News and views on motorsports

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Formula 1 Competitiveness

This year has given Formula 1 fans the world over with a much better spectacle and a closer title race since year 2000 when Hakkinen and Schumacher were batlling to win their 3rd world drivers championship. Every race seems to turn up some surprises. Some have attributed this to rules stability, one lap qualifying and a host of other reasons.

Still, from race to race we lack the wheel to wheel action that race fans quite rightly expect. Overtaking still remains a rare occurrence. Even that passing devil Montoya has not been able to pull off any spectacular moves as he has in years past. Oh, there was that pass on Schumacher at the Nurburgring but still.

What's needed of course, is a set of regulations that result in the building of race cars that promotes close racing and overtaking. Over the years, the best racing has always been provided by the touring car boys and of course, Indycars. Why doesn't this occur in Formula 1? I'd like to think it's because they shape the rules to favour Ferrari. But this is of course not completely true.

At the height of the British Touring Car Championship heydays, we were treated to some of the best racing on planet Earth. From 1991 at the start of the Super Touring rules till 1999 close racing, overtaking, bumping and race craft became the hallmark of this championship. The rules were formulated to promote this sort of racing. And the fans should expect this of Formula 1. Strict rules governing the tyres and the rev limits of engines governed the championship. At the beginning of those days, aerodynamic aids were banned from the cars. No wings were allowed. That the cars were sticking to the roads were solely due to mechanical and tyre grip alone. However towards the end of that era aerodynamic aids were once again allowed after some manuverings from certain teams including an Italian one running cars that their owners would like to associate with Ferrari but are in actual fact glorified Fiats.

To be honest I haven't been following the PPG Indycar World Series recently. The survival of that series itself is currently hanging in the balance. However watching it from before it did produce some good racing. Especially when Juan Montoya was battling with Dario Franchitti. In that championship teams are allowed to purchase cars from other manufacturers. You did not have to make cars like you do in Formula 1. Plus the aerodynamic regulations of course allowed for stepped bottoms and ground effects aerodynamics that have been banned from Formula 1 since 1983. No electronic automatic gearchanges are allowed only sequential gearboxes just like touring cars. The effect of allowing ground efffects is that cars are less reliant on their wings to produce down force. The entire car itself produces a significant if not a major portion of the available aerodynamic downforce. This means that cars can run closer together and overtaking manuvers in corners and under braking would be possible. Sequential gearchanges of course still require the use of drivers hands to operate the gears. This is a skill completely missing from the autobox gearshifts of modern Formula 1.

Whilst it is not possible to ban wings from Formula 1 (where would you put sponsor advertising?) perhaps it would be better to move cars back to ground effects aerodynamics but perhaps more highly regulated and limited. I also believe that drivers fighting for the world championship should be made to work harder. Like using sequential gearboxes and clutches once again.

More importantly, who really cares about seeing Minardis, Jordans and BARs. Teams should once again be allowed to buy complete cars from manufacturers. However if they wish to manufacture their own cars then so be it. But for the smaller teams buying complete race cars are definitely the way to ensure their survival in the sport. After all, in this current year the cars that people are really watching are those that belong to the top teams.
Why not allow Minardi to buy a Ferrari and run them. Their entire budget can the be used to focus on the running of the car rather than being spent to very little effect on the design, manufacture and development of their own chassis. Engines can always be bought relatively inexpensively from manufacturers but the cost of building a bleeding edge chassis requires the budget of Williams and Ferrari.

If manufacturers were allowed to sell cars to other teams this would attract a lot more teams into Formula 1. Racing car manufacturers like Lola and March, even perhaps still others like Audi would participate in the world championship. The unit costs per car would drop because these manufacturers can recoup the development costs from sales of cars and spares to client teams.

Do not be surprised also, if you find that client teams can take on and even beat factory teams as has happened regularly in sports car and Indycar racing. This year the Michelin teams have cooperated very closely to produce a tyre that quite simply murders the Bridgestone. Imagine if all the teams running McLaren chassis were to collaborate closely to destroy the likes of Ferrari. A wily customer like Jordan for instance would probably do wonders running a Williams chassis.

You could even face a situation where a McLaren or a Williams chassis is run with different engines than the Mercedes or BMW engines that they normally run. Once again, more teams and more engine manufacturers would drop the cost per car. A return to the days of the 60s and 70s where the pits were overwhelmed with cars and teams would certainly send a spark of life back into the championship.

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