Take The Power Back- F1 with David Hall

Between the emotional re-watching of the Senna movie, and another trip back in time (below) from McLaren Honda, I got very nostalgic this week. (Seriously, don’t try to tell me that Alonso MP4/4 shot isn’t perfect.)

Senna fighting a bucking Lotus.
The visceral noise of the Ferrari 412 (T1/T2)
The utterly outrageous Renault Turbos. (Maybe Renault should dust off the old 1,300 BHP Turbos for Red Bull)

If Formula 1 wanted to look at how it could do things better, there are worse things it could do than browse through its own history. Back in ’87, and with the costs of Turbos astronomical for independent teams, teams running normally aspirated engines could win the Jim Clark Cup. Given the similarities in how some independent teams are struggling since the introduction of hybrid turbos it would seem history repeating itself and allowing the smaller teams to stay with V8’s until such time as the turbos became more affordable would have been the fairer choice. Alas, the horse may have already bolted on that one. Teams were fearful of a year old car beating them this season, never mind one that might have an “obsolete” engine in the back. Imagine the outcry from Red Bull and Renault had a V8 engined Marussia outqualified them at the start of the season?! Box Office stuff a missed opportunity maybe?

The main thing that struck me watching the old 80’s Formula 1 was that the diversity it had and the power it was pushing out had more in common with a different motorsport category. The WEC. At a time when Formula 1 is running the risk of become the world’s most expensive spec series The WEC is getting dangerously close to Formula 1 lap times while at the same time having a diversity of machinery that Formula 1 couldn’t dream of, unless that dream contained V12 Ferraris, V10 Renaults & V8 Fords. (That’s right kids. In the 90’s Formula 1 allowed teams to run different engine specs. )

For ease of comparison I’ve put the details of each car in a table.

Manufacturer Energy Category Drivetrain Engine Capacity Engine Layout Fuel Type
Audi 4MJ AWD 4.0L V6 TDI
Porsche 8MJ AWD 2.0L V4 Turbo Petrol
Toyota 6MJ AWD 3.7L V8 NA Petrol
Nissan 8MJ FWD 3L V6 Turbo Petrol
Formula 1 4MJ RWD 1.6L V6 Turbo Petrol

 

When it comes to diversity, the WEC is king, and that’s not the end of the story. Formula 1 isn’t as fast as it used to be. Look back through the lap records and there has been a noticeable drop off in lap times, dropping Formula 1 perilously close to LMP 1 times.

Track Lap Record 2014 F1 Fastest Lap LMP1 Pole
Fastest not Average
Spa 1:47.263
Sebastian Vettel
1:50.11
Nico Rosberg
1:54.755
Porsche
Silverstone 1:30.874
Fernando Alonso
1:37.176
Lewis Hamilton
1:39.534
Porsche

 

NismoThis should be a futile comparison given the sports have vastly different mission statements. That it is not should be a wake-up call for Formula 1. If it wasn’t, the fact that Porsche’s pole time was quicker than Sauber, Marussia & Caterham could manage in the race should be. LMP1 cars are currently putting out 1,000 HP and the Nissan LMP1 designed by Ben Bowlby is claimed to have a staggering 1,250 HP. A roll hoop crash test failure (It exploded during the test) meant that Nissan had to miss both Silverstone & Spa, but they are back testing with a vengeance and the FWD monster should be a phenomenal sight on the Mulsanne Straight. Bowlby and NISMO have been given the engineering freedom to make some very bold decisions along the way. Decisions it couldn’t possibly make in Formula 1. For the bravery alone, they deserve praise. NISMO have stirred up some interesting debate on FWD vs AWD while focusing a spotlight on the straightjacket put on Formula 1 designers.
For all the talk of Formula 1 increasing the “show” all it seems to have achieved recently is killing off the art of the masterful defensive drive. If a driver isn’t busy conserving tyres and fuel then the attacking cars use of DRS finishes the fight all too easily. Artificial means of spicing things up when the fact is Formula 1 should take a note out of The WEC’s book. Allow technical freedom and increase the power. Give the fans angry snarling monsters and let the best drivers on the planet take them to the limit. Stop taming the beast to the point where it’s domesticated and allow drivers and engineers to get back to the task of maximum attack and breaking lap records. Maybe break Rubinho’s 2004 Monza lap record before that too is consigned to history.

That’s the Formula 1 we grew up loving. More than looking back to the 80’s and 90’s as nostalgic emotional PR, look back and see what made Formula 1 great- and take the power back.

Till next time.

David Hall.

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