Needs more noise by Mau­rice Hamil­ton

With the in­creas­ing in­ter­est in For­mula E, F1 needs to ap­peal to the senses

Car (South Africa) - - CONTENTS -

FOR­MULA One has reached a ma­jor cross­roads. De­ci­sions need to be made about its fu­ture tech­ni­cal di­rec­tion and the choice, in sim­ple terms, is stark.

Does F1 con­tinue straight ahead and ad­vance fur­ther into hy­brid ter­ri­tory presided over by ap­prov­ing politi­cians and au­to­mo­tive board­rooms? Or does it make a sharp left and veer to­wards its roots, with en­ter­tain­ment rather than tech­nol­ogy be­ing the driv­ing force?

There has been a sea change in pri­or­i­ties as man­u­fac­tur­ers ock to­wards For­mula E, a form of mo­tor­sport that is road rel­e­vant and mas­sively ac­cel­er­ates de­vel­op­ment. In re­cent months, this rel­a­tively new for­mula has re­ceived a ma­jor boost as Porsche (hav­ing for­saken Le Mans and en­durance racing) and Mercedes-benz join BMW, Re­nault and Jaguar in the all-elec­tric se­ries that races in ma­jor city cen­tres.

Not only is it im­por­tant for ma­jor au­to­mo­tive play­ers to be seen to be go­ing down this route, but For­mula E costs 10% of the swinge­ing F1 de­vel­op­ment bud­get. The struc­ture of the For­mula E race week­end em­braces the nec­es­sary cor­po­rate cul­ture and, for mo­tor com­pa­nies, this is a no-brainer. It is, in their view, the fu­ture.

But, is it racing? Yes, it is, al­beit with lim­i­ta­tions that are be­ing ad­dressed and im­proved. For­mula E is not a chal­lenge to F1, merely a new and nec­es­sary di­vi­sion em­braced by the FIA for which, lest we for­get, sport is but a small part in the con­cept of global mo­tor­ing.

Which brings us back to the cross- roads. If F1 is con­sid­ered the pin­na­cle of mo­tor­sport, de­ci­sions need to be made not only about which road to take, but also about who is driv­ing the bus? Should the man­u­fac­tur­ers be given a loud voice to match their nan­cial clout? Does F1 need to con­tinue down the turbo route be­cause it suits the mar­ket­ing and tech­ni­cal aims of the in­dus­try giants?

Cur­rently, F1 en­gines are 1,6-litre V6 tur­bos with en­ergy-re­cov­ery sys­tems and fuel ow re­stric­tions. The for­mula is due to change in 2021. The FIA and engine rep­re­sen­ta­tives have agreed the new for­mula should be louder, sim­pler and cheaper while re­tain­ing an el­e­ment of engine re­cov­ery. But noth­ing else has been set­tled. Has the time come for F1 to dumb down road rel­e­vance and get away from a power unit be­ing the per­for­mance dif­fer­en­tia­tor with­out at­tract­ing the easy and pre­dictable crit­i­cism of be­ing ret­ro­grade?

F1 cars do not have ac­tive sus­pen­sion, trac­tion con­trol or ABS. And rightly so; they should be beasts to drive. More than that, they should shake the ground and vi­brate your breast­bone. I was never a fan of the white noise em­a­nat­ing from a eld of high-revving V8s in the pre­vi­ous F1 era, but I do be­lieve in a gutsy roar of power and per­for­mance that at least sounds dif cult for a driver to com­mand.

Of many great mo­tor­sport mem­o­ries I’ve ac­crued over the decades, one was an un­ex­pected stand­out. When the Grand Prix went to Long Beach in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, we would make an an­nual trip to As­cot Park, a speed­way sadly no longer in ex­is­tence but, at the time, home of midgets and sprint­ers racing on a half-mile oval. It was a grubby place of fumes, drift­ing dust and ying dirt. It may not have been cor­po­rate Amer­ica but Mario An­dretti, AJ Foyt and the Unser brothers were part of the win­ning her­itage. You had to go there and pay your re­spects.

As we pulled into the car park, prac­tice was un­der way. The echo of a V8 from within the sta­dium ripped apart the warm evening air. It was a truly ex­tra­or­di­nary sound. As the driver jabbed the throt­tle of this snort­ing mon­ster, it in­voked vi­sions of some wild an­i­mal go­ing com­pletely berserk. Al­most in­vol­un­tary, you found your­self run­ning through the gate and up to the fence. And that was just one car pow­er­ing side­ways un­der the ood­lights. The sight of 20 and more go­ing racing, side by side on op­po­site lock, would beg­gar be­lief. But the abid­ing mem­ory is of that throaty bel­low at­tack­ing the senses.

It made a re­turn to F1 on the streets the fol­low­ing morn­ing mo­men­tar­ily seem tame ... but we ac­tu­ally did not re­alise how lucky we were. The grids at the turn of the 1980s con­tained Fer­rari, Ma­tra and Alfa Romeo V12s, Ford V8s and Re­nault V6s; all of them vi­brant and dif­fer­ent. Long Beach was a sell­out each year.

It is still early days, but F1 crowds are show­ing signs of re­turn­ing, cer­tainly to the clas­sic tracks and part of the at­trac­tion is cars that have be­come more tricky to drive. How­ever, they still don’t sound great. A so­lu­tion could, in part, be the re­moval of a turbo from the ex­haust and al­low­ing the engine to clear its throat. But isn’t that just tin­ker­ing with the prob­lem? Surely F1 ought to be think­ing about kilo­me­tres per hour rather than kilo­me­tres per litre? Let For­mula E ad­vance and hum its stuff. Time for F1 to hook a left, burn some rub­ber and make a noise.

BY: Mau­rice Hamil­ton Mau­rice­hamil­ton

MAU­RICE HAMIL­TON is an in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed full-time F1 re­porter and au­thor. A CAR con­trib­u­tor since 1987, he also writes for The Guardian in Eng­land and is the F1 com­men­ta­tor for BBC Ra­dio’s 5 Live F1.

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