When only fifteen cars make it to the start of a Grand Prix, it’s obvious Formula One is struggling with some demons. For the opening race of 2015 in Australia, the sport failed to live up to expectations; some blamed the teams – namely Manor, Red Bull and McLaren, each of whom failed to get two cars to the grid – but they are merely trying to perform to the high, expensive and complex regulations enforced upon them courtesy of the sport’s billing as the ‘pinnacle’ of motor racing.
So what makes Formula One the sport’s pinnacle? Is it indeed the pinnacle at all? According the sport’s rule-makers and regulation setters the sport must strive for greater technological advancement – KERS recovery systems, Hybrid power packs and the like. These systems, supposedly, keep Formula One at the forefront of motor sport. Those same systems, the same advances in technical complexity, as well as being too complicated for a simpleton like me, are astronomically expensive.
Therein lies the problem; money. If the teams had more of the stuff, it’s likely they could spend their way to greater reliability with these still fragile hybrid systems, leaving a greater chance that all cars make it at least to the start of races. Sadly, as we all know, money does not grow on trees, not even in the unique world of Formula One.
By nature, the advances in technology cost the earth, and it’s harming the sport as a result. So does F1 need to be at the forefront of technological advancement in order to be the pinnacle of motor sport? I’d dare say it isn’t anyway; the premier class of the World Endurance Championship utilises hybrid technology too, with now four major manufacturers adopting four different – and on the most part reliable – solutions to the latest set of rules. The racing remains close, with remarkably few mechanical issues dwindling a field of competitors.
Then there’s Formula E, the all-electric single-seater series currently undergoing its inaugural championship. The series is still finding its feet but the racing, the act of pure wheel-to-wheel racing, has been superb. Formula E however, sees competitors compete in identical machinery, a path Formula One would never contemplate visiting. The point is, with the WEC and FE already delivering excitement hand-in-hand with baffling new technology, is there any need for Formula One to ‘go there’.
Should Formula One continue down its current path then? Driving up costs as it experiments with futuristic, sustainable drive trains, power packs, call them what you will. It could cost a few teams their future; it could even drive the sport toward its own death.
A solution would be to pack up the idea of hybrid energy, leave it to the WEC and Formula E, and have Formula One take a ‘backward step’ to a simpler time. Martin Brundle has repeated many times that if Formula One were to return to, say, the former 2.4litre V8 engines, in five years time the cars would look like dinosaurs. But would you or I care what prehistoric motor was powering a full grid of cars separated by smaller margins? Doubtful. Better yet, go bonkers; 3 litre, 1000bhp, screaming V10s – put an end to the constant bemoaning of the hushed tones of hybrid power.
It depends on how Formula One’s overlords wish to define ‘pinnacle’. Expensive complexity that dwindles the field or out-dated simplicity that promotes longevity in team’s survival with the potential of closer racing? I know which I’d prefer.