Is technology killing Formula 1?

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Technology has changed the world. From the first wheel to the next college-room hookup via Tinder, it has been continuously beating the human race about the head and neck for centuries. While it has saved lives and provided a better quality of life, it has also cost lives and ruined the lives of some. It’s a parallax really and depending on your vantage point, it could be saving or destroying Formula 1.

With the return of F1 from its long summer siesta, the sport moves to the Ardennes Forest for the Belgium Grand Prix. When the race starts, it will do so under the power of the driver with no help from the team as to where the optimum clutch bite point is or how to manage the launch. This is the new edict from the FIA in an effort to reduce driver coaching that has become so pervasive in 2014 and 2015 due to the big data harvested from the current cars as well as the enabler, which is the current power unit specification.

Mercedes driver and two-time world champion, Lewis Hamilton, has been critical of the new starting procedure suggesting it will be unpredictable and will not be the right thing for F1…it will bee to be adjusted.

His boos, Toto Wolff, has weighed in on the issue telling AUTOSPORT:

“We wanted to make the starts more variable and unpredictable, to give more responsibility to the driver and make it look less ‘remote control’ from the garage.

“This is the first exercise in tuning technology down for the sake of the entertainment, and all the steps which have been done are understandable.

“But is it going to cause drama beyond expectations, or variability beyond expectations?

“If so then it will need to be looked at again and adjusted.

“What none of us want is completely unpredictable starts for everybody which then completely devalues qualifying.

“It is going to be learning on the job, but Formula 1, the FIA and the stakeholders have shown in the past we are pretty flexible in adapting things for the sake, or safety, of the sport if required.”

There is a very serious undertow to the comment if you consider his words carefully. The sport is digressing in technology advancement for the simple sake of entertainment value. That somehow drivers will now have such disparate starts that we could see qualifying completely neutralized due to slow or very poor starts given the complicated nature of the power units and transmissions.

I enjoyed it the first time when it was called a race start and it reared its ugly head when man first began racing cars. In NHRA drag racing, it’s one of the single most critical elements. In Formula 1 it has lost races, podiums and dare I say championships. It has always been a part of racing—a great start is its own reward.

So now we hear the boffins contend that technology and the current big data era of racing should come first, entertainment and good racing second. Mercedes, who have been struggling with starts of late, are now worried that they may suffer unduly over this new regulation.

The governing body, FIA, have been known to chip away at a dominant teams advantage and could it be that the organization knows this to be a very sensitive area for Mercedes? Could this be similar to their blown diffuser ban, felxi-floor ban or J-damper ban? A change to reign in a runaway success? Or is it a public admission that the sport has gone too far with technology. That tech is not merely a additive to the series but a overbearing and boorish stain that is over engineering the racing and creating a wave of disinterest?

I work in technology, I like technology and I have for over 25 years but I detest technology that is created and deployed just because we can. It’s pointless technology and adds white noise to an already crowded industry. I have advocated technology with a purpose for a long time and F1 is no different in my opinion.

Can you harvest 1,300 streams of data in real time off an F1 car? Sure but should you? If it relates to safety and FIA regulatory oversight, then I say use it. If it relates to or promotes real time driver coaching, then ban it. Trying to ban the sharing of this data via a list of forbidden words to say to a driver…well, that’s just nonsense.

The car should be fabricated, set up and staged for a race to the best of the team’s ability. Once they are staging for the start, the amount of data and technology used to coach drivers and orchestrate outcomes should be minimized. Is this really road car relevant? I think the folks in the road car industry are doing just fine without F1’s help in data harvesting from their vehicles. The art of racing is man and machine, not team and machine with some dolt doing the driving and pressing the buttons you tell him to press and when he should press them.

Sure, the entire team is in play and it is a constructor’s championship but that is in the design, creation and support in running the car, not actually impacting the racing through radio commands demanding real-time changes and adjustment to the car. Managing a race from the pit wall is fine but managing the cockpit from the pit wall seems a bridge too far.

Hat Tip: AUTOSPORT

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rob

Interesting that you picked up on Lewis critising the new start system , when just two weeks ago he told Martin brundle live on Sky that the best starts of his racing career were in non tech cars ie clutch and right foot .i actually think a more less software inspired start will suit Lewis and the more experienced or older driver more , let’s be honest since the start has been controlled by software and engineer input merc s start have hardly been stellar anyway , changing rules halfway through seasons is a big bugbear with me and smacks… Read more »

Paul KieferJr

Actually, this argument has been done before, although it’s only a microcosm. The real argument is Mankind vs. Technology. there was aprogram on PBS that discusses something called the “technology trap”, where mankind relies so much on technology that they lose the skills the helped them survive. If you take away the technology, mankind won’t know what to do, and they die. So, clearly, too much technology can endanger mankind, but the bigger picture is if you rely too much on any one single thing for any one single situation, if that thing is taken away, you’re screwed! You have… Read more »

dude

I would like to know what the name of that PBS documentary is.

dude

BTW, I wonder if by single thing you mean Bernie.

Paul KieferJr

That’s certainly one possibility, but there are other possibilities too numerous to mention.

Paul KieferJr

One of two PBS programs about 20 or 30 years ago, presented by James Burke: “Connections” or “The Day the Universe Changed”. An episode of that series showed what could happen if we ran out of energy and how we must adapt to survive that possibility. The episode showed just how much we relied on energy and the technology that uses that energy…and how screwed we just might be if we relied too much on technology.

MichaelB

Is Formula 1 supposed to be innovating or innovative? Which is more important and a bigger piece of what Formula 1 is – to be entertaining or to push the boundaries of what is possible in autosport? Call me what you want, but I believe that F1 is supposed to be innovative. I believe that the sport should be pushing the boundaries, and when it truly is, it’s also entertaining. What I don’t like are the restrictions and limitations that are put in place to “increase the show.” I don’t like the artificial constructs that limit performance, and limit innovation.… Read more »

Mario Rodriguez Fernandez

Technology is not killing the F1, in my opinion telemetry is killing the F1. all the teams try to eliminate the DNF for their team and gather a lot of data and then give the pilot instructions to preserve their car. by running a diferent option or program in teh car of simply by not attacking the pilot on front. if a race drive doesn’t know about the fuel the heat on the brakes etc etc etc he wll go 100% all the time maybe some cars will DNF but thats racing

jakobusvdl

No

PaulR

It all depends on you point of view. Reality is F1 has always been a team sport and these days we have hundreds of engineers and other specialist working together to produce these amazing machines. The driver is still the single most important element, but i don’t see what the fuss is about an engineering team working with a driver in real time to extract the maximum performance out of a car. The driver still has to operate the controls and their job is not necessarily made easier by having so much interaction with the pit wall – remember ‘don’t… Read more »

geeyore

I guess you might ask if the current direction of F1 hyper-engineering is inherently interesting. Is there a compelling human element? Are the cars awesome to fans *who are in the grandstands*? Are the drivers warriors, and can they control the performance of the car in a competitive manner? Do the extravagant engineering budgets result in anything as awesome as a Bugatti Veyron or Le Mans or Dakar or even MotoGP? Does any *current* F1 team inspire human interest films like 1: The Movie or Truth In 24 or Rush? Unfortunately F1 is now coming up short on many of… Read more »

FryDaddy

I may be missing something, but a cursory read of Article 8 of the technical regulations doesn’t show any limits on information provided to the driver as long as it stays within the car. Once it goes to the PIT, then it can’t go back to the car. So is there anything stopping a team from developing a very advanced HMI tool that harvests the data to deliver better information for the driver to use?

jiji the cat

short answer: yes.
Long answer: no.

It really comes down to how its regulated and administered.sad thing is that the FIA are always playing catch up and very slow to react.

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