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F1 2014: A casualty of the casual fan?

FEATURE BY MIKE LAWRENCE
03/04/2014

Bernie missed the Australian GP, he had been winning a law suit in London while having his credibility as a witness disparaged by a judge. Win some, lose some.

He had seen Melbourne on TV and had issued a statement criticising the sound of the engines and demanding that something had to be done.

It is reported that, when Bernie arrived at Sepang, and heard the cars, he said they were not as bad as he had thought and that a small increase of sound was all that was needed.

To me, that sounds like a man in retreat because he knows that he can do nothing. The impresario is no longer running the show. For good or ill, the FIA has resumed the task for which it exists, which is to be the governing body.

Bernie has to be conciliatory because there is nothing else he can be. The show he runs is dependent on the show the FIA runs and, for the first time in more than thirty years, they are not identical.

We could have more sound because the engines are running at only about 12,000 rpm whereas they are capable of 15,000 rpm were they permitted the fuel. Only two things could make that happen in the short term: fuel stops or a major redesign of the cars to have bigger tanks and it is unlikely that either is an option.

The FIA, and its technical advisors, have decided on a green agenda and the only way that engines are going to reach 15,000 rpm is by careful, detailed, long-term development. That is a fascinating challenge for the boffins, but it does tend to exclude most of us.

Grand Prix racing has never been about mainstream technical innovation. Our road cars do not have wings or bargeboards and we certainly expect our tyres to last more than 50 miles.

During the turbo era there were advances in F1 engine management systems, but so there were across the board. McLaren employed Bosch to deal with its TAG engines, but Bosch was already on the case and was also exploring the microchip in other ways, like electronic ABS and traction control.

The huge advances in road car engines were not made though racing, they came about because of computer technology, particularly in machine tools. Engines in even the most humble cars are made now to tolerances that once were the preserve of Rolls-Royce. Kia has come from nowhere to being the first company to offer a seven year warranty.

Road cars are now offering unprecedented levels of economy and performance from small engines. In Europe, there are some outstanding diesel engines which are economical and durable and have the sort of torque that can uproot tree stumps.

In Formula One, the turbo era was a dead-end. For a while some manufacturers boosted bogmobiles by adding turbos and large decals. The turbo found its real niche with the diesel engine and, more recently, with small capacity two and three cylinder engines of outstanding performance.

In the late 1960s, some F1 teams explored four wheel drive and that was another dead-end. A 4WD car was heavier and it had to be wider to accommodate the front to rear prop shaft. Aerofoils and improved tyres solved the traction problems which 4WD was supposed to address.

The first modern car with all-wheel drive was the 1967 Jensen FF, which was also the first road car with anti-lock brakes, no matter what Mercedes-Benz claims. It was Audi and the Quattro which made the case for four-wheel drive and did so in rallying.

All-wheel drive is just an embarrassing footnote in Formula One history. It cannot be repeated too many times, Grand Prix racing is not about technical advance which may benefit you or me.

At Sepang, Bernie said that the F1 engines sounded worse on TV rather than trackside. I thought we TV viewers were important. We are why there will be double points at Abu Dhabi, to keep us on the edge of our couches. We are why sponsors throw millions at teams so we will notice their presence.

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by Willy, 04/05/2014 0:07

"Mike Lawrence has written a well informed and very true article that hits the mark. The casual fan only cares about what or who they care about and the rest of the field is of no real concern. F1 has been instrumental in some of the innovations that have hit the road car market but most are only there for the betterment of the teams positions next race. He mentions Kia and what they have achieved and they are rapidly overtaking Toyota and GM . No surprise with Toyota as they are still building crap and selling it to the masses as quality."

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2. Posted by Bmep, 20/04/2014 23:01

"I used to play a mmorpg called Star Wars Galaxies. For those who don't know what it is, it's an online game where people play and interact in an persistent world i.e. things don't get reset when you log off. It was buggy but fantastic, extremely complex and players could do anything from being a starfighter pilot to start a business and manufature and sell parts for said starfighters to other players, or they could be artists or adventurers. They could be anything. It was more of a virtual world than a game.

The number of subscribers were around 300.000 and back in the days that was regarded as pretty good.
Enter World of Warcraft or WoW a game that gained millions of subscribers.

The owners of SWG took a hard long look at SWG and said, hey we want millions of customers too. Suddenly they proclaimed that the game would change, A patch called NGE (New Gaming Enhancements) was introduced.

Overnight the game lost it's lure. It became simple and childish. The average age of the subscriber dropped. No skill or understanding of the game mechanics was longer required. In a few weeks they lost more than half of the subscribers.

The later admitted that they knew most of the people would quit but they counted on luring in a new audience. However that audience existed only in the eyes of the execs and the game never recovered. In fact NGE became infamous in the gaming industry.

They showed complete disregard to what as called the "core audience" the people who had paid their subscriptions and stuck with the game through thick and thin even when the company had problem. They were sacrificed because they were told they weren't open to change.

They failed to see that people who played WoW weren't going to come over because they were perfectly happy with WoW and had no interest in SWG.

Well my friends, as of 2014 F1 has been NGE:d.

The people who watch are mostly in place. There are no legions of greenis, hipsters, housewives etc. etc. who will come. If they had been interested they would already have been watching F1. Most greenies either hate racing outright or are at best completely disinterested. They won't come in droves even if F1 goes electric. F1 is snubbing it's core audience in favour of a mythological new audience.

"

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3. Posted by 4-Wheel Drifter, 20/04/2014 19:35

"Mike: I agree with your assertion that television has driven Bernie's (FOM) Management of the sport. The F.I.A. is the sanctioning body, that is they write and enforce the regulations for the cars' construction and for the conduct of the races. The casual viewer, as you call him, couldn't quote you more than two regulations, namely that cars must use two of the supplied kinds of tyres and that they are not allowed to re-fuel. As to how many r.p.m.s are allowed and why, they could care less. In fact, the r.p.m. issue is a very interesting example of how money and the invested 'powers that be' leverage F.I.A. to toe their line. It has much more to do with money than with technology. Check out the reason Cosworth is no longer supplying engines: Ferrari, Renault & Mercedes won't stand for it! They have a 15,000 r.p.m. engine that would make all the current 'power units' look like 1967 Volkswagens! As things stand, the rest of the season is simply going to be the consolidation of Mercedes' dominance and the only interesting racing will be between Ferrari and Renault lower down in the points. Television, at least in the U.S. is rapidly becoming a joke. NBC clearly believes the fans can't be expected to watch racing, so the cameras search frantically for any actual overtaking or retirements in between ridiculous adverts for testosterone supplements and lawyers seeking clients who have been injured or killed taking testosterone supplements. Oh, and I forgot the ones for car polish and baby food and, of course, NBC sports other offerings (As though an F1 fan also follows golf, hockey, football and boxing!). They've hired a clueless Brit to head their broadcasting team and relegated their 'expert commentators' to silly stunts like making 'predictions' of the race winner or portentously narrating quasi historical clips. I spend a goodly portion of my watching with the sound muted and trying to see what's going on in the tiny little post-card sized window tucked away in the corner of my screen. The idiots also endlessly list the top 3 positions and never, NEVER! at any point put in 'a crawler' listing the rest of the drivers. That is, they aren't even as good (irony irony) as Fox TV's coverage of NASCAR! To sum up, I'm thinking of going back to the days of my childhood, before T.V. when I followed F1 by subscribing to Road and Track (an old American version of Motorsport)."

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4. Posted by blackdog, 10/04/2014 10:01

"I can't agree. Sorry, but if Mercedes etc say they would probably have left F1, if the new engines had not been adopted, where would that have left us, the hardcore fans? Right in the old brown stuff!!! Merc and Ferrari and Renault spend hundreds of millions developing F1 power plants and I don't think that they would do that if Grand Prix motor racing was not a test bed for future technologies for their road cars. In fact, I am certain of it. Teams like Merc have to sell the spend to the board and the board need to see relevance to the every day business they govern, which is building road cars, is it not? The manufacturers and we, the punters have to get to grips with the fact that global oil stocks are in decline, and that means, using less fuel in our cars along with cleaner technology. F1 being the pinnacle of motor sport, should be leading the way. Maybe they can make the engines a little noisier, and I welcome that, but in pure racing terms, I think that the Rosberg Hamilton battle for the lead was up there with some of the very best racing I have ever seen in a long long time and I've been following the sport for over 50 years. It wasn't quite Dijon '79, but it was really really good.
I am an old school petrol head, and I get my jollies from watching F1, Moto GP and Jeremy Clarkson, amongst OTHER things :-)
Needs must when the devil drives..."

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5. Posted by Spindoctor, 06/04/2014 9:36

"As ever an insightful analysis of the context, particularly the role (or lack of it) of F1 in developing technologies for road cars.

I agree, F1 isn't some kind of technology "incubator" for road cars, it may not be "about" developing mainstream technologies, but it is hugely reliant on sophisticated technology and many fans, myself included, are interested in the technical aspects of the sport. Notwithstanding the lack of sound & fury generated by this year's "powertrains" they are not only intrinsically interesting, but the technological "arms race" adds spice to the other aspects of F1.

To my mind, the problem with technology in F1 is that it was side-tracked away from the nuts & bolts of chassis and engine development and into the arcana of Fluid Dynamics, Down-force and such like. The RBR car that won 4 championships did so largely as a consequence of Newey's brilliance in these areas. As Mike Lawrence points-out virtually none of this has any relevance at all to our daily drivers, but more importantly, it screwed-up the racing AND the "spectacle".
Various attempts to improve F1 with silly tyres, KERS push to pass and DRS have proven largely ineffectual at addressing the problems of the banality of F1's races.

"

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6. Posted by Stitch433, 06/04/2014 8:20

"just been reading a statement of Toto Wolff stating that at the moment nobody had to take the foot of the gas. The only reason that Ferrari and Red Bull are making waves is because they did not manage to make a car that is good enough to compete and by making a big fuzz they are trying to force a rule change within the season, which would honestly be a much bigger farce then what it is already. Wasn't it Ferrari themselves that said last year (Tire discussion) that is you woul change the distance between the goal poles in Soccer nobody would accept it? Now that they are running behind, they seem to have teamed up with Red Bull in demanding in season rule changes, as Red Bull succeeded in doing so a year ago during the tyre war. Do we want to see them getting away with that twice? I believe that Red Bull will be fighting at the front at the end of the season anyway. Maybe Ferrari will be up there too. Do we have to make it too easy for them again? I say no. It is refreshing not to see the Red Bull in front so early on. Merc is not running away either yet as both team mates keep takning away points from each other. It will get exciting at the end of the season anyway as the top teams will get their act together and let's not forget, There is this silly rule that at the last race there are double points..."

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7. Posted by stagecoach66, 05/04/2014 0:05

"Mike, if the technology doesn't matter, why not make F1 a spec series?"

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8. Posted by GoodPublicity, 04/04/2014 11:42

" ". . . I am really only interested in how my fellow countrymen are doing, because I am a casual viewer."

Mike, again you've hit the nail on the head!

The same applies to the majority of F1 viewers, be they channel-surfers or died-in-the-wool tifosi and Balmy Army. But F1 has an advantage over other sports: each entry has two extra 'nationalities' in addition to its driver's: the team's and engine's.

F1 can expand its potential market simply by encouraging a wider cross-section of the world's car makers to pitch their tents, as teams and/or engine suppliers, in Planet Paddock. Each new contender would bring its own legion of fans for its marque, if not entire country.

Of course, for that to happen the FIA must unbuckle F1's technical straightjacket. Having stumbled with its first crude attempt at limiting fuel flow, the FIA needs to do the job properly by mandating a dynamic consumption limit on whatever energy source(s) the cars use.

No other engine regulations would be necessary with such a formula.

Surely the world engineering community, most of which presumably wasn't invited to tender for the 2014 F1 fuel flow sensor, can invent a suitably accurate and reliable measuring device for a laissez faire engine formula.

Then not only would F1 would be relevant to car makers' R&D as well as marketing departments, but Formula Drone 2014 could join A1GP, SuperLeague Formula and Formula E in the 'seemed like a good idea at the time' motorsport museum."

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