News and views on motorsports

Monday, May 23, 2005

Comments On the FIA Survey

My first comment on the survey is that they greatly underestimated the response from the public. It was only with some difficulty that I was able to complete the survey. There were server side errors aplenty. They ought to scale up the service to cope with the sheer amount of traffic.

The survey has obviously been conducted in conjunction with F1 Racing magazine. Respondents are given a multiple choice style questionnaire. Now obviously that makes it easier to tabulate and produce statistics but the questions I felt asks for comments on F1 Racing's views and topics. There may be other aspects and points of views not adequately reflected in the questions.

Question 9 in the survey is interesting. It asks: "How strongly do you agree or disagree that each of the following are essential aspects of F1?" Respondents indicate their agreement on a scale of 1-5. My response to this is that, it is essential Formula 1 remain the sport's pinnacle. The complexity of race strategy is not that essential. Though it can be fascinating, whats more important is that F1 must showcase the skills of the drivers.

Controversy gives people something to talk about but is it essential? Not really to the sport per se. Though makes great topics on forums and blogs and does build a sense of community as demonstrated by the recent BAR issue.

I'm probably in the minority here but to me, the presence of multi-national car manufacturers isn't that essential at all. In fact if specialist engine makers such as Mugen, Judd, Hart et al were to return and dominate, I'd quite like that.

Again, I think I'm in the minority but Formula 1 need not showcase the most advanced technology. I think its more important to crown the true world champion of motorracing. Now, to truly test pure skills, I think karts are probably the best vehicles to do it but that I guess just won't do. Still though, when talking about technology there should just be enough but not overblown.

Question 17 of the survey touches the subject of technology again. I a certain extent the sport is more about technology and less about driver skills. Michael Schumacher is a far superior driver but Damon Hill won the 1996 world championship in a vastly superior Williams Renault.

I'm not sure at all that Formula 1 technology makes any difference to our road cars in terms of safety and design. There's a huge difference between side impact systems and airbags and the Formula 1 safety cell, I should think. Perhaps touring car safety cells have more relevance but even then there's a huge difference between a touring car roll cage welded to the chassis and whatever protection afforded by road cars. And you'll probably never see nor will you ever need FIA approved racing seats and six point harnesses welded and attached directly into racing cars.

Is technology really the most exciting aspect of Formula 1? Most people I know simply don't care so long as those cars move really fast. The average layman isn't going to know much about the difference between a Champcar and a Formula 1 car. All they would probably know is that both of them go at some serious speeds, with some superbly skilled drivers behind the wheel. That's the exciting aspect really.

There are of course technically inclined fans like myself but I take the stand that the racing between drivers must be exciting and the cars must of course be fast, driven on superb circuits. But I look forward to technical innovations year on year. But these innovations I think make the championship less competitive.

On the subject of technology, we must ask the question, how much is enough? Personally, I love the mechanical technical innovations and this includes suspension and chassis design and aerodynamics. I'm far less interested in electronics, software development and the tons of computer equipment on circuits. Nowadays I feel a lot of cost needlessly goes into electronics and gizmos whereas there is a lot of scope left for mechanical innovations.

Take a look at the 1991 Williams Renault or 1992 McLaren Honda. I loved the detail on the front wings. Sliding skirts on them with tunnels that channeled the air underneath to the back of the rear wheels to create a vaccum effect under the front wings. These are mechanical innovations but are absolutely fascinating in the detail.

Electronic traction control is boring to me but an innovative differential design would be. So would some new wishbone and suspension geometry. On the subject of differentials, the en vogue electronic differential is great so long as its the driver that manages the settings. Seeing Schumacher adjusting the diff in mid corner is great and introduces a new required skill into the sport. But if the settings were completely managed by a computer ala a fully automatic gearbox, that would suck.

Fully automatic and even semi-automatic gearboxes should be dropped totally. It takes away from an essential skill that the driver should possess, that is to change gears in the fastest and most accurate way. Even sequential gearshifts with foot clutches would be preferable.

Active aerodynamics (and suspension systems) are quite rightly banned and should remain so. The driver should be the one adjusting the wings, not some computer. Ditto anti lock braking and continously variable transmissions. Electronic launch control is another innovation that I strongly disagree with.

In short, technology that places a higher skill demand on the driver is good but those that take away from the driver is bad.

Modern Formula 1 engines simply wouldn't be possible without the vast array of electronic sensor suites in them. Advanced metallurgy, production techniques and materials are also another big factor. Fascinating but incredibly costly stuff and does nothing for the actual "battle" between drivers. There needs to be engine technology innovation but lets drop the need for costly electronic innovation. There's plenty of scope in the mechanical, chemical and metallurgical department.

Lots of people complain that modern road cars such as BMWs and Mercedes are prohibitively expensive to repair thanks to the need to fiddle with electronics by specially trained mechanics. The entire car is governed by the black box. Most people would simply like to see a return to cheaper solutions such as mechanical linkages between throttle and engine. So why don't the FIA encourage engine manufacturers to dream about better mechanical solutions to such aspects via Formula 1 rather than encouraging further electronic gizmos? If you close off the electronic aspects, they'd be forced to innovate in different and potentially less costly directions.

I think they should formulate the rules to encourage more X-Prize like innovations rather than the building of space shuttle like machines. As you may know, the X-Prize was a contest to launch the first privately funded space flight. I found it absolutely amazing that at a fraction of a NASA space launch cost sans shuttle, Scaled Composites the winner was able to design a space vehicle, launch it into space and repeat the attempt inside a week.

Now I'm not suggesting excluding the manufacturers from Formula 1 but the rules should be encouraging this sort of X-Prize style innovation. This would in turn bring about specialists able to battle successfully against the big manufacturers.

Well, thats enough about technology. Some other questions in the FIA survey caught my interest. Qualifying format being one of them. The best choice available in the survey was "The best time from a specified number of flying laps." I would have preferred if they gave me a choice of best time from an unlimited number of laps in a one hour session.

Question 13 dealt with respondents' on aspects that would make Formula 1 more entertaining. Tyre change reintroduction is a difficult one to agree on. The current format is producing some good racing. But I think I'd like to see tyre changes. More overtaking is definitely needed. And definitely, an increase in the number of competing teams. Something they will not get unless rules are rewritten to reduce costs.

Question 10 deals with circuits. The question was : "Would the removal of any of these circuits decrease your interest in F1?" And we are given a list of circuits. My response is that the FIA removes Interlagos, Imola, Barcelona, Silverstone, Spa, Monte Carlo, Suzuka and Motreal to their peril. I wish the question was framed differently like perhaps, which circuits do you like and which ones do you loathe? Regular readers of this Blog would know my answer to that one. Simply remove all circuits designed by Hermann Tilke, with the exception of Barcelona.

I wish I could have included Hockenheim in the list of circuits I chose in Question 10. If it had been the Hockenheim of yesteryear I would have. But this Tilke monstrosity deserves to be replaced.

The survey keeps touching on the subject of the inclusion of new countries into Formula 1. My stance on that is it doesn't matter. What matters more is the circuits that are being used. For example, I wouldn't mind another race in England if it meant running at Brands Hatch. France has two races if you count Monaco. But in my view they can make three if it meant including the superb Circuit Paul Ricard. In fact, I'd say take away that horrible Shanghai circuit and do just that. I'd even suggest sacrificing Sepang for a return to Ricard.

And of course, the terrible Hungaroring should go as should the pointless Bahrain. Once upon a time I would have backed another grand prix in Japan but look what Hermann Tilke did to the once superb Fuji circuit. That imbecile.

If they want to hold more races in new countries, I'm all for that as long as the circuits in these new destinations are fast and flowing as epitomised by Spa Francorchamp.

Whatever the faults of the survey, we must applaud the FIA's attempts to gather public opinion. Whether or not they will act on it is quite another matter. Lastly, I think its unsurprising that respondents are not asked this question: "Is rule stability important to Formula 1?" I would say thats absolutely essential. Where there have been periods of stability, the racing quality is undeniably better. And it keeps the manufacturers and teams happy as well.


Michel said...


I have yet to manage making it past question 3, and now the site is down for an upgrade.

I like a LOT of your commetns, since the mirror what I have been advocating (in vain) across a number fo F1 forums the last couple of seasons.

last week I was acused for wanting to go retro, when all I want is the overtaking to increase, and all of it on track and now in the pits.

Great read, keep blogging...


Anonymous said...

Question 10 deals with circuits. The question was : "Would the removal of any of these circuits decrease your interest in F1?" And we are given a list of circuits.

Strngely enough, when you look at this question in some of the other languages, it translates as "Would the removal of any of these circuits INCREASE your interest in F1?"

That bodes well .......