Like many of his songs, there are layers of meaning to David Bowie's Sound and Vision.
But the most direct was an inner reflection following a period of drug use, where, sitting alone in a quiet pale room, he was waiting for the gift of sound and vision. Inner vision? Clear vision of the world outside? Seeing oneself with clarity within the Cosmos...? Maybe none of those, maybe all of them.
So we come to George Russell and the FIA, who, when it rains, are both seeking the gift of vision.
Should they, Bowie like, retreat into a pale darkened room, assume the lotus position and seek inner calm and clarity to build the required vision? I think us fans would be waiting a long time for their Zen focus to deliver outcomes, given the low base from which they start.
Should they clip spats onto each car and effectively turn the open-wheeler F1 class into an enclosed car? Well unless they simply want to give-up on the class and use Le Mans Hypercars instead I'd recommend no.
Cease racing in the rain? Possibly, but I hope not. Use Saudi investment money to enclose all the race tracks of the world? Possibly. Turn F1 into an indoor sport as our weather systems collapse. Who knows, give it ten years and we might be in the awkward position of wondering how to drive in snow!
How about a different approach? One that happens to also solve the track limits issue as a bonus?
Dear reader. I'm recommending we utilise technology! Please don't tell the FIA. Iron-bounded wooden wheels and solid axle hay carts are their preferred level of complexity.
The RAF Buccaneer ground attack aircraft is generally considered to be the first aircraft with what we will consider the Great-Grandfather of Head-Up Displays (HUDs). A prototype first flew on 30th April 1958. Since this early basic version of a HUD the technology has evolved considerably and is now blurring with Augmented Reality (AR) technology. An increasing number of road cars now have HUDs for everything from current speed to music selection to navigation information.
The current military state of the art is based around precision fit helmets, whereby the augmented reality of a detailed HUD is presented to the pilot directly in his line of sight. Where he looks, accurate value-add detail is overlaid to millimetre-perfect precision.
So where is the technology transfer to F1? My solution to both track limits, and poor visibility in the wet is to combine augmented reality HUDs for the drivers with advanced multi-sensor fusion and precise geo-location data.
The teams already gather more data per lap then one can sensibly imagine. With a good-quality GPS system one can have location information to within 2cms. Combine this with the telemetry data already gathered then add several sensors to each car. Infra-red, microwave, visual and both on-car and trackside Doppler radar.
With these multiple cross-correlating systems in place we can know the location of every car on track to within less than 1cm. Then use high-speed data networks at the circuit to relay this positional information to every team and driver.
Then, use the augmented reality HUD to feed relevant positional data to the drivers. A simulated rear-view mirror with an indication of how close behind cars are, plus a graphic to represent closing-speed and display icons for the immediate cars in front. Dry race? Set a rule for how much additional information is required. Wet race? Mandate all the safety information.
This is a pure safety system. Yet the FIA, as huge Fox Mulder fans, do indeed "Trust no one". So this needs to be a mandated standard system for all teams. Then the possibility of cheating is removed. Less than a kilo of new sensors on the cars, only a few hundred grams at most added to the helmets. Perfect.
The multi-sensor plus GPS approach is required as all those water droplets hanging in the air can ruin the sending and receiving of infra-red and visual signals. Both the microwave and Doppler radar sensors suffer in wet conditions, but not to the extent of the first two technologies. Then the GPS and trackside sensors should complete the picture. Set the track-side sensors high so they are above the hanging mist which forms during wet races.
One could even consider, again similar to technology offered in some road cars, automatic accident avoidance technology.
An increasing number of road cars can sense an impending accident impact scenario and apply brake, and in some cases steering, inputs to try and avoid, or at least minimise, the impact. The system could be used in both the wet and the dry. Or it could be activated by race control when visibility reached an agreed reduced limit.
Then should one consider electronic traction control which would activate in the wet? Or is such a driver aid a step too far for the FIA? Possibly.
Track limits? OK, while we are busy tracking all our cars to within 1cm, let us address track limits while we are here. The white lines at the edge of the track are already well over 1cm wide. Along with the sensors on the car, and the HUD capability in the driver's helmet, let's introduce a known, detectable datum point either on the top centre of the driver's helmet, or possibly on the centre line of the car on top the air box or HALO. Then, like tennis court lines, and tennis balls, when this known point journeys outside the precisely geographically known outside edge of the track limit line we have a track limits violation.
It could be correctly reported within fractions of a second and we could have a set ruling to deal with it. First crossing, driver warned. Second crossing, driver warned. Third crossing instant five second penalty. Fourth crossing, instant ten second penalty. Fifth crossing ten second stop and go. Sixth crossing in the same race? Disqualified.
The technology to realise these solutions already exists. It needs to be adapted to suit F1 needs and agreed by the FIA and teams. It's expensive, they all cry. Well in this case my response is "What cost another on-track driver death?" $50,000 per team? $500,000? $5,000,000? More? The series being shut down?
A further benefit would be the ability to genuinely feed this technology back into road cars. Object detection and identification in basic form is available on some American cars as a HUD but it is not yet that advanced. Imagine if the FIA actually developed a safety technology which is taken back on to the public road and saves lives?
The drivers have safe wet weather driving, we continue to have exciting variable-condition racing, the FIA solves both the wet racing safety, and track limits issues, and as a bonus gets to gift the safety improvement back to the driving public!
Dear reader! What is not to love about those outcomes? How long will we need to wait with Zen-like patience, for our gift of sound and vision? Your scribe is resigned to waiting long and watching in sad wonder as the cars are enclosed, the tracks covered and eventually the drivers work from simulators placed safely trackside with nothing but robots following their commands within the cockpits.
In this particular scenario I don't think Mr. Bowie would ever emerge from his pale room, such would be the length of the wait. We can only hope dear reader, we can only hope. With insight and wisdom, the FIA might provide us all the joy which is the gift of sound and vision.
Learn more about Max and check out his previous features, here