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Is Formula One ready to slow down?
Raja Sen | December 10, 2007 17:23 IST
'It sounds good and it's reliable,' FIA President Max Mosley said of the current Formula One engine, justifying a ten-year freeze on engine development from 2008 to 2017.
He followed this description with more of a reveal: 'And amazingly, the six partially frozen engines of the current manufacturers are really evenly matched.'
And in that lies this bid to stop the cars from overspeeding.
Over the last five years, significant machinery has been brought in to speedbump increasing F1 speeds -- and to keep racing costs down. Now, it has been decreed, to quote the FIA press statement, that 'between next year and 2017, each team may only use a 2007-spec engine design to be delivered to the FIA no later than 31 March 2008.'
Formula One is the most expensive sport in the world, and it is true costs are spiralling even by its own staggering standards -- in March, F1 Racing estimated the spending of all eleven teams to a mammoth $2.9 billion total, led by teams like Toyota, Ferrari [Images] and McLaren (in that order), spending considerably over $400 million a year each.
The 19,000 rpm engine is fast enough to not require further development, says Mosley. Autosport quoted him at the Motor Sport Business Forum in Monaco last week calling the current engine specification 'fully developed' and 'far faster than any comparable engine.'
The rules for the seasons 2008-17 include not just a frozen engine, but a one wind-tunnel limit (the tunnel is the most expensive to test in) for each team and severe restrictions on maximum specifications and usage guidelines for the same. Furthermore, there will be restrictions on Rig Testing, Design, Brakes, Weight Distribution, and, among many others, the number of personnel at races.
There is no denying that there is a massive financial and technical gulf between the top teams and the minnows -- a famous McLaren fanboy t-shirt slogan a couple of years ago spoke, cruelly but not without accuracy, about how their team's annual sandwich budget was more than the now defunct Minardi team -- yet this has always been the case in F1.
It is a sport of tremendous cost and technological development, and the top teams have to work gruellingly through the year to maintain their performance advantage. The glamour and, many would say, the very appeal of Formula One lies in its unending craving for speed -- the need to be racing the fastest roadcars in the world.
Critics of Mosley's judgement -- and there are numerous; fans around the world are setting online messageboards afire and putting petitions into progress while you are reading this -- are of the opinion that it is a decision that would rob F1 of its identity and lead to a lack in viewer interest, despite the most competively fought season in 2007, where -- after 7-time champion Michael Schumacher [Images] retired -- four young drivers raced for the crown.
If it is this particular competitiveness that Mosley wants to seize, he may well be misguided. The Autoblog quotes former Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn (now team boss at Honda) that 'restrictions like these don't achieve their intended goal of reducing costs, they just force teams to find newer, more expensive ways to gain a performance edge.'
Meanwhile, FIA technical consultant Tony Purnell is firm that the engine freeze will help the environment. 'Freeze the engine, freeze the peripherals as well, and do this long-term so there are no thoughts about retaining a department to develop future engines. This may seem brutal, but to contain spending, it delivers,' Purnell told Autosport, saying that the FIA is confident this ruling will cut team budgets by half. He feels teams will now have time to concentrate on environmental technologies like the Kinetic [Get Quote] Energy Recovery System.
This is a radical decision, at a time when the sport is already in disarray, with two of the top teams (McLaren and Renault) caught in scandal, the former being disqualified from the annual results and still not fully cleared to race in 2008. There was a chance of Kimi Raikkonen [Images] having his world title snatched away from him after having been declared champion, and many formerly diehard fans of the sport are now disillusioned.
Next year is an interesting prospect anyway, with the FIA banning driver aids and traction control -- a startlingly fair decision giving the young drivers more to deal with instead of relying on increasingly sophisticated machinery.
The last thing the FIA needs is to court more controversy by incensing F1 lovers around the world by putting the brakes on the cars, hard. For ten long years, to boot. Ow.
Of course, the FIA wouldn't be that sports body we all know and are frequently flummoxed by if it didn't often backtrack and contradict itself. We can only hope.
Formula One: The Complete Coverage