What’s Going On In F1?

Posted: August 7, 2011 in Cars
Tags: ,

I love Formula One. I mean I really love it, to the point where it’s been commented on more than once, as I’ve walked into work on a Monday morning, all bleary eyed due to staying up all hours watching the latest race. I find it deeply satisfying that we, as in Australia, also have our own official round of the FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile) Formula One World Championship. Unlike my editors at The King’s Tribune, I can’t think of a better way for our State Government to spend $50-odd million of taxpayers money, if indeed that is the actual figure.

What I find perplexing about this though, more than the actual amount, is that the Australian Grand Prix is wholly funded by the Victorian State Government. Other Grand Prix around the world are funded at a Federal level and used as a marketing tool for that particular country’s tourism industry. This may be a solution for further down the track as hosting a round of the World Championship becomes even more expensive. It may also lead to a ‘sharing’ concept with different cities in Australia taking their turn to host the round. For this to work though Australian State Governments will have to adopt a ‘whole Australia’ concept rather than the State V. State outlook they currently have.

There is also the issue of where to race as Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit is currently the only FIA approved track within Australia and the development of race tracks is an immensely expensive proposition. The idea of Formula One cars racing their way around Bathurst’s Mount Panorama is the stuff of dreams but I’m not entirely sure it’s a dream that’s viable. Transport to and from that particular circuit is probably the biggest hurdle to overcome. But where there is a will there is a way and Jenson Button driving his McLaren, ‘over the hill’, could only be a good thing, as far as pushing that particular barrow goes.

This is not the point I want to make today though. I am also not going to give you any overview into the season thus far as there are other websites and blog’s where you can gain that information. What I would like to do is highlight some issues that have been bugging me about Formula One for some time.

I have been watching Formula One for many years, knee high to grasshoppers and all that. In that time I have witnessed many changes to my beloved sport. The turbo era came and went, ideas such as sliding skirts, ground effect and increasingly exotic materials, most of which have now been banned, were also introduced. The late 1980’s and early 90’s, were particularly exciting as the cars of this time had active everything and the lap times tumbled.

Falling lap times were an issue for the ruling body as not only did this mean that races, 300 km long, were been completed more quickly, meaning fans were seeing less of the cars they’d come to see, but the cars were travelling faster and faster and driver safety became a concern. So turbocharging went, sliding skirts were outlawed and active suspension and braking was banned. Exotic materials, such as Beryllium, are no longer allowed in engine manufacture and the track width of cars was reduced, supposedly to improve overtaking.

So the FIA made rules and regulations to try and slow the cars down. Every year new laws come into effect which all are supposed to improve the ‘show’. For instance, qualifying has changed its format approximately 4 times in the last ten years. As a result of all this rule changing the cars are just about as fast as they’ve ever been. The FIA have also been particularly interested in lowering the cost of Formula 1. The reason for this is to make entering F1 cheaper and therefore more encouraging to other teams.

The cost of F1 is prohibitive. Every year, over $2 billion is spent taking the ‘show’ around the globe and that, as they say, is real money. But, as it currently stands the new teams that have come into Formula 1, Virgin, Lotus, HRT, have probably done more to hamper F1 then help it on its way. This may change along the way but it will only come when those particular teams start spending more money. There are signs at Virgin and Lotus that good things are to come but they are a long way, years and years, from winning races.

I have a problem with all of this. Formula 1 is supposed to be expensive. It’s supposed to be an exhibition of technology and driving skill. At the moment we have long life engines that have to last four or five races each. Gearboxes are now supposed to last something like eight races each. It used to be that these parts were pulled out and stripped down after every session. Finish a practice session, pull the engine and gearbox out of the car and replace it with a brand new combination. Qualifying soon, well pull the practice engine out and put in the qualifying one that revs well over 20,000 RPM.

Formula 1 used to be the technological pinnacle of motor sports. There are many road car technologies that came from F1. Active suspension came from F1, carbon brakes came from F1, semi-automatic gearboxes came from F1. It’s not really the case any longer. F1 has borrowed KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) from road cars. While I agree that KERS is an important and worthwhile technology I don’t really think Formula 1 is the correct forum for it. Every year the maximum RPM an engine can achieve has been made lower and lower. From over 20,000 RPM it’s dropped to 19,000, then 18,000. From 2014 we go from 2.4l V8 engines to 1.6l V6’s with a top RPM of 14,000. Please, can someone stop the madness.

What I don’t understand is that the FIA are all about saving costs. Nothing could be more expensive than developing a new engine and making it reliable enough to not only last one 300 km race, but four 300 km races. This is not Formula 1 as I knew it growing up. We are no longer watching cars that have been designed to wring the very last drop of performance out of their respective packages. More often than not, due to refueling no longer being allowed, we are watching giant economy runs where the drivers are been ordered to turn down the ‘wick’ and not race each other. All to ensure that no extra damage is done to the engine so that it can be used next race.

More often than not we know what the result is going to be after the final pit stop as the guys worry about the next race and look after their equipment. I just want to see racing again, right to the chequered flag. I just want to see drivers drive without worrying about their fuel level or their tyres. I just want my Formula One back.

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