As time moves onward and governments clamp down on combating climate change the debate over the Formula of Formula 1 will become more divisive as the manufacturers tied to the sport each clamor for different things. Let’s break down the debate so we as fans can start to agree on what we want from the future Formula 1.
F1 is in a Mexican-standoff with marketing, engineering, and entertainment all vying for control of the sport; the key is to make these three work together, but such a thing is proving difficult as of late.
Formula 1 team budgets come from sponsors advertising adorning every inch (or not every inch if you’re Manor...) of carbon bodywork on an F1 chassis as well as prize funds for finishing position in the Constructors’ Championship, the latter earned subsequently by more trackside advertising and television deals.
However, if you want to spend big money in F1, and have the best shot of a Championship, you’d best get a title sponsor, specifically one in the automotive industry. Since tobacco left F1, the only major sponsor to help win a title has been Red Bull, with Infiniti hopping onboard later.
Sponsors need to show their accountants that the money spent in F1 is bringing in sales elsewhere; not something easily done if your products aren’t somehow related to the sport.
For automotive manufacturers the debate is relatively easy, yet revealing more difficult since the recession if you don’t produce a screaming supercar harking back to motorsport.
There are four engine manufacturers now in Formula 1: Ferrari, Mercedes, Renault, and Honda; the latter three suggesting disinterest in supplying F1 back when the 2.4 liter V8s howled past 18,000 rpm and blew exhaust off-throttle as they did not show their marketing accountants those two little words: road relevance.
If Ferrari had their way, Formula 1 would be chock full of normally aspirated V12s, as that is what Ferrari sells (Ignoring the new 488’s quest to reduce the brand’s overall fuel consumption). If Renault and Honda had their way, the power units might have lost 2 more cylinders and perhaps beefed-up the energy recovery systems nearer to some of the runners in WEC.
And really that’s what its all about: road relevance; for Ferrari that’s ear-splitting V12s, for Renault and Honda it’s small-capacity, efficient power units, and for Mercedes possibly turbocharged V8s.
The debate over whether F1 should be an Engineer’s plaything or a Racer’s competitive dream was ignited full-bore somewhere around when Michael Schumacher started his reign and every race became a procession behind the German. Is this even a race?
“The sanctity of the sport is ruined!” claimed some when the “artificial” Drag Reduction System (DRS) was introduced a few years ago to aid passing in an era when the over-chassis aerodynamic efficiency of a car would be ruined simply by following too close to the car ahead.
However, what really raised the pitchforks was the effect this lack of aero efficiency had on the new Pirelli tires the Italian constructor was asked to make; follow too closely for more than a lap or so and your tires will be ruined as the front wing won’t be able to push down on the front tires and keep them at proper temperature.
...And that, in a nutshell, is the wormhole you get when a confusing array of government bodies try and negotiate over a set of rules in a sport where teams will do anything they can to increase speed.
Formula 1 is supposed to be about the highest technological chassis, the fastest-lapping cars, and the top tier drivers all racing competitively around the most challenging circuits.
But how does one have every driver on the grid stand a chance while also pushing the technological engineering of the chassis? One team is bound to come out on top, be that though sponsors raining money over the designers’ heads (2014 Mercedes) or a team finding a clever loophole (Brawn 2009) or exploitable area of the car (Red Bull 2010-2013), regardless of driver (Alonso at Ferrari).
And how does anyone learn anything worth taking back to the consumer sector when the rules are so tightly squeezed where every car looks and operates the same (of course your average F1 fan will disagree to some extent with this statement). What can the two biggest F1 teams, McLaren and Ferrari, bring back to their road car division to make customers feel like their driving a piece of their F1 spectacle?
As Bernie Ecclestone will always remind us, Formula 1 exists to entertain its audience. While I do like the current turbo V6’s brutal torque and its dynamic change to the way F1 cars drive, I miss the screaming 18,000 rpm V8s and 20,000 rpm V10s of the past; anyone who says they don’t is a liar.
And hopefully we might see something like that back and a close to F1’s second turbo era and the 100kg fuel limit, of course taking place to improve efficiency rather than speed like the 1st era.
In an interview with Sky Sports, Bernie Ecclestone reveals his dastardly plan to curb the idea that the sport doesn’t cohere or promote efficiency in light of the fight against climate change.
We’ve overcome that problem because to give that message to the world we’ve got this Formula E that doesn’t use fuel, so that will save the world for sure, so we can get back to show business again.
Who says we can’t support all of these? Work is on the way with the 2017 regulations of wider cars with wider wheels, bigger diffusers to aid close following, and louder engines to improve the show. There is no guarantee these changes will work until the 2017 season is over, but they do taste a bit sweeter than the current regulations while still supporting the engine manufacturers’ road relevance interest, thereby keeping automotive sponsorship.
The images used in this post are the terrific visions of Andries van Overbeeke on what a future F1 car could look like; all support a different ethos, but all look appealing in their own ways.
However, you’re the fan who pays money to watch F1, turn on your TV, or go to a race, all in brash exposure to the advertisers who pay to keep F1 alive. What do you want to see F1 become?