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Wallet Racing

FEATURE BY MAX NOBLE
12/07/2017

Until humanity becomes a spiritually powered collective, Capitalism has delivered a higher standard of living to more of humanity than any other form of government.

Even the Greeks and Romans, who other than gifting us the Olympics and chariot racing also greatly furthered science, politics and the fine arts along with many other remarkable acts of progress, were built on the sweat of slaves and the blood of mercenaries. All paid for by the mighty gold coin.

The kingdoms of Egypt, Mesopotamia and many others were likewise built upon strong thinking and the power of money.

So now we all have the comfort of la-z-boy chairs, climate controlled cars, gluten free everything, and smashed avocado we get all high and mighty about how grubby money is... Really?

Formula One more than many sports is considered wallet racing.

Yet this is true of all sports.

I've a friend that's just spent big on custom darts, finished in a specific colour to give better sighting contrast against bright coloured dart boards. A small pile of gold obtained this benefit.

One can buy a competitive go-kart for around $10,000 (£5,000) and it will last a season or two with care. But if you want to qualify well you are going to burn hundreds in tyres each race weekend, and for best results an eye watering amount must be spent on regular engine rebuilds. Is that not junior wallet racing?

New Zealand has most marvellously recaptured the America’s Cup. Their super high technology hydro planing speed machine, complete with the world first 'cycling' deck hands, was not the work of a few late nights in the garden shed and a couple of old floor boards. It was a minor stroke of genius and a huge pile of cash. Gold, gold and more gold unleashed the beast.

Even online smartphone based games allow accelerated progress in exchange for dollars.

It's all wallet racing.

I've long maintained that "Road Relevance" is simply a smoke screen to allow the car loving, motorsport mad senior managers within car manufacturers to go racing with the blessing of the CEO and the board, rather than either receive their curse, or worse yet, a flat refusal.

Through a mix of the "direct cash saving benefit" of the free advertising (which requires a large free to air audience), world class entertainment for key clients and partners, and the Divine blessing of "Road Relevance", the motorsport mad managers have successfully taken their companies racing for a hundred years. As long as the cost justification can be made to stack-up, the activity is allowed to proceed. Sure Honda, and Renault, talk about rewarding engineers with places in the racing program, but this is simply another line of internal justification. The key is making it look like the dollars stack-up. If the dollars do not make sense it is never going to fly as a positive affirmation graduate engineering program. Trust me.

If the benefit of the free advertising is lost to pay TV deals, as the audience numbers collapse, and road relevance vanishes faster than morning dew in Las Vegas, the manufacturers in Formula One will vanish a few moments later.

And who offers to save us with a new engine supply should this apocalypse be visited upon us? Why good old Cosworth.

Here we are with Renault and Honda struggling to match the might of Ferrari and Mercedes, and Cosworth suggests that with an engine development budget about the same size as the biscotti petty cash fund at Maranello they can save the day. In the current environment no chance.

But if all the road relevance drains from the series like so much spilt battery acid, well now we have a different racing environment. As the manufacturers all bow out with the grace of an intoxicated karaoke singer our old mate Cosworth will stroll in with an engine perfectly sized to the newly shrunk budgets. The wallet racing can continue at a lower level, no harm done.

And yet is this what we want? Should Formula One retain some semblance of road relevance, or does it no longer need that myth to continue? No matter how you squint at it, any form of competition still has an element of wallet racing. Especially so as soon as one departs from the purity of boxing or Olympic sprinting.

Yes great training and coaching, and junior development programs to discover future champions, all take time and money, and the more money spent usually the better the results of the search. Yet these sports, more than any other, then rely on the raw capabilities of the athlete. No amount of money will turn our esteemed editor Mr Balfe into Usain Bolt. Yes the search needs funding, and then training venues are required. But the core ingredient for boxing and Olympic success, once the future star is identified, is the raw ability and passion of the selected athlete.

All the crew on the New Zealand America’s Cup craft were supremely fit. Yet if you’d placed them back in the mighty winged keel of Australia Two (the 1983 America’s Cup winner) they would probably still be out on the course trying to finish last month’s race series while the Yanks were drinking champagne from their deck shoes. Gold allows one to move on and innovate. No gold, no technological sporting progress.

Within such complex sports, the technology and the equipment is a core part of winning. And each requires a pot of gold to be eternally refreshed by endless rainbows for them to be world class season after season.

Enzo Ferrari only started building roads cars to finance his racing addiction. He needed money to finance continuing racing glory. Even his remarkable character and passion would amount to nothing without that pot of gold to make it all possible.

After Ferrari, Mercedes relish the joy of winning more than any other manufacturer. Consider the sorry end to the Jaguar racing story when Ford was a bit short of lunch money. The wonder that is Red Bull could have been theirs if they'd only kept their nerve and continued spending.

But reduce that free audience that validates the "dollar saving" on all those free advertising minutes, and remove road relevance as we all start rolling from A to B in electric powered, robot guided hover cars, and all of a sudden Formula One is a huge spend, for what? Capitalist industries do not exist for fun. They exist for profit and eye watering executive bonuses.

Removal of free to air coverage, coupled with zero road relevance would see Formula One return to the days of quaint garagistes and well-mannered racers largely ignored by manufacturers and the wider public. Like horse riding it will transform into a well-supported minority sport for the wealthy. It will cost tens of millions less to race than today, but no one will really care, other than those taking part.

And just as no one goes train racing or ocean liner racing anymore so it will be that as the wallets required to race shrink so will public interest. And, as if overnight, the manufacturers will be competing on sound systems and hand finished interiors for clients, so no need to race on Sunday and sell on Monday any more, while Cosworth will right size an engine to suit the willing wallets of lady and gentlemen racers around the World.

The wallet racing will continue and budget caps will be unnecessary because, as they so often do, Capitalist "free market" (such irony) forces will settle the budgets back to a level the competitors can just afford.

Max Noble.

Learn more about Max and check out his previous features, here

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by Spindoctor, 20/07/2017 9:33

"It's the inevitable dilemma that "Sport" faces when it collides withMoney and becomes "Entertainment".
Personally, as an old fogey who has watched F1 since the mid sixties, I find the "Sport" part pretty entertaining, the "Entertainment" less so....

As cricketpo states so eloquently, the fundamentals of F1 are pretty good. But FIA's constant manipulation of the rules means that the money that might in the past have been used to innovate\improve the cars and\or circuits is channelled into developing winglets, flip-ups and God knows what that are legal. This can give teams an edge, but at huge cost per 0.1sec\lap.

As I've asserted previously: F1 without technological innovation has no significant USP over a series like IndyCar. As I recall, most of us who contributed to Mr Noble's recent series about the "future" of F1 essentially favoured a sort of 'Formula Libre' approach.
Give the designers a 3-D box, a minimum weight, Crash Test specs, and (optionally) Fuel mass and let them get on with it..... Oh, and unlimited in-season teating.
It's likely that there'd be some years of dominance by one make over another, bit over time it would all even out.

"

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2. Posted by Max Noble, 18/07/2017 10:08

"@cricketpo - many thanks for an energetic response!
Yes, I agree F1 is at the start of a journey to remain relevant and exciting.
I share your passion for the technology. I think part of the reason we are mostly in awe of drivers from say, 1989 backward in time, is that back then they were driving cars more or less on the very limits of what it was possible to build. Regardless of budget - meaning - the top teams of the day had enough money to build "the best possible" designs at the time.

Now the FIA are all about manipulating the rules to deliberately remove amazing cutting edge advantages it is a shame. The computers, engineers, and general scientific advancement now offering so many options that money (and time) are the only limiting factors to producing an ever faster car every day of the week!

Agree the NZ speed monster is remarkable. I will have to investigate the top speed delta between it and Australia II!

...and the money in the EPL boggles my mind...!


"

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3. Posted by cricketpo, 16/07/2017 18:23

"Motor racing has to all intents and purposes been considered a rich mans sport. There are ways and means for everyone to take part in some form of motor racing if they so desire from banger racing to karting and even, dare I mention this on this website, rallying! However the single seat racing has always required cart loads of money. No way round that.
At the start of this little essay it states that capitalism has done so much for humanity but then starts to bang on about free to air TV. Again. The financial model he talks of requires large audiences made up of a broad range of socio economic groups. Unfortunately there are so many more ways the consumer of today can do their consuming. Advertisers know exactly which programs to advertise in for their product, they know at what time of day they watch, they know whether they watch "live" or on catch up. Once a sport has a following of any size (for size read spending power) the pay TV crowd will naturally muscle in and absorb the sport for as long as it can make money on it. Capitalism at work. It is the model currently working very well for the English Premier league (Soccer)
One wonders just how much the writer loves F1 in that it seems he would rather it fell flat on it's face and returned to free to air TV just because he is too tight fisted to fork out for his sporting enjoyment.

Incidentally the New Zealand sailors probably would still be out there in Australia II as the current boats REALLY move when they get on the wing! I would be interested to find out if the darts made any difference to the players game. My money is on "not at all". He should just concentrate on throwing better. Still capitalism states that a fool and his money are soon parted. I once tried to learn golf. It didn't matter whether the club in my hand was worth £20 or £200. I still sliced the ball all day long. Without technique the club is useless.

Formula 1 may have to rethink if it is to survive. Personally I want technology, I want my F1 at the edge. If it "resets" at lower cost I will always be think "yes but if they really threw some money at it..." It may be hat the circuits need redesigning? By and large they are unchanged from the 1960's, except for the new courses naturally. Perhaps F1 needs to find different tracks on which to race so that overtaking and proper racing can be allowed to happen. It strikes me that cars are today more confined by the track than contained by it.

But at the core of my experience is just my enjoyment of the day. I like the preamble. I still get slight goosebumps as the cars line up on the grid. There is still the feeling that, as they roll off for the first corner, that anything may happen. Sure the races this year are all about Vettel and Hamilton but there is still drama to be had out there.

Like I said, a fool and his money are soon parted"

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4. Posted by bfairey, 14/07/2017 22:47

"2.4L V6 no gimmicks"

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5. Posted by Max Noble, 13/07/2017 12:17

"@Hardliner - ok you've called me out on a bit of hyperbole... fair enough! If an article is too calm and collected it does not elicit passion. If it's too wild it is called out for the raving soapbox mania it surely is.

Fully agree that Bernie sold at "Peak F1". If ever we had a chap more like Br'er Rabbit and the "don't throw me in that briar bush..." I've yet to see or read about him. As Toto (Mercedes, not Wizard of Oz) so dryly noted, he'd rather not be Chase right now. Actually that cute little dog probably doesn't want to be Chase either..."

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6. Posted by Hardliner, 13/07/2017 11:40

"As a yachtie I'm not sure I agree that the Kiwi's would 'still be out there ...on Australia ll' [they are highly accomplished sailors regardless of the type of boat]! But I fully agree that F1 is due a re-set. Bernie is the shrewdest of the shrewd, do you think he would leave any fuel in the tank when he sold the second hand motor called FOM - I don't, and hopefully the BRDC renegotiation is the start of this winding down. I think your vision is prescient, F1 will be happier all round if it is conducted by enthusiasts for enthusiasts. Just like Cowes Week.......an amazing event to take part in, highly visual, but not for the masses"

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7. Posted by Max Noble, 13/07/2017 9:37

"@all... some great comments around how F1 has transformed from a sport to an entertainment business. Given the other events and assets Liberty own I think it is clear they believe they have purchased an entertainment event, not a sport.

I'd always rather hoped it was still a sport, but as you all observe once large sums of cash are involved it is usually the sporting aspect that suffers.

The next ten years are going to be fascinating as this all plays out... by which time Honda might be getting two engines to the finish line on a regular basis... :-). "

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8. Posted by Bill Hopgood, 12/07/2017 20:18

"@GrahamG hits it on the nose with "we have to wait for the current model to crash". Crashes is what happens with capitalism as well as growth. The crash allows for new growth as each situation changes. In the past 100 years or so there have been attempts to level out the peaks and troughs however underneath the levelling is still the underlying crash. We just don't see it (the ECB I believe is still printing money after the great recession of 2008, they just call it asset purchasing these days) and levelling just delays the inevitable, one of the reasons the Berlin Wall came down and the issues Germany had after WWI.

Anyway, back on topic, sorry about that.
Here in NZ we lost free to air coverage of F1 and just about all live sport to SkyTV. Including the America's Cup series that gets government funding.
The anicdotal effect of this for F1 is that the "man on the street" doesn't know anything much about what is happening and asks about the health of Micheal Schumacher. They only know McLaren are in the poo performance wise because they haven't heard about them in the top three during a quick sports news broadcast on the wireless Monday morning on the way to work.

There is a silver lining in spending nearly $100 per month for Sky Sport for the fan and that is the coverage is a lot better than free to air could afford to provide. If only I had the time to watch it all!

The last free to air series that went to sky was Australian Super Cars. That I think was also the most popular series followed here as there are a lot of NZL drivers doing well and there is Bathhurst of course. If the NZL drivers were not going so well then...

Regarding money in sport; the show may improve and the athletes get better at what they do however the audience might shrink. Rugby officially went "pro" in 1995 and the players are bigger, stronger, faster and more skilled than ever, largely because at the top level they don't have to do anything else. I bet if the players of the 70s were lined up with those of today there would be a noticeable physical difference.

Certainly money makes a difference to sport and always have however it is the decisions of those that run the sports that has a greater impact.
"

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9. Posted by GrahamG, 12/07/2017 16:59

"Lots of good thoughts. Unfortunately the "powers that be" have far too much at stake to take any notice
A simple formula with simple rules and some hope of innovation and a good driver to triumph? Love to see it but we will have to wait probably 5 years for the current model to crash first.
Now if some bright spark was to get hold of GP2 with free to air, innovative presentation, and races which were easy to follow without daft and endless penalties ..... "

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10. Posted by Greybeard, 12/07/2017 16:32

"...but no one will really care, other than those taking part...

Sounds good to me. Just like the club racing I used to watch - and take part in - back in the day.

Money does not improve sport - it improves business. When you apply money to sport it becomes business. Will a footballer on £1000,000 a week make the sport of football better? Have huge budgets made F1 better?

I don't think there's much hope for F1. It will just be more of the same. Money is the genie you can't put back in the bottle.


"

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11. Posted by edllorca, 12/07/2017 14:35

"Not so sure that would be a bad thing. The road relevance mentioned (read hybrid tech) has not clearly bought better racing, arguably it has brought the opposite. Insane budgets provides us with little winglets we cannot see on TV and have made racing worse (read aero sensitivity, can't follow closely, gap between haves and have nots).
Return to pure sport, simpler cars, less reliability no more grid penalties and terrifying howling engines."

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12. Posted by mickl, 12/07/2017 13:59

"Agree with all that. Maybe it is time for the sport to be reset."

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