UNDER THE HOOD
Pat Symonds looks at F1 post-2020
It’s often said that the Friday of a grand prix weekend brings little of interest to the fans, and that it serves merely as a platform for teams to tune their machines towards nirvana in splendid semi-isolation. You wouldn’t place the Friday of the 2018 Bahrain Grand Prix in that category, since before a single car turned a wheel Formula 1, the group formerly known as Formula One Management, outlined to the teams their vision for the future of the sport.
While only the teams were party to the full details of the plan that weekend, the press release from Formula 1 gives an insight into how 2021 will become a watershed for the sport. By examining the key strategic initiatives announced that day, and by considering the various comments made by stakeholders over the past few months, it’s possible to get a reasonably clear picture of the direction in which the commercial rights holders would like to take the sport.
Point one concerned power units. The thoughts, opinions and arguments about how this particular part of the technical make-up of the sport should progress have been in the public domain since last autumn. In essence the current manufacturers would like to maintain the status quo, even though the power units clearly haven’t reached the parity of performance that the sport requires for less predictable race results.
Formula 1 has a different view, one that takes in the big picture – and puts entertainment at the top of the list of desirables. This dictates that fundamental change is needed in the power units to reduce costs and attract new entrants, thereby improving the sustainability of the sport as a whole, and militating against any particular group wielding the type of political power that can be detrimental to competition.
In this sphere the FIA clearly stated the seven objectives which were to guide the determination of the future engine regulations. Quite rightly one of these was that the engine should be road-relevant and be a hybrid. I say quite rightly because even with entertainment as our guiding light it’s still necessary to maintain social responsibility, and the development of hybrid technology does this. Interestingly the other six objectives would be satisfied by a high-revving, normally aspirated V12.
On costs Formula 1 made the statement that how a team spent its money should be more decisive to its success than how much. If there’s one sentence that stands to ensure the success of the sport than this is it. They have determined that a cost cap should be implemented that controls this while maintaining F1’s position as the pinnacle of motorsport with state-of-the-art technology. While the actual figure for this cap has not been released by Formula 1, Toto Wolff has suggested it may be $150m or just over £100m.
This may seem a lot less than is currently spent, but it may only cover operational costs and excludes, for example, drivers’ salaries and marketing budgets. In this case the sum is still large since it represents something close to the total budget, drivers and marketing included, of mid-range teams such as Williams. If this is the case it might be argued that the cap is still too high but there are two factors to consider. Firstly it will indeed cap the highest spenders and therefore eliminate some of the spend on attention to detail that yields incremental performance unattainable by the less well financed. Secondly there’s no reason that the cap, once in place and proven, may not be gradually reduced.
The cost cap alone may not be the total answer, but coupled with a wellthought-out level of design prescription and standardisation, it will go a long way to meeting the high-level objectives of the sport. Many point out that regulation of it will be difficult. It will. But this isn’t a reason not to do it, merely an acknowledgement that the design and monitoring of the system needs good people and process in place. The FIA and Formula 1 have already ensured that is the case.
While cost-capping may be divisive, it pales into insignificance compared with the next proposal, which is the redistribution of income. The previous commercial rights holders, having only short-term objectives, were happy to use differential income as a powerful persuader to achieve their aims. Teams that complained loudest tended to come off best until the present situation arose, whereby certain teams can obtain high income even with substandard results. When I was at Williams it always galled me that even though we beat Ferrari in 2014, we ended up with significantly less prize money than them.
Formula 1 have announced that the historical franchise and value will still be recognised, thereby leaving the door open to some form of historic bonus, but more
FORMULA 1 HAS A DIFFERENT VIEW, ONE THAT TAKES IN THE BIG PICTURE – AND PUTS ENTERTAINMENT AS THE TOP OF THE LIST OF DESIRABLES
significantly they have recognised for the first time that engine suppliers can share in the revenue rather than only partaking if they own a team.
On the sporting and technical regulation changes, the commercial rights holders are calling for cars that are more raceable, meaning they should be able to follow each other more closely than is the case at present. They also recognise that while engineering will always remain a cornerstone of the sport, the driver’s skill must be a predominant factor in the car’s performance. In fact they call for it to be the predominant factor, a slightly optimistic desire in so technical a sport.
Of course the commercial rights holders don’t have the ability to govern the sport, but one very refreshing aspect of the new era is that they’re working closely with the FIA to resource the research necessary to understand the desires of the fans, and how they may be achieved through technical and sporting regulation changes. It’s my role as chief technology officer of Formula 1 to enable my small team to help steer that research, not just in the car design but also in the formulation of novel sporting regulations and even circuit design.
Finally the document made public in Bahrain stated that concerning governance of the sport, a simple and streamlined structure would be set up between the teams, the FIA and Formula 1. A simple sentence, but if this state could be achieved it will probably be the single most important step towards our utopian future.
The annoucement in Bahrain means that 2020 should be the last year of F1 in its current format