Matters of Moment, April 2011

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‘Gimmick’ might not be a drag
For all the money, clever people and mind-boggling technology, we head into a new Formula 1 season with more unquantifiables than ever before. Sweeping rule changes are nothing new, but this time the impact of what’s coming really might shake things up and put the racing back into Grands Prix. Or so the clever people say. But even they don’t really know.
We’re being told, just four months after the drone-athon in Abu Dhabi, that overtaking might, of all things, be too easy this year. Hard to believe, isn’t it? But the moveable rear wings, officially known as the (catchy) Drag Reduction System, really should bring the art of slipstreaming back to F1. And all at the touch of a button, as Adam Cooper explains in his definitive analysis of the new rules on page 52.
We — and by ‘we’ I also mean the drivers and engineers — will only find out in Bahrain on March 13 how these gimmicks will work. Let’s not pretend they are anything else. Should there really be a place in F1 for something called the ‘overtaking zone’?
For our part, we’ll reserve judgement on this artificial spur to better racing. We have our doubts. Surely it’s nothing more than a quick fix to the ‘dirty air’ problem, which should be tackled properly once and for all in 2013 when the formula will be rewritten for the new turbo era. But if Bahrain is a thriller — which it most certainly wasn’t last year — and the rear wings add a positive dimension to the race we won’t be complaining. And if it doesn’t work? Well, as McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh told us in our latest online podcast (listen to it at www.motorsportmagazine.com), F1 will be flexible with this innovation: how and when the drivers are allowed to use the wing can be tweaked mid-season, or in the worst case scenario it can be dropped altogether. That’s sensible, and good to know.
Former Renault technical director Pat Symonds argues in this issue (p56) that overtaking should never be too easy, and we quite agree. Drivers should always feel a sense of achievement for nailing a pass. I asked Jenson Button about the gimmick at the launch of his new McLaren MP4-26. “Maybe we will be able to run closer and maybe it will be easier to overtake, but I don’t really know,” he said. “The funny thing for me is that in 2010 there was quite a lot of overtaking.., when you make that move and it comes off, it is such a buzz. With the moveable rear wing will it be the same sensation? I don’t know, we’ll have to see.”
The top drivers relish anything that might give them an edge, whether it be the new rear wing or the returning KERS technnology, and at the McLaren launch you could sense that Lewis Hamilton can’t wait to play with the new toys. You can bet Robert Kubica would have been one of the first to master them, too. What a tragedy he won’t be on the Bahrain grid. We send him our very best wishes in his new race to make a full recovery.

Patrick Lichfield’s infamous photo of James Hunt with period pin-up Susan Shaw drapped on his arm isn’t exactly the standard choice for a Motor Sport cover. But then Hunt wasn’t exactly a standard racing driver, even in the louche 1970s. The cheeky, glint-in-the-eye image captures the side of a man who refused to take life too seriously. In the cockpit, of course, he absolutely did take life seriously, and Eoin Young’s story in this issue offers first-hand insight into a complex World Champion who still fascinates us today. Secretly, I bet Jenson and Lewis would love to get away with such a tongue-in-cheek photo shoot. But in 2011? No way!
Damien Smith, Editor

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CONTRIBUTORS

Eoin Young
New Zealander Eoin was the first employee Bruce McLaren took on in 1962, and became a founder-director of the fledgling McLaren racing team. He later switched to journalism and for over 30 years wrote a weekly diary page ‘From the Grid’ in Autocar, also penning a dozen books on motor sport including his autobiographies It Beats Working and It Still Beats Working.

Pat Symonds
It’s easy for us in the media to insist that Formula 1 needs to be improved, but it takes someone who has been immersed in the sport for 30 years to analyse how it might happen. In his career as technical guru with Toleman, Beneffon and Renault, Symonds worked closely with Michael Schumacher and Rory Byrne, so his views on the overtaking problem carry a lot of weight and might surprise you.

Adam Hay-Nicholls
Writing about how to blag your way onto yacht parties at the Monaco GP helped Adam become F1 writer for Metro. He was one of the founders of The Red Bulletin, the cult satirical daily that was a staple of every driver’s breakfast a few years ago which Ron Dennis tried to have banned. In 2010 Adam flew around the world in 57 hours, making a documentary which is set for TV release this year.

Richard Heseltine
Richard loves ferreting out tiny gems of motoring history such as long-forgoffen ’70s kit cars or weird one-off specials from the ’50s, and he has a remarkable archive of literature to back up his researches. But this time his subject is a figure we all remember from the ’60s a saloon car hero whose more recent appearances at Goodwood have cemented his legend.

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