Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Formula 1, or Formula Farce

It seems to me that Formula 1 motor racing is losing it way.

Rant Warning...

I've been watching the sport for a good 12+ years and I'm gradually getting less and less interested in what goes on. Why? Because there seems to be less and less concern amongst the 'competitors' and 'organisers' (I'll come back to the quoting of terms later) for providing a decent spectacle for us, the paying public, to enjoy. The 'cars' are more and more homogeneous - true innovation is stomped on as 'unfair advantage' by the FIA at the slightest provocation, whilst the Ferrari teams appears to be shown leniency and frank blindness by the authorities for all but the most blatant of fouls, and even some of them have been overlooked in the past.

Examples from this year? Renault (when leading the championship comfortably) had a device (a mass damper) ruled illegal as a 'movable aerodynamic component' (which is against the technical regulations) when it was a closed device inside the body work of the car (not exposed to the air flow where it could actually affect the aerodynamics of the car). Suddenly the Renault cars can't win a race for months! And the last third of the season becomes a much closer race to the title... and guess who benefits... Ferrari.

However, Ferrari have added 'chimneys' to the rear wheel hubs of their cars which cool the brakes by the same effect that a domestic chimney draws smoke from a fire. In other words, by affecting the aerodynamics of the car... and do you think the wheels on Ferrari move? Along with these chimney devices? Does that make them a 'movable aerodynamic component'? According to the FIA, it apparently does not... Go figure.

Now we're in the final throes of the 2006 season. There's one more race to go (Brazil), and Michael Schumacher is retiring at the end of the year (not a moment too soon, IMHO), and, due to a rare mechanical failure in Suzuka (Japan), he's back to 10 points behind Fernando Alonso in the championship standings. All that Alonso now has to do is finish 8th place or better (earning at least 1 point) to win the championship. However, if Alonso fails to finish and Schumacher wins, Schumacher wins the title. Now if I were Alonso, I would be keeping a very close eye on the behaviour of anyone with connections with Ferrari... so that's Filipe Massa (Schumacher's junior team mate), any Red Bull (who have used Ferrari engines in the past, and may next year), or Torro Rosso driver (who may also be using Ferrari engines next year), Ralf Schumacher (Michael's younger push-over of a brother), Kimi Raikkonen (who'll be driving for Ferrari next year), and anyone in the FIA scrutineering team. I'm sure Schumacher would be most upset if anyone of those people should happen to 'accidentally' force Alonso's car to fail to finish the race. Not. (Of course, he'll make sure the media don't get any hint otherwise)

Finally, back to the quoted terms from the beginning of this rant. First, the 'competitors' (teams and drivers). Well, they try to compete, but so much of the results (apart from the part that comes down to luck), correlates extremely closely with budget rather than expertise and talent. Not to mention that most of the 'competitors' are no longer people, but corporate entities. What's BMW's motivation for competing in Formula 1? Commercial promotion of their brand. What's Renault's motivation? The same. Spyker? The same. Red Bull... you got it. And so on. The Williams team is dying on it's feet. McLaren is falling away too; we'll just have to see if they can recover next year.

Second, the 'organisers'. The race organisers - the FIA are pathetic. Specific example... USA 2005. Michelin said to the teams using their tyres that Michelin had screwed up and brought the wrong tyres to cope with the recently resurfaced Indianapolis turn 13 (the big banked turn, as far as the F1 circuit is concerned), and could not guarantee the safety of the drivers & cars should they drive at racing speeds on race day. Several drivers (particularly Ralf Schumacher) had major accidents during Friday practise. So what happened next? Over the following 36 hours, the FIA singularly failed to either come up with a solution that allowed everyone to race safely - even for half points, or no points for Michelin runners, both of which were suggested. And they didn't tell the audience what was going on... they just let them find out when 16 cars pulled straight into the pits at the end of the formation lap. No wonder the US crowd were incensed.

Okay, so Michelin screwed up... they admitted it, and they paid a lot of compensation as a result, but the whole sport suffered an ignominious debacle as a result of the mis-management of the affair.

Thirdly, the 'cars'. How many people would be able, even amongst F1 fans, to tell the difference between a Williams, a Spyker and a Ferrari if they were watching on a black-and-white TV (like I was when I started watching)? The regulations now define so closely what is permitted in an F1 car that so many of the differences are in the electronics and engines rather than in the approaches to the whole concept of a car. As I said at the top of this piece... where's the innovation? Where are the six wheelers (like the Tyrell P34 with four front wheels, the March 2-4-0 never raced)? Or the Coopers? Or the Auto Union C-Types? Or the 1968 Lotus 49 (first rear wing)? All great innovations in their times, but the regulations would ban every single one now, and any change as important. Of course, there's the new, mad, CDG (centreline downwash generating) wing format that is supposed to be introduced in a couple of years... but I think that will just fall by the wayside as people discover just how poorly such a racing car will perform, and how dangerous the lack of rear downforce will prove.

Rant over, thankyou for listening.

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