What does one do with Formula One these days? Why is it so horrible and why are politics more important the racing? There have been in the past, debates about Formula1. Some have called it a sport, others have called it business and now everyone calls it politics. Take a closer look at F1 in the recent years and you will see it is none of these things. It is reasonable to assume that in sport, business or in politics the main aim is to succeed and win. F1 of today contradicts that basic purpose. It is a mindless game that geriatrics who are in control of F1 play and God only knows if they are happy with the productions of this mindlessness. Look at the personalities associated with F1. The ring master and Supremo is an 80 year old man who goes by the name of Bernie Ecclestone. The President of the FIA Jean Todt is a man who seems younger in comparison with Ecclestone but is someone who is firmly in his mid sixties and he recently succeeded a near seventy year old man called Max Mosley. Most of the team Principals are well into their fifties perhaps with the exception of Christian Horner who is only in his thirties. By F1 standards he is a babe in arms as yet since some of the drivers such as Michael Schumacher are older than him. Older drivers are in big numbers in F1. Rubens Barrichello, Narain Karthikeyan, Nick Heidfeld, Jarno Trulli, Jenson Button and Felipe Massa are in their thirties. The last two have only just made it there while the others are well entrenched there and Barichello and Trulli are getting to forty. Then the likes of Fernando Alonso, Heikki Kovaleinen, Vitantonio Liuzzi and Adrian Sutil are almost there in their thirties. With the exception of Alonso, Button and Massa the others are not in a position to justify their position on the F1 grid. Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastian Buemi are the real youngsters.
Obviously when an ageing population is in control of things it is most akin to a gerontocracy and that is precisely the reason why Formula1 has become so near sighted. All kinds of rubbish is promoted in the name of cost cutting and slowing the cars down so that it, F1 is safer. At one time ribbed tyres were introduced to slow the cars down. But nobody ever bothered to do something about the whole aerodynamics thingy in F1. If you take a close look you will see that this reliance on aerodynamics is what brought trouble to F1 in a big way and is at the root of all the things cited so far. Cars being too fast, lack of overtaking and high costs, all of them can be put down to the excessive involvement of aerodynamics. It has been pointed out that we have reached a stage in F1 where we cannot do without aerodynamics. We agree. But there is a way of cutting the expenditure involved.
Presently most of aerodynamics requirement is taken care of by wind tunnels that have to run 24 hrs a day. Please turn your attention to this team called Marussia Virgin Racing team. Its technical director is a man who goes by the name of Nick Wirth and not only is he behind the disastrous showing of Marussia Virgin till date but also in the 1990s of a team called Simtek. If you are wondering as to why we are invoking the name of a man who presides over disastrous teams here is the reason. Nick Wirth believes that costs can be brought down radically by giving up the ghost of the wind tunnel. He and Virgin have been using CFD or Computational Fluid Dynamics that does not require a wind tunnel but makes do with computers. If you see the time difference over one lap between the fastest car and the Virgin cars, you would see that sometimes it is three seconds per lap but mostly in the two second region.
So why does not the FIA ban the usage of wind tunnels completely and ask the teams to rely on CFD alone? The answer is simple. Try telling Luca Di Montezemolo or Adrian Newey or Ron Dennis this. Di Montezemolo and Dennis will explode in anger because this means that their “heritage” as F1 greats will be compromised and they will be reduced to starting on par with the Marussia Virgins, the Team Lotuses etc. Adrian Newey could lose his position as the genius behind winning cars and Mike Gascoyne could lose employment. Try convincing Patrick Head that this is the new way forward, he will pooh pooh the suggestion. After all he is pushing seventy, so what else do you expect? Despite the wide spread use of computational aids in various things including fluid dynamics (air is also a fluid), the older generation (put that as all over the age of fifty) are not fully familiar with the whole concept.
To draw a parallel, just think of the older people in offices that you work in. How savvy are they with new technologies and how open are they to new ideas? How near sighted are they? How much are they sacrificing the future for the comfort of the present? The same problem is what haunts F1 today. Gerontocracies are enemies of the future. The mindlessness that is so visible today is a result of everyone in power in F1 and FIA clinging on to their comfort zones. This leads to piecemeal experimenting with things such as moveable front and rear wings, different engine capacities and most recently tyres.
The issue of Pirelli tyres is worth looking into. They along with the moveable rear wing or the Drag Reduction System (DRS) have reduced F1 to a farce thus far this season. When tyre wear dictates that race strategies cannot be firmly put in place there is the great equalizer of all things. The DRS system has meant that there is no fun in racing because at any given point in the race, there are so many cars breezing past others only to find that once the car that they have overtaken on the previous lap is behind it can do the same to them this lap.
The justification for the tyres is that Pirelli is coming back into the sport after a long layoff going over twenty years. Please recall the first season that Bridgestone came into in F1. It was going up against Goodyear who had been there for a while. From race one onwards, Bridgestone tyres were performing as well as the Goodyear tyres, sometimes better. When Michelin came back they were able to compete straight away. So why is Pirelli not able to do so? Is it an inferior company? The answer is that Pirelli walked in as the sole supplier with no competition. It earns a handsome amount of money but due to the lack of competition they are not forced to accelerate development and their head honcho will say stupid things such as “It is more difficult to make tyres that don’t last than it is to make tyres that last”. Need we say anything here?
Let us face it, nothing will change in F1 for the better with these half baked and ill thought out measures. Even the new engine formula of four cylinder, turbo charged engines of 1600cc will not serve any constructive purpose. This is a measure to bring manufacturers such as Volkswagen into F1, since VW has been talking about a World Engine of these specifications. VW wants to make one engine that fits all, F1, World Rally Championship (WRC), World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) and anything else you can think of. Should F1 be dictated by these considerations? To hell with the manufacturers, let the teams make their own engines. Remember the Arrows team that made its own engines and also engines for the MotoGP project of Team Roberts? There are enough engine designers and consultants that the teams can use to make their own engines. Let us face it, for F1 to succeed we need a paradigm shift. Nothing less will do. Bring in young people and let them find refreshing and new ways of doing things. Till then F1 will be this, a pale shadow of what it once was.