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Mosley on Europe

Most of the F1 news services have decided to focus on Max Mosley’s statements on the future of F1 racing in Europe and the drive from the manufacturers to have races in new markets. Ignoring (for the moment) the clear admission that it is marketing that decides where F1 will race now, it is worth taking a closer look at the blithe assumption made in Mosley’s reasoning here.

Nick

Nick Heidfeld (relevance will become clear)

Magnificent Max tells us that it’s unfair for Europe to have so many races and the rest of the world so few. He wants balance, it seems. In 2007, there will be nine races in Europe (counting the Turkish race as in Europe although, strictly speaking, it isn’t) and eight in the rest of the world – just over 50% are European therefore. That seems disproportionate unless we take the audience (that’s you and me) into account.

The FIA survey of the F1 fanbase for 2006 returned these figures for completed survey forms:

Europe 63% (59%)
North America 16% (16%)
Asia 8% (9%)
Oceania 5% (5%)
Africa 2% (5%)
South America 2% (3%)

The figures in brackets refer to the 2005 survey – and it seems that support for F1 has actually increased in Europe. Judging from these returns, it looks as though the calendar reflects the F1 audience pretty fairly. The sole anomaly is Africa which has no race at present – but that’s fine, I’ll support any move for a return to the South African Grand Prix (who remembers Kyalami?).

Surveys are not the most accurate way of assessing numbers (there are matters of language and opportunity to be taken into account) but they give us an approximate idea of the numbers watching F1 at least. And, on this evidence, it appears that F1 has got it just about right.

So it is marketing that enforces this determination to take races from Europe and put them in growing markets elsewhere. But even that looks dubious in view of the survey. The continent that has gained most new races over the last few years is Asia. This would make apparent sense when we consider the vast markets that are China and India and the Japanese passion for any form of motor sport. Yet there is an actual decrease in interest (from 9% in 2005 to 5% in 2006) in Asia according to the survey.

I would suggest that the marketing boys do a little more research before committing F1 to the continuing departure from Europe. There are more factors involved in this than sheer size of markets. Relevance counts and F1 is almost completely irrelevant to the lives of those teeming millions in Asia. In time, it may happen that the continent builds a genuine F1 fanbase but it doesn’t look as if it’s happening right now.

Like it or not, F1 is a sport that depends upon a mature economy such as Europe’s and America’s (and Australia and South Africa – I haven’t forgotten you). In countries where the vast majority are only just beginning to see beyond the possibility of a bicycle, F1 is profoundly inappropriate.

Marketing can only be effective when the product is aimed at those who can actually buy it; otherwise it is merely an insult. And it really is time that the manufacturers involved in F1 faced the fact that the market for high performance cars in developing countries will remain tiny for a long time yet. When the market is there, that is the moment to use F1 to sell your product.

Max is right when he suggests that the calendar might have to extend to twenty races, however. The more, the merrier, say the fans. And, from Nick Heidfeld’s statement that he is ready to start the new season now, the drivers would agree too.

But wait a minute – wasn’t it Heidfeld’s motivation that I wrote an article about recently? Oh dear, that looks like it could be more evidence that Nick wasn’t really extending himself in 2006 – he seems to have recovered very quickly from what should have been an exhausting season…

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More on the FIA/GPMA Session

I see the F1 news sites are handling the wealth of information from the Max Mosley and Burkhard Goeschel Q&A session in a similar way to the one proposed by me. There is just too much to be discussed in one brief article so they are breaking it down into bite-sized chunks. The difference is that I can say what I think of the news whereas they are limited to announcing it – and you get to have your say in response to whatever I write. Oh the glories of the blogosphere!

Max

Max Mosley

So let’s begin the process of dissecting this huge feast served by the FIA/GPMA alliance. To begin at the beginning:

We want to make the research work done in F1 not just cost-effective but also road relevant. That is to say, new developments in F1 should be those that are directly helpful to the car industry and in particular things which are relevant to perhaps the biggest single issue which confronts the car industry worldwide, namely the reduction of the output of CO2.

That is it in a nutshell. With the marriage of the FIA and the manufacturers, the whole ethos of F1 has changed. It was once a sport, an arena where the best drivers and engineers were involved in a mighty tussle of skill and ingenuity; it is to become a testing ground for road cars. That may suit the bride and groom very well but how does it make you, the F1 devotee feel?

It is our own fault really. For far too long we have attempted to justify the extravagances of F1 by referring to the technological advances that leak out from the sport to the engineering departments of the manufacturers. Which is true but ignores the real reason for F1′s existence: competition. Technological innovation that is useful in road car design is accidental and a by-product only.

The effect of using the technical advance argument has been that the FIA/GPMA have been able to sneak this revolution in F1′s intent under the radar. We had to allow them this or lose our justification of the sport to the outside world. But I am saying that we have bowed to the pressures of those who care nothing for F1 for far too long. We should have had the guts to admit the truth: F1 is a sport that is about titanic struggles between the finest that humankind can produce – if it makes an infinitesimally small contribution to global warming (which is not a proven fact as yet – see this article which is only one of thousands written by reputable and established environmental scientists), then that is just too bad.

If the car industry has bought the propaganda of CO2 emissions (and they are admittedly subject to a great deal more pressure than is F1), then that is their problem. To allow their acquiescence to spill over into F1 is a mistake, however. There are some things that, by their very nature, cannot be subject to the diktats of the global warming theory and F1 is one of them. It is an extravagance, yes, but one that millions feel is worth the tiny effect on the environment it might have.

I know that the argument is lost, indeed, it was never fought as it could have been. The FIA have demonstrated often enough in the past that they will do what they want regardless of the wishes of the little guy – they know best, after all. But at least we can register our disapproval of this fundamental change in the purposes of F1. We are the paying customers and we pay their salaries, therefore.

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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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FIA and GPMA Kiss and Make Up

Autosport magazine reports that the FIA and the Grand Prix Manufacturers Association have reached agreement on all their remaining problem areas. Presumably, this means finance too, since the manufacturers have been insisting upon a greater share of the loot.

Cooper 2.5

The car that changed racing forever – 2.5 liter Cooper

All seems very friendly and pleasant, now that this agreement has been reached, until one reaches this section of Autosport’s article:

The paper said that individual team management, people such as McLaren boss Ron Dennis, would be bypassed in future and discussions about the rules would take place with the manufacturers at main board level.

All of the 11 current teams, due to expand to 12 in 2008, are currently either owned by a manufacturer or linked to one through an engine supply contract.

An FIA spokesman said the independent teams, such as Williams, would not lose out in the decision-making process, however.

“The FIA’s role has always been to protect the independent teams and we will continue to do that,” he said.

That last statement has to be taken with a huge pinch of salt, considering that it was a decision by the FIA that finally forced the last independent engine manufacturer, Cosworth, out of F1. It is only thanks to that decision that “all of the teams are currently owned or linked to a manufacturer.” So the FIA create the circumstances and then point to the circumstances as justification for their latest action. Seems a bit unfair to me. And it hardly gives confidence to the remaining independent teams that the FIA will represent their interests.

But we must face the fact that these are merely the signs of the changes happening in F1. There are three independents left: McLaren, Williams and Super Aguri. Of these, Aguri would love to become a sort of Honda B team, rumor has it that McLaren will end up as the Mercedes team, and Williams are very likely to be absorbed into Toyota in the future.

At which point there are no more independents to worry about and the great FIA/GPMA ship can sail on into the future undisturbed by the cries of little guys drowning in its wake. It’s the way things are going and, I suppose, was always inevitable once the manufacturers realized the marketing possibilities available.

Eras come and go and we are seeing the last days of the independent in F1; gone will be the brilliant engineer like Chapman or Gordon Murray taking on the might of the corporations, gone revolutionary technical innovations like ground effect that change the face of racing, gone the tiny team that competes just because it loves racing (come back, Minardi, all is forgiven). No, now we look forward to the age of the giants when advertising is king and we can fondly imagine that what takes place on the track has some relevance for the road cars of the future.

The irony is that technological advance in F1 has always filtered out to road cars. Sure, we can’t believe that production engines will ever rev to 20,000 rpm but, let’s face it, they already rev to twice the speed they were doing thirty years ago. And advances in aerodynamics, suspension, braking and chassis design have all had their effect on the modern production car. Now that the FIA is limiting the engine and other technical innovations in their quest for politically correct fuel efficiency, we can say goodbye to any real advances. Racing must always mean speed; without that it becomes meaningless.

And, quite frankly, a world that does not allow itself the one small indulgence of a sport that cares not a hoot for a few more ounces of greenhouse gases being released will be a miserable world indeed. Sometimes I feel like a dinosaur…

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