As we orbit Formula 1’s publicly stated positions on everything from safety to sustainability, we only see the issues, topics and talking points that F1 pundits care to share with the public. That’s the reality of being on the outside looking in.
The fan that can weave a narrative by reading disparate stories and juxtaposing the context from different team perspective, positioning and political positions can start to see fissures and cracks if one cares to look directly into the sun of F1.
It doesn’t really matter what you personally think of the new regulations in the microcosm of your world. What matters is the macro effect it has had on viewership, sponsorship and the racing product as a whole. You may be convicted by F1’s new social responsibility but reading between the lines gives you the perspective that the new direction may not be working as well as the oracle of good intention had planned.
The new regulations focus on the power units and why not? F1 is about engines and if you’re a Ferrari fan you’ll know that Enzo Ferrari himself felt very compelled to remind the world that aerodynamics were for people who couldn’t build a proper engine. These new engines may not be what he had in mind though.
Looking at F1’s linear history, a clear engine advantage has happened before—Ford DFV—but has there been a dominance so comprehensive that it could create a dangerous direction for the sport under the weight of its own regulatory freeze? Red Bull’s Adrian Newey thinks so as he told AUTOSPORT:
“There is grave danger, with the freeze happening progressively over the next 18 months, because it’s not apparent if one manufacturer ends up with an advantage as to what happens at that point.
“Is that advantage maintained for ever more, in which case the rest of us give up?
“It doesn’t seem to me to be a particularly satisfactory situation at the moment. The regulations need more of a fundamental rethink in my opinion.”
The engine development process affords the initial design that can be improved upon over time but the amount of improvement is gauged, rapidly reduced and eventually locked down. Newey fears that once locked, the clear advantage will be baked into the regulations giving Mercedes plain dominance until the next major engine change which could be several years under the current direction of F1.
The harmony that had been achieved in the last iteration of engine design—the V8 format—had reached a balance that complimented the sport just as the V10 had before it. Can the V6 turbo with its hybrid system be balanced or the regulations be changed enough to allow for the balancing of the power units across the teams? Will Mercedes like that? Clearly they’ve done their homework.
I believe what Newey is suggesting is a whole new approach to the engine and one that gets away from the current fuel flow restrictions and low rev knock-on effect but that’s my interpretation of his comments and that is also based upon his decision to now slowly remove himself from F1.
I think he sees a downward spiral and isn’t interested in toying around with the current fiddly nature of F1’s socially responsible, flatulent sounding V6 turbo electric cars. The warning is not without bias as an aerodynamic man himself and the focus on engines or power units isn’t his cup of tea so take that with a jaundiced eye if you must but in the end, I think a large swath of F1 fans are agreeing with him at some level.
If we were going to get away from the aerodynamic impact on F1, throwing muted V6 turbo hybrids in the equation as the new focus for the future may not have been the best alternative. Perhaps using Aero’s strengths against itself through creative regulatory mandates may have delivered better racing with a V8 lump in the back that would have kept the engine expense of F1 low.
In the end, the simple notion of reducing aero has been offered by every fan who cares about F1 and yet the series simply can’t find it within themselves to take such a leap of faith—which is odd because today’s regulations and power units are a bigger leap of faith than reducing aero was ever going to be and we’re paying the price—even serious consequences and grave danger according to Newey.