A Question of Motorsport

Saturday 27th October 2007

It was the last F1 race of the season last week (5 months until the next one, sob), so rather than ruing how Hamilton didnt win the championship, like most Brits seem to be at the moment (Raikkonen deserves it more anyway), I’m going to talk about engines. And air.

For the 2006 season, the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (or FIA to its friends) – the organisation which regulates all international motorsport (that matters), amongst other things – changed the engine formula. What that means is that the engines in F1 cars would have to be 2.4 litre V8s (they were 3.0 litre V10s before), and would have to last for two races. The idea behind doing this was to cut costs – the larger manufacturer teams (McLaren, Ferrari et al.) may be able to afford bigger and better, but the smaller independant teams (Super Aguri, Spyker/ForceIndia/whatever, Williams et al.) might struggle to keep up and so may become less and less competetive, and possible eventually leave the sport. If more teams are competetive, then there should also be better racing.

That’s the theory, anyway. The actual result is that teams, obviously, try to conserve their engines. If an engine is on its first race then they try not to stress it too much because it has to do another race as well, and then if the engine is on its second race it can’t be pushed too much because it’s coming towards the end of its design life and so more likely to fail. Basically, having to conserve the engines means that, after a certain point in a race (usually the second round of pit stops), a team may tell the driver to stop pushing quite so much and turn the engine down. To most people, it’s kind of obvious that this is detrimental to the racing – fans dont just want to see a procession of cars after 75% of the race is over; we want to see drivers pushing right to the limit, trying to go as quickly as possible for all of the race.

In order to further cut costs, for 2007 more rules were introduced. Since the end of the 2006 season, the teams haven’t been able to do any significant development work on their engines – in previous years they’d be constantly trying to develop the engines to be more powerful and more reliable, but no longer.

Of course, none of this has actually cut costs at all. Now, instead of looking to the engine to make the cars go faster, the teams just spend more on the aerodynamics of the cars – the larger teams now run windtunnels and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) 24/7. This isnt cheap. And the increased reliance on aerodynamics for car performance has an adverse effect on racing, because it makes it harder for one car to follow another, making it much harder to overtake.

This week, the FIA have made an announcement that the engine freeze is to be prolonged. For another 10 years. This is a spectacularly bad idea. F1 is meant to be the pinnacle of motorsport, and as such the cars – all aspects of them – should be in a constant state of development, at the cutting edge of what is possible. In fact, it’s especially stupid given the current climate for eco-friendliness, and the way road cars seem to be going at the moment. I don’t think F1 has to be “road relevant” (we don’t race people on the road…), but thats not to say that F1 wouldnt be a good place to try out new technologies.

Trying to cut costs in F1 is idiotic, because the larger teams will spend (or do) whatever it takes to get a competetive advantage. Whilst I’m on the subject of competetive advantages, I should say something about the spying scandal that’s hung over the sport this year. For those who don’t know what I’m on about, basically at the start of this year one of Ferrari’s top tech guys gave one of the senior McLaren engineers a dossier which basically gave loads of details about how this year’s Ferrari worked. He then used some of the information out of this document, it all got found out and consequently McLaren were disqualified from this years Constructors’ championship and fined $100 million.

On the surface, this makes sense; McLaren cheated, so they should be punished, right? Well, no. F1 teams will do anything to get a competetive advantage – I’ve heard it said that every car on the grid in some way contravenes the rules – and that includes spying. They go as far as to hire photographers to take detailed photos of the other cars to figure out how they work. This has always happened, so for the FIA to punish one of the top teams for this is just madness.

What I’m trying to say, basically, is that the FIA is losing (or has lost) the plot. The president, Max Mosley (Oswald‘s son…), is a self-important, arrogant fool (evidence: this, this, this and this. The attack on Stewart is particularly mad), and should just resign now, before he ruins the sport completely.

Fans just want to see the fastest drivers in the world racing the fastest cars in the world, with particular emphasis on the word “racing”. It seems, however, that the “powers that be” are more concerned with their own self-importance than with what is right for the sport.

Posted at 7:14 pm | Posted In: Motorsport



Thursday 1st November 2007, 5:01 pm

Is spending ever more millions of pounds really right for the sport, though? Is that all that the racing has become about? Is that all the racing *should* be about? The FIA maybe do have a point.

(Disclaimer: my total knowledge of racing cars/ F1 comes from this entry, pretty much, and my housemate Eleanor. But the point still holds!)


Thursday 1st November 2007, 6:06 pm

It’s a good point actually, and it’s a tricky one. F1 has always been about being the cutting edge of technology, as much as anything else. If that element of the sport were to disappear then the sport would simply not be the same, so in that respect yes, it is right for the sport.

However, F1 probably shouldnt be so expensive that a private team (so not one backed by a car manufacturer) cannot compete at a reasonable level. To be honest we’ve possibly got to that point already, but how do you stop people throwing money at something if thats what they really wanted to do? It’s pretty much impossible (even if all the cars were the same, teams would just spend it on drivers, team managers, engineers, mechanics, etc). So the sport is inherently unfair, in that some drivers have faster cars than others (although incidentally, a team’s success is not a function of their budget – the team with the largest budget are also one of the worst, and the team that won in 2005 and 2006 had a relatively small budget, iirc). But that’s fine, because that’s the way it’s always been.

As it is, the rules in F1 don’t encourage racing (for instance only 2 points from 1st to 2nd and engines have to last 2 races, so less incentive to risk overtaking or stressing the engine too much), yet the FIA seem to want to push the sport further and further down that route in the pursuit of cost-cutting, eco-friendliness and “road-relevance”, which I think betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of what F1 is all about. And that’s pretty poor for the international motorsport authority.

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