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Max and the Future of F1

There is only one item of news of any importance today but it’s a doozey: Mighty Max Mosley’s proposals for rule changes in 2011. I won’t detail them here as there are plenty of sites that give the whole press release (Pitpass dot com has the best article so far, I think) but essentially, you can look foward to an F1 world of 2.2 liter turbo-diesels with traction control and standardized bodies.

Max

Max Mosley

Before I begin, let me say that I resent being forced into the position of appearing to be an extreme anti-environmentalist. When the lunacies of the greenies begin to affect the sport I love, however, I have no option but to emerge from my preferred stance of keeping my own counsel to call for a brake on this drive back to the caves. Regular readers will have read me on the subject before and I have already had a good rant on the forum I use, but it is not enough; I apologize, but I have to raise my voice once again in the cause of balance and common sense.

Surely every F1 fan must be horrified by Max’s proposals. Already the calls for his resignation are rising from the ranks of those who truly care about the sport. This is not sufficient, however, as there is no guarantee of who would succeed him in that unlikely event; we need to attack this disease at its root, not its effect.

For F1, that root is the surrender of the FIA to the car manufacturers. That results in the two motivating factors behind Max’s brave new world: that F1 must become relevant to the advance of road car technology and that the sport must be seen as being eco-friendly. Both motivations are diametrically opposed to the prime reason for the existence of F1 – fun, entertainment, a sport indeed.

Those involved in F1 do so because we are a competitive species and love to pit our wits and skills against each other – there is no great benefit to humanity in ascertaining who is the fastest, the cleverest or the best; it’s fun and interesting, that’s all. The fans watch because they too are competitive and want to see humanity’s finest competing against each other and to root for their heroes; it is entertainment, no more and no less.

This is what we call sport and, naturally, F1 fans feel that it is the best sport there is. Take away that reason for doing it and suddenly F1 becomes meaningless beyond an extension of the motor industry’s R&D departments. Watching it would be like taking a tour of a car factory – interesting for the technically-minded but deathly boring for anyone who wants to become involved in a competition to see who is the best. It is the human factor that is being excised from F1 and with it will go all reason for watching it.

I have pointed out before that the manufacturers do not need F1 as a test bed – they have plenty of such facilities already. They should recognize that, if they insist on being involved, they are there only to provide the machinery that enables drivers to compete. Somehow F1 must be wrested from the grasp of the manufacturers and placed back in the hands of those who understand that it is a sport and therefore has nothing to do with practical, everyday things – it is about competition between flesh and blood above anything else.

What really galls me about all this is that Max is doing it in lip service to a theory that is fundamentally flawed and exposed several times over as just plain wrong: the idea that mankind is causing the warming of the atmosphere and that this will soon make the planet uninhabitable. This is not the place to enter the debate that rages over the theory; if you are interested, my website, Global Warming Latest is a quick and easy introduction to the arguments against the theory. But anyone as old as I am must surely remember that, before the global warming hysteria, we were subjected to assurances that we were causing the onset of another Ice Age and, before that, we were confidently advised that overpopulation would bring on worldwide famine before the year 2000.

These are fads picked up by politicians and exaggerated for their own nefarious purposes. Even those scientists who think that global warming is taking place admit that it will have no discernible effect on climate for another hundred years at least. There is no mad hurry to reduce society to some sort of hunter/gatherer paradise just yet, even in the worst scenarios imaginable. The haste is caused because the politicians who encourage the hysteria cannot afford to wait a hundred years – they want power now.

And for this mess of potage, Max wants to destroy F1 as a sport. How dare he propose such ridiculous changes to something that belongs to us, the fans who ensure that F1 continues? It is no longer sufficient for us to bow to the diktats of the greenies by some humble admission that we should be more eco-friendly, as is done by those who want to avoid a fight. The fight is upon us and it is time for us to stand up and demand that our sport remain as such.

I know that attempting to get some sense into the minds of the money men who run the FIA has as much hope of success as starting a search for the fountain of youth. But I have to try. If F1 fans do not raise a shout of protest that is heard even in the hallowed corridors of the FIA, we will see our sport reduced to ruins. We stop the rot now or never.

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Night Races?

I love the double-mindedness of F1. On the one hand, we have Mighty Max pontificating about how F1 must become a part of the modern world and get its environment-friendly act together. When the world comes to an end through global warming, no-one will be able to point a finger at the sport and say it’s to blame. So we have ridiculous new regulations on the way, all to help the manufacturers in their quest to appear greener than the average bear.

But now along comes Bernie with the idea that F1 must have some night races – for the spectacle, of course. Well, let’s think about that for a minute. The cars have no lights so the circuit is going to have to be flood-lit – hey, they do it in football, you say. And that is true, they light up a whole stadium to turn night into day, no problem at all (until there’s a power failure).

Le Mans

Le Mans at night

Has it struck anyone yet that a Formula 1 circuit is a little larger than a football stadium? We are not talking a hundred yards of playable turf here; circuits are generally just short of two miles in length. That’s an awful lot of floodlights they’re going to have to assemble.

And I am not saying it’s impossible – many of the government-sponsored races have the financial clout to do such a thing. What concerns me is the power consumption. If we are so worried about the effect on the environment of a few F1 races a year, how come all that goes away when we need to light up a night race? Has Bernie not realized that the power comes from electricity generators that run on fossil fuels?

I need say little about what happens when there’s a power failure. On such occasions in a football game, you could get one or two players colliding but basically there’s no harm done. If it happens when you’re hurtling down a straight at two hundred miles an hour, things might be just a little different.

The fact is that the eco-friendly movement in F1 has nothing to do with a genuine concern for the environment (quite rightly so too as the whole issue is a political matter, not a scientific one). What matters to the car manufacturers is image – how they are viewed by the public. When pressure to be green becomes strong enough, the manufacturers begin an exercise to prove that they are, in fact, the greenest thing since Kermit the frog.

Formula 1 has become a part of that marketing exercise. If it can prove, through strange regulations to limit engine emissions, that it is in the forefront of the drive to eco-friendliness, that rubs off on the participants and they can go home well pleased. What matters is how F1 is perceived, not whether it actually has any impact on the environment at all.

Everyone knows that the internal combustion engine pumps out lots of hot gases through its exhaust. It is a convenient scapegoat, therefore, when imagining that the world is heating up through CO2 emissions. But, if F1 is doing its best to limit those emissions, it must be one of the good guys.

Electric light, however, is not so easily linked to global warming in the public mind. The power stations are out of sight and out of mind, therefore they do not count. Who cares that one night race would add greatly to CO2 emissions and negate all the ingenuity devoted to making the racing engines cleaner? It’s not about reality, it’s about image.

I have no doubt that Bernie will get his way and there will be night races for cars with strange turbo-driven engines and brakes that no longer glow red because all the heat is being re-used. There might even be an audience for such a circus. But please don’t tell me that F1 is genuinely concerned for the environment – it merely wants to appear so.

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Bernie and the USA

Bernie Ecclestone has been hinting at the possibility of a second GP for the States and is talking to people in Las Vegas and Chicago apparently. This is all very interesting but then he asks a rhetorical question that just begs for an answer:

Bernie said: “Why should we race in America for certainly half the fee we get in other parts of the world?”

Bernie

Bernie Ecclestone

Funnily enough, I can tell you why, Bernie – because the US remains the largest market in the world, that’s why. If F1 has to accept lower profits to get into that market, it will be more than worth it in the long run. Ever since it began, F1 has tried to interest Americans, adding the Indy 500 as a fake GP at first, then accepting races at some pretty strange places; anything to gain a toehold.

For fifty years nothing has worked – the Statesiders have remained doggedly fascinated by cars roaring around banked ovals at top speed but F1′s moment has come at last. American open wheel racing is in disarray, split into two camps, Champ Cars and IRL, and competing with NASCAR for viewers. If there were ever a time when those viewers might be persuaded to look at an alternative to their domestic series, this has to be it.

It is not due to F1′s success that its TV ratings are the equal of Champ Cars’ now – that is entirely thanks to the split. But this illustrates the chance that is going begging. Those Americans that have made the switch to F1 are already incredibly knowledgeable about the sport and hunger for more. Give them another GP and the word will spread; heck, give them three more and you’ll murder CC and IRL.

And, if you have to accept a bargain basement price for such races, grin and bear it – there’ll be plenty of opportunities to add to the FIA’s fortune in the future. Think of how the Japanese destroyed the British car industry: they sold their cars for ridiculously low prices and added a radio as standard. Naturally, the Brits bought them by the thousand. Once the competition was on its knees, they increased the prices and it was too late to save the local industry. That is how to invade a new market.

Money is all very nice and easy to get while Asian countries are prepared to pay ridiculous prices for a GP. But how long can the bonanza continue? Sooner or later those governments that are all for F1 now will realize that there are better places to spend their cash. Taxpayers have a way of demanding some return for their contributions. When that happens, F1 will have to fall back on its traditional source of funding, the fans. Will they still be there after an endless diet of featureless races in deserts and fading funfairs?

So yes, we need at least one more race in the States. And if it has to be done by special offer, a never-to-be-repeated price, then it must be so. When a chance like this comes along (and it’s been fifty years of waiting, remember), we should be prepared to give the GPs away if it means conquering America.

Stupid question, Bernie.

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The FIA and the Aero Boys

I see the aerodynamicists are wanting a share of the F1 limelight now, no doubt encouraged by the engineers becoming stars alongside the drivers and team managers. Willem Toet, BMW’s head aero man, has been talking about the FIA’s proposed CDG (Centreline Downwash Generating) wing and the alternative proposed by the aerodynamicists. He wants the aero boys to be consulted by the FIA before any rule changes are made.

BMW

Well, good luck to him, say I – getting the FIA to listen is an achievement nobody has managed so far. But the whole business does illustrate how the FIA has gradually expanded its powers into areas that should not be the concern of a governing body. Their job is not to design cars, it is to set a basic framework for the technicians to work within.

So, for example, they might set the maximum engine size at 2.4 liters but to specify number of cylinders is overstepping the mark. The whole point of F1 design competition is that the engineers be free to experiment and invent within given parameters. By entering what is really the design arena, the FIA have created a situation where complexities multiply and their task of overseeing things becomes impossible.

Twenty years ago cars were becoming faster than drivers could safely cope with, thanks to ground effect technology. The solution applied by the FIA was both simple and obvious – they ruled that cars should have flat bottoms and no skirts. That is a perfect example of how a governing body should function – no messing around giving exact specifications of what is allowed and what isn’t, no introducing their own design that everyone must use, just a simple, bald statement. And designers had to work within the new rule, like it or not.

During Mighty Max’s presidency the FIA has increasingly forced its way into areas that are not their business. The CDG wing is just one instance of this; other examples are legion. For instance, that long-running bugbear, overtaking, should not be any concern of theirs. The more they meddle with detailed specifications to the finest detail, the worse things get. Until they get back to their primary task of setting the basic formula and leaving the technicians to decide what they will create within those boundaries, we can expect only more and more interference and lawsuits from the FIA.

We approach a situation where the FIA designs the whole car through the rulebook. Already the only thing that distinguishes one car from another is the paint job. Ultimately the rules will become so constrictive that F1 might as well be a one-make formula, all because the FIA thinks its “experts” are better designers than the guys who actually create and race F1 cars. It is a ridiculous situation.

The criticism always leveled at the freedom proposed by me is that the cars will become too fast. But the FIA never consider the most obvious solution to that: the halving of engine size. Their thinking is that F1 must have larger engines than lower formulae or it loses its credibility; but this is nonsense. In the early 60s the engine size went as low as 1.5 liters and it did not result in the sport being disregarded. To the contrary, that formula produced some of the best racing ever seen and a long list of drivers that became household names.

It makes no sense that the FIA should be fiddling about with design nuances in their quest to keep speeds within acceptable limits when there is such a simple and straightforward alternative available to them. If they were to use engine size as a control, rather than interfering with the type of wing allowed, the engineers and aerodynamicists could get back to their task of trying to out-think the competition and we could have our sport back, the sport that pits the most skilled drivers and smartest engineers against each other.

Yeah, I know – fat chance.

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