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F1 is now an engineers' championship


Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley agree that today's F1 is about the engineers more than drivers.

In a rare joint interview, Ecclestone and close friend, and former FIA president, Mosley, admit that F1 has lost its way and needs a radical overhaul.

At one point, when interviewer Volker Gruber mentions 55-place grid penalties for Fernando Alonso, Mosley laughs, clearly agreeing at the nonsense of it all.

"The people from Honda spoke to me at the weekend," says Ecclestone, "they said, 'we're trying another engine', because they can change as many engines as they like, they said 'we can't go any further back on the grid'".

Never a fan of the new hybrid formula, Ecclestone, when asked why the sport went down this controversial route, looks at Mosely and says: "It's Max's fault we've got this engine".

"The idea was to have an engine where the research was road relevant rather than racing relevant," admits the former FIA president to ZDF. "What we'd had for a hundred years was trying to get the maximum possible power from a limited capacity, and what I was saying was 'we need to get the maximum power from the least fuel’.

"However," he continued, "it was essential to do the engine in such a way that an independent supplier, like Cosworth, could do it at an economic price. If I'd been doing the detailed regulations, apart from the principal, I would have gone to Cosworth and asked them to draft some regulations where you can follow the principal but produce the engine for a sensible amount of money."

Asked the cost of developing the current breed of F1 engine, Mosley admits he doesn't know because the manufacturers won't reveal the details.

"The important factor is that the research is road relevant," he says, "so that what they discover for Formula One is going to be directly applicable to the road car.

"Road car engines are in the 30% efficiency bracket, F1 engines are up at about 40%," he continues. "When you buy a litre of fuel, a third of it propels the car, a third of it is lost in heat and a third goes out the exhaust. If you could start using some of that two-thirds that is currently wasted it would be enormously efficient. That was the objective.

Mosley believes the current engine manufacturers enjoy too much power and the sport needs an independent alternative.

"The difficulty is that you have to have an independent engine supplier who can supply on a commercial basis," he says. "The great strength of Formula One from the late sixties until quite recently was that we had Cosworth, Mecachrome and other people making engines so we weren't in the hands of the manufacturers.

"The moment you have one or two or even three manufacturers and they are involved at board level so Mr Zetsche can talk to Mr Marchionne or Mr Ghosn then they control Formula One, you don't control Formula One. At that point the need for an independent engine supplier becomes acute."

The pair are also fearful that the boffins have too much control in the cockpit.

"When people say to me who do I think was the best driver, the name I come up with, and most people don't agree with me, is Alain Prost," admits Ecclestone. "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," he adds. "They don't need somebody telling them your teammate is using that through this corner. It is just not on. It is an engineers' championships more or less.

"I am not saying Lewis is not a super driver," he adds, "but he is given a hell of a lot of help. I would like to see him in a GP2 car with the GP2 drivers... I am not saying he would not win, but it would be interesting."

Ecclestone uses his favourite analogy, that of the decrepit house, to describe the current state of the F1 rule-book

"The rules are like an old Victorian house, people keep doing things to it, but it needs pulling down and starting again," he says. "You can't cross this line and add that, or cross that line and put this in place of that. We need to rip it up and start again."

"I would want the cars changed so the driver has to take complete control of the cars, including the gearbox" says Mosley. "I would even insist of gear changes because that's part of racing.

"At the same time I would bring in regulations about the cost, that would mean all the teams could spend the same amount and couldn't spend more. So the cleverest engineer would make the best car not the richest engineer. A combination of those two things, I think, would make a radical difference.

"The fundamental thing is that a lot of the technology is so complex that nobody understands it," he continues. "You can look on the internet and see a picture of a modern F1 steering wheel with all the buttons and so on, I have followed it for the past 30 or 40 years and I could not tell you what most of those buttons were for.

"We brought in a rule that driver aids were prohibited, meaning the driver had to drive the car and not a computer. It is a constant battle to stop the computer taking over more and more of the functions. I think there is a big argument for back to basics, where the driver has a steering wheel and maybe even a gear lever, and brakes and an accelerator and a very powerful engine and he has to get on with it.

"It is supposed to be a double competition: men and machines but if the engineering competition starts to take over from the human competition, F1 in my opinion loses an essential element."

The former FIA president, unlike Ecclestone, doesn't believe the rule changes have to be that radical, indeed, in some cases they simply need tweaking or stricter enforcement.

"There is a rule we brought in in 1994, it is very simple and says driver aids are prohibited," adds Mosley. "The teams agreed to that at the time because they said you can never define what a driver aid is: and they forgot that, if you are the regulator, a driver aid is whatever you say it is.

"So you have the possibility of eliminating all these outside helps from the engineers, radio and computer control, by enforcing rigorously that rule. But you cannot do that without upsetting people."

"We mustn't forget that we are in the entertainment business," concludes Ecclestone. "So we ought to have rules that the public want. We should be asking the public, 'what do you not like about Formula One today, and what did you like about Formula One before'.

"We need a complete re-think," he admits.


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1. Posted by karel, 02/11/2015 13:48

"Colin Chapman, Bruce Mclaren, Cooper, all real pioneers looking for speedy solutions doing magnificent findings. But still the driver in the main seat. Testing, developing , battles on the track, ... now: hardly battles on the track when you lookto the first 6 positions, race is decided in pitstrategy, reading between the lines of enormous rulings, cars that handle like a baby troley, .... . Indeed the engineer has a far more important role then the driver. Data, Data, Data and just get rid of F1 then and stick to E - F."

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2. Posted by Spindoctor, 26/10/2015 12:38

Very well said. What does Bernie\Max think Colin Chapman or Keith Duckworth's profession was? "

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3. Posted by gturner38, 23/10/2015 23:44

"F1 has been an engineers championship for decades regardless of what information is allowed to be passed on from the pitwall or what the ECU is allowed to regulate. In the past we've had drivers complaining that the gaps between the cars' performance was so big that they could at best gain one or spots based on talent. Add into that complaints that teams like Ferrari and McLaren, then later Red Bull being able to outspend everyone meant that they could produce a better car. Did anyone ever believe that Jordan or Sauber stood a chance to win a championship, or even a race in the absence of unusual circumstances? They both had World Champions driving for them.

As for wanting to see what Hamilton would do in a GP2 car against GP2 drivers, we already did. He had 5 wins and 14 podiums out of 21 starts as a rookie in the series and was disqualified while leading at Imola for pacing the safety car. Only Maldonado won more in a season and it was in his 4th year after only getting 4 in his first three seasons combined. If we had seen Hamilton in GP2 for a second or third season, we would have probably seen a 10 win season."

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4. Posted by scf1fan, 21/10/2015 16:59

"@Spindoctor - I have no problem with your general comments about MS, except for the fact that all those hours of testing also helped the engineers refine the car and its systems. Today, though I would like the idea of (at least more) in season testing, the "PUs" are the responsibility of their respective manufactures: Honda, MB, Renault and Ferrari. They could just Dyno the heck out of them, and then observe what happens on the track; development in a feedback loop. The current situation where there are Works teams and customer teams make that more problematic though not insurmountable; and I have taken issue with that to some degree. (If you know you are getting a lower spec PU at a lower cost, that's fair enough; but that should in no way be influenced by the Works team position.)
The main key is that everyone is (nearly) playing to the same rules. LH is the best driver in (what I would call an OK chassis with the best PU. He will always win most often. Do the engineers have more input this year? Perhaps, but for the most part, they are all playing by the same rules. I just don't see where this years results would be any different no matter how you shuffle the situation. The biggest down side to the current circumstances are that 1) it is hard to fix a problem if you are restricted from doing so (and I've argued against that rule) so an competitive driver in a competitive chassis and a poor PU is stuck! (Button & Alonso) but how are the "engineers" circumventing anything? And 2) the restrictive "spec" nature of many of the rules along with their higher base cost (hybrids) prevents the development of other lower cost (competitive) alternatives and, to me, unfairly penalizes teams for stuff that happens. (Sorry your 5th engine blew, now go to the back of the grid . . .) Here again, these aren't the engineers problem, it's the rule book's.
Perhaps that gets lost in the specific details, I think there is plenty of room for improvement, mostly in what I'll call the "side" rules. I think the "formula" and the racing it engenders (for the most part) is not that different than it was 5 years ago. (I.E. Teams with wind tunnels won, those that didn't, didn't.) It's just a matter of picking the poison.
If you want competitive racing though out a season, slow teams must be allowed to improve, or faster teams need to be (gently) restricted in some way. I'm open to ideas, but just going backwards doesn't really resolve anything."

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5. Posted by Spindoctor, 21/10/2015 13:32

M. Schumacher's victories were tedious, but were earned (much to my chagrin at the time!) . Schumacher put in thousands of km per year at Fiorano, testing, honing, improving. Hakkinen did the same at McLaren, and quite often got close to Ferrari at various times, winning numerous races. At the end of each season we fans felt that (mostly) everyone had had a fair go, but that Ferrari (including MS) did a better job than the rest.

Unfortunately today there's no significant in-season testing\development. If Mercedes are 1 sec a lap faster at Lights Out in Australia, they're likely to be so after the last lap in Brasil, simply because nobody will have the chance to significantly improve any part of their car or PU.

Cost is utterly irrelevant. The big boys can afford it, until they can't, when they'll pull-out, and everyone has a re-think.

Don't even start me on the stupidity of mandating V-8s. If you want the noise & thunder, go watch Oval track racing....

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6. Posted by scf1fan, 21/10/2015 10:46

"It's sort of sadly funny, but the F1 some people are talking about sounds a lot like the one M.Schumacher won so many races in and was pronounced "boring" . . .
What makes you all think that L.Hamilton wouldn't win 75% of the races if they were all driving equally prepared Minis? (And I'm not even a fan of his, but he is that good!) So, THIS IS THE DRIVERS' CHAMPIONSHIP! Maybe all the other teams need to find better drivers? Or, as I've often suggested, do what they did at times in Trans-Am and, in essence, penalize the better performers with additional weight. That is the only way that the field will ever be equalized. Otherwise it's just more monkeys with more wrenches.
And I'd like to see how many drivers can build their go-carts let alone their cars."

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7. Posted by Leo, 21/10/2015 10:38

"If this very website is anything to go by, then F1 is not an engineering championship at all. There are hardly any articles on technology or engineering.

If you follow F1 through Pitpass (or indeed any of the mainstream websites) you get the impression, based on what's published, that F1 is either an economicists championship or a politicians championship."

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8. Posted by SideGlance, 20/10/2015 13:35

"F1 is in serious trouble, I fast forward most races as it is so boring generally. Sad, if the cars were more even, then the superior driver could show his merits. It should be a drivers formula first, then an engineering formula second or even third. Back to ALL manual controls, keep DRS for passing, V-8 or even V-10 engines where a small Cosworth can supply engines to anyone - sounds like a formula I might NOT fast-forward thru the races !!"

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9. Posted by scf1fan, 20/10/2015 10:37

"Let's see . . . 3-4-5-600+ members on the team, (I doubt this includes all the people involved if you go back through the food chain, brake manufactures, oil and fuel refiners, chemists, etc.) and 2 primary drivers getting points/race weekend with perhaps a couple of backups per team.
Driver's championship/Manufacture's championship . . . So what's the problem?
F1 isn't motorcycles and it isn't Friday night claims. I guess I'm at a point where I wonder why people think that F1 should be something it isn't. Driver's didn't put the Auto Union or Cooper, Lotus 78-79 or the Cosworth DFV on the track, engineers did."

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10. Posted by nonickname, 19/10/2015 19:28

"Motogp.. YES 4 lead changes in the last lap!!"

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11. Posted by LifelessDead, 19/10/2015 18:46

"One thing I really like about MotoGP? The riders veto'd radio communications... repeatedly!"

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12. Posted by Tweek, 19/10/2015 17:37

"Hey Bernie..... It is what you made of it."

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13. Posted by You Started It!!, 19/10/2015 17:20

"No it's not, because everything that's invented is banned!!!"

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14. Posted by Spindoctor, 19/10/2015 13:35

"The sad twitterings of two old men who wrecked a Sport (but at least one of whom made a LOT of money!).

All this rubbish about "Engineers" is simply a cop-out. It's not the cars, with Engineer assistance which are spoiling the spectacle. It's the complexity of the excessively prescriptive Rule-Book, which coupled with no in-season testing, actively stifles ingenuity and innovation, that's lead to the current stagnation.
Who is responsible for that Rule-Book? (answers on a postcard to B. Ecclestone).

Even if their pointless, nostalgic maunderings were substantially correct, they're irrelevant. You can't undo history, you can't unmake technologies.
Bernie & Max are like the apocryphal yokel at a crossroads whose answer to the question "How do we get to...?" is: "If I was going there, I wouldn't be starting from here". Possibly true, but.....

What you can do, of course, is plot a course to your destination that takes account of where you actually are, not some maudlin rose-tinted view of what it would be like if.....

Do these old codgers seriously believe that Lewis Hamilton keeps winning because of what his Engineers tell him? Really? So Lewis' engineers are more talented than Nico's. Interesting theory!
Oh, and someone ought to tell Bernie that the starts are now 100% "Driver-controlled" he was obviously so busy checking his share options he didn't notice that.

If you seriously want Mercedes to have some competition, allow McLaren, Honda, RBR, Renault & Ferrari to test, test, test. Yes it's expensive, but they can afford it. If they can't they'll leave.
Each of the PU makers can also afford to supply a couple of "smaller" teams for a nominal amount - say 10m per team per annum, and of course they'll get the testing data from them too....

All of this is before we even think about the aerodynamics, the cost of which makes PU costs pall into insignificance.

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15. Posted by koko, 19/10/2015 13:24

"A simple rule should be enough: anyone on grid can buy your engine/chassis/steering/suspension for maximum X million EUR and they're forced to use them. It would be funny to see Ferrari buying a Renault engine ... "

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