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Oh, Brave New Formula One – the Future

Before I get started on this, let me just offer congratulations to the British driver who has at last achieved what he set out to do six years ago: Anthony Davidson has secured the second seat in the Super Aguri race team for 2007. May success meet his efforts after so long a period of waiting. Autosport magazine has an excellent article on him and other British drivers. Looking further ahead than next season, however, there is news that should concern every F1 fan.

Davidson

Anthony Davidson serving out his time for Honda

Fittingly enough in a new century, Formula One is currently at a hinge point between the past and the future. We are about to see changes that will force the evolution of the sport into an entirely different animal from the one we know and love so well. This is made very clear by a question and answer session with Max Mosley (FIA) and Burkhard Goeschel (GPMA) reported by Autosport.

This is a comprehensive overview of the coming directions in F1, an extremely long session in which the combined vision of the FIA and GPMA becomes clear. There is much food for thought in what Max and Burkhard say and anyone passionate about F1 should read it. This is where the sport is going, whether we like it or not (and regardless of any fan surveys conducted by the FIA).

I am not going to jump in and comment extensively on the session. So much is made clear in it that time is needed for us to absorb the implications of the changes that will be made; indeed, there is enough here to keep discussion going for the entire off season. No doubt I will return to consider points made as the weeks and months drag on towards the first race of 2007.

Notice, however, how the multitude of conflicting influences and interests involved in F1 have forced the FIA to make such fundamental changes. Their job is not easy, particularly as they are entrusted with the survival and prosperity of a sport that involves the passions of millions. If I criticize the governing body or the manufacturers, it is only because I care about what will happen to F1 in the brave new world of tomorrow.

Of course I don’t like some of the directions taken by the FIA and GPMA – I have already admitted to being a dinosaur. But F1 is nothing without its history and that should always be taken into account when thinking of its future. We watch because F1 unites two of the strongest impulses in mankind: the drive towards being the fastest human on the planet and our fascination with improvements in technology. Lose either of these and F1 will sink without trace.

It seems to me that F1 is about to metamorphose into something entirely different. If that is true, it remains to be seen whether it can keep its appeal to the huge audience it holds at present. At this stage, I would give just one warning to the FIA: consider the States and the rise of NASCAR, with the corresponding decrease in interest in the open wheel formulae of Champ Cars and Indy Racing (inevitable once you divide your fan base into two). NASCAR uses cars that at least look like Joe Soap’s saloon sitting in his driveway – he can fondly imagine that there is some relationship between his chosen model and the cars on the racetrack. And this, surely, is the type of racing where advances in technology can be relevant to the cars we drive every day.

Formula One is something different; it has never pretended to be about developing road technology – it is about going faster than anyone else. There have been side effects upon the design of road cars in the past but these are incidental and irrelevant to the sport. To make F1 relevant to modern car design is to alter radically the whole point of the sport; we make such changes at the peril of its survival.

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