What F1 owes society, Todt’s crusade

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Things may look set to change in Formula1 by 2017 but that isn’t to say that they will completely change. The hybrid engine will still be a large part of the format if FIA president Jean Todt has anything to say about the matter—and he does.

Reading a recent article by Brad Spurgeon over at the NYT, I was intrigued by Todt’s bullishness over the new engine format given the scathing criticism it has received.

“I feel it is one of the few sensible decisions which has been taken over the last period,” he said. “Formula One is the pinnacle of motor sport, so we must be an example to society. It is not all happening in a kind of closed golden-gated community where nothing is happening on the other side of the world.”

It has always been Todt’s contention that F1 owes something to society. It has to be an example to society, it seems, and perhaps my thinking is simply antiquated. You see, I feel F1 does owe something to the world—a fun and entertaining racing series in which teams build the best cars they can to race each other with the best drivers in the world. As I said, that’s Pollyanna these days I guess when everything has to be attached to an ideology whether it be financially motivated, technologically motivated or simply an element of social justice.

I don’t envy Todt in that safety, competitive racing, technology, sponsor as well as supplier appeal is all part of the juggling act and along with F1 commercial rights holder, CVC Capital, the three-ring circus is a tough show to run. It’s not my circus, not my monkeys but in the end it is my passion and perhaps there really is no place for old men like me who see F1 not as a greenwash opportunity to set examples for society but rather a racing series that celebrates the human endeavor to race.

Surely the second person with a wheel challenged the first person and his wheel to a race down a hill? As much as we’d like to think that humanity has evolved into a state of euphoric sensibilities based upon higher causes, this old man does not believe that human nature had an expiration date that ended in the early 2,000’s. Human nature has not changed no matter how much we want to believe it has when it comes to F1.

Money, technology, sponsors and the desire to beat the other guy are all present. There is little difference in Ascari’s desire to pummel his competition from Senna’s or Hamilton’s. There is little difference from Chapman’s innovation away from space frame’s to Murray’s sensibilities to Newey’s genius. There is little difference between Gold Leaf’s desire to capitalize on F1’s appeal by using Jochen Rindt’s sidepod from Martini to UPS.

The amount of money and level of technology may have changed but the human nature has not. So what does F1 owe society? What major shift is so gravitationally epic that the entire series has to ignore human nature as it has always been in order to now set an example? An example of what?

With Caterham and HRT now gone and Manor GP saved as one escaping through the flames, I can say that it is good news to know that Haas F1 is rolling the dice to enter F1 in 2016. This is at a time when even Sauber, Force India and Lotus F1 are in serious difficulty no less. Not to worry, says Todt, because he’s willing to open a tender for more F1 teams:

“I am not happy for Marussia and Caterham and I sympathize for them, but it has always happened,” Todt said.

“But in 2016 we have a new team coming,” he added, referring to the arrival of the Gene Haas team from the United States. “And we may make a tender again for one or two teams to encourage teams. And try to reduce the costs.”

I’m not happy about Caterham and HRT either and the bad news is, the hybrid engine cost may not have stopped its serial killing yet. We may still need Linden and Holder for this case.

Todt’s idea that “it has always happened” should be a precursor to accepting that teams come and go—and they do. It also should be a small insight to the historic precedent and science that prevails and how human nature doesn’t change.

The idea now is to continue with hybrid engines and “try” to reduce the costs. Perhaps F1’s example to society has now moved from being green to being green for less. It’s the thrifty F1 and who isn’t for saving the earth while saving money?

The article says that the new engines have been “criticized by some within Formula One and by some fans for losing sight of what they see as the series’s loud, powerful, macho, gas-guzzling essence” but that isn’t at all how I see it. Not by a long shot.

This isn’t about gas-guzzling, macho adolescent dreams. I think we’re all adults here. It’s about the simple elegance and beauty of human nature combined with machine that appeals. The bravery and otherworldly skills it takes to build a car and drive a car and sponsor a car to win.

The feeling Lewis Hamilton has in his stomach when the fifth light illuminates just moments before the start of a race is the exact same feeling that Fangio, Clark, Nuvolari, Senna, Mansell, Surtees, Moss, Hill, Rindt, Gregory, Peterson, Hakkinen, Schumacher, and Alonso feels—the exact same, there is no difference despite over 80 years between some of them.

That is what F1 owes society. It owes it to society to be honest with itself and place the human above the engine, chassis, dollar and algorithm because as much as these elements may have changed, the human hasn’t. This is not one man’s cause, it is simply one cause’s man.

There is no justice to be delivered to society through F1 rather entertainment and if there is any example for billions of people, it should be that humans can achieve great engineering achievements, sure, but in the end game, we are much more capable of achieving great trials of our own nature that shake our foundations and challenge our spirit in the crucible of competition. The more visceral the event, the more we feel the threat, the challenge, the bravery, the disbelief and the sheer exhilaration of it all. The more we feel…human.

Hat Tip: NYT

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