Brought to you by TJ13 Editor in Chief Andrew Huntley-Jacobs
To most keen F1 observers, the notion suggested in the title is the epitome of an oxymoron. In 18 months the strategy group has so far managed consensus on just one matter that has been implemented; the restriction on drivers forever changing their helmet designs.
Yet recently, there appears to be another ‘C’ word emerging on the topic of F1 driver aids. There is an almost universal opinion that the modern F1 driver is being given too much assistance.
Max Verstappen outlines the problem. “Even for us young drivers the amount of technical stuff is too much. I would say that right now only 20 percent [of my attention] is occupied with racing, and the vast majority of the remaining 80 percent with watching over the technical stuff”.
Of course the topic of driver aids is fairly broad, just as is cost control – where another consensus has been reached that costs in F1 are too high. How to cut them is a whole different discussion.
The devil – as ever – is in the detail.
In the past week, Jean Todt has spoken on the issue. “All driver aids we can ban, we should do it. Although the engineers, they are smart people, so they will try to find a way to interpret that”.
Recently we saw an example of engineers and drivers circumventing the rules on driver coaching. During a pre-race session in Monaco, Lewis Hamilton asked about his line through turn one and his engineer replied, “I can’t answer that”.
Hamilton switched tack and asked about the weather. Peter Bonnington replied, “It’s fine”.
Bernie Ecclerstone is equally frustrated by the instructions from the pit wall to drivers on how to manage the car. “All this chatter with the pit wall and the instructions from the engineers for the drivers – all that has to stop!”
Yet the teams are addicted to their live race analysis and predictive programmes which run ongoing scenarios as to how to complete the race in the most optimum fashion.
It appears Lewis Hamilton is in favour of this ‘driver mentoring’ approach.
“What do you think’s going to happen if they don’t tell me about tyres? – I’m still going to drive the same.
“And if they don’t tell us about fuel, maybe more cars won’t finish. If that’s more exciting then we can do that”.
Hamilton argues that the current F1 drivers are receiving LESS information than a few years ago. However, the information they do now receive is in fact vital.
“With the way these tyres are, the optimal way to get to the end of the race is something we don’t have all the information in front of us for.
“You can’t feel how much fuel you’re using, you’re driving as fast as you can the majority of the time, so you need some guidance with that.
“With the tyres, sometimes as they start to lose rubber it’s difficult to feel it, it’s very subtle changes.
“You don’t know when temperatures are going to drop, so that’s when you need the guidance.”
Yet other contemporary drivers feel differently about this kind of information. During the Canadian GP, Valterri Bottas engineer – Jonathan Eddolls – asked his driver on lap 16 of the race:-
“Just give me some more feedback on tyres. How many laps left on this set?”
Bottas replied, “Losing a little bit of traction now. Maybe something between 15 and 20”.
Having the team chart the optimum race and instruct the driver how to change the setup of the car is not something Nigel Mansell believes should be happening.
“The drivers are not being given an opportunity to express how great they are as a race-car driver because there are too many aids and too many engineers telling them how to balance the car. The great thing about years gone by is that they had to balance the car themselves.”
Those who criticise Max Verstappen should hear him out on this issue.
“Sometimes I switch off the display in my car! I want to rely on my gut feeling. Isn’t that what made great race drivers in the end?”
Some drivers clearly have what it takes to read a fuel indicator and with the aid of an inboard computer work out fuel consumption for themselves. They may also be able to tell when their tyres have run out, and it’s time to stop and get new ones.
Wouldn’t this make F1 racing more interesting?
And it doesn’t cost very much either.