Why the Canadian GP backlash? I’ll tell you why

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The immediate backlash on social media and in the press regarding the Canadian Grand Prix was centered on the fuel-saving and driver coaching Lewis Hamilton performed and received during the race. Fans tweeting their distaste and confusion over why that type of radio coaching—having been banned by the FIA—was not punished to F1 pundits such as David Coulthard and Mark Hughes pointing out a sad reality.

The fact is, the fuel-flow and lift and coast footprint on Formula 1 is becoming the 800-pound gorilla in the room. When world-class drivers such as Fernando Alonso suggest that driving a current F1 car is more like systems management than actual driving, there is a bit of a non sequitur for not only the drivers but the fans as it does manifest itself tangibly on TV.

I often consider Indycar as a loose litmus test in that their fans are not raging against the series because it isn’t hybrid electric power or it uses too much fuel. There may be other issues with the series, sure, but those two elements aren’t the most prescient in the online debates.

For F1, it followed trend and bought the entire sales presentation from Renault and Mercedes about social responsibility, eco-friendly technologies, and green ideology. Has it paid dividends? It doesn’t seem like it judging by the backlash over a race that typically produces some exciting racing on an island in the St. Lawrence river near Montreal.

Refueling need not apply

Fans were miffed when the suggestion of refueling became a possible interloper to the F1 Strategy Group’s consideration on how to improve the “show” for 2017. They argued safety and costs and you could afford them some room to opine on both accounts but surely short-filling Lewis Hamilton for the race with 95kgs of fuel versus 100kgs banking on a safety car period—which has happened in 11 of the last 17 races there—has the same effect as refueling just manifest in a lift and coast activity.

Short-filling for the race and refueling during pit stops may have produced a barnburner of a race where Hamilton would have ran flat out as his teammate hounded his tail all the way through 70+laps…possibly. As it was, Hamilton engaged a lift and coast management of his car while Nico Rosberg managed a mounting brake issue for most of the race—hence Alonso’s comment about systems management.

Innovation vs aberration

It may have been the intent of Mercedes to develop technology and systems in the crucible of Formula 1 and who can blame them? Innovating new hybrid technologies under the punishing heat of F1 seems like a noble cause by anyone’s measure but has its quest for innovation and social responsibility created an aberration in racing that is bankrupting teams with all but the most robust of balance sheets? How can any system sustain such a punishing expense structure that has an afterglow of noiseless lift and coast system management racing?

I certainly appreciate fans who try to draw direct parallels to the halcyon days of F1 racing when car sympathy was a part of the race but I’ll have to disagree with those inferences as the scope and overall impact on the racing is a galaxy away from what we have today.

Having car sympathy and spinning due to software hybrid mapping is not the same. Nor is backing off the pace due to overheating brakes and experiencing brake failure due to an MGU-K issue—as under-sized brake calipers and discs, woefully not up for the task, simply give up the ghost.

Then vs now

Saving fuel now requires lifting and coasting, which changes how drivers approach corners, which, last time I checked, was the true essence of F1. Back in the days of refueling, drivers may short-fill their cars to be quicker and when in danger of running low on fuel, they would short-shift meaning they would change gears before reaching maximum revs.

The impact on the racing between those two fuel management strategies is markedly different and quite honestly, negatively so in today’s strategy.

If saving one or two thirds fuel today is an amazing feat—and it is—then kudos to the engineers but context is king here—from 4mpg to 6 or 7mpg during a race of approximately 185-ish miles. Moving from 46 gallons down to 30 gallons for the race. Maybe 6,400 gallons saved per year?

The jet they use to ship the Formula 1 series to a race uses 5 gallons of fuel per mile, not miles per gallon. Context is king.

Road cars relevancy

I understand that the knock-on effect is that Mercedes and Renault may build better hybrids via F1 and therefore have better power units for their road cars and therefore save fuel in the real world. I’m not buying that hook, line and sinker.

Their road car divisions are stuffed with brilliant people and the road car division had to help the F1 division build their hybrid, not the other way around. Sorry, that dog don’t hunt for me folks. Road car engineers are some of the best in the world and I won’t marginalize them by suggesting that only F1 engineers can do it right. They’re awesome, no doubt, but so are road car engineers.

End Game

In the end, F1 has to make changes for 2017 if it wishes to survive and I believe F1 owes one thing to the world, great racing and awesome cars. Whether that is V8, V10, V6 hybrid turbos or whatever. There’s very little I love more than F1 and it needs to right itself.

Extremes are the measure of the day for F1 and yes danger comes with that but this is F1 and if you are going to throw the halcyon days at us over car sympathy, then you had better know that it is an extreme form of racing with danger as its co-pilot as it always has been. We should do all we can to mitigate that danger but it will always be there. Difficult to manage in cars that are difficult to drive…not manage.

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miniguy

I agree wholeheartedly with the article, but what the heck is “car sympathy”?

Negative Camber

Ah, having to nurse tires, gearbox, fuel, brakes. Having sympathy for the components during the race. how to drive the race and mange your components. Sorry for the slang.

MIE

See Stirling Moss in Argentina in 1958. His Cooper did not have knock off wheels, so he knew a pit stop to change tyres would take far too long. As a result he drove the entire race looking after the tyres, even driving on the grass at some points to reduce the temperature. By the time his rivals realised that he wouldn’t be stopping, his lead was too big for them to catch. Cars were much more fragile in those days, so driving with mechanical sympathy was an important skill. Moss finished the race with the tyres through to the… Read more »

TVS59

It’s not really a question of mechanical sympathy on the driver’s part. Moss’ situation in 1958 was an anomaly which is not really the issue today. What we see now is different completely – with every team starting every race intentionally with a lame car that has to be babied to make it the distance. Not to mention the fundamental difference between Moss, making his way through a race with a strategy (which he worked out in different ways on his own as the race progressed) and someone today being coached minute-by-minute as to how to drive the car to… Read more »

yoshif8tures

Great post as always Todd, and yes I do agree with you. Modern F1 has lost touch with the fanbase, and are making pathetic attempts to achieve this. Mercedes are running away with at the championship again but it’s more Lewis this year than Nico, and that’s a huge disappointment. Renault have gone backwards and redbull are constantly threatening to quit. Don’t get me started on McLaren and their two world champions. Marussia should quit or another team should make them a full on customer car, frankly they look pathetic. The tracks are awful and Canada was ruined by DRS,… Read more »

92gsr

The real issue is money. They limited testing because it was too expensive. They limit engine upgrades because they are too expensive. How can they improve the current technology under these conditions? Basically you have to build it right first because your hands will be tied once things start. In the past there were many many poor performers that were refined into winners. With the current rules the first turbo era would have never happened. Too many blown engines and nowhere near enough testing. Personally I think there should be spending caps for each area of car building and staffing.… Read more »

Sarantis Apostolidis

Sorry mate but holding back the sport because some might cannot afford it is hilarious. If you can’t pay the costs go carting. Really they have a problem for the cost of fuel but the cost of tires is smaller. Why are they obliged to use two different tire rubbers, when especially the option usually wear off faster. It’s cheaper to use 20 liters of fuel more that to use one more set of these tires but nobody say no. As for ecology you can’t say that the construction – use – recycling (if they recycle them) of a tire… Read more »

92gsr

The top teams are spending over $300M each season. That is a ridiculous amount of money. If the bottom teams are spending $50M+ to look like amateurs, how do you expect a team to generate enough money to be competitive? As far as fuel costs go, it’s free. That’s why Ferrari has a big Shell on it, Mercedes has a big Petronas on it, and so on and so forth. Also tires are bought at a flat rate each season so there’s not much there either. I’m not sure you understand the way finances in F1 work. If you really… Read more »

Sarantis Apostolidis

You don’t get what I’m saying. They should not bother in costs that have to do with fuel or tires. It’s an excuse that they don’t refuel due to costs. Also they reduce the spectacle with that. Sorry mate but there are also other races for those who can’t afford these budgets.

mini696

Preach it brother.
Can we get the guys and girls who wrote out the WEC rules to come over to F1 for the next few years? I realise there is a certain amount of domination in that series too, and that it isn’t perfect (if it was it would be more popular than F1 right? But the technology battles make it so interesting to me. That is what I like about F1.

Negative Camber

I’ve been on record saying that I am ok with domination. That happens in motor sport in many different series. Renault, Williams, Ferrari and now Mercedes. One of the issues is the engine freeze, for cost reasons, that prevent closing the gap until the regulations get long int eh tooth and the development reaches its zenith and beyond. Again, back to costs but contextually, F1 has always been expensive but that may not be affordable in this day and age. Tough calls for F1 to make.

Patrick Chapman

And of course let’s not forget the daft grid penalties that are currently being imposed. For teams like Mclaren Honda and Torro Rosso it’s like adding insult to injury. To take the so called pinnacle of motor sport, introduce new technology and then completely stifle the developement on the grounds of cost, well words just escape me. And there are plenty of tracks local to the teams, so let them nominate which track that they are going to use for testing and let them test as much as they can afford. They don’t have to jet all over the world… Read more »

Henk

Again someone who doesn’t understand the fuel flow limit. It doesn’t cause lift and coast it’s just a way to limit the maximum power the engine puts out. Drivers don’t have anything to do with that. The rest of your rant is complete nonsense. You start of with the fuel problem and then drag brake saving in to the frame. Those are completely different. The brakes the teams use are made as light as possible and therefore they will not be able to complete the race without some kind of management. The solution to underfuelling the cars would either be… Read more »

Negative Camber

Thanks. Such decorum and pleasantry. yes, managing fuel does prompt lift & coast. When fuel is an issue during a race, the team tells their driver to lift & coast. In the past, they would short shift. There is a difference. It is tied to the current technology and way the power unit works but regardless, the result is to save fuel, the activity chosen to do so has changed and that has changed the racing. What I find complete nonsense is to engage in a conversation by telling someone what they’ve said is complete nonsense. It’s boorish. I mention… Read more »

92gsr

The reason they can’t short shift now to save fuel is because they are already short shifting. As far as I know no team is hitting 16k regularly.

Negative Camber

If that is the case, and I’m not disagreeing with you on that number, then it once again is an issue of the power unit revving to 15k-ish and not enough power either from the MGU’s or the ICE. Assuming your spot on, then we have not only short-shift but lift & coast too. I’m no engineer and I don’t even pretend to be one after reading the great F1 technical blogs out there. I know when a user experience is starting to suck, though, and where the most likely culprit is. ;)

MIE

The fuel flow limit (which applies above 10.5k rpm) means that there is no extra power available by going to the 15k rev limit. So the fuel flow limit has effectively enforced short shifting, as to rev the engines to the 15k limit would be slower thanks to increased frictional losses. Paul Hembrey (Pirelli) has stated that the cars haven’t developed as much as they were predicting, so the tyres have been put under less stress, making one stop races easy rather than the two or three stops they were aiming for. Personally I think that this is due to… Read more »

Negative Camber

The talk, now, is about making it faster. The F1 strategy group is talking multiple seconds per lap faster. That’s more than just tires. They don’t think it is as fast as it should be.

Chuck Voelter

All at 1/3 of the fuel use from 2013. Pretty remarkable if you ask me. Maybe I didn’t experience the ‘glory days’ of F1 but I guess I’m glad, because when I go to the race now I know I’m still seeing the fastest cars on the planet around that course. Four or five seconds over the course of 3.5 miles? That’s a lot when talking about the difference between first and fifth places (or twentieth) but from year to year can you really tell watching? The term ‘lift and coast’ is misleading, they’re still flying. They should raise the… Read more »

Jadi959

F1 has become abysmal. There is no way the current WDC can actually be considered a champion.

Johnpierre Rivera

great post Todd…..

peter riva

The issue you discuss here is also the future of the sport. F1 wants to remain the premier form of motor racing – the word “motor” is critical there – in Britain cars are motors – what “motor racing” means is racing cars… and cars means the man in the street. That connection to the cars we all drive has a long and not-checkered history. ABS was first developed for planes and then F1, years before it made the average car. So too seat belts, rack and pinion steering, alloy wheels, fuel injection, traction control, regenerative braking, by-wire in cars,… Read more »

geeyore

That is a brilliant and spot on editorial from top to bottom. There’s really nothing more to say.

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