Bob McMurray: Turning point for motor racing
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Fingers crossed, some positive changes might be heading the way of Formula 1 fans.
Representatives of F1, the FIA and the 10 competing teams (as well as the Strategy Group and F1 Commission, possibly even Uncle Tom Cobley) have gathered in London to hear plans Liberty is proposing for the sport’s future direction.
This follows at least three teams (McLaren, Red Bull and Renault) hinting they could leave if some things do not go their way, primarily a budget cap and, almost secondary, new regulations for 2021 and on.
Other teams have murmured trepidation about the future but at least the regular monthly threat from Maranello of Ferrari departing Formula 1 seems to have abated.
As you read this, hopefully some details of the outcome of this historic meeting will have been made public, or leaked.
Last weekend, a few days before the meeting, the second IndyCar event of the year took place at the Circuit Of The Americas in Texas. This was the first IndyCar race held on an existing Formula 1 track for some considerable time.
The immediate reaction is to compare performance and lap times of the two series. It’s pointless as the two are worlds apart but for the record the Indy-Cars were, on average, about 13s slower per lap, almost pedestrian compared to Formula 1 cars.
As pointed out by former F1 driver Stefan Johansson in his brilliant blog Make Racing Awesome Again: “To put things in perspective, a top F1 team’s brake budget is nearly equivalent to a winning IndyCar full season budget”. Yet IndyCar still seems to be able to put on a show for the fans despite the paltry (in Formula 1 terms) cash spent.
So would a budget cap really affect the racing in F1?
It would affect the engine manufacturers who have poured many millions of dollars into creating the incredible power plants in use. These power plants are engineering marvels yet they have proved so costly, so complicated as to prevent any other manufacturer entering the sport for fear of prohibitive cost and public humiliation. The Honda experience is a case in point.
As Formula 1 is at one end of the extreme pendulum of top-line international motorsport, IndyCar is at the other.
With spec chassis, aerodynamics, gearboxes, wheels, tyres, brakes, suspension, engine management system (pretty much all the car except the engine) where only two manufacturers (Honda and Chevrolet) supply the teams, an IndyCar is a standardised vehicle.
To achieve any real budget cap F1 must start to follow the standard parts route. It makes no sense, in this increasingly budget-conscious economy, for teams to develop many of their own parts.
That is already not so unusual within some teams — with Haas and Alfa Romeo associated with Ferrari, Toro Rosso with Red Bull being just two examples.
I am not suggesting F1 should abandon the one thing that makes it stand out from the rest of the world’s premier series, with each team essentially, an independent constructor producing the highest standards of cutting-edge technology at a pace never before seen in sport.
But is it that same technology that is slowly eroding the main precept. Which is simply to race and entertain as a sport at the highest level.
IndyCar shows that racing and entertainment are not necessarily the products of outright speed or space-age applied science but more in line with an equitable competition among teams. Even in IndyCar that equal competition is not so equal as it would first appear, with most wins over the past few years going to either Team Penske or Ganassi Racing.
Last week’s F1 meeting may well be seen as the turning point for the sport.
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