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F1: A spectacle in search of stability

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F1: A spectacle in search of stability
Feb 25, 2016, 8:43 AM

Two days after the F1 Strategy Group and the F1 Commission meetings in Geneva and the people who make the sport happen are hard at work in Barcelon...

Two days after the F1 Strategy Group and the F1 Commission meetings in Geneva and the people who make the sport happen are hard at work in Barcelona, where the first four day session of new car testing ends today.

Lined up in the paddock are dozens of new trucks, enormous motorhomes and armies of catering staff. Out on the track are 11 beautifully engineered racing cars, some of them effortlessly covering over 400 miles in a day, having only been bolted together for the first time days ago.

This has the feel more of a Grand Prix weekend than a test.

And the level that the sport is at is probably as high as it has ever been. The field has been compressed this year; the back marker Manor Racing team looks much faster with its Mercedes engine and the new Haas F1 team is not like any new team to enter the sport since Toyota. The impecunious Lotus team has been bought by Renault and looks far more robust. The boss is talking about hiring 100 people during the year.

Front jack F1

A pivoting front jack sits outside a garage in the pit lane. These jewels cost £200,000 each to manufacture and Williams has only just got one for the first time this season. The hydraulics and pivoting function save one second in pit stops, because the front jack man can get out of the way before the car is dropped to the floor. But they have zero use outside of F1 pit stops.

For small teams £200,000 will pay for a couple of aerodynamicists. They have to trade off the performance gain in the stops against the budget.

But the new Haas F1 team is coming straight in at pivoting front jack level. The team looks very curated, all the details from the outset are at a state-of-the-art F1 level.

Haas F1 Truck

And yet the message going into Geneva is that the sport needs change. Certainly there are many structural things that need changing in this sport. But when you pare it down the essence of what the sport is about, the cars and the drivers, to see them in 2016 spec in Barcelona one wonders if it wouldn't be wiser to leave them alone for a few years and let the racing take care of itself, instead of constantly changing things.

Consider that since someone had the bright idea eighteen months ago of calling for F1 cars to be 'five seconds a lap faster', they have already gained at least three seconds and by next year will have found at least two more.

The bodywork changes agreed Tuesday in Geneva and the fine tuning of the 2017 rules that will follow by April may give huge amounts of extra downforce, but the tyres can't deal with that. Pirelli will insist on higher tyre pressures to cope with the massive downforce. But the big chunks of lap time in an F1 car are found in the slow corners below 130km/h (the most common corner in F1) and higher tyre pressures will make the cars slower there, not faster.

Pirelli F1 tyres

Another positive: they have addressed the noise issue, the cars are noticeably louder now. One cannot continue a conversation when a car goes past, as you could in the first two seasons of hybrid turbos. But you still don't need ear plugs, which is a good compromise.

There are some structural things which are fundamentally wrong with the sport, but seeing the 2016 cars in the flesh one cannot help but think that if you leave the technical regulations alone, perhaps fine tune some of the sporting regulations to level the playing field between rich and poor teams and F1 would be a competitive spectacle.

It just needs some stability.

In timely fashion, into this debate yesterday stepped Wolfgang Durheimer, who heads VW's motorsport programme. He said that "F1 is not on VW's agenda at the moment" because the sport is too unstable.

"On the regulations front, there are a lot of rumours around the engine and the supporting technology, " he said. "Before you commit the kind of money needed you must see five years of rules stability – there can't be the possibility of rules changes, of more or less engine cylinders coming in, or the hybrid system changing away from technology you are developing on road cars.

"On the ownership side, there are also big questions the sport must answer.

"If you are a big business making a big investment you expect to have some influence on the set-up, with an assurance the present ownership will last."

Plus ca change.

What do you think of the new F1 cars this season and what you've seen so far in testing? Leave your comment below
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Series Formula 1
Tags innovation