F1 is the greatest motorsport in the world. It’s fast, rich, sexy, glamourous and high tech. Based on any one of those attributes it beats the hell out of NASCAR. I have enjoyed watching it for 25 years. But does F1 need an overhaul?
Yes. And no.
The 2010 championship is currently as close as a championship has ever been. Red Bull-Renault, Ferrari and McLaren-Mercedes are all serious contenders with Mercedes GP an outside chance. There’s nothing worse than seeing one team of two cars win every race by more than a lap. So the current balance of rules is doing something right in keeping it close and making sure that the champion will not be known until the end of the season. So there’s a valid argument against meddling with the rules; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Rule changes are introduced every year with the intention of improving the cars and making the racing more exciting and safer. The tech is expected to trickle down from the racetrack to the street, and indeed top of the line Ferrari sports cars make use of things developed in F1 that are now illegal on the track like movable wings. And turbochargers. The F-duct is a fantastic example of out-thinking the regulations and developing a system to alter the aerodynamics to give a speed advantage in the straights. Also, some teams have developed a flexible wing system that seems to defy the current static load tests but allows flex on the track which means they’re still legal because, hey, they passed the established tests. But I feel there’s too much reliance on aerodynamics in F1.
A serious attempt at taking the grip away from the upper aerodynamics and putting more of an emphasis on ground effects would definitely help. It would allow cars to run closer to each other. Currently, a car with front and rear wings is modeled on and runs best in clear air. The closer you get to a car you’re trying to overtake, the more you’re at the mercy of the turbulent air coming off it. Your front wing doesn’t work as well. This affects your grip, especially coming into corners where most overtaking is done. Allowing ground effects is one thing that would allow the cars to run closer together, and would allow more passing on track rather than in the pits.
If I was ever in charge of F1, and God willing it will only be a matter of time, I’d give each team two shells and as few design rules and regulations as possible. Hire the biggest engineering brains you can find and see what you come up with, working within a framework of some standardised aspects such as, for example, tyres. The only goal is to get around the track as fast as possible. I’m sure that even allowing ground effects and turbochargers in current F1 cars you could take 20% off the lap record of each track. I mean, when you sit down to a racing game, trying to build the fastest car possible to smash the track lap records is the most fun part of the game. Take the leash off design and you’ll see more innovations like F-Duct and KERS, new tech which can then be matured for street cars. You’d probably also need to hire drivers with no fear of death.
Thankfully, I’ll never be in charge of F1 and I think the current rules system almost has it right. Challenges such as restrictions to power could be introduced. Perhaps a small displacement turbo engine would be attractive and would make F1 more culturally and environmentally relevant. Whatever happens, I’m enjoying 2010 and hope that Mark Webber can keep is lead for four more races.