By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. To say that the romance is gone in Formula 1 is to state the obvious. For the legions of fans who became enchanted with the movie Grand Prix when it made its debut back in the stone age (1966), the sport has lost its luster over the subsequent decades, like clockwork. Not that there haven't been spikes of interest in the sport over the ensuing years, but there's a reason that some of the most actively followed auto enthusiast sites on Twitter post images of F1 from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s.
This will not be a wistful nostalgia screed about the "good ol' days" of Formula 1. And it won't be a detailed documentation of the sport's long, downward slide either, because the short story is simple: greed, along with manufacturer interest in skewing the results to justify their investment has cast a negative pall over the sport for years. Orchestrated by The Diminutive One, aka Bernard Ecclestone, the sport has been chasing the money for decades, bamboozling governments, track owners, and state and local city politicians to acquiesce to Bernie's wishes to the detriment of tradition, and in some cases, common sense.
And now, with the sport in a constant swirling maelstrom of discord, with everyone from the participating manufacturers, sponsors and team owners, to the governments big and small who poured billions of dollars into the sport on the idea that it would promote tourism, or some such nonsense, F1 has reached an impasse.
Fundamental decisions cannot be made, because the participating parties with skin in the game steadfastly refuse to come together and do what's right for the sport. Common ground cannot be reached on engine power, fuel efficiency and a host of other challenges. And in lieu of that, Bernie keeps calling the shots. And F1 continues down the road to oblivion. Disagree? Think that's an overstatement? If you believe that there will always be manufacturers and sponsors willing to contribute to $400+ million a year F1 operating budgets for a chance to win, or $150 million just for a place on the grid, think again. And when this Greed Circus blows up, it's going to create a very large bang that will reverberate throughout the racing world.
A prevailing opinion suggests that a reduced downforce formula with 1000HP+ engines and a reduction in automatic driver controls is just the ticket to restore respectability to F1. And as a shot-term solution, I agree with that point of view. Make the cars scary fast and make them difficult to control, too, and then let's see which teams and drivers can cut it. But if the budgets as they exist now remain for the short term, the "have" teams will continue to out pace the "have not" teams because let's face it, it all comes down to development resources and technical capability.
(And as for the "haves" and "have nots" in racing, who's kidding whom here? Racing will always be defined by that paradigm, it's just the way it is and frankly the way it should be. Not everyone gets a trophy and not everyone gets a pat on the head for trying. It's "Just win, baby!" and everything else remains secondary. And if some teams have more talent and resources than others, well, that's too frickin' bad. "It's just one of them racin' deals" as we're reminded by our southern racing friends.)
So then, what to do with Formula 1? If you believe that F1 represents the "pinnacle" of motorsport, I would assume you subscribe to the theory that unfettered technical development should be part and parcel of the sport going forward. But that certainly flies in the face of the "less downforce, fewer controls and more horsepower" perspective, doesn't it? And in fact, wouldn't the "less downforce, more horsepower" formula, in effect, just create a different kind of "spec" racing, albeit on a grander - and thankfully, louder - scale?
The answer to that is yes, and frankly, if that were to be the "new" formula for the next five years I, for one, would be perfectly happy. But that's the selfish answer. The sport needs something bigger. It needs a more visionary perspective, one with a much more lofty goal. If F1 is to remain the "pinnacle" of motorsport then it should be at the forefront of advancing automotive technology, while it's at it.
My "radical" solution? Throw out the current rules after the 2016 season and, using the Formula E series as only a starting point, create a "new" Formula 1 that's based on full electric power. But with inducements such as "free" battery size and type and "free" aerodynamic packaging. And with the current Formula 1 teams throwing the full weight of their development capability (and money) at this challenge, how long do you think it would take for the required "halftime" car swaps in Formula E (for fresh batteries) to be replaced by cars that can go the distance - with full power? How long do you think it would take for teams to start attacking the course records at F1 tracks around the world? And how long do you think it would take for advancements in electric propulsion developed in F1 to trickle down to our production cars?
When Formula E first came out I dismissed it as a gimmick. I no longer believe that. I now believe it could be the radical solution to energize Formula 1 all over again and propel it into a new era of technological development and speed.
And that's the High-Octane Truth for this week.
Check out the latest episode of The High-Octane Truth on AutoextremistTV below. -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)
Daytona, Florida, 1963. Dan Gurney standing by his No. 0 Holman-Moody Lafayette Ford at the Daytona International Speedway before that year's Daytona 500. Gurney qualified in eleventh position for his first go at Daytona and finished a very impressive fifth overall. Tiny Lund (No. 21 Wood Brothers English Motors Ford) was a substitute driver for the Wood Brothers but he won the race. Fred Lorenzen (No. 28 Holman-Moody Lafayette Ford) finished second, followed by Ned Jarrett (No. 11 Burton-Robinson Ford), Nelson Stacy (No. 29 Holman-Moody Ron's Ford Sales Ford) and Gurney. Watch a short 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