Back To The Future – Hall on F1

 

I can probably (ok, definitely) seem overly critical of Formula 1 at times. I’ve tried to explain it as seeing something that you love make all the wrong choices. A better comparison is probably this:

My childhood vision of how the future would be was mesmerised by the Back to the Future movies. I expected flying cars and hoverboards. We got hybrid cars and smartphones. In the same way, having grown up on the stories of Niki Lauda V James Hunt, and having been utterly blown away by Senna V Prost, I expected Formula One to become low flying fighter jets with survival cell cockpits and howling V12/V10 hybrid monsters….

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The reality, just like in Back to the Future, is that we have impressive technological advances but nothing like the breath-taking spectacle I had dreamed of. October 21st 2015. Today’s date and the date Marty McFly travelled to the future. er. Present.  No flying cars. No hoverboards. Hybrid road cars & Hybrid race cars.

October 21st 1984. In a season where fuel economy rules were introduced in an attempt to slow down the phenomenal Turbo cars of that era. This was the date Niki Lauda beat Alain Prost by half a point in a titanic battle for the title. Lauda couldn’t match Prost’s pace but his ability to think out a race would win him his third and final title. This season would also see the emergence of Ayrton Senna as he announced his arrival with a masterful drive at a torrentially wet Monaco GP. For Lauda to out think Prost is what most impresses me about this season, and it’s something that Bernie Ecclestone highlighted when he bemoaned the driver’s aids in a modern Formula 1 car.

“When people say to me who I think was the best driver, the name I come up with, and most people don’t agree with me, I say Alain Prost,”

“Prost had to look after his brakes, gearbox, everything, and he did a good job. So he finished more races and finished in a better position, whereas today they don’t have that.”

“They sit there on the starting grid and there is an engineer who starts the race, it is just not on.”

“It should be when the lights go off they are on their own. They don’t need somebody telling them your team-mate is using that through this corner. It is just not on.”

“It is an engineers’ championships more or less. I am not saying Lewis [Hamilton] is not a super driver, but he is given a hell of a lot of help.”
October 21st 1990. Formula One at its most fierce. The fiery relationship between Senna and Prost finally exploded as Senna ran Prost off the circuit at the start of the Japanese GP at Suzuka. I should say it was a disgrace. I should say it was dangerous. Truth be told I was hooked. This was gladiatorial stuff and I wanted all of it. Here was a man capable of such deep thought away from the track, but when it came to Formula 1 he was absolutely ruthless in how he operated. We, Generation X, are the ones who flocked to the sport on a wave of Senna Mania and the visceral sound of the Ferrari V12.

October 21st 2007. Kimi Raikkonen took his only, and Ferrari’s last, Drivers title. While a titanic battle was being fought out at McLaren between double World Champion Fernando Alonso and McLaren’s protégé Lewis Hamilton, Kimi took advantage. Winning the final race of the season, on this day, at Suzuka, gave Kimi 110 points and ensured he beat both McLaren drivers by a single point.

Formula 2015 sees Mercedes already wrapping up the Manufacturer Title while Lewis Hamilton has gained the upper hand on Nico Rosberg and seems set to join an illustrious set as 3 Times Drivers Champion. It’s all very impressive. It’s just not where I thought we were heading.

It would be easy to dismiss what Bernie Ecclestone says when he says “We need to rip it up and start again” Especially as it’s stuck in the middle of some controversial comments to Russian TV channel RT. I’ll strip out the quote though as it’s the only thing that wasn’t loaded for a Russian audience.

“I think a lot of that technical regulations are too stringent, and it’s really been like an old house and people keep adding bits and pieces to it, and really, nobody knows why we’ve added them. I am as guilty as anybody else; so, I think maybe we ought to tear it up and have another book.

“We’ve become much too clinical with too many rules and regulations, and I think, the drivers, when they go out to start the race, they should be on their own. They shouldn’t have help from the pits, but advice on things.”

I wouldn’t go as far as reverting back to V8 engines like has also been suggested, but I do think that Bernie talks a lot of since here. “Too clinical” “Too many rules and regulations”. This is pretty much on the money for me. Formula 1 has slowly turned into the most expensive spec series on the planet. The fear on introducing the Hybrid era was that it would be too expensive and it would lead to a development race between Engine Manufacturers. Recent agreements to abandon phased in engine freezes has only confirmed this as the 32 token system is to remain for 2016.

At least the proposed ban on older “cheaper” engines has also been abandoned, as it looks like Toro Rosso are set to use 2015 Ferrari engines next season. Manor could do a lot worse than a 2015 Mercedes deal for next season.

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It still doesn’t feel right though. Give me low flying fighter planes with closed cockpits and any engine you want from V4 – V12. Give me 8MJ systems like they run in LeMans. Let it be battery or supercapacitor or whatever somebody thinks off that does it better. Let the engineers off the leash, and let the drivers drive.

Let’s go back to the future.

David Hall

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