The big green elephant in the corner

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, Melbourne, 2006Over at the Motor Racing Journal, Qwerty has some very interesting thoughts on Max Mosley’s plans for the future of Formula One. Particularly on the controversial move to standard specification engines from 2008 and Mosley’s desire to see car manufacturers develop alternative fuel technologies in Formula One:

For 100 years the emphasis of racing has always been speed, speed and yet more speed. Everything else was secondary. Now it seems the powers deem a cultural shift as a necessity. I’d rather not be a part of that. And for what? To please dirty politicians? … Let Formula 1 and racing in general be about racing technology. And let roadcar technologies like hybrids be the domain of company laboratories and soccer mums.

As much as I appreciate the passion for the sport and the disdain for Mosley’s methods, I can’t say I agree entirely.

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F1 Refuelling Central to the argument is the idea that Formula One has always been at the cutting edge of racing technologies.

But we all know this hasn’t been the case for a long time: Ground effect aerodynamics, turbos, four wheel drive, active suspension, four wheel steering, continuously variable transmission – this is just part of the list of technologies banned from Formula One, some of them decades ago.

After all that, what is so dramatic about freezing engine technology to force power development down an entirely new path?

Yes, the engine freeze has been implemented woefully badly.

Yes, it would have made infinitely more sense to introduce it at the end of the V10’s development life instead of forcing the car manufacturers to go to ridiculous expense of developing new V8 engines – and then freezing them.

But this ‘change of mentality’ that everyone speaks of is crucially important. I adore motor sport but to think it can exist in a hermetically sealed bubble, untouched by politics, economics or the environment would be tragically naive.

Think about it. Have you seen a single half-hour news bulletin this year that didn’t mention either the crisis in the Middle East – source of most of the world’s oil – or climate change, if not both?

Is it not therefore critical that F1 safeguards itself against the threat of an energy and/or pollution crisis? This week’s Autosport gives twelve pages over to arguing this very point.

Ferrari refuelling, Bahrain, 2006Does the freezing of engine specifications pose the threat of Formula One no longer being seen as the pinnacle of motoring technology? If so, then the opportunities presented for Formula One teams’ development capabilities to be channeled into something as revolutionary as developing new power sources are even greater.

From the 1960s to the 1990s motor sport moved through a change of mentality where the mainstream perception of driver fatalities in motor sport went from being unremarkable to shocking and abhorrent. I see the adoption of new propulsion technologies in the same terms – something that Formula One must eventually accept – or perish.

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