Motorsport’s flagship must embrace change

Editor

It was tipped to be one of the most open and exciting races for years. But ’Boring Bahrain’, as it’s been dubbed, provided one of the most uninspiring F1 curtain raisers in a long time.

The reason for this – according to a vocal body of fans, commentators and drivers – is the new ban on refuelling, which requires cars to possess a much larger fuel tank and shifts the focus from aggressive overtaking to tyre and brake conservation.

With Lewis Hamilton describing the race as a ’train’, Schumacher moaning that overtaking is impossible and Red Bull’s Mark Webber turning the ’twittersphere’ blue with his comments, passions are clearly running high. If history repeats itself in Melbourne on Friday, the dissenting voices will grow louder.

Those in favour of the changes have, sensibly in our view, cautioned against a knee-jerk repeal, and asked critics to give the regulations a chance. Apart from anything else, an about-face would require some impractical redesigns to the cars.

But whatever your view, the arguments for and against get right to the heart of arguably the biggest challenge top-flight motorsport has ever faced: how to enhance efficiency in this low-carbon age while still providing a sporting spectacle.

As previously reported in The Engineer, this challenge also creates opportunity and if F1 can pull off this delicate balancing act, it will achieve something that it hasn’t achieved for some years. It will reinvigorate the flow of technology from track to road that was once at the heart of the sport.

“Arguably the biggest challenge the sport has faced is how to enhance efficiency while still providing a sporting spectacle”

And despite a relatively inauspicious start down this track, there’s plenty of optimism that the sport can weather the current storm and evolve.

One optimist is Mercedes F1 chief Nick Fry, interviewed here, who looks beyond the current debate and sketches out a fascinating vision of fast and friendly racing: where shape-shifting materials refine a car’s aerodynamics in real time and electric powertrain technology plays an increasingly important role.

Fry also identifies a shift in the sensibilities of race fans and, crucially, race engineers. Like many others in the motorsport industry, Fry was intrigued by the reaction to last summer’s TTxGP, an all-electric bike race on the famous Isle of Mann circuit. It felt, he tells us, like the start of something special. Given the importance of the motorsport sector to the UK’s high-value manufacturing base, we have to hope that Fry’s vision isn’t too wide of the mark.

If motorsport’s flagship can pull off the difficult balancing act of road relevance and excitement, it has a bright future ahead of it. But as last week’s Grand Prix demonstrated, this will be no easy feat.

Can F1 become an exciting spectacle under the current regulations? Or should the sport’s governing body turn back the clock, abandon the quest for efficiency, and seek simply to provide high speed thrills and spills? As always, we welcome your comments, views and feedback. And please take a moment to vote in our poll