Autoview Motorsport & Motoring

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Formula 1 in rude health?

Well, another fine Formula 1 season draws to a close and, ok, granted it wasn't an epic no-holds barred fight for the championship, as we saw in 2010, with the test of character, skill, bravery and luck that so defines a truly great season, but those outstanding seasons wouldn't be as, well, outstanding if they happened every year, would they?

As an avid follower of Formula 1 for over 30 years (I can scarcely believe it myself!), Formula 1 fans, in my view, generally fall into two categories, those who enjoy the human element, driver against driver, personalties locked in a battle of nerve on-track and off, such as Prost vs Senna, Schumacher/Hill or Hakkinen, and those who are enthralled by the technological battle which rages within the teams themselves, brilliant minds locked into a never-ending quest for performance. And even despite the numerous restrictions imposed on the teams in the last few years, such as limiting engines maximum RPM, the RRA budget cap, reductions in downforce and more, those brilliant minds (Adrian Newey being the first name which comes into my head) keep the perfomance improvements coming! And then there are those of us who love both these aspects, a technological art form fused with a human struggle for achievement and this is what makes Formula 1 or any motorsport THE sport which surely defines our era.

A bold statement for sure, and Motorsport has many valid arguments which aren't in it's favour, the extravagance, the lavish use of resources, the danger (more about that further on). But Formula 1 and Motorsport in general employs hundreds of thousands of people who manufacture, assemble and maintain the thousands of components that go into making Race & rally cars, Bikes, Trucks, Karts, hovercraft and lawnmowers?! and there are people earning a decent living from all these (not really sure about the hovercraft and lawnmowers to be honest!) branches and the many and varied sub-branches of this sport, I raced Karts for ten years and before that Motorbikes, and I know people who make a reasonable living from importing,exporting and selling Karts, Bikes, spare parts and accessories including all the racewear etc. and I say good for them! (can I have more discount now please :)) And in any case what would these guys and girls do otherwise? make weapons? ( Help us all if Adrian Newey ever turned his creative genius onto weapons.....shudder!) Formula 1 in particular also brings us many advances in our own road cars, the technologies being honed and sometimes conceived in the cauldron of competition, carbon-fibre construction and four wheel drive to name but two, Euro NCAP safety ratings spawned from the FIA in a push to bring safety advances. But to truly secure a place in the general public's heart it really needs to do more.... shouldn't F1 engines be pushing the boundaries of energy effiency?? Alternative fuel generation strategies? harnessing the air flow over the vehicle to produce power as well as or instead of downforce? Complete solar bodywork? Ok, I concur that these technologies may not be efficient enough to produce the kinds of performance generated at the moment and to the purists it would be a step back, but how long before we see these technologies producing viable gains, and with the brains of a Newey or some other brilliant designer it would probably be sooner than you think!

Formula 1 has gone through an unprecedented period in terms of it's safety, it now being, mercifully, 17 years since the great triple world champion Ayrton Senna died at the wheel of his Williams. In recent times I can only think of Felipe Massa's horrific accident in 2009, that comes close to being deadly. That's not an excuse to be complacent or congratulatory, just appreciated, because the nature of racing is inherently dangerous and unforgiving(tragically, in other forms of Motorsport, we had to say goodbye to Dan Wheldon and Marco Simoncelli and our thoughts are with their families among many others, including my friend Ben Gautry, an up and coming superstar in the British Superbike series, who was only 18 when he was killed at Cadwell park on the 29th August this year - RIP Ben you are much missed).

So for F1 and much of the racing world, the attention turns to the new season, new cars to build test and develop, radical thinking to be done and planning for success or survival. As ever, I'm hooked for life and will be following for good or bad, hope you will too.

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