Saturday, May 23, 2009

Monaco Grand Prix and the Future of F1

Tomorrow is the Monaco Grand Prix - which is always an exciting and engaging race even in a sport commonly criticized for being more about strategy and pit-stops than actual racing.

It'll be a great race in what's turning out to be a great season; this time around, home-spun underdogs Brawn GP are wiping the garage floor with big-budget rivals Ferrari and McLaren.

But it's rather ironic that the most exciting season in years might also be the last.

F1 as we know it is on the brink of collapse, with many teams (including Ferrari, who have been involved in F1 since its very inception) threatening to walk out over new rule changes being touted by the FIA.

At the crux of the crisis is the concept of a budget cap; enforcing a strict $40 million budget on each team. This would, in theory, equalize the sport - removing the advantage teams like Ferrari and McLaren have (they often spend in excess of $200 million a season.)

But unsurprisingly, the big teams in F1 are opposing this measure, which would open up the championship to a whole slew of new entrants and eliminate the advantage their spending power gives them.

However, I can sympathize with the position the FIA is taking. Each and every season, spending increases to unprecedented (and unsustainable) levels. This makes the teams wildly disproportionate - with giants like McLaren always living lavishly, whilst underdogs like Minardi (now Red Bull sponsored Scuderia Toro Rosso) having to scrimp and save just to put a race-worthy car on the track.

The enormous spending also dramatically changes to competition itself - driving the development of motor-racing in new and exciting directions. However, every year it seems like the FIA is undermining each new and exciting technological innovation as soon it appears; all in an effort to keep the sport 'competitive.'

One of the most absurd examples of this used to be the mandatory use of the 'four groove' racing tyres, which eliminated the grip these monstrous racing machines had on the racetrack; essentially the equivalent of having Sebastian Coe run the 1500m in fluffy bunny slippers.( Fortunately, this season 'slicks' have been re-allowed.)

In some ways, a budget cap would level the playing field and help return the pinnacle of motor racing back to what it was always supposed to be - a competition between drivers, not developers. But in other ways, it would destroy the very spirit of the sport - which has always been about pushing the envelope of racing technology.

Many modern automobile innovations stem from racing roots; and more continue to do so. For example, this season's groundbreaking 'regenerative braking' system; which recycles the energy used in high-speed breaking. This race technology will probably find its way to the next generation of street cars and hybrids soon enough.

Reducing budgets would slow these innovations, which are one of the major reasons manufacturers like Renault and Toyota invest in competing in this wildly expensive sport.

Not to mention that 'Formula One' is simply synonymous with excess. It's the most expensive sport in the world - a game played by millionaires, sipping champagne on yachts on the Cote d'Azur. Part of its appeal and mystique has always been the spending of ridiculous sums of money; all for the sake of sending those tiny little cars zooming around the racetrack.

Capping the budgets would, quite frankly, put a limit on the excitment and entertainment.

Besides, the major reason Bernie Eccleston and Max Mosley have given for their crazy budget cap idea is the notion of equalising the teams. Watching the 2009 season - in which Brawn GP are dominating the bigger-budget competition - I think the teams have proven that they can equalise things enough already, without any FIA interference.

F1 continues to be one of the biggest and most successful sports in the world; the FIA would be well advised not to bugger about with its winning formula.


Tom said...

Hm... the Prius has used regenerative braking since it first existed. So F1 is hardly pioneering this technology.

Roland Hulme said...

Come now, Tom - even you know that the Prius was sent back in time from the year 2150, so it doesn't count.

(Quote not verified.)

Tom said...

No... you're thinking of the DeLorean.

When it comes to auto racing with a budget cap, nothing beats the 24 hours of LeMons.

Roland Hulme said...

Coolest. Link. Ever.

Thanks Tom!

I am so going to enter that one day...

Tom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom said...

You'll need 3-5 other drivers. Count me in.

Brit' Gal Sarah said...

I completely agree with your opinions on this Roland and I think it's about time Max & Bernie took early retirement!

I have watched this sport avidly for 35 years and before that too, although I was unable to form an opinion then. It is all about the development, the excitement, the glamour, the thrill and the power-broking. As you said this season the lesser teams have overtaken the stalwarts without any ridiculous cap. Plus IF they had adopted Bernies crazy plan of the winner being the man with the most wins, well this season would soon be settled!

They need to quit interfering with a winning formula, the excitement this season has proved all is good.

Suki said...

I've been totally out of the F1 loop the past 2 seasons, but I agree that Max and Bernie need to get there heads out of a dark place. Even my captcha is calling them clowns, or - more accurately - "sclownr".

The budget cap was being thought of at a point when Ferrari single-handedly decimated their competition thanks to their high budgets. The only thing that could stop them at that point seemed to be the Bridgestone tyres, which were really not matching up to Michelin - the gap was growing as their clientele(and hence research data) decreased. But when competition has increased and the conditions that caused the rule are gone... what gives??