Reading an article at Huffington Post today reminded me of why I love Formula 1 racing. While I really appreciated Tim Goodchild's reason for liking F1, I was juxtaposing the reason I like F1 while I read along.
As Tim pointed out in his terrific article, he believes that F1 is about technology being driven by the best drivers in the world - you'd be hard-pressed to disagree with that statement because it certainly is a part of F1. He lists the supporting historical eras of F1 to show just how tied the sport has been to technology and suggests that change is for the better.
All of this is perfectly true and on target. One could draw a line of innovation from the 50's through the 80's and see a clear path of technology evolution that made the cars more competitive and some of that tech made it into the road cars we drive today.
Given this technology evolution, what can we say of the 90's through the current regulatory changes of 2014? Hybrid technology? Smaller engines and the fact that we now get 5mpg as opposed to 3mpg out of a F1 engine...I mean, power unit? The regulations banned "driver aids" such as traction control or adjustable ride height or creative ECU's that allow for intricate engine mapping and torque control. Have we seen the explosion in technology over the past 20 years in F1 that we saw in the first 20? Or have we seen the black art of aerodynamics more clearly and the artifices more prominently?
I tread lightly here as an executive in the technology industry for over 25+ years but I will say that we need perspective on just how marvelous technology really is. Everything you imagine technology being is true to a point but one of the greatest tricks technology ever played was convincing end users that it is intuitive and always better.
When I was a small boy, I heard the roar of a V12 engine and fell in love with the visceral impact of drivers competing on the edge and racing like no other sport--think René Arnoux and Gilles Villeneuve at the French Grand Prix in 1979. For me, F1 has always been about the racing, not the technology being driven by really good drivers.
Technology came into the sport for one simple reason, to go faster and race harder. It was a natural companion to the quest to go faster than anyone else around a circuit. A tool by which teams could ensure that their car would secure the constructor's championship. It is, as Mr. Goodchild points out, a vital component of F1 and if one cared to, you could map the history of F1 around its technology innovations. I choose to map F1's history around its racing and drivers.
As much as I enjoyed the article, I must say that when Senna was driving the streets of Monaco, it wasn't the technology that had me on the edge of my seat. When Niki Lauda and James Hunt were battling for the 1976 title, it wasn't the technology on their cars that I was mesmerized by. When Mika Hakkinen put the pass on Schumacher on the Kemmel Straight at Spa Francorchamps in 2000 by using a slower car to do it, it wasn't the technology in his car that had me jump off the couch. It was the racing.
One could argue that many of the regulatory changes made by the governing body, the FIA, have actually removed innovation and technology to keep the cars slower and more economical to build. If the sport has, as it says, made big changes in 2014 to be more sustainable, it has come at very high cost and threatened smaller teams who simply cannot afford the massive cost increases. You can understand, also, if I worry that it hasn't done much to improve the actual racing so far.
The new regulations have also ushered in a host of complications such as errant fuel-flow sensors and car designs so complex that it takes hours to change engines or transmission. It has slowed the cars down, currently four of more seconds slower than the 2013 season, and Lotus F1 driver, Romain Grosjean, says that the drivers are now driving at 50% to save fuel and tires.
Change is only better if it actually is better. It is early days for these new regulations and I do hope Mr. Goodchild's reason for liking Formula 1 will actually improve my reason for liking Formula 1...good racing regardless of what technology is stuffed under the body of these ugly-nosed, wimpy-sounding things.