Since its conceptualisation in the 1950’s and commercial use from 1976 the supersonic aircraft Concorde became synonymous with ground-breaking engineering and innovation which ably progressed human advancement within society. In some cases, like the London to New York City routes, there was the ability to arrive at the destination in a time before you left. All of this was thanks to supersonic travel, a pioneering and tangible use of modern engineering which was lauded as a human triumph, conquering issues with research and solving problems with development. It was an end of an era in 2003 when the flights ceased, due to spiralling costs and aviation industry downturns in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. In this respect, certain parallels can be drawn to Formula One. The sport is the fastest in the world, it is the pinnacle of motor racing, it is pushing boundaries with innovative techniques harnessed toward greater fuel efficiency, however it is coming at a cost. Whilst the chassis, the tyres, the combustion unit, the electronic recovery systems from the turbo and the brakes are truly ground-breaking and impressive, the driving and the racing are not.
The question is, why should Formula One be a trend-setter? There is the suggestion that the regulators need to adhere to the requirements of the world’s motoring manufacturers. They bring the big money and have plenty to sell. However, as we have seen in the past, these big conglomerates tend to abandon ship when the champagne stops spraying. The recent formula was proposed in the wake of the global economic downturn from 2008. People, insecure about their financial or employment positions stopped buying road cars which drove a major rethink at the car industry’s biggest hitters. Renault sold their team, Toyota decided to leave along with compatriots Honda. In a move to incentivise major engine suppliers back into Formula One proposals over a 1.6litre hybrid turbo powered engine unit began, all centred on the road relevance. Manufacturers could research and design prototypes for their new Clio’s, Civic’s, C-Class’s and Aygo’s and place them in the back of an F1 car marketing new technology across the globe. What has happened instead is a very complex unit, barely comprehendible to even the biggest car enthusiasts, which has very little relevance to what is run on the motorways and autobahns of the world. It is much more wise for manufacturers to go into a formula that will at least account for some degree of road relevance, like the World Endurance Championship.
The sport should set a precedence of delivering entertainment from the fastest pilots driving in the fastest cars, lap after lap, not being impinged by an efficiency formula. People sit down in front of their TV on Sunday’s, they go to the racetracks, they travel to other countries in the hope of witnessing a classic race involving the best drivers, the best teams all pushing to the absolute maximum. The public want to see an event, an experience. Sport is most often objectified as an escapism. People fill the stands at a football ground, they play tennis with their friends, they fish by a river, watch F1 on TV all to get away from the realities wrought by working life, more often than not. That’s why polishing a turd of a dull race is never acceptable, people in today’s modern world need to be entertained, and there are so many other forms of activity which can provide more amusement than a race like the one seen in Montreal last weekend. The current efficiency drives are undermining the sport, the engineers, the public and most of all the victories and championships won by the drivers. It is incredibly hard to suggest that Lewis Hamilton gets the same satisfaction from being victorious in a one or two-horse race. It would matter more to him, and make his victories more credible in the eyes of the public, if he is racing against the best drivers in the world in different teams, all in a never-ending pursuit to get to the finish flag first.
It is not the place of the public to stipulate regulation changes, but some facts are evident. Viewing numbers are down, not necessarily on TV (although there is a worrying downward trend appearing), but in the stands. When talking about the experience, race goers can normally exempt a dull affair so long as they’re rewarded with ambiance, sound. Fans get little bang for their ever-increasing buck these days. A decade ago Formula One was still using V10’s, a fast and deaf-defying engine and even the V8’s, which were introduced from 2016 still required ear plugs. They are long gone now, there are many who call such engines archaic. But the new power units are comprehensively quieter and more expensive. It doesn’t have to be that way, what would be wrong in allowing teams to run a V10 engine or placing a hybrid unit onto a V8? The complex innovative nature would still be apparent but the racing cars themselves will still be capable of pushing to the absolute edge, leaning on the chassis and pushing the edge of adhesion to the race track lap after lap. The current V6’s are nurtured not just to preserve energy life and fuel efficiency, but also a fear of breakage. Gone are the days when ‘doughnuting’ was second nature after arriving at the chequered flag first, it has been replaced by a highly sensitive unit which must be cherished with care back safely to the team garage.
V10 engines were taken away from the sport primarily in fear that the circuits could no longer be suitably raced on with the increasing speeds offered from such a high powered engine unit. It may be necessary in this case then to raise the car one inch or more, this way the car will not be as planted to the ground in the dry and will at least make running in wet conditions more feasible. Previous wet races like the 1989 Adelaide and Fuji 2007 Grands Prix would almost certainly never be run today. Modern Formula One cars are hardly capable of running in slightly inclement conditions on intermediate tyres.
The arrival of a seventeen year old to the 2015 grid, and the subsequent ease at which he is driving the car shows that the sport no longer tests the drivers physically in the way it did a decade, or even half a decade ago and is something that many experienced racers have confessed to of late. It may be put down the ever-growing need to ‘lift-and-coast’, when drivers come off the accelerator before a braking point to conserve fuel and brake components and materials. The cars are no longer capable of high speed cornering thanks to the tethering techniques of a smaller combustion unit. Perhaps a re-introduction of power steering may be possible, give the drivers what they want. It would not be so costly or impossible to incorporate it within a chassis and would only offer the benefits of seeing athletes on top of their physical game for one and half hours on a Sunday afternoon.
There are a lot of radical regulation changes being bandied about in and around the Formula One paddock. But is F1 really in such dire straits that it needs to be redesigning cars and introducing refuelling? “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” springs to mind. It is clear that certain small aspects of the sport are a little broken but it doesn’t require a whole redesign, this is very much the appropriate time to paper over the cracks. Some techniques can be brought forward from the past. Costs will decrease, audiences won’t be mystified by ERS-H and ERS-K processes. Concorde is missed. The capability to build such an outstanding piece of machinery is akin to putting the man on the moon, supersonic travel has never truly been superseded and is rarely forgotten about. Formula One, like Concorde, can garner public interest by pushing humans, F1 drivers to the boundaries in the world’s fastest cars developed and designed to the edge by engineering geniuses. It is perhaps time for the sport of Formula One to head back to the future.