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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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Car Manufacturers and F1

Pitpass dot com has a good article on the problems besetting Daimler Chrysler, particularly in America, and the possibility of a sale of Chrysler. The chances of this having a knock-on effect in F1 are quite high in view of the parent company’s involvement through McLaren. If a manufacturer gets into difficulties in the real world, it will not be long before any investment in F1 is regarded as unnecessarily expensive and short on returns.

MP4-22

McLaren MP4-22

To shareholders and bean counters it means diddly squat that the team won two rounds of the World Championship. They want to see the success of title victories pay off on the showroom floors and forecourts.

It is an excellent example of how the dominance of the manufacturers in F1 has changed the sport completely. Note that I said “the real world” up there – which is the place that car manufacturers live. Formula One has never lived in the real world before – in contrast, it has always been the realm of fantasy and dreams, a glorious world where the trials and troubles of reality can be forgotten for a while and legendary feats performed by gladiators in fireproof suits and sexy helmets.

The entry of advertising into this fantasy realm was the first chink in F1′s armor. With costs rising, the teams needed a source of money and the advertisers were happy to provide it. Fortunately (and probably because this coincided fairly closely with the restriction of tobacco advertising – F1 was a convenient loophole through the new regulations), no-one looked too closely at the figures to see if they were getting a decent return on their investment – the names were on the cars and the theory was that this was enough to sell the product.

But the manufacturers are a very different kettle of fish. Forget all the nonsense about F1 providing useful developments relevant to road cars – manufacturers have their research departments and do not need F1 to test their theories. They are there purely to prove that their products are better than anyone else’s – a marketing exercise that must show results or be excised from the balance sheet.

And, if the company experiences financial difficulties in the real world, the first thing it will do is try to cut costs. The millions spent on F1 with very little tangible return will stand out like a sore thumb just begging to be cut off. At which point, the company will leave F1.

In throwing in its lot with the manufacturers, F1 has tied itself to the ebb and flow of the real world. When car markets are buoyant, F1 will prosper with entrants and money; but, let the bottom fall out of the market and F1 will find itself in deep trouble, lacking participants and saddled with a formula designed for a more affluent era. The real world can be a cold and pitiless place at times.

The powers that be seek to offset this danger by presenting F1 as the leader in achieving low emissions – the sport that cares about the environment, indeed. If they can achieve this shift in public perception, the manufacturers will stay in for the benefits of being seen to care about green issues. Mighty Max has decreed that the majority of the public now see global warming as the major issue confronting mankind and that F1 must take note and follow the trend.

The problem is that it is a trend. In previous decades it was overpopulation that was going to end the world; then it was nuclear holocaust, then another ice age. When the present hullabaloo over global warming peters out through lack of solid scientific evidence, another threat will be invented by the alarmists and F1 will be left looking rather foolish.

The point missed by everyone is that F1 is a part of the entertainment industry. Oh, lip service is given in that the FIA are always looking for ways to improve the show and increase the audience; but the implications are not understood at all. Entertainment is essentially escapist – a fantasy world through which we can escape the real world for a while and indulge ourselves in pure, irresponsible bliss. By tying the sport ever closer to the harsh realities of the real world, Max forces us to remain in that uncomfortable environment and the possibilities for escape disappear.

Formula One is set to become a responsible, serious and relevant exercise in public relations. Which might help to improve its image in the eyes of the general public, although far more likely is that nobody will notice. And the lifeblood of the sport, the fans, will drain away as the races become just a huge advert for the car manufacturers.

Entertainment has become one of the most important industries in the world because we need it. Escape for a while is a necessary part of modern life because, for the vast majority, the daily round is meaningless and boring. And what better entertainment can there be than immensely powerful engines ripping through the fossil fuels, daring young drivers competing at the limits of human endurance and skill, and finely tuned projectiles in bright colors hurtling around a difficult track?

It’s a great show as long as you let them get on with it.

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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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Williams and the Future

The customer car row continues to heat up, with Frank Williams pointing out that the concorde agreement for 2008 is not yet a done deal and Gerhard Berger promising to fight the matter in the courts if necessary. One can understand Frank’s point of view – as the last truly independent constructor in F1, he sees his future as threatened by the arrival of customer teams that will be, in effect, B teams for the manufacturers.

FW29

Williams FW29

It does seem that the FIA have chosen to take the B team route and abandon the independent constructor by doing so. This quote from a Reuters article is very telling:

“We’ve signed a Concorde Agreement for 2008 and while it hasn’t been clarified, we’d never been told that customer teams would be included in it,” said Williams.

“That was until (International Automobile Federation president) Max Mosley very charmingly said to me over lunch in December: ‘You do realise, Frank, that your business model is history now?’

“I said ‘What do you mean?’ and Max said: ‘From now on, it’s manufacturers and B teams’.

That makes it pretty clear where Max’s thoughts are heading and he usually gets what he wants. And Prodrive’s Dave Richards agrees that this must be the future:

“Frank is talking this up for one reason only,” the former Benetton and BAR boss told the magazine.

“He can see that his business model — employing 600 people to build a racing car without manufacturer assistance — won’t stack up in the future.

“The business is changing. We need teams at the back given the same cars as Ferrari and fielding promising young drivers. That’s the spectacle we want to see.”

It seems that Frank is swimming against the tide and can expect no help from the FIA in his argument with Toro Rosso and Super Aguri in 2007. Spyker are in a similar position in spite of being owned by a manufacturer; the company is small and has to buy in engines from Ferrari so it looks likely that they too will be defeated by the costs at some time and have to throw in their lot with one of the big boys.

Like it or not, we are seeing the last days of the independent constructor. Unless the FIA changes its mind, the manufacturers and their sidekicks will be the only teams in F1. Frank and Spyker’s Colin Kolles will fight to the last, no doubt, but, even if they win in the courts this year, in the long run they will lose.

It may well be that Williams’ best hope for survival is the one I suggested way back in July 2006 – to become Toyota’s B team. If the new Williams FW29 maintains its impressive form into the 2007 season and they continue to beat the Toyota factory team, it would make a lot of sense for the Japanese giant to merge the teams and save itself a lot of money and embarrassment.

What Spyker will do, however, is anybody’s guess.

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