THE CRYS­TAL BALL

A change is go­ing to come…. But how? As tech­ni­cal ad­vances reach su­per-sonic speeds, how will what we cur­rently know as ‘motorsport’ evolve? Matt You­son looks to the fu­ture

Motor Sport News - - Engineering Supplement -

Th­ese are in­ter­est­ing times for motorsport. Dur­ing the in­dus­try’s first cen­tury, de­spite a path that was some­times jagged, the gen­eral di­rec­tion of progress was clear to see. Devel­op­ment was in­cre­men­tal; tech­nolo­gies evolved. The oc­ca­sional gi­ant leap per­ceived sub­jec­tively as an out­lier be­comes, when stud­ied ob­jec­tively and from suf­fi­cient dis­tance, to be a small but log­i­cal step. In the fu­ture the cur­rent era will per­haps be re­garded in sim­i­lar terms – though this is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine for the mo­ment. Motorsport is go­ing through an un­prece­dented pe­riod of rev­o­lu­tion.

Rev­o­lu­tion comes in many forms. Pow­er­train, of course, is cur­rently the big ticket: F1 and WEC have taken the hy­brid route while For­mula E has blazed a trail, bring­ing elec­tric racing in from the pe­riph­ery. More elec­tric race se­ries will prob­a­bly fol­low, with the forth­com­ing Elec­tric GT cham­pi­onship be­ing a use­ful gauge of whether the ap­petite for zero emis­sion motorsport ex­ists be­yond the hoopla of For­mula E. Taken to­gether, what is par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing about this re­align­ment is, while pi­o­neer­ing tech­no­log­i­cally, it equally rep­re­sents a shift in phi­los­o­phy and a response to a de­mand that motorsport, rather than be­ing an end unto it­self, must also be so­cially ben­e­fi­cial.

This, at least, is one opin­ion. There’s an in­creas­ingly clear di­vi­sion be­tween tra­di­tional mo­tor­sports in which racing ex­ists for its own sake, and the pro­gres­sive se­ries that seek to make racing use­ful in a wider con­text. The lat­ter tend to push the bound­aries of tech­nol­ogy – but the for­mer have per­haps the more con­tent fan bases.

“It’s an in­ter­est­ing fork in the road,” says Marc Pri­est­ley, for­mer F1 me­chanic, now a tech­nol­ogy com­men­ta­tor for both F1 and For­mula E. “There is go­ing to be a split camp and two dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions. They prob­a­bly won’t com­pete against each other; they’ll be two dif­fer­ent av­enues of motorsport. Peo­ple will choose one or the other or, like me, they’ll sim­ply en­joy both!”

The fu­ture of For­mula 1 is a par­tic­u­lar area of fas­ci­na­tion for Pri­est­ley, given its road map is cur­rently opaque. “There’s a wider ques­tion of where you want the sport to go,” he says. “With the hy­brids F1 went down the route taken by the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try but the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try is go­ing to go much fur­ther, to the point where it’s go­ing to be largely elec­tric. F1 doesn’t want to go that way be­cause it’s not what tra­di­tional fans want from the sport. They don’t want to see elec­tric cars: they can and do get that from For­mula E. F1 fans want tra­di­tional F1.

“This raises the ques­tion of what F1 will do. Will it try to stay road-rel­e­vant and em­brace more new tech­nol­ogy, or does it change di­rec­tion, turn its back on the road car in­dus­try and be an outand-out racing se­ries? Plenty of fans seem to want that: a noisy se­ries go­ing in­cred­i­bly quickly with gas-guz­zling V8 or V10 en­gines.

“It’s an in­ter­est­ing dilemma for a se­ries that has al­ways prided it­self on be­ing at the lead­ing edge of tech­nol­ogy. Per­son­ally, I’m torn be­tween the camps: I’m a tra­di­tional mo­tor racing fan and I would love to see the sport go back to V10s – but I’m also a techno-freak, love the new tech­nol­ogy and am very ex­cited to see where that’s go­ing.”

If For­mula 1 is un­sure of its di­rec­tion, the same can­not be said of For­mula E. The newer se­ries is pro­ceed­ing along a tech­nol­ogy path mapped out by the pro­mot­ers, al­beit with a de­ter­mi­na­tion to stay flex­i­ble and able to re­act to a swiftly de­vel­op­ing tech­nol­ogy. This, says Pri­est­ley, is greatly aided by the se­ries be­ing unen­cum­bered with dogma and young enough to re­tain the spirit of co­op­er­a­tion.

“It’s one of the re­ally nice things about the or­gan­is­ers, that they’re more open to adap­ta­tion than per­haps is the case in F1,” he says. “They will try things and, if they don’t work, they’ll change and try a dif­fer­ent route un­til they find one that does work. I think they’ve been very open to gaug­ing fans’ opin­ions and tak­ing on­board the points of view of the teams and the man­u­fac­tur­ers.

“In F1, as we know, there’s so much money at stake and such big brands in­volved, it of­ten pre­vents the sport from mov­ing for­wards. For­mula E hasn’t reached that stage. Ev­ery­body seems to be work­ing to­gether, open to new ideas, open to change.

“The big­gest driver for ev­ery­body – be­cause they all have an in­ter­est in it – is to see the se­ries do well and be suc­cess­ful. At the mo­ment most of the teams seem to have a fairly com­mon goal in try­ing to pro­mote the se­ries and im­prove the show rather than fo­cus on their own self­ish in­ter­ests. That’s the rea­son why it’s still mov­ing for­wards at quite a rate – al­though this may change down the line if you get a group of ma­jor man­u­fac­tur­ers com­pet­ing as they do in F1.”

Th­ese are in­ter­est­ing times in­deed. ■

For­mula E is growing, while teams are work­ing as one Audi has won at Le Mans with ef­fi­ciency

Some crave re­turn to V10 For­mula 1

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