Formula 1 Insight

Musing on the Future
There are times when F1 watchers are double-minded. On the one hand, everyone waits with bated breath to see whose car Alonso will be driving in 2008, showing that we still believe that the driver can make a big difference. But on the other, we downplay Hamilton's performance in his first season by saying that any rookie would have done the same with such excellent equipment, in effect meaning that it's the car, not the driver, that wins races.

Sterling Moss
The man who could - Sterling Moss, Monaco, 1961
Image courtesy of Rob Ijbema

The truth is that it's a mixture of both, of course, just as it has always been. And so there is some truth in the belief that a driver like Alonso will bring an extra measure of speed to a team but, if you put him in a Spyker, for instance, he would do little better than Sutil managed this year. And, no matter how good the car, a second rate driver will never win races in it - stand up Hector Rebaque, Alex Yoong and any number of other examples over the years.

This has to be a sign that there is life in F1 yet. We may lament the fact that the rules have decreased the driver's importance to almost microscopic dimensions, but there is no doubt that he remains a factor in the formula for success. As the regulations turn once again to limiting the use of electronic aids in the sport, the hope is that the balance will be restored and winning races will become at least a little less dependent on the name of the car being driven.

Much faith is vested in the ban on traction control in this quest to return the driver to his former status as a major component of success. Just as the switch to Bridgestone tires gave some drivers more problems than others this year, the lack of TC could favor those who are able to adjust their style quickly. Putting it in perspective, however, this change is a very minor part of all that needs to be done to balance the contributions of driver and car again. Not until aerodynamics is severely limited will we return to the days when a driver could overcome deficiencies in the car to the extent of winning races.

But at least we seem to be on the right track again. News of the possible return of slick tires is another step forward (or back!), while the fading of interest in such things as the "press to pass button" also gives us hope. It may seem ironic that, while the sport explodes into a fury of sound and heat over such matters as industrial espionage, energy conservation and the shift of circuits from Europe to Asia, on the track things seem to be improving.

My fear is that this is merely an accidental and brief turn for the better. The changes we welcome are accompanied by the threat of others that will negate whatever sensible measures are taken. This is a fair reflection of the muddled and contradictory aims of the governing body, which is only to be expected from an organization that has so many opposing forces to reconcile. Putting it at its kindest, their proposals for limiting the effect of aerodynamics are insufficient to make any real difference.

It is strange but true that much of this is the result of having working groups composed of those who know most about the subject to be considered. Naturally, we think that the experts ought to be able to come up with a workable solution to the problems confronting F1. But this ignores the fact that there are vested interests involved. Engineers who have become used to getting the utmost from aerodynamic effects will recoil from the radical measures needed to effectively limit those effects; they will tinker around the edges, never looking at such revolutionary suggestions as getting rid of wings.

Consider the changes that we expect to make the most difference in improving the racing. Are they not the measures that F1 fans have been advocating for years? And is this not a case where it is the non-experts who can see what the wise and great are too specialized to understand?

The fans are F1's market and, ultimately, it is the market that decides the success or otherwise of any product. The performers may study and strain at the details until they're blue in the face but, if we don't like the product, we won't buy it. Perhaps the most incredible thing is that we are still buying it, even though we can all see how badly it is flawed.

I can only presume that it is hope that keeps us going. Every year we find reasons to expect that next year will be better; we are the eternal optimists. And of course I include myself in that category - I too hope that 2008 will be a classic year undisturbed by acrimonious dispute and filled with glorious and hard-fought races.

My cynical side sneers and points out how often we have been disappointed in the past. But, in the end, it is a case of we'll see when we get there; the proof of the pudding is in the eating.


As you well know, Clive, I'm for anything that brings the driver more to the forefront of the equation. My question is: Where does one draw the line on thechnology? After all, F1 should be a leader in, and test-bed for, the latest automotive technology. It's a bit of a Gordian Knot, I think.
Date Added: 22/11/2007

Steven Roy
There is no doubt about it we are complex and confused people.

I agree with everything you said. We can only hope that whoever replaces Max has a radically different set of priorities. Then we may get overtaking again.
Date Added: 22/11/2007

Ah, drawing the line is where we always start to argue, isn't it, Don? Everyone has their idea of what F1 should be, how much of each constituent should be encouraged, and what makes great racing. It's an area where compromise is inevitable, I think, and I don't like the present situation where drawing the line is in the hands of one man, and that man one who appears not to listen to anyone else.

F1 has to be technically advanced, I agree, but there are always limits on how far it should go. Notice that maximum speeds have not increased for more than thirty years. We could easily make the cars go faster in a straight line but it's not practicable or necessary to do so since they also have to go around corners. My argument on aerodynamics is that we have already learned as much as and more than we are ever likely to need in motor racing - so let's stop spending millions on infinitesimal advances in that area and put the money into making the suspension and chassis better.

I don't agree that F1 should be a test bed for the manufacturers to try out new ideas for road cars. Advances in technology in F1 have always filtered through to car design but F1 should never take note of whether a technical innovation is relevant to road cars. F1 design is all about getting a car to go quicker around a track than the competition and many of the advances made will be impractical for road cars. So be it. It's about racing, not about making runabouts for Mrs Mopp.
Date Added: 22/11/2007

And there is the rub, Steven - getting rid of Max (my favorite subject!).
Date Added: 22/11/2007

"My fear is that this is merely an accidental and brief turn for the better. The changes we welcome are accompanied by the threat of others that will negate whatever sensible measures are taken."

You're worrying about Stability Control then? Mario Theissen likes that a lot...
Date Added: 23/11/2007

Stability Control amongst others, Keith. This business of energy reclamation for instance - they want to make it available to the driver to allow easier overtaking. Isn't that just a "push-to-pass" button? Maybe we could have arguments over whether Kimi or Lewis pushes the button more elegantly. Hardly in the spirit of motor sport, is it?

Mario is a great guy but even he gets things wrong sometimes. ;)
Date Added: 23/11/2007

Björn Svensson
You may correct me, but i can't remember ever hearing Bernie saying that F1 should be the pinnacle of technical development.

As i recall he has always said that F1 should be the pinnacle of motorsport, and that does not include it being as computerized as possible, at least not the way i look at it. It doe's not even tells me that it should have the cars with the most downforce.

It just tells me that F1 should be the sport where you will find the best racing. That's it.

But that's evidently not the fact these days, looking at how the news sound and the talking on Formula One -bloggs sound. Almost everyone says that F1 needs to get more exciting. The racing needs much more battle.
Now a days the battle is taking place in the boardrooms of FIA and in the newspapers, where the teams compete in who can throw the most crap on its competitors.

So, if Max and Bernie really wants to make better racing, and increase their incomes, (i don't doubt they want) they should make sure that the spectators get the best value out of the races, and not go there just to see some really big commercial signs.
Date Added: 29/11/2007

You're absolutely correct, Björn, that there is nothing official to say that F1 must be the most technically advanced of motor sports. I think that's a perception that has grown up over the years because, from a very early stage, it was. We expect it now and so repeat the mantra, "the pinnacle of motor sport", including the technology with the definition.

The reason there is so much complaint about the quality of the racing is because technology has become far too important, making all the difference between a winning car and an also-ran, regardless of who happens to be driving it. And, having recognised that fact, our only remaining problem is: how do we decrease the influence of technology (while preserving the drive to be technologically the best) and increase driver importance?

And that, of course, is the $64,000 question...
Date Added: 29/11/2007

Björn Svensson
I don't see why we at all should "preserving the drive to be technologically the best".

All sports ar spectator sports. Without any spectators, there wont be a sport. This is a line i have held up before.

To keep F1 interresting to the onlookers you just have to place the best drivers in there, and make sure that the cars are capable of producing fast times around a track. And since F1 also is called "open wheel racing", there also have to be rules regulating the bodywork. And to keep it exciting there should also be a couple of rules to limit the use of wings and driveraids.

But to limit the sport from developing, in the way FIA has done in the last years, that is just damaging the sport. So, i think, as i have said before. Keep the essential rules, and throw the rest in the bin.
Date Added: 29/11/2007

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