By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. In last week's episode ("Thinking Out Loud" -WG) I delved into the conundrums facing Formula 1and major league sports car racing here in the U.S. This week, I am going to focus on the state of F1. You can't go anywhere on the Internet or on social media without running into yet another article about the downward spiral of F1. Some of F1's top drivers are finally speaking out, which is to their credit. They seem to be acutely aware that what's going on in F1 right now is simply not sustainable, and that a new path must be forged before the sport deteriorates any further.
As I said last week, there are too many exceptionally bright minds in and around F1 for the series to be doing what it is doing. The lack of vision and fundamental unwillingness to be bolder with the technical aspects of the sport is staggering, because it suggests that the people involved actually believe that the current "greed circus" will last forever. We know that's certainly not the case, because obviously nothing - especially in racing - lasts forever. Money comes and goes, manufacturers come and go and the sport is constantly in the throes of a percolating, seething unhappiness as in someone, somehow is being slighted or worse, ignored, which seems to trigger petulant billionaire foot stomping of some kind or another.
And make no mistake, "greed circus" is the perfect description of the current F1. How so? The series exists in a vacuum of its own making. The "circus" flies into a country or city that serves up the most money, while providing the required accoutrements, which include a (preferably new) circuit with the proper pit garages and entertainment suites so that nothing untoward surprises the competitors or their sponsors. Then the race meeting takes place, completely devoid of anything to do with a "show" of any kind, meaning that if the entire thing transpired without spectators no one in the F1 garage seemingly would even care, given their absence of involvement with the paying customers. Then it's on to the next mark, er stop, on the calendar.
Am I suggesting that "the show" become the most important part of the equation, like NASCAR? No, of course not. But F1 should make at least a modicum of effort to give the paying customers something for their money, other than the rote ritual that defines an F1 weekend as it exists today, where everything seems sanitized and pasteurized to the point that it approaches robo-racing. If it weren't for the drivers, I'm afraid we'd be close to it.
F1 has faced precipitous downturns in the past, but nothing like what's going on today. It's not enough to suggest that Bernie Ecclestone has to go as I said last week, because that is merely the price of entry in this discussion. Bernie had a good run, and most of what you see in F1 today - good and bad - is directly the result of his efforts. But it is long overdue for F1 to embark on a new, rejuvenated path. An entire rethink of the sport is needed, as in, what is Formula 1 and what does it want to be going forward? Does it want to respect the past while projecting into the future? Or does it want to continue along in fits and starts with incremental changes leading to nowhere?
I say listen to the drivers, who seem to be focusing on what should be the inherent raison d'etre for F1 going forward. They want more horsepower and more speed. They want the cars to be more difficult to drive because, well, if this is supposed to be the pinnacle of the sport then it shouldn't be easy to do. They want the cars to sound better, too, like racing cars are supposed to sound.
I see only two paths for F1 going forward. 1. Take a step back in the technology race and place the emphasis on the driver, with emphasis on speed and sound. Or, 2. Throw the rule book out completely and embark on a new era of wide-open experimentation and design, as I suggested on February 10th.
There are strong points attached to both, but one argument I steadfastly refuse to accept is that F1 can't afford a massive redirect. In fact, I find that argument to be completely specious and absurd. Given the money being spent in F1, it's hard to see how a wholesale change in the rules would make much of a difference in the overall spending, which remains the primary argument against doing so by the powers that be. But by not doing anything about it they're just accelerating F1's downward spiral.
There's no doubt whatsoever that F1 is at a crossroads. As I've said repeatedly over the last ten years or so, F1 must embrace a new vision if it wants to remain at the pinnacle of the sport. The problem is that no one can "fix" F1 except for the players involved, and so far they've shown a stunning lack of awareness and an even more pathetic lack of willingness to get out of their own way.
But here's the thing, despite all of the unmitigated bullshit plaguing the sport right now, by all accounts people still care about it.
So here's a warning to the powers that be in F1: When people stop caring it will be too late.
And that's the High-Octane Truth for this week.
Editor's Note: “The Decision” is the first of five video shorts from the Ford Motor Company about the development of the Ford GT. It features Bill Ford Jr., Raj Nair, Dave Pericak and Edsel B. Ford II, who attended the 1966 race with his father, Henry Ford II. The shorts will culminate in one long-form documentary that will follow the development of both the Street Car and Race Car version of the Ford GT from the decision to build the cars to the return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. (The Autoextremist makes a cameo appearance as well.) Watch it here. -WG
Editor's Note: Many of you have seen Peter's references over the years to the Hydrogen Electric Racing Federation (HERF), which he launched in 2007. For those of you who weren't following AE at the time, you can read two of HERF's press releases here and here. And for even more details (including a link to Peter's announcement speech), check out the HERF entry on Wikipedia here. -WG
Publisher's Note: As part of our continuing series celebrating the "Glory Days" of racing, we're proud to present another noteworthy image from the Ford Racing Archives. - PMD
(Courtesy of the Ford Racing Archives)
Indianapolis, Indiana, 1966. Jackie Stewart sits in his No. 43 John Mecom Bowes Seal-Fast Lola/Ford at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Stewart qualified in eleventh position for the 50th running of "The Greatest Spectacle In Racing" and ran at or near the front most of the day, but then suffered a loss of oil pressure while leading with ten laps to go. He was classified as finishing sixth. Stewart's teammate, Graham Hill (No. 24 John Mecom American Red Ball Lola/Ford) inherited the lead and went on to win the race. Jimmy Clark (No. 19 Team Lotus STP Gas Treatment Lotus/Ford) finished second and Jim McElreath (No. 3 John Zink Moore/Ford) was third. The race was marred by a massive crash at the start, and it also marked the end of the roadster era at The Speedway. Watch a comprehensive video here.
Publisher's Note: Like these Ford racing photos? Check out www.fordimages.com. Be forewarned, however, because you won't be able to go there and not order something. - PMD