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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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Coulthard Speaks Out

David Coulthard has been talking about the unreasonable attitude of the FIA towards F1 drivers’ opinions, although he specifically identifies Max Mosley as the main culprit. He refers to the Monza circuit where the GPDA (Grand Prix Drivers Association) expressed their concerns over safety at the track.


David Coulthard

“Instead of real answers we got a letter from Max saying we were speaking out of turn and that the terms of our superlicenses include a clause that says we aren’t allowed to speak out of turn or against the governing body, etc,” he said.

As I pointed out in my post, Formula One Shows the Way, the FIA seem to be deliberately ignoring any input from the drivers and have even referred to them as “self-appointed experts”. I cannot think of any other sport that is governed in as high-handed a manner as the FIA run F1.

Years ago, in the midst of the fuss over whether rugby should become a professional sport, I recall the then England rugby captain, Will Carling, getting into trouble for referring to the sport’s governing body as a bunch of old farts. But that is slightly different – as an old fart myself, I have no objection to others pointing out the fact but I do understand that some might feel their dignity deflated by such a term. The GPDA have hurled no insults and merely want their views to be known. When the FIA react by making it a part of the regulations that the drivers have no say in safety matters, I have to think that something is wrong.

Either the “old farts” running F1 have become so obsessed with their own importance that they cannot bear to hear any disagreement with their decisions or there is much more at stake than either we or the drivers understand. And, knowing how the FIA decide these things, I would have to guess that the second option means money. It might be interesting to find out just who will be making the wonderful new barriers touted by the FIA as such a significant breakthrough in safety.

So I sympathize with Coulthard’s mystification at the FIA’s attitude. As he says, it seems to go directly against all their claims to openness:

“The FIA recently commissioned a survey to find out what F1 fans think of the sport – and rightly so.

“I’m all for the fans expressing their views; I’m all for everyone involved in the sport expressing their views; why, then, must we drivers not express ours?”

But not that anything will be done, of course. Just as Will Carling was forced to eat humble pie all those years ago, so will David and the rest of the drivers be told to “Shut up and prepare for blast off.”

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