what F1 had and it did not work out. The Cosworth power plant was not as competitive as the Ferrari, the Mercedes or the Renault at the time. Williams and Caterham were the customers and Cosworth was not producing enough horsepower and thus these constructors went with a different engine supplier and Cosworth were effectively put out of the independent engine supplier business. End of story. What makes anyone think it will be any different if, and it is a big if, Cosworth or another engine supplier were to join the party? We have not even addressed the issue of real and meaningful development. It is remarkable Honda was even convinced to come back, but after seeing what they have had to endure, does anyone think that there are other engine manufacturers, Audi or Porsche for example, licking their chops to have a go at Mercedes?  

Solutions – [Again] It’s Complicated

Wouldn’t it be grand if the solution was a simple one? If we could all wake up from this nightmare and things would be right back in their proper place? If, for example, there were v10s and v12s, aside from v8s in the mix. If F1 cars were wide and squared-out and the 24/7 use of that all-important wind tunnel was not really invented yet. 

Wouldn’t it be great if the Ken Tyrell’s, the Giancarlo Minardi’s, and the Eddie Jordan’s could still build a chassis in their garage or in some old villa and still win races? How about an old abandoned warehouse? Just a little romanticism for you … but that is the way it was a long time ago in galaxy far far away.

Wouldn’t it also be great if FOM, CVC, the teams and the FIA could actually work together in an organic and symbiotic relationship to not only provide the F1 faithful, hardcore and casual, the seniors and the youth, male and female fans alike the most technologically-driven series in the world AND one that takes into account each and every constructor and in so doing ensures an even and level playing field with one eye on the wow factor and the other on a long term strategy? Yes, of course it will never be quite an equal playing field, remember I am not into the socialistic version of F1, but the chasm between the haves and the have-nots is getting bigger and bigger all the time and that will eventually be to everyone’s detriment.

As it stands now, with F1 standing right on the edge of the carbon fiber precipice we just might barely get F1 back to being F1. There’s talk of much more horsepower, getting rid of the driver aids (that has already begun in regards to the start of the race as of Belgium), no more coaching drivers (also has been recently instituted), bigger rear wheels a la the 70’s are due to come back, engines will be allowed to be developed via the token system (they should allow many more tokens in my opinion or just throw that whole system out and let the manufacturers have at it, I mean they’re not so keen to throw away huge amounts of cash anyway) and a whole bunch of very important people in F1 (the decision makers) are finally in crisis mode and know they can’t put off these issues anymore. Most recently, an American wants to buy F1 and who knows maybe, just maybe he has some crazy idea of making F1 great again.

Listen, I still think F1 is great, year in and year out, but I am probably in the minority and I would be lying to you if I said that as the series stands right now, it does not need a reboot. It does and it needs to come ASAP. 

Last Words

The solutions will not be easy. One word keeps popping into my head lately, and that word is balance. We hear about it all the time: a balanced diet, am I balancing my work life with my private life, etc. It is used all the time even in F1 referring to how a chassis is behaving on track corner entry to corner exit. Right now F1 is out of balance, way, way out of balance.

Once in a while we should all take note and pay very close attention to what is happening in F1 aside from the Hamiltons and Rosbergs or the Vettels and Alonsos. I am not referring to Ferrari’s resurgence or McLaren’s demise or the great re-introduction of Mexico on the calendar with its complete and comprehensive success this past weekend. 

Right now we should be looking beyond the shiny veneer of F1 at something much more important, its very make-up and long-term health. This is what’s at stake. Right now the sport is undergoing a radical change and if F1 does not get it right, well I don’t really want to consider the consequences. 

The stakes are the highest I have ever seen them. I can only hope the coolest minds in the room will prevail and F1 can find a way forward.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

30 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Derek Andrews

I can not see F1 getting any better as long as you have 2 teams more or less running F1 they get to say who gets there P/U. They get to say what software the teams they supply can use also weather to give them up to date engines. Also they have the best fuel i know they have put millions of pounds into the P/U but i feel all teams should be equal on P/Us software and fuel. I have watched F1 for over 40 years this is the worst i have seen i know who will win the… Read more »

Lee Ferrell

Yes. ..but watch someone come on here saying something to the effect of
“that never stopped the teams in the past, native teams like red Bull should stop whining about engine rules/performance and start working/engineering! ”

How people take this viewpoint and ignore the tech restrictions/token system. ..
WILL ESCAPE ME FOREVER!

I have to wonder how many “fans” that speak like that truly keep up with the more technical /regulations side to f1.

In short, I agree wholeheartedly.

Mr. Obvious

I tell you what: You can force Ferrari and Mercedes to hand over their competitive advantage (read: P/U) when I can force Red Bull to give their competitive advantage (read: Chassis) to Ferrari and Mercedes.

Lee Ferrell

Not sure at all where u got the idea that indycar uses stick shift. ..they’ve had paddles for a while now

Negative Camber

Well maybe in JP’s world they use sticks and if not, in his world they should. :) What about it JP? :)

Johnpierre Rivera

Ha Ha. Slightly embarrassing really…

228929292AABBB

don’t be embarrassed about anything this is a fabulous article.

Johnpierre Rivera

Really
wow that could my worst faux pas in a quite some time. I thought for sure that the most recent races I watched I could see a gear lever. Stand by. Ok I am off by a few years. Seems as INDY CAR adopted the paddle shifter for 2012 and beyond. Thank you Lee for the correction. My bad on that one. But still when did F1 start using this technology? Back in the early 90’s? Anyone… ;-)

Tom Firth

“But still when did F1 start using this technology? Back in the early 90’s? Anyone… ;-)” Yeah, fairly close. I think it was ’88 or ’89 when Barnard first ran one in a Ferrari. It took a few years to adopt though fully, around the mid 90’s I think. You are right about Indycars adoption being far later, the Champ Car Series had it in 2007, but IRL wasn’t until reunification in 2008. It’s odd really when you think that CART was seen as a pinnacle series, that it never adopted something we all now take as granted, even in… Read more »

MIE

The 1989 Ferrari was the first car to use the paddle shift semi-automatic gearbox. Mansell’s first year with the team, winning first time out despite not completing a race distance without failure in pre-season testing.

Tom Firth

Ahh it was ’89, I knew it was either 88 or 89, and was a John Barnard development right? Thanks mate.

So when was the last F1 car running a manual system, by that, I mean stick shift, because still physically change gear now, with paddles, 1995?

MIE

1995 for the final F1 manual gearbox according to Wikipedia (I must admit I don’t know which team, but Simtek or Pacific would be favourite). Current boxes are semi automatic because the paddles take control of the clutch and blip the throttle where necessary in addition to selecting the gear. It has eliminated missed interchanges or over revving the engine as driver errors, which has added to the difficulty in driver’s behind being able to overtake.

Tom Firth

Forti

MIE

Ah yes, it was Forti as the only team using a manual gearbox, and even they managed to upgrade mid season.

Dr. Bob

Are F1 cars so complicated because the formula (sporting regs, etc.) is so complicated or vice versa or is it something else that drives F1 cases to be so complicated.
I’d push for a “simple” formula for F1:
4 open wheels, well defined driver and spectator protection, a fixed amount of energy to be available for use at the start of the race. That’s it.

Note: The “Power Unit” could be internal combustion driven (gas, diesel, alcohol, hydrogen, etc.) or external combustion driven (steam, sterling cycle, etc. using gas, alcohol, hydrogen, etc. as heat source) or electrical or what ever.

Alianora La Canta

Mostly they’re complicated because physics is complicated. Complex sporting regulations and boatloads of money certainly don’t help!

MIE

I think the cars are so complicated because the rules have banned so much, the areas that can be exploited are so narrow that teams end up spending enormous amounts on very small details to extract the last thousandth of a second of laptime. If budgets were limited then the better off teams couldn’t spend money in all these areas, and would gave to prioritise where they spent their cash. Greater differences would exist between the cars, and we may get to see different winners at different styles of circuit. Williams operates on about a quarter of Ferrari’s budget, yet… Read more »

Alianora La Canta

To answer the original question: would you like a list? (Warning: long post alert!) F1 made its first wrong turning in 1996, when it sued the head of the ITC touring car championship for wanting to separate itself from FIA control. This was the incident that led the EU to investigate whether the FIA and Bernie were abusing their position of dominance. It eventually concluded it was, forcing the Nice Agreement upon the FIA and Bernie to avoid the power being broken up. Mistake #2 was in 2001, when Max Mosely responded to the settlement not by putting the rights… Read more »

Johnpierre Rivera

Alianora

Wow is all I can really say in response to what you have posted. Very detailed and comprehensive. You really know your stuff.
I was aware of some of your points of course, however there were several that I did not or better yet have been familiar with, but not necessarily as clear about them until you pointed them out in this way. Thank you for taking the time to inform. Cheers.
-jp-

Alianora La Canta

*blush* You’re welcome :)

Tom Firth

Hi Alianora,

Firstly fantastic post, I just have one question if you don’t mind.

The nice agreement, which began as you say with the events of 1996. Am I right in thinking that one of the major fallouts of that agreement was International Sportsworld (ISC’s) monopoly as a television promoter of FIA championships being split up?

Alianora La Canta

Yes, that is correct. ISC ended up splitting its rights between FOM (who only got F1) and a variety of other media companies such as Dorna (who got Supercross – it had already had many other motorcycling series). International Sportsworld itself (later bought by North One) has the rights to WRC television.

Tom Firth

Yeah, Bernie could I think of kept but WRC and F1 rights under the agreement. He did however as you say, sell ISC to Prodrive’s Dave Richards, which came with the WRC rights a few months after the ruling.

Richards rebranded and sold ISC as ‘North One Sport’ onto various parties after that before it eventually went bust a couple of years ago.

Sorry a bit off topic! Just wanted to check I got that right :-)

Thanks Alianora.

Alianora La Canta

I believe you are correct, Tom.

Nigel@CassRacing

The moment F1 lost it’s way was the day it became “socially responsible”. When Kers was rolled out I knew he had a problem because FOM was trying to combine racing (something that is sexy, dangerous, and exciting) with environmentalism (something that, lets admit it, will never be sexy, dangerous, or exciting). From that moment on it was all a contrived event. Formula 1 isn’t green, but they had to make it look like it. That is what led to the super complex, super boring engines we have today. I do Formula Ford racing, and I always ask myself, why… Read more »

runnah

You know, we just have to let the days go by, let the water hold us down.

Herb Dressing

What’s missing is the ‘rebel’ element. 6 wheeled cars, fan cars, crazy tall mirrors on Tyrell’s. It’s just too regulated. Why not go back to a simpler tech spec, which allows for different interpretations of the specs to drive innovation and development throughout the year. Controlling every aspect to reduce costs has clearly not worked, so open up the regs and let the giant brains loose.

228929292AABBB

Very strong job, Mr. Rivera. Really liked the nuance, fairness, sense, and that you don’t take the view ‘if you find fault with anything in F1 you’re not a fan’, but you’re not bashing either. This is the kind of analysis which can make the sport stronger. I think you are so right that the issue with the new engines is cost, rather than the engine itself. It’s a tough problem, because while it wouldn’t be too hard to restrict F1 to something more reasonable, the trick would be to retain its place as the premier level of engineering and… Read more »

Johnpierre Rivera

2289… Thank you for the kinds words. I love F1 and love talking to people about it. That is how I usually approach my writing. as if I’m in a conversation with my readers To your your points. I agree with all of them, except narrower cars. I still love the low and wider one from the severtines and eighties ;-) but really like your idea about somehow making the drivers more visible to the fans. I was so great seeing the driver exposed from the shoulders up but of course I don’t want driver to not be safe just… Read more »

228929292AABBB

PS a small thing which would only affect US audiences, but if we want to improve F1’s chances, can we PUHLEEZE have Bob Varsha just bring us in and out of commercials then hand it over to the Brits the way the MotoGP coverage works? Why are we trying to reinvent the wheel (and coming up with square blocks)?