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
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. ■