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The Road to Relevance


Another week, another FIA ban, dear reader. There are some things COVID-19 cannot stop.

Rejoice all ye calling for a return to 'normal'. Nothing makes one feel alive and falling in love with engineering all over again like the sound of another tablet of stone dropping from 'The Mountain' (aka F1 Towers - Ed) with the latest commandment lovingly chiselled into its surface.

"Listen and tremble all ye who hear me speak...!" One can imagine Todt intoning as he strides like an Old Testament God from the Mount into the world of mere super heroes, that is the Formula One paddock...

"Extracting performance by the application of emerging technology and brilliant thinking is hereby forbidden, in the realms of..." here he pauses for dramatic impact as eyes widen behind a hundred pairs of Ray Bans, Persols, and Vintage Gucci's, "in the realms of... energy recovery, and software trickery!"

In an over done puff of smoke, and with a surround sound clap of thunder he vanishes as swiftly as he appeared.

Across the engine manufacturer's offices dozens of engineers look at the stone tablets freshly thrown upon their desks, and tracing the rough cut letters with their fingers let out a group sigh, and roll their eyes, face planting firmly into dry cool hands, as yet another brilliant item of technology and progress is resoundingly quashed by the Gods who must be obeyed.

Yes dear reader. The FIA is now stopping the cars from being increasingly efficient and effective by managing engine modes and recovering additional energy, just because the technology and thinking is moving on faster than the FIA can legislate.

Tablets of stone and feet of clay versus minds of the mighty, and technology of the genius. It would be amusing if it were not so tragic.

Mazda won Le Mans in 1991 with the Quad-rotor 26B engine powering the stunning 787B race car. A stunning first victory for a Japanese manufacturer. And how did the FIA react to this act of genius? It promptly banned the Rotary engine from competition. Good-bye the excitement of a title defence.

This history of stifling innovation and progress in the name of ever increasing prescription within the rules is supposed to make us, the motorsport punter and car purchasing public, believe that Formula One is leading the way in competition, and delivering genius outcomes for road cars. I mean, really.

Many Porsche road cars have movable aero surfaces to improve driving dynamics. Even the road going aircraft carrier that is the Range Rover adjusts ride height based on speed.

The Kia Stinger, a turbo charged crazy sedan from Korea at a bargain price, has launch control, traction control, fly-by-wire controls, software engine mapping, and a self-tuning exhaust system. Coupled with the boost-crazed turbos, is there anything on this car that is allowed on a modern Formula One car, and remember this is Kia's first major performance sedan ever, and they are usually known for cheap and cheerful entry-level cars. Oh, and you can alarm four friends at a time with your driving, so useful room for humans too!

Would a Kia Stinger (or Porsche, or Range Rover for that matter) benefit from Formula One derived energy recovery that is at the cutting edge of tomorrow, or are they better supported by yet more rigid rules on the banning of software and other features common to our everyday lives, away from the race track?

As an aside, Pirelli tyres that struggle to make 100Km, well I'm glad I get a few more Km out of my road tyres than that! Yet more genius rule making.

Banning theses clever developments is much like the drug policing in cycling, except the clever developments are not as naughty as pumping oneself chock full of go-juice that's likely to result in exploding internal organs.

Yes, Lance Armstrong got an advantage from the drugs. But two important points... First, cycling at that speed around France and up and over both the Alps and the Pyrenees is really hard work and hurts... a lot. One still has to pedal the entire way, having completed a stunning amount of pre-season training. Second, as Lance has highlighted, all except one of the other riders that stood on the podium with him each year he won has also subsequently been done for drug cheating. All except one! The point being they were all on the juice, and yet Lance still won. They all had access to the same 'cheat'.

So... we remove party mode for all teams. No more of that for anyone. Well, I'm confident each engine manufacturer had their own version of 'Party Mode' for qualifying, or during the darkest hour of need for scant use during the race. Yes, some might have been better than others, but I'm sure they all existed. So now, as Lewis has already quietly noted, the outcome might well not be what the FIA expect.

I believe we will see a drop of performance across the field in qualifying in terms of ultimate pace. Not much, but 'Party mode' will, well... no longer be coming to the party.

Will this dramatically alter the pecking order for "Awesome Engines" across the field? Is the Renault about to bury that lump of junk from Mercedes? Really dear reader, really? Of course not!

Was Lewis forced to use party mode again and again as he lapped the entire field bar his team mate and Max Verstappen at Barcelona? Of course not! Did Max *not* use a party mode while chasing? Do those in the midfield not mix a quick twist of party mode with DRS to launch that dive down the inside?

No, and no again. As His Supreme Being Todt strides forth with stone tablets flying in all directions, the engineers shake their heads, comment out a few lines of code, run some simulations on how much the baseline setting can be increased now the maximum attainable over a weekend has been reduced (total area under the power graph), and they will all line-up on grid at the next race with maximum power a fraction reduced, but otherwise business as usual with a tiny bit of additional power permanently dialled into each engine. Net impact being nothing at all!

Expect Mercedes to maintain its qualifying advantage. Expect DRS overtakes to reduce in marginal circumstances (due to no added party mode). Expect Max to have a bigger gap between him and Lewis, to the world champion's advantage. Expect the midfield to be a no-overtaking zone earlier in the race because no one can get an edge exploding from the apex of a slow corner.

In short expect - as usual - that the FIA has once more issued tablets of stone that stifle innovation, fail to improve the racing, and continue to ensure you can find more advanced technology on road cars, even affordable road cars from budget Korean manufacturers, that is more awesome than that allowed by the FIA within the "Pinnacle of motorsport".

Look out for surround sound thunder and overdone dry ice mist, for these foretell yet another flurry of hastily chiselled stone tablets capturing rushed rules to the benefit of no one, most especially the demi-god fearing motorsport fan.

Hopefully Lewis still has Bluetooth and wi-fi in his cockpit so he can listen to quality driving music, and relax while the field behind him aspire to not sideswipe each other into the (burning?) bushes in fruitless overtaking attempts supported by wooden wheels, steam engines, and the speechless quality of FIA technical thinking.

Max Noble

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



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1. Posted by Max Noble, 01/10/2020 9:55

"@La Claire - You might need to copy and paste this into your browser... This is serious stuff... not to be confused my “Max’s Opinion stuff” - here to help....

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2. Posted by Max Noble, 01/10/2020 0:38

"@La Claire - I think you’ll find all my “victims” are going just fine in the vine yards, art galleries, and vintage car collections of the world. Your opinion is I’m settin g the bar too low... yet who are you to set the PitPass bar? I recommend looking to the serious press to solve the issues of stumbling western democracy, and increasing personal insult, and take PitPass in the spirit in which it is presented. An enjoyable way to pass a few cheery hours chuckling away at the crazy universe that is F1... which by turn is high art, high drama, occasional sport, and hopefully a source of delight on the rare occasions all three combine to show the very best of the human spirit challenging itself. I promise to set my own bar higher for my next article. A bar, you do not get to set, but which you’re welcome to come and observe. "

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3. Posted by La Claire, 30/09/2020 17:30

"Reasonable points, Mr. Noble, but it's a bit facile to solve it all with 'well don't read it then' since there is an opportunity cost. The column is a prominent feature and if it could be better, that's relevant (or at least on the road to it). I think the reaction of the editor, in lauding you for your restraint in the face of criticism, really shows Fleet street as a one-way thoroughfare. If you've shown admirable restraint, what award should be given to the victims of your consistently mean and childish criticism as they go about their jobs? And as to your contention it's just a natural fact which should be expected, that journalists will stress and exaggerate the negative and dramatic, I'd ask you to look around at the world the internet media have divided into antagonistic shouters, all to collect clicks on ads, and ask yourself whether it's so unavoidable or worth the cost, or whether there isn't a duty in there somewhere to rise a bit higher, or at least less low."

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4. Posted by Editor, 25/09/2020 12:42

"@ Max Noble

And we know you can always trust a cat"

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5. Posted by Max Noble, 25/09/2020 12:40

"@Editor - The cats say I'm very human... :-)"

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6. Posted by Editor, 25/09/2020 9:43

"@ Max Noble

Impressed by your restraint..."

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7. Posted by Max Noble, 25/09/2020 0:58

"@La Claire - first my thanks for good grammar and punctuation, always nice to see. Ok, so newspapers, and indeed news sites all around the internet, do not lead with... “Country well run, schools looking fine, weather going to be just right over weekend. All relax.” One is more likely to get... “Axe Murderer approved as new school Maths teacher!!!!!” Why? To elicit an emotional response. So, with my column. If I write, “FIA spot on, next 25 years of racing to be as expected. All relax.” Well... boring is it not...? One needs to use dramatic language, and present a clear opinion, so that (hopefully) readers emotionally engage with the piece... clearly you did, so like Trump I’m going to give myself an A+ for that one. Mission Accomplished, and all that...

It is an opinion, it is written to entertain, and to hopefully stir some emotion and make the reader think. It is not necessary to agree with me :-)

...and finally, a wonder of the internet (you’ll love this...) if you elect *not* to click on my article you will be exercising your freedom *not* to receive! It’s amazing, but the power to never be annoyed by my column ever again is in your hands. Isn’t the internet wonderful? My next opinion piece (filled with opinion!) will be ready soon, and I encourage you to look away to spare yourself. No really, you’re welcome."

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8. Posted by La Claire, 24/09/2020 15:13

"This is so typical of this column - insulting and negative and not helpful or amusing. How would you feel to read "as usual Max Noble has issued a tablet of stone that stifles enjoyment, fails to improve an understanding of F1, and continues to ensure you can find funnier and more well written journalism on walls, even public bathroom walls in train stations, that is more engaging and intelligent than that published in this pinnacle of arrogance"? There are so many fans of F1, many of them smart, many of those well informed, a good subset of that group who are entertaining and good writers, why again is this feature column so grossly wasted?"

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9. Posted by NevilleT, 17/09/2020 1:22

"F1 is always conflicted. On one hand it is supposed to be leading edge technology. On the other it wants close exciting racing between drivers that are only a hair breadth apart in skill. If they let the technology win, the drivers skill becomes irrlevant. If they let the drivers fight it out in equal machines, the technology has to be constrained.
If you really want to see some great racing, tune into F3. They seem to have got the spectator bit right. Reverse grids for the top ten cars in race 2 adds another dimension.
If you really wanted to go the F1 technology route you would have a draft system for drivers where the slowest team had fist pick of drivers. Hamilton in an Alpha Tauri? "

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10. Posted by Max Noble, 02/09/2020 10:43

"@Elgar... “affordable” - well one man’s pocket money is another’s riches beyond the dreams of King Midas...

Lawrence Stroll is said to be worth $2.6 billion US, and Mercedes has a market capitalisation of $46.36 billion Euro (something North of $50billion US). So a cap of $150M per year is robustly affordable for Lawrence personally, and it is a rounding error for Mercedes...

By definition in F1 if the teams manage to finance it... it is ipso facto affordable on the grounds one of them just paid it...It is a self limiting problem.... none of them spend money they do not have (via capital injection, prize money, or business loans...)... or opening their own wallets...."

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11. Posted by Elgar, 01/09/2020 23:06

"I want to see the cars be somewhat affordable, and you didn't touch on this, otherwise I agree with all of it. People always say, it is "Formula 1"!"

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12. Posted by Max Noble, 01/09/2020 13:59

"@Spindoctor - quite so! Are we trying to be a restraining formula, or a pinnacle? By definition one can not be both at the same time. I wonder are we chasing edge of the possible amazing, or affordable V8 bangers? Really.

The rules are so prescribed now that we are having a meltdown over last year’s brake ducts! I mean really! The racing was better when Ferrari were busy *not* cheating with an engine approach that (while not cheating) is not cricket for this season... OK... So now the racing is crap, but at least Racing Point and Ferrari know that the rules matter more than the show... All bow! The rules matter. The advertising dollars matter! The circuit owners paying for us to turn up matters!

The fans and the quality of the technology...? Oh, whatever..."

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13. Posted by Spindoctor, 31/08/2020 13:01

"Excellent analysis of why F1 falls between and into multiple stools (entendres iintended).
Science, Technology & Engineering will continue to develop systems which enable greater efficiency, speed, safety etc., and as Mr Noble points-out, it's ridiculous that a (relatively) budget saloon car has more sophisticated systems than an F1 car. Its even sillier that some of the best brains in Technology & Engineering are actively prevented from extracting the nth degree of efficiency & performance from the systems they ARE allowed to use.

Were F1 not the self-styled "pinnacle" of Motor Sport none of this would matter. Many other series have much more prescriptive rules which are explicitly designed to prevent innovation & development in the way FIA's current regime is stifling it in F1. Those series have different goals & objectives to F1 such as close racing, recognisable silhouettes, cheapness etc. They have few pretensions about their positions in the in the hierachy of the Motor Sport pantheon.

We've collectively touched on all this previously, Formula 1 still promotes itself as an expression of the pursuit of Excellence. That is inconsistent with heavy-handed regulation designed mainly to sabotage originality.
In norder to regain the high-gropund and ascend that Pinnacle, I'm still wedded to an adapted Formula Libre approach. We should aim to minimise prescription, maximise imagination & innovation.
This has obvious flaws - for a start it will not be cheap. Additionally many will assert it leads to complex software & systems reducing driver participation & skills. They claim poor drivers in fast sophisticated cars would beat all-comers.
I'm not convinced. I suspect that no matter what technology is used (autonomy aside!) drivers like Hamilton will extract the maximum, while lesser mortals won't.


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14. Posted by Greg, 27/08/2020 12:48

"Agree about the DRS. Total waste. Let the drivers take the plunge down the inside into the corner. The DRS is just a false effect on the car. The car behind gets it and the
next lap they swap due to lack of the first car actually not pulling clear. Why bother"

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15. Posted by TokyoAussie, 27/08/2020 4:45

"I'm OK with a higher baseline during the race if there are no qually party modes. If they want to qualify 1st, maybe they risk a higher mode (but that the mode stays in place for the rest of the weekend). No turning it down when leading by 3 laps; let's have the odd blown engine instead.

My pet gripe about fuel flow is not perfect, but I really really would prefer lead-foot overtaking over DRS! Among other things I really really wanr. (Sorry, I loathe the Spice Girls as much as DRS)."

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