Sunday, 10 May 2009

Formula One in 2010

Everyone is watching the F1 Sport open up through 2009. The good news is the attempt to reduce expenses and create fuel efficient solutions and wear efficient solutions for Race cars. The Automobile industry players (Manufacturers) have been of mixed opinion on Bernie Ecclestone's (a.k.a FIA) changes to the FIA rules which do not favor teams with $$$. This is the 5th year in succession that the rule-book has been redone, which is good to know. You hardly think there is any plan to it though. This is no Peeling the Onion by Larry Wall (for Perl fans.)

The second goal was to make racing look like racing with almost anyone in the field being able to challenge for the lead. You're probably laughing - Yes, F1 racing hasn't seen much racing except in pit garages for quite some time. It has been a case in the past and even on most circuits today that F1 races look like parade laps for sports cars with very little overtaking and real racing happening through an entire hour. You can watch the First corner for some early racing and the top 8 positions being fought for during the endgame. (That's the first 5 and the last 5 minutes.)

This has to change to bring in the true feel of racing. Everyone participating has to agree to race lap after lap. The A1 format has nice multi-tier races that are good to watch. They might even include in-team Dead Heat rounds if you had two cars in a team (A1 has one car a team.)

This is the time, F1 needs to take a few cues from Champ Car racing or the Indy 500. The field must be close with cars "Racing". Winners and Loses must not be decided purely on strategic chess games. Driving, Pit Crews, Race Engineers, Team Managers during the race weekend must be the deciding factor. Major Aerodynamics, Engine, Chassis innovations, if allowed must be coming fully tested or not allowed at all. Banning interim testing, but allowing massive changes to help teams who cannot run cars for testing is not the best way around.

Teams should Share technical information on the secret racing recipe that will be fixed for the year, but block pit conversations, strategy, fuel load information so that the whole game is played in the weekend, not in a Factory. Tough to digest for the FIA, but better for the fans, teams and drivers. That's weekend to weekend racing, nothing is decided completely in a factory - especially the doom of a team.

Right now, F1 2009 has less electronic control. It has public team/driver conversations (sounds like Indy and Champ Car?) It has a fowled up aerodynamic package by design constraints. This forces cars to rely on tyres for grip and better braking. A few teams managed to get good Aerodynamics out of the new rules. Some call them smart and some call them foul, but they're the one's scoring. Engines have to last multiple races, gear boxes at least 2 races. while many of these have reduced the variables, the FIA worked backwords by introducing a "You could use this technology if you want - KERS (pronounced Curse)" which made everybody guess what 25kg extra can do to ruin (seldom help) your race. The variable which is changeable over race weekends is no longer a variable. All cars that run KERS(curse) never make it to #1. That's a given. The technology is immature and unreliable, with most teams opting out. The FIA can dictate engine restrictions, prevent turbo and ask teams to build energy recovery systems, but leave designs to the teams contrary to how KERS(curse) was proposed.

In Earlier years, F1 teams had the luxury to change cars (gearboxes, engines and almost full packages within the rules) during the start of the race if there was a false start. I remember M.Schumacher racing from a T-Car more than once in different scenarios. Teams reworked cars after qualifying, made fuel loads impossible to guess. The Qualifying run was a strategy game and only teams with the best strategists and enough resources (more tyres, fuel, settings) got the better out of it.

Despite all efforts from the FIA, results are slow. Cars are closer in qualifying, but you could still predict who would take #1, #2, #3 with reasonable accuracy and maybe even the rest (some of which is just chaos.)

Here is the 2009 team line-up:
Brawn GP - found the hole in the interpretation of the laws and got better aerodynamic efficiency for the cars despite the strict restrictions, Top Dog Drivers, Result - Podium, Top Constructors points.
Red Bull Racing - built a better car within the strict restrictions. Result - Podium, Awesome drivers, Top Constructors points.
Toyota - hefty racing budget, good drivers, erratic performance, can win races, but tries not to.
Williams - good team, best brains in the park, top class drivers, can win races, tries really hard not to.

Ode to the earlier World Champs:
McLaren Mercedes - New Car, Good Drivers, No speed, Unable to defend a Championship. Seriously, what did the FIA think?
Scuderia Marlboro Ferrari - New Car F60, The Best Drivers, Seldom Reliable Machinery, Can Race within 20% of the fastest car (that would be a Brawn usually in 2009 or a Red Bull or a Toyota.), Race crew manages strategy by random polling, blind to all else that moves.
Renault - New Car, Good Drivers - one fiery ex-world Champ, Not enough speed, Unable to fight for championship.

Then to tag along with the yester-champs are more teams. Nothing much to be said about most of them.
BMW Racing, Toro Rosso, Force India F1 (Drink Kingfisher, but don't drive to the finish - just kidding.)

The constructors already saw it coming. A1 GP is another format which has a lot more racing, but still continues to be a parade. The only good news is with fewer variables each result is a bit unpredictable. The big mistake is having country sponsored or named teams that sorts of kills racing spirit. This ain't football or cricket.

In 2010 FIA wants to do more big brother work and cut spending of teams to EUR 40M. This will exclude only the pay package of the drivers. That's plain horrible for 200-600 odd staff that man a full racing team. It's asking all these guys to go home packing. Budget Cap, Cost Cutting - I've heard of it before. This is not the way it must happen here. FIA is suddenly turning towards socialism and wants to be backed by capitalist car manufacturers (serious!) This is not going to work, as many teams have already started to rebel.

By 2010, FIA wants to be the one body that rules 'em all; like the one ring - seriously, scary!!! The ring may never be forged, and there may be no more F1 in the manner we have seen it before. It is time for the constructors to bring in some method into this madness.

F1 has to be a sport enjoyed by engineers, race crews, drivers and fans. It might end up in memory as the Key you press to get "Online Help." 2010 will define the future of F1 Racing itself. F1 can continue if FIA becomes history, but that move has to happen sooner. The best is for the Constructors and the FIA to work together in better terms with more sensible ideas to the table. It will be tough, so Bernie Ecclestone has all to do in 2009 to save racing in 2010.

There are some who believe that F1 racing is a waste of fuel lap over lap. With parade laps it will be difficult to contradict them. There are at least 4 circuits out of 19 that permit almost no overtaking in racing conditions. (Monaco, Spain, Singapore, Bahrain) The rest can play it to weather and other variables simply because all F1 races save one (Singapore?) must happen at 1200GMT in the time-zone of the continent of the venue. Not much thought has been given here. Rain is not just unpredictable, but sometimes unsafe and can prematurely end a race. A wet track is what took Ayrton Senna out in 1994 - low air pressure, low bodies and multiple incidents before the Senna crash.

All said, Lotus, Tyrell and Super Aguri want to join in the fun by 2010 which will have space for 13 teams. That could be a move in the right direction.