Formula 1 needs a reassessment
The future of taxis is not the future of motorsport.
A raised hand followed by the sight of a cabbie were welcome on a rainy evening. His black cab, a new electric model was something of a conversation starter. A short chat broke out in seconds, the cabbie happy to talk about anything but my interest was in his ‘new’ cab, a year old and already sporting more miles than most people will do in their three-year lease. One thing overwhelmed the conversation, yes he liked how easy it was to drive, and for the stop-start of his daily grind, it was all he needed. There was a problem though, his old diesel cab had been with him for over a decade, and had become a character unto itself, maturing with age and not afraid to throw a tantrum when things weren’t going its way. ’This new one is more like a washing machine, use it until it dies, then get another one.’ The flippant remark was poignant. All the emotion of man and machine were stripped back and replaced by a giant whisper and a promise of reporting for duty each day no matter what. Some of us search for perfection in life, electric running is close to that, but those of us that have witnessed perfection know the paradox that it is since it is usually so complete in its delivery, it leaves you cold, thus incomplete, and imperfect. The back and forth we went on until approaching the bar I was heading to, tiptoeing into motorsport. ‘Well they’ll all be in one of these one day, I can tell you one thing, I won’t be watching'.
We agreed and I paid my fare. Unaware that those words would echo through my eardrums all night long. Formula 1 already has a problem similar to the American government’s balance of payment. At some point, the pain is going to set in and no real plans are being put to action to save the only thing that really matters in F1, the audience. There is the technical development, but VW seems to have got on pretty well without ever throwing millions of dollars at the elite race series. The pageantry of motorsport has long been its one-liner before the carnival gets underway. Now, restrictions on what can be said and can’t be said, what sponsors demand and how they demand it, and a lack of flair from the banning of anything that may be ever so slightly controversial leaves a husk. Nothing to worry about for us motoring enthusiasts that would turn up to a soggy Silverstone just to glimpse at the machinery. A big problem for the attraction of a wider audience, and the hope that a younger generation would show up because the sport had shown itself to be progressive is as much a non-starter as our kind cabbie’s old diesel taxi with 400,000 miles under its belt.
So the answer…
The future is electric, so many say, without really thinking about the implication of their words. Putting aside the huge switchover that would be needed, even bigger than anyone really imagines as we all think far too locally. Combustion engines are being given the elbow in favour of batteries, and for elite-level motorsport that prides itself on being at the cutting edge, this is a problem. Seeing a fast car is always exhilarating, few will ever get behind the wheel, but we can use our other senses. The sight, the sound, the smell…
Having stood near a formula 1 car that had been out on the track you can smell that unmistakable scent of burnt rubber, spent fuel, and heat from an engine. It’s like standing near a lion that has just made a kill, resting, but ready for more. Once more, hearing the V12/V10/V8 era was bliss, somewhere between adrenaline and calm harmony made it feel so powerful, even if a modern hybrid era car would walk away from it. It doesn’t quite have that edge. Ask someone if they would rather drive a Ferrari F430 or a Tesla and you may come to the same conclusion. Some will prefer the Tesla, but the motor enthusiast at heart couldn’t resist a Ferrari’s howl, even if they were going slower, they would swear differently.
Telemetry, engineers, and precision are all good, but nothing compared to seeing a spectacle, something that F1 seems to be going ever further away from and yet scratching its head as to why the next generation isn’t showing up in the crowds.
Having recently started to watch the occasional NASCAR race and Indycar battle I couldn’t believe the efforts that were gone to for the sake of the crowd. It makes F1 not only look dull, but they really seem to not give a damn what those outside of the sport think. Formula 1 couldn't and shouldn’t replicate it, but the onward march of corporate bore-fest is becoming stronger. If it weren’t for a few charismatic team principles and driver’s not interested in what their sponsor will say, the races would seem close to boardroom meetings, rather than sporting events. That's a little unkind, but there is a hint of truth. Does your average fan who works in a recycling centre, bank, or sofa warehouse want to watch eight engineers sweat whilst hearing about F1 politics, or just want some entertainment until we're lights out and away. I hope the passion wins over, and F1 realises that being the pinnacle of motorsport, not all things automotive, should be the goal. Can you get a V10 to release more power than before, can drivers show that they drive the sport, not data, and can they inspire a new generation into loving something enough to give up many hours of their weekends. Only time will tell, but a V10 howl and a bit more fun and games before the racing starts would sure help things along.