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

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