James Allen: mo­tor­sport’s lead­ers grap­ple with ex­is­ten­tial ques­tions

F1 Racing (UK) - - CONTENTS - JAMES ALLEN @Jame­sal­lenonf1 face­book.com/f1rac­ing­mag

Drone bat­tles, fly­ing cars and au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles; are these the fu­ture of mo­tor­sport?

Reg­u­lar read­ers will know that I spend a lot of time think­ing about the fu­ture of our sport and the in­dus­try around it. I’ve al­ways cared pas­sion­ately about mo­tor rac­ing and thrill to the prim­i­tive rum­ble of a 1970s V8-pow­ered Canam car.

But I’m also fas­ci­nated by where it’s all head­ing and how mo­tor­sport in­ter­acts with the faste­volv­ing tech­nol­ogy agenda.

So it was very in­ter­est­ing to at­tend a panel dis­cus­sion at the re­cent Mo­tor­sport Lead­ers Busi­ness Fo­rum in Lon­don ask­ing the ques­tion, “If au­ton­o­mous cars are the fu­ture, will any­one care about rac­ing?”

Rac­ing cars have evolved a lot since the days of Moss and Fan­gio, but to­day the rate of change of tech­nol­ogy in the world is ex­po­nen­tially faster. Things like ABS and trac­tion con­trol were on Nigel Mansell’s car in 1992, but were banned soon af­ter as they didn’t help the rac­ing. So in some re­spects tech­nol­ogy has evolved ahead of what’s go­ing on with F1 cars. Au­ton­o­mous tech­nol­ogy ap­pears to be an­other ex­am­ple in the same vein.

All the world’s car mak­ers are work­ing on au­ton­o­mous tech­nol­ogy and at the same time we see a steep de­cline in young peo­ple tak­ing up driv­ing li­cences, while new car sales were down 20 per cent in the UK in Septem­ber. All three of these things are neg­a­tive to the prospects of mo­tor­sport.

Bal­anc­ing out what tech­nolo­gies mo­tor­sport should be em­brac­ing, while keep­ing out those that would harm the sport­ing com­pe­ti­tion is a big chal­lenge for rule mak­ers. Keep­ing the em­pha­sis on show­cas­ing the skills of the driv­ers is also paramount. But if peo­ple don’t drive cars any more, will they still get a thrill out of see­ing Lewis Hamil­ton or Max Ver­stap­pen’s car con­trol?

A Nielsen sur­vey con­ducted for the Lead­ers event noted that 77 per cent of mo­tor­sport fans sur­veyed said tech­nol­ogy should be cen­trally in­volved in mo­tor­sport.

One series that is at the van­guard of next-gen mo­tor­sports as tech­no­log­i­cal en­ter­tain­ment is Rob­o­race, which this year demon­strated a driver­less car at Good­wood. Im­pres­sive as it was, it didn’t stir peo­ple’s pas­sions and they are now evolv­ing the series con­cept to be ma­chine plus hu­man – as team mates, like at Le Mans. This helps prove the au­ton­o­mous tech­nol­ogy and demon­strate it. The idea would be to show that au­to­mated cars can be ex­cit­ing. Ac­ci­dents in these rac­ing sit­u­a­tions are more ac­cept­able than on the roads. They are also ex­per­i­ment­ing with drone bat­tles tak­ing place in the skies above the rac­ing.

For­mula E CEO Ale­jan­dro Agag was clear in his view that the hu­man will be cen­tral to mo­tor­sport for years to come. “I’m sure 95 per cent of peo­ple en­joy­ing the rac­ing at As­cot don’t know how to ride a horse,” he said. “We have to have good mo­tor rac­ing, we have to give them a show. I think the hu­man el­e­ment will al­ways be a key part.”

No-one has a clear road map be­cause the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try is in a phase of ma­jor dis­rup­tion.

“What’s im­por­tant is that mo­tor­sport is ahead of what’s go­ing to hap­pen (in au­to­mo­tive),” said Agag, who noted that sil­i­con val­ley in­vestors are pour­ing into fly­ing cars. If car man­u­fac­tur­ers fol­low into fly­ing cars then mo­tor­sport might pivot more in that di­rec­tion. How­ever, what could be more im­por­tant than au­ton­o­mous tech­nol­ogy is what hap­pens in the vir­tual space, with the grow­ing in­flu­ence of Vir­tual Re­al­ity and Aug­mented Re­al­ity and the ex­tent to which peo­ple can par­tic­i­pate in race events. The myth­i­cal 21st car in a GP, driven vir­tu­ally by mil­lions of gamers around the world in real time, is not far away and is likely to bring a new gen­er­a­tion to the sport.

So gam­ing and real rac­ing merge and the lines be­tween them blur. Ar­guably un­der 18s find it eas­ier to re­late to es­ports races than to grand prix races in­volv­ing real cars.

One of the key ben­e­fits mo­tor­sport pro­vides is to en­hance a brand; it helps dif­fer­en­ti­ate Fer­rari from other lux­ury brands not in F1. In an au­ton­o­mous fu­ture, where rob­o­taxis pick you up, you’ll have a subscription to a ser­vice based on brand pref­er­ence for the ex­pe­ri­ence you want, like your choice of air­line and class of travel.

The con­clu­sion of this thought lead­er­ship panel was that mo­tor­sport can and should be the in­no­va­tion agenda of the global man­u­fac­tur­ers – such as the demon­stra­tion by the en­gi­neers of the F1 hy­brid turbo en­gines in 2014 that they could drop the amount of fuel needed to cover a GP by 30 per cent, while go­ing at the same speed. Su­per fast bat­tery charg­ing is a sim­i­lar tech­no­log­i­cal step that will be demon­strated in For­mula E in the next few years.

Au­ton­o­mous cars and rac­ing were on the agenda at the Mo­tor­sport Lead­ers Busi­ness Fo­rum

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