Brought to you by Adam Macdonald
It is a commonly known fact that as we (as humans) develop more and more complex technologies for means of communication, we actually share less important information with each other. One example of this is SMS messaging, where tone is taken out of what is said. It’s virtually impossible to convey sarcasm by the medium of text.
Of course, Formula One is no different in the technology trends. Whilst extras like KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) could one day be useful, items like DRS (Drag Reduction System) and the Double DRS will never be a necessary part of road cars machinery; and let’s not even get started on double diffusers. KERS was, after all, the brainchild of the now departed from the FIA, Max Mosley.
Mario Theissen, the boss of BMW Sauber back in 2009, said, “I would say if it isn’t made mandatory it will disappear.” And so it did! For the British GP 2009 only Ferrari ran with the heavy KERS units (qualifying 9th and 11th), whilst the technology light Brawn GPs were running away with the WDC and WCC, and the RBs just about kept pace. Theissen continued to say, “We evaluated different alleys, proceeding with KERS or proceeding on the aero side and what could we do with no KERS on board.”
The systems were reported to have cost £350,000 a race to run, not including the initial setup costs.
And there it was summed up perfectly, without needing a long-winded explanation – 2009 was the start of the aero era, where not only was the new technology on the racing cars less beneficial, but also redundant to road cars. So this begs the question as to what purpose does introducing these costly technologies to the car actually achieves?
It was only 2 months ago that Luca di Montezemolo announced Ferrari would be cutting their road car output to 7,000 per year, after their most successful year for sales ever in 2012. (It’s lucky that the figure does not include F1 cars, as Felipe Massa has become a fan of testing out the crash barriers recently).
He compared the Ferrari aura of exclusivity to “waiting for a beautiful woman.” In this same announcement, he Ferrari vowed would NEVER make an electric car. The Bologna born Chairman said, “We will never manufacture an electric car as long as I’m chairman.” Such a clear defiant stance to the direction of the sport cannot, in any way, be constructive.
Ferrari is the only high-end sports car producer to publicly speak out against electric power, with Porsche currently leading the way in this field.
With the introduction of these intricate technologies, the cars at the back of the grid are forced closer to the breadline in terms of finances, as the disparity between the big 4 (Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes and McLaren) and the midfield teams grows. All this, only for a few electric cars to be in regular circulation; of which only a small proportion contain technology that has been slightly influenced by the premier racing tier.
So how useful are these electric quirks?
The Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt were launched in late 2010, which are the leaders in PEVs (plug-in electric vehicles). Hybrid cars have been around for close to 14 years now, and are steadily selling which bodes well for the future, with Forbes.com predicting there will 3.8 million EVs (electrical vehicles) worldwide by 2020.
Dave Hurst, of Pike Research, has described the sales of EVs as not currently meeting automakers’ or politicians’ expectations. Much of this can be put down to the global recession from 2008, whereby the UK, like much of the Western world is experiencing a double dip recession. At this point it would seem more sensible for a sport like F1 to protect what it has, rather than try these new gismos for the car.
Follow the leader
Japan, with 28% of global sales in 2012, is the market leader for EVs. So with no Japanese drivers on the grid currently, and no Japanese manufacturers until 2015 when Honda return, is F1 lagging behind the world with no influence from the Asian market, and in fact playing catch up at the worst possible time? Even more poignant is the fact that the second biggest share is in the US, with 26%, where F1 is only beginning to reconquer.
Over the pond from the UK, oval tracks are all the rage as NASCAR dominates. In May, the series announced that the series would be using a 100 mph pace car to demonstrate the potential for green technologies. Mike Lynch, Managing Director of Green Innovation for the Daytona Beach based sport, said the NASCAR is “not going to limit itself to using one type of energy powered car.”
On 20th June 2013, Nissan unveiled their DeltaWing-style electric car, which will be entered into Le Mans in 2014. The futuristic looking car will be trialling more of the new technologies that have been so successful already in the Asian car markets.
If Formula One is behind these two series already, then it surely has to either catch up very quickly to maintain its supremacy or take a different path in the development of the sport. If it does neither then the future for the sport could be extremely bleak. Especially given the fact the FIA seem more worried about discussing tyre related matters and FOM are seemingly not too bothered about getting a new Concorde agreement in place, however there have been recent developments with these matters, so there is still hope.
The FIA needs to reassess if the technologies are a feasible option moving forward. Criticism for the 2014 engines has been widespread throughout the paddock. However, if these new regulations are to spell the end of the aerodynamic era, it can only be a positive thing for the technologies of the future, giving them a real prospect of making a difference to the racing.