Man in the know
In his first column for evo India our man in the F1 paddock talks about the off season and ponders over the direction F1 should take
THE RACING WORLD MAY HAVE GONE into hibernation over the winter but that doesn’t mean that everyone is on holiday. In F1 team factories across Europe, this is arguably the busiest time. Ensuring the chassis passes the FIA safety crash test is the first big challenge. The chassis are subject to huge loads from the front, back, side and top to ensure that the cars are built to the highest possible safety standards. There have been several stories over the years of chassis being damaged at these tests which creates two major headaches: (a) a new chassis needs to be made quickly and (b) the team needs to re-design the chassis to make sure it passes next time around!
Once you get over the car build phase and get the power unit, gearbox and electronics installed, it’s off to Barcelona for eight very important days of testing. To save on costs, the number of days have become very limited when compared to 10 years ago when teams could pound round and round tracks for days on end.
It’s going to be absolutely critical for every team to use every lap of testing to its full potential. The first four days of pre-testing in particular isn’t about looking for the ultimate performance, but trying to get the car reliable and balanced. The drivers will want to learn about the new cars and tyres so they will be praying for good reliability while they try and bank as many race distances as possible. We now know that the Pirelli tyres are extremely sensitive to temperature and track conditions so using the right tyre at the right time of the day is going to be very important while banking their information. Performance in F1 is all relative and the usual caveats of unknown fuel loads and engine modes will apply but if you spend eight days analysing long runs, you can sort of work out the pecking order.
Away from the track, it’s been a busy winter for the team bosses and Liberty Media as they go through their first winter in the post-Bernie era and have a bit of time away from races to deal with the big picture stories in the sport. Formula 1 is at a bit of a crossroads in terms of the future of the sport. There are a lot of discussions about the engine regulations for 2021 and beyond and this is a key juncture that will define the future of the sport in the long term.
The teams, engine manufacturers, the FIA and Liberty need to decide at this stage if Formula 1 needs to become more about entertainment or focus on road relevancy for the manufacturers. Judging by the trends in the automotive industry, most manufacturers seem to believe that the future of our day to day mobility lies in electric vehicles but in terms of motorsport, Formula E already exists to cater for that.
So perhaps F1 need to decide that sports car racing and Formula E will be the forms of the sport where the research and development for the road car world happens and F1 becomes about the fastest cars which are loud and exciting with the best drivers in the world, at the best tracks in the world, entertaining the fans. As I said, it’s a tricky crossroads to be at.
Take the current V6 hybrid engine rules for example. In his brilliant new book, Adrian Newey who is unquestionably one of F1’s greatest technical directors, highlights an interesting argument. The FIA decided to make these rules which they believed to be more road-relevant to entice the engine manufacturers to get involved in F1. But Adrian points out that the engine rules actually specify a 1.5-litre V6 with a specified bore and stroke, one spark plug per cylinder and one fuel injector per cylinder. It specifies a single turbocharger driving an electric motor to recover heat from the exhaust system and an electric motor linked to the crankshaft. Both of those are then linked to the battery for the electrical power.
Adrian makes the point that this makes it a highly specified set of rules for a highly specified application – that is F1 only – and in fact no road car manufacturer is limited to these rules when producing their cars you’ll see in the dealerships. Therefore he questions the true relevance of the rules after all. Good point made, although we should keep in mind that he would probably not be complaining if Red Bull Racing had a Mercedes powerunit!
All in all, as I say, F1 is at a crossroads and there are going to be lots of political moves happening off track in the next 12 months. Ferrari have already threatened to quit F1 – again – if the rules aren’t to their liking, but in reality that’s another question that needs to be asked? Will F1 survive if Ferrari went away? Yes, they’re the biggest brand name in terms of a team, but I believe it would if we still had teams like Mercedes, McLaren, Williams, Red Bull and so on, capable of being competitive. As long as we can have a fight up at the front and still have the big name drivers on the grid, the sport is bigger than any one team. This will surely make it very interesting times ahead in the world of F1.
F1 is at a crossroads and there are going to be lots of political moves happening off track