Motorsport is addictive. It’s highly addictive, and like most addictive substances, that first time seemed amazing and wonderful. The more you’re around it, though, the less of a rush you get, and you keep trying different things to recapture that first euphoria. I do not wish to make light of the trap and tragedy of substance addiction, but there are many parallels, although thankfully not the emotional and physical dangers, to what’s happening in motorsports with both fans, teams, and organizers. We’re chasing the dragon.
In Formula 1, it was first the addition of the titanium skid plate, because sparks from the 70s and 80s looked cool. Then, it was going back to a wider stance, fat tires, and a lower, wider rear wing because cars in the 70s and 80s looked cool. In sports car racing, Ford brought back the GT (long story as to why they couldn’t bring back the GT40 name). There was a valid competition and marketing reason for Ford to return to sports car racing, but they revived the GT look and name because the car from the 60s looked cool. Now IndyCar has revealed it’s 2018 chassis with it’s slimmer profile, ditching the rear wheel guards and above-engine air box, because the CART designs from the 80s and 90s looked cool. …see a pattern here?
While, I think the design direction for Formula 1 has improved the appearance and performance of the car, and I desperately want my own FordGT, and I think IndyCar is making a good step forward with their 2018 design, there’s something lurking under all of these decisions that’s unsettling. We seem to collectively be chasing that initial rush we had when we were first hooked on the adrenaline-inducing sport of motor car racing. There’s no doubt that the Formula 1 cars and IndyCars from the 70s, 80s, and even 90s were amazing machines, and that the Ford GT40 was one of the sexiest racing machines ever crafted. However, that was in the past. What about moving and looking forward? Where does physics take our racing machines now? There’s been a lot of technical innovation in the world since those glory days of motorsport, and we see a lot of those innovations in the various control systems for the cars. We’ve also learned a lot about aerodynamics.
Perhaps it’s time to put away our knit ties, parachute pants, and Flock of Seagulls hair cuts, and begin focusing on what the future of motorsport should be, rather than listening to Bruce Springsteen on repeat and pine for the glory days. Let’s open the regulatory framework a bit and allow the extremely talented and clever people that we know are out there such as Adrian Newey and Ben Bowlby to show us what a modern, cutting edge racing machine could be and could do. When Bowlby revealed the Delta Wing, it drew a significant amount of derision because it didn’t look like the type of race cars we were used to seeing. Well, the Lotus 38 that Jim Clark took to Victory Lane at the 1965 Indianapolis 500 was extremely different than the front engine roadsters that people were used to the, too, but after 1965, no front-engined car ever won the 500 again.
Let’s stop looking back, wishing for things to be as they were, and start looking forward to how much better things might be. Chasing after the past is a fool’s errand, and we as fans, drivers, team owners, and series officials are better than this.