Nigel Mansell in his Ford-powered Lola T93/00 at the 1993 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. -- Photo courtesy of IMS Photo.

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.

  • jakobusvdl

    Good call Doug, there are lots of series that showcase the old technologies, the pinnacles of motorsports (F1, Indy, WEC) shouldn’t be doing that.
    We certainly couldn’t say that the 2018 Formula E concept is ‘retro’ –

  • Junipero Mariano

    I agree, I want to know when we’ll seeing F1 akin to the Red Bull X or MP4-X concepts. While this year’s cars are much better looking, you can see the areas where the regulations lock you down to one or two solutions at best, such as the center of the front wing, the button noses (kudos to Merc and Toro Rosso!), and the T-wings.

    • I love the alternating open dev cycle idea!

  • Salvu Borg

    If the regulatory framework is opened up the talented and clever people will promptly screw-up the formula, the racing, the sports we follow. these people needs a solid and strict regulatory framework because what they was always after was how to circumvent the rules.

  • Paul KieferJr

    At the same time, we have to wonder: Is this the “right” future? Are the hybrid PUs actually better than the normal engines in terms of “bang-for-the-buck” and/or affordability? Is “HALO” truly the way to go? It’s not just “what is the future”. We have to do this right or it’s going to either mean nothing or make things worse.

    • jakobusvdl

      I’ve got two responses to that;
      1) Liberty Media have been talking about coming up with their ideas about what the future of F1 should be. Trying to decide what the balance between sport, business, r&d tool and entertainment should be. Hopefully they will engage the fans in the discussion, and the outcome is something the majority can buy into.
      2) What’s the cause of the overwhelming view on this site that F1 is basically broken? I’m not sure it is, especially now CVC are no longer bleeding all the profit out of it.

      • Salvu Borg

        I was always convinced that once the onehalfthecancerLEFTINF1 is gone most of the FORMULA 1 problems will follow him out the door.

        • Salvu Borg


          • jakobusvdl

            Interesting story, young Bernie was quite an operator. It’s clear that as far has he was concerned F1 was all business.
            Though Alan J doesn’t come out of the story very well either, if he was prepared to take the cash, and dash rather than race.

          • Salvu Borg

            Most if not all will go for the cash and dash, always been like that.

          • jakobusvdl

            Thats a really interesting read Salvu, thanks.
            Stirling Moss was a very colourful character. There were no multi million dollar contracts to drive in F1 in his era, and he had to use his wits to make a buck. So, I don’t find his morales questionable for splitting the first and second place prize money with Gregory. (His concern about the organisers keeping the first prize money was probably based on actual experience).
            However, I think he shows a lack of compassion, in grabbing the win and coming up with the plan to split the winnings, when dead and injured spectators were the reason the race was stopped.
            That shows that the attitude to risk and injury was way different in the immediate post WW2 era.

  • Local Eccentric

    “Are motorsports fans and organizers addicted to the Glory Days?”

    Looking at that gorgeous Lotus T93 in speedway trim, umm, Yep. Best looking Indycar ever.

  • Michael

    First and foremost, the *racing* part of the Formula 1 product needs to be fixed. That is 85% of it for me.

    Sound and Looks make up the other 15% for me. I’ve come to grips with the loss of the beautiful V8,10,12 *sound* and accept the V-6 sound. It’s not *that* bad. Halo? Whatever. Fix the racing. I bet by fixing the racing, i.e. Closer, more competitive, leaders actually able to pass on merit, not through DRS gimmick (or having your teammate slow down on the track), that the looks of the cars will improve naturally.

    Here is a serious question(s): Today, with the best technological tools at one’s disposal is it possible to have great, non-gimmick racing at the supposed pinnacle of motor racing on the current tracks? Has technological advances outgrown the racetrack’s ability to support close competitive racing? Can aerodynamics alone save F1?

    Maybe the organic racing product can’t get much better, so the powers that be are more understanding of team tactics. Maybe F1 morphs into a true team sport.

    Will it even matter? With the Liberty marketing machine kicking in to high gear, will it be more a matter of “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bs”.

    I grew up watching F1 starting in the late 80s when the US finally got season coverage (not just Monaco competing for time with the Kentucky Derby on Wide World of Sports). I’m still a racing fan. I pay for multiple online-streaming products (like Le Mans, WRC, Motogp). Given a timing conflict, I’ll choose any other racing product to dedicate my attention and will follow F1 in some other fashion, like watching a live comment stream. That has as much to do with the racing product as much as my final complaint.

    When did it become acceptable for announcers to be overtly biased? Get rid of all of them. Terrible. Have an official voice of Formula 1, much like Nick Harris of Motogp. There are always nits to pick with every announcer, but Nick gets it right for the most part and completely impartial.

    Right now, the F1 broadcast, and it doesn’t matter if I’m listening to Matchett and Diffy or Brundle and Croft, is muted a good portion of the time (It shouldn’t be muted at all!). Can’t listen to their bs and drama, especially in a race that produces NO passes at the front. Ridiculous. Real racing drama happens in MotoGP and it’s just enjoyable to watch on all levels, even when my favorite rider gets beaten.

    • jakobusvdl

      Good post Michael, but if you’ve been watching F1 since the 80’s, you’ll know close racing at the front of the field isn’t really an F1 ‘thing’.
      Finding a specification for the series that would allow close racing but still be the faster than anything else seems to have been beyond the wit of the FIA, Bernie and everyone else. Reliance on Aero certainly won’t deliver it, a very different approach is required, hopefully Ross Brawn and his F1 Ops team can come up with such an approach.
      I’m 100% with you on the dislike of the bias of commentators (I’m only exposed to the SKY coverage, but their Hamil-centric view of F1 irritates me).
      I’m not so sure about the ‘voice of F1’ idea, it used to be Murray Walker, and he was kind of biased too.
      I share your enjoyment of bike racing, Moto 1, 2 and GP, and WSB are really exciting to watch, but not as technically interesting as F1 ;-)

      • Michael

        @jakobusvdl, yes, I understand that F1 competition hasn’t always been close at the front, but not being able to follow close enough to set up a pass because of aerodynamics wasn’t the reason. Remove that issue and this year I bet we would be talking about all the great passes (There have still been a few successful and not successful overtakes), not the silly banging wheels at 50kph and slowing down to let your teammate by dramas.

        I don’t know…just really hope they can pull this thing together.

        • jakobusvdl

          You’re right there have been different factors contributing to teams being dominant over the decades, though Aero interference has been a factor for a long time.
          If we really want close racing, it would probably have to be a ‘spec series’, and that’s not the pinnacle of motor sport.

          • Michael

            You are right there…definite no to a spec series, but look at what we do have this year. 2 teams, 4 cars very evenly matched and then Red Bull not far back but with at least one driver somewhat dangerously capable of battling with the leaders. The middle of that pack seems to be generating some potentially interesting racing

            The point is, It’s close now….if not for the aerodynamics. In Hungary, Hamilton wouldn’t have a go at Max because of the aerodynamics and because he was too aggressive (Hamilton’s words), take away the aerodynamics issue and I’m sure we would have seen an attempt. Heck, Hamilton might have won the race. I’m sure Kimi could have gotten by Vettel (all bad for me because I’m pulling for Vettel). Instead we were left with a whin(g)e-fest, mis-placed platitudes of sportsmanship, and calls that Ferrari robbed Kimi of a win.

            What I find a little humorous about the Halo thing, is look at the danger that the Moto GP,2,3 guys face. Broken bones are not unusual. Getting run over and killed is certainly a possibility (RIP Marco). Jack Miller was recently VERY lucky. The riders seem like gladiators compared to F1 drivers today. I wonder what would have happened to Massa had his freak accident happened with the halo. Would that spring have hit just right and been deflected down into his body causing even more damage? Point being, I’m all for safety (and definitely don’t want to see anyone hurt) and I’m not all that bothered either way about the HALO but will it potentially introduce more problems than it solves.

            Speaking of MotoGP…finally getting my rear-end to a race. Going with a Yamaha sponsored trip to Suzuka. Can’t wait. Hopefully there are still 4 riders with a realistic chance to win.

          • jakobusvdl

            You lucky MotoGP fan! Any MotoGP race would be an incredible experience, Suzuka more so, and this year with so many strong teams and riders, anything could happen – I’ll look out for you in the stands, what number will you be wearing?
            I went to the WSB at phillip island a couple of years back, that was easily 10 times better than F1 at Melbourne – easier to see the bikes and better paddock access, more drunk people too ;-)

            The close racing at the front this season is a bit of an aboration, and after the last three seasons it is very welcome, but as you say, the bigger wings and tyres make close following and passing even harder.
            The soap opera drama’s around driver personality and who didn’t play fair with who is endless B.S, I think there are far more interesting stories that could be shared, team and technical aspects of the sport.
            On the Halo, from the articles and information that has been produced by the FIA, I think they have done the work to understand the hazards to drivers heads (big flying objects, cars going over each other, cars hitting the scenery, and small flying objects) show that for the first three they substantially reduce risk, for the last its still an improvement – but helmets have also been improved to mitigate that hazard. The risks of a driver being trapped and being able get out of the car have even been assessed, so I think we can be assured it won’t introduce more hazards than it eliminates. Sorry, I’m a bit of a bore on halo, but there’s so much ill informed comment on it, I’ve taken the time to find some facts, they are out there. Check out the FIA media presentation video, its a good summary, quite compelling.
            You’re right about the bike racers, they are like gladiators, and they injuries they routinely experience are pretty shocking. Its far safer than it used to be, but still completely at odds with where F1 have got to. I’ve no idea how they could reduce the hazard to the riders without ruining the racing, but I guess it will be coming.

          • Michael

            My partner and I will be in the V5 Grandstand. It’s sort of a gift to her since we are both Valentino Rossi fans and I’m not sure how much longer he will race…I guess you can guess which number we’ll be wearing. It’s through Yamaha so we’ll be traveling with a group of Yamaha (and I’m guessing primarily Rossi) supporters. Japan culture is unique so this should be a real blast!

            Thanks for the conversation. Great commentary here on this site overall.


          • jakobusvdl

            Cheers Michael, it has been good to chat.
            Have an incredible time at Suzuka, seeing the GOAT race.
            GO VALE!!