An engineer replies to Stefan Johansson's blueprint for reshaping F1 Part II

06/05/2019
FEATURE BY MAX NOBLE

Dear reader, in the first part of this engineer's response to the drivers' desires for rule and cost revisions to the sport we sat respectfully in the Pitpass office poking Mr Johansson's strawman with a knitting needle blessed upon us from our grandmother (who only had time for Fangio and Moss...). Now we follow the demon driving of Mr Johansson as he dives into the twisting back half of this circuit and considers the aspects of competition that we need to address to place 'awesomeness' back at front and centre for Formula One. Rest assured there will be more straw on the floor before we reach that final full stop...

Some of the issues Mr Johansson is seeking to address here have been hinted at via areas of cost reduction, so we will not rehash ideas already explored in the first section of our engineer's response.

Key is a suggested 70% reduction in aero-generated down force. The evils of aero being core to Mr Johansson's view of what afflicts Formula One. We lost Concorde, and with it supersonic travel for civilians, due to Boeing throwing a wobbly over not having designed and built it. We now all bounce through super-hub airports controlled by those that buy the planes... who have no interest in super-fast travel city-to-city ignoring their home base. Don't expect revolution here any time soon. My point?

Is going backwards going forward? Is returning a 'Technology Showcase' to a "Frozen in time and space because we like it that way" formula the path to a great future? Is that really going to attract the "Me First", "Internet", "Millennial" generation to our sport?

Especially if top-end McLaren, Bugatti, Ferrari and Porsche road cars can actually lap (pick your favourite circuit) faster than a current Formula One car... well it is going to look silly, and contrived.

Yet, as sport is warfare tamed by rules to reduce the killing to bruising, one can argue that all sport is artificially tamed, blunted, contrived, in the name of avoiding each rugby and football field becoming a killing field, and to yield an exciting, entertaining, spectacle. So is Formula One any more contrived than these staples of Western sporting culture?

Rather as one person's style icon is another's shaggy-haired dud, so it is with sporting spectacle. Off-side rules, video referees, lighter boots, wider goals, skin suits, no skin suits... At some stage many sports have had to deal with what technology adds to their DNA, their brand core values, and which detract.

Is aero a core Formula One value? Or top speed? Or peak lateral G...? Many years ago I had the delight of seeing the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird streak across the skies above Farnborough. Awesome? Yes indeed. Exciting, intoxicating, on the edge... Well no not really, as it made it all look so easy, and at a distance was simply a black swan gliding with minimal effort across cloudy English skies.

If it was battling total failure like a poorly maintained Sopwith Camel to remain in the air as the pilot struggled heroically with the simplistic controls avoiding an abrupt unscheduled landing and we could all gasp with our hearts in our mouths, transfixed by the titanic efforts of the pilot. Would that be any better...? Or simply different?

Is one more "Awesome" than the other? As Mr Johansson asks, what is it we are trying to make Formula One?

Next is the suggestion of making the cars look great. Well... As form follows function in Formula One I've found nearly every year that the cars look amazing and current. The high noses of a few years back were a serious misstep, followed swiftly by the equally daft low noses... but now both these issues have settled down we are back to wonderful looking purposeful cars. Again the classic cars of the 1950s, 1960s, and so on are all unique and beautiful within their own time frame references, and some are seminal designs of great beauty for all time.

Next Mr Johansson recommends more power, and a power equivalency formula. Both sound suggestions that Pitpass has agreed with in the past. Over to you FIA...

Next Mr Johansson recommends the cars are now being biased (under his proposed rules) to higher power driven top speeds, longer braking distances, and lower apex speeds. Again Pitpass agrees all these things would open larger windows for overtaking, and driver error, each lap and as a result generate more dramatic racing. Great fun for the driver, but given the (under this rule set) huge level of commonality between the cars, would fans have any interest in the teams at all, with the intrigue of great technology having been lost?

Weight reduction is the next recommendation, and while we feel it might not be possible to pull as much weight out the cars as suggested, we do believe such a move would make the cars more lively, and again as a result more of a challenge to drive on the limit.

Ah! Now tyres! We could dedicate an entire article to mutterings on this topic. Just as we all run on different rim styles, rim sizes, tyres and tyre pressures on the road... why mandate anything at all for racing other than safety (loading) requirements? Let the teams do whatever they want, and allow as many suppliers as wish to take part...? What's not to love?

Next Mr Johansson moves into a series of bullet-point improvements and recommendations. In the interests of this analysis article not exceeding the length of Harry Potter, I shall move to a more clipped style here on...

Reduce the importance of electronics: New power sources will require huge amounts of software to run. But where do we draw a line on driver aids? Ironic as road cars are now filled with software and driver aids, and are not that far from being successfully driverless. Any road relevance here is next to impossible. Agree a driver aid limit and don't worry, the current solution (as noted earlier) is working.

Governance: Eliminate the designers and engineers in the rule making process and simplify the rules: Refer previous comment on off-side rules, goal sizes etc. People will always argue over rules. Always... Stable rules that can be applied equally to all competitors is the best situation we can hope for.

Modify the race tracks to make them more difficult and more interesting to watch: Ummm.. This is at the heart of what is Awesome? Returning to the early 1980's with modern haircuts, or continuing to evolve? Society has become increasingly intolerant of injury and death (quite reasonably so in 99.9% of cases...) refer to "A Brief History of Cottonwool" article for a further discussion on this one. It has to remain safe, and forward looking.

Replace DRS with Push to Pass (P2P): Sorry a flat no here. Remove both. If your power source (such as a turbo engine) allows for something like a variable boost control, then have that for the driver to use. If you have a battery... well good luck.

Race format: Yup - agree with these observations. Get on with it FIA...

Longer pit stops / 1 person per wheel: Like increased braking zones, increased pit-stop times, via fewer people, increases the chances for error, and makes the cost of a stop far higher in terms of race time. I'm rather neutral on this one (and note that "one person per wheel" is a very prescriptive rule...).

Fewer investigations and penalties: A consistent approach is required, however as with other sports, if you relax rules people will push and push and take advantage until it is either dangerous, cheating, or both. On this planet probably not possible.

No penalties for engine and gearbox changes: Total agreement on this one. It is a pointless rule that any engineer would tell you would never drive cost down.

Entertainment:

Make the drivers more accessible: Indeed! Come on guys, get out of the motorhome!

Make the racing less precidcatble: Ummm... Just as one cannot force a big fight or football match to be more exciting, so too with racing. Unless the result is contrived, which, like professional wrestling means the outcome is (possibly) fixed and we can have movie like sequences of stunning drama without issue because it is fake and the players know their part. Looks like drama, but no. Fake. True excitement is in the lap of the Gods. Some races will be remarkable, others less so. That's real life.

Bring back the 'awesome' factor: Ok, other than needing to get the Lego Movie song out of my head, we have mixed messages here from Mr Johansson. One set of physics and engineering related parameters to describe awesome are poor, while another set (his) are awesome! Again this highlights the difference between the soul of a driver, and the soul of an engineer. Just how much each appeals to each fan is a very personal thing. I respect both. I am in awe of the driver's ability... and also in awe of the engineering genius and engineering capability of all the teams. Bringing back awesome does not need to mean "...by killing engineering factors in the sport".

Improve the broadcast and the graphics: Lord above... Pitpass might, might, just, have made comment on these areas before (anyone else have a particular favourite rant from our esteemed editor Balfe on the timing app...?). As we say in business "Here is a remarkable opportunity for improvement". Go get 'em Tiger... (hint, that would be you Liberty).

Create a huge prize money fund for each race that is transparent and official: Well dollars per point have already been addressed. I've no interest in this specific aspect, but given the size of sports betting on the planet it might appeal to some fans. Again if the fan base sees appeal why not? Is it core to Awesome Formula One? Probably not.

Relevance:

How important in the bigger picture is it that Formula One, or motor sport in general, is relevant? Is Tennis relevant, Golf? Beach fishing...? I've previously made the argument about this only being of concern to petrol-head racers when trying to get boards to give them racing dollars. Has any true "Created, designed, and developed" technology ever first been given birth in Formula One, and then transformed to road car technology? Quite. Training engineers, exciting company staff, educating the public on good driving habits. Inspiring a wonder for engineering? Entertain? Yes all these are relevant. How relevant any of us consider motorsport is a personal question, right up there with how relevant is Rap, Tennis, Lawn Bowls, or Trump Tweets to each fan.

Formula 1 could become the global leader in innovative thinking and the implementation of new technologies: Yes!

Eliminate the importance of aerodynamics: No! (Well reduce it a touch...)

Summary:

Mr Johansson's summary is a driver centred universe of highly standardised cars that are simpler in some areas than the cars of today, aero in particular, and run on tracks revised to return to more high speed sweepers, and less point-and-shoot chicane-fests. The proposed solution for redistributing prize money, refined as we suggest with a scaled 'Historic Bonus' for all teams, is logical. Simplification of the rules is a fine ideal to pursue, but as noted, and especially respecting the legendary 'rule bending' of former years, is probably not as simple to reform as is outlined in the original article.

Ensuring we have stable, consistent application of the rules each race weekend via professional, full-time, stewards is also a logical idea worthy of exploration.

Improving the graphics, and oh so especially F1 TV and the Timing app, should go hand in hand with excellent HD broadcast quality, and live free-to-air coverage of each race.

Pitpass Summary of the Summary....

We agree with much of what Mr Johansson writes, offer some modest modification of other suggestions, and then respectfully request that we keep a fair slice of engineering front-and-centre of what makes Formula One a unique and fascinating universe.

Reduce aero somewhat? Yes. Open up the tyre and wheels specifications? Yes. More power? Of course yes. Energy equivalence formula to allow innovation? Yes please! Everything standardised except for the driver's seat? No thanks. That's just a bridge too far for a sport that is unique on the planet in the level of remarkable engineering that is generated within each team.

Sure, bicycles and open ocean racing yachts are complex beasts. But nothing like the technical universe of Formula One. We need to reframe the engineering bounds in Formula one (I'm resisting making any statement about returning balance to the Force...) not eliminate 90% of the engineering challenge.

The drivers are remarkable heroes, and (as Jody Scheckter proved on "Super Stars" many years ago) incredibly fit and talented. Ensuring the public can connect with them and respect their heroic efforts is vital to the sport and entertainment value of Formula One. Any changes that enhance this are welcomed.

Redistributing the money in Formula One to enable the lower teams a better financial base from which to tackle the larger teams is also an excellent idea for the on-going health of the sport.

But allow us to keep our engineering heroes too! Redirect them, reframe their challenge somewhat to make the driven experience for each driver more of a challenge. But don't just press the delete button on the poor engineers!

Oh, and then what was it Mr Johansson said we needed? Oh that was it, leadership from the FIA and Liberty. Gentlemen, your right of reply starts now...

Max Noble

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

Article from Pitpass (http://www.pitpass.com):

Published: 06/05/2019
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