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Here’s to the FIA

I have been fairly critical of the FIA in this blog to date and it’s only fair that I should adjust the balance a little. It needs to be said that their job is extremely difficult, encompassing many contradictory interests, as it does.

They need to increase and hold on to the F1 television-viewing public by presenting an exciting and fascinating show; yet this often conflicts with another important concern, that of driver safety. How to make the races close and involving without endangering the lives of the participants? It’s not a problem with any easy solutions.

The most obvious way to increase safety is to slow the cars down and so the FIA spend much of their time working on ways to do this without losing the spectacle and charisma of F1. Over the years, we have seen all sorts of clever ideas banned because they just make the cars too fast. Skirts came and went, the Brabham fan car had only one race, turbos lasted a while before being shelved, the rear wing gets lower and smaller all the time.

But the engineers and designers are working in the opposite direction; their job is to give their car an advantage over the others and they are always searching for some new tweak or invention that is not covered by the rules. And so there is constant development in the areas that may be tinkered with. We live with this continuing evolution of the F1 car and it is easy to forget how much things have changed over even a short time.

Consider, for instance, how cars have sprouted all sorts of weirdly-shaped wings and protuberances in the last few years, all in the quest for some tiny aerodynamic advantage. This is the rear of the sidepod of the current Renault:

2006 Renault

Note how the sidepod swoops inwards towards the rear and how the space so created contains all manner of wings, scoops and deflectors. Compare this with the Osella FA1E of 1983:

Osella FA1E

This was the year after skirts had been outlawed and the designers were desperate in their attempts to claw back the downforce they had lost. It is interesting that their solution was the exact opposite of today’s – the Osella’s sidepods are much wider at the rear than the front. And no fancy little winglets have sprouted yet.

F1 is in a state of constant development and the FIA have to oversee it all and make sure that no-one gets an unfair or illegal advantage. In such a highly competitive technological environment, that is no easy task.

So I recognize how difficult it is for the FIA to reconcile all the conflicting interests they must deal with. It is probably impossible to keep everyone in the sport happy. I just wish that more of their decisions had that essential ingredient for good government: common sense.

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