The future of Formula One



The Pinnacle of Motorsport is under attack. Despite almost exponential viewing figures and financial gain, Formula One is facing a growing band of cynics who believe that for all its success, the sport as we know it is a shadow of its former self. Drivers’ tides might be going down to the wire with increasing regularity but the pure sporting spectacle, they argue, is missing.

Those at the sharp end — the drivers — are becoming ever more vocal with regard to their dislike for the cars in their current form. Their views are echoed by Grand Prix historians, keener than ever for a return to real motor racing where overtaking and wheel-to-wheel action returns in place of fuel strategies and pit-stop interrupted sprints.

So what’s to be done? Rather than telling you ourselves, we thought we would ask those in the know. Over the following pages you will read the first-hand views of some of the sport’s most influential players, from the president of the FIA, Max Mosley, to the outspoken former world champion Jacques Villeneuve. We asked them to give us their no-holds-barred views as to where they think Formula One should go in the next decade and where, in reality, they expect it to end up. Their answers may surprise, or in some cases infuriate, you. But if they didn’t, it wouldn’t be Formula One, would it?

The President

I believe the sporting spectacle of Grand Prix Racing at the moment is good. The 1999 season produced some extremely exciting racing, but ultimately we are in the hands of the competing teams and drivers; it is they who make the spectacle. Moreover, despite certain misgivings earlier in the year when there was a degree of criticism over the latest developments to the technical regulations, I think everyone now realises overtaking is entirely possible and only marginally too difficult.

From a purely personal standpoint, I’d like to see a system where each driver has one race for each team, with the remaining five or six races each contested in a different car, with the leading driver having first choice of the car he drove, the next the second choice and so-on. This of course is an idealistic concept simply because there are many other practical, legal and financial reasons why this could never take place.

As far as tobacco sponsorship is concerned, I believe it will probably disappear from Fl over the next few years, quite apart from the European Union legislation — which may, or may not, survive the German government’s legal challenge. However, provided public interest in Fl remains running at its present level, I foresee no shortage of replacement sponsors or investors.

It is also clear that F1 racing has no noticeable impact on the environment, but the initiatives it makes possible for the FIA politically mean it is, in effect, one of the greenest forms of sport.

Turning to the issue of motor manufacturer involvement in the competing teams,I think the effect will be to make F1 more stable, less entrepreneurial and is calculated to increase public interest. I also feel it is important to make the point that the presence of those manufacturers will also make it easier for the teams concerned to attract other major multi-national corporations as sponsors.

Over the years we have seen many great drivers and it is clear that many enthusiasts have their favourites from particular eras. However, in my view Michael Schumacher, Mika Haldcinen and one or two others amongst the current crop would give any of the previous generation a very hard time indeed. In particular, it is worth mentioning that, the first time he raced for McLaren, Halckinen out-qualified Ayrton Senna in identical cars for the 1993 Portuguese Grand Prix at Estoril. And of course Michael’s achievements are equally well documented.

On the evolution of the cars, I would personally like to see very powerful cars, difficult to drive, very fast, although no faster than our passive safety measures can cope with. Ideally they should be able to be recovered from extreme slip angles — although these qualities would not be explored by the very best drivers, except in cases of emergency — and have no new driver aids. In that connection, I think it is extremely important that it is the driver alone who controls the car. I believe the public will increasingly come to appreciate this aspect of Grand Prix racing as road cars become less and less controlled by their drivers. Such developments as externally controlled speed limiting devices and other areas where electronics will take over from road drivers will make most of us wish we still had more hands-on control for everyday motoring.

As far as the direction in which I expect F1 to develop over the next generation, I suppose I’d have to reiterate the thoughts already offered in terms of the way I would like to see them develop.

All this provided, of course, that there are still some rational people in charge! Max Mosley

The World Champion

Ask me what my ideal Formula One car would be ant it might surprise people to know that I would actually choose something very similar to what we are racing at present. That’s not to say that I would leave the cars just as they are, but look at exactly what the current make up of a Grand Prix racer is and there only need to be a few minor changes to turn it into something that befits the name.

The last couple of years have seen increasing debate over what constitutes an F1 car that proves both enjoyable to drive and still capable of providing good racing. I do not go along with the theory that we need smaller wings; all we need is to look once again at the tyres. If we ran bigger, slick tyres then the aerodynamic drag produced on the straights would be so great that every driver would be forced to run less wing just to keep maximum speeds up. In one swoop you have swapped aerodynamic downforce for what the critics are crying out for: mechanical grip.

At the moment, the current F1 rules mitigate against cars producing mechanical grip with the hard, skinny, grooved tyres. Everything we can do to produce more traction comes with an aerodynamic solution and it is that which is making the cars useless to drive.

Other than that, however, there are relatively few changes I would make. I have no problems with current engine capacity or braking rules, although I would vote to get rid of some of the electronic aids such as power steering. These cars are meant to be physical to drive and driver aids such as power steering have no place in F1.

I disagree, however, with those people who argue that a return to manual gearboxes would be a good thing. While I don’t dispute that in previous years a driver could line up an overtaking manoeuvre if they harried someone into missing a gear under braking, modem Fl engines are simply too extreme for a regular clutch and gearshift. We regularly rev engines to over 17,000rpm and they produce so much torque that we would break our wrists if we snatched at or missed a gear. It just wouldn’t be sensible to go back now.

Of course technical regulations are not the only way to bring about changes in Formula One. I would end refuelling pit stops which still carry inherent risks every time we fill the cars and effectively turn a Grand Prix into two, three or even four short sprint races. Nowadays we can run such light fuel loads that there is barely any difference between the car in qualifying and race trim. Think how different it would be if drivers started the race laden down with sufficient fuel to reach the end of the race and had to nurse their tyres and heavy cars through the early laps. You know now what I would like to see done to F1 in the near future. How likely is it that anything will be done? In all honesty I don’t think anything will change. The FIA has stated its opinion and I can’t see them suddenly changing things despite the fact that almost all drivers say they are not happy with the cats as they are at present and most journalists are calling for change.

The trouble is, as a group, the drivers still don’t carry enough weight to force changes. It’s a shame because at the end of the day we are the ones out there driving and taking the risks. I’d like to see what they would do without us… Don’t get me wrong — being a Formula One driver is a great job — I still find it fun. But it could be so much better with just a few little changes. Jacques Villeneuve

The Constructor

I am rather reluctant to pontificate on these matters, and as far as the sporting spectacle is concerned in Formula One, I’m not at all certain that I am the right person to be airing an opinion. Some people within motorsport think that the present spectacle offered by Grand Prix racing is not the most exciting, but on the other hand, if you take a look at television viewing figures, these perhaps tell a different story, with the audiences increasing year to year.

It is obvious that the restrictions on tobacco advertising will affect every sport and I think Formula One has moved quickly to anticipate those changes and their potential impact. I think they will change the commercial emphasis slightly, just as the arrival of the major motor manufacturers is likely also to bring with them a great deal of change.

Yet working out how to deal with change is the very essence of achieving success in this business. Formula One changes all the time and the real challenge is to run with that change and not fall behind the prevailing trend. And you need also to be able to identify what the next major sea-change in Formula One is likely to be and I am afraid that is something which I am not sure we have worked out yet.

As far as the current crop of Grand Prix drivers is concerned, I don’t find myself looking back with rose-tinted spectacles. I remember when I was about eleven and at school thinking that our Rugby 1st XV was absolutely terrific. I couldn’t imagine anyone doing any better. Yet the team after that won just about every game for two or three years.

My point is that every generation brings with it its new stars. Now we have Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen — and, I might add, Ralf Schumacher who is making fine progress with Williams — who are every bit the equals of the great drivers who came before them.

There is always fresh talent coming along. Formula One has a great capacity for regeneration in that respect. We all enjoyed the battles between Ayrton Senna, Main Prost and Nigel Mansell back in the 1980s, but I’m bound to say that what we have seen between Hakkinen and Schumacher has been every bit as good over the past few years.

As far as the way in which Formula One is going to evolve, I wouldn’t want to predict. Year after year people suggest that it can’t grow any bigger, or expand any further, yet it always seems to do so. We are obviously going to see more racing in various parts of the world but I am not certain how the engine regulations will change. In my heart of hearts I suppose I would really like to see cars developing around 1000bhp with precious little in the way of grip, but that’s me talking purely as a racer. We had around that sort of power output at the height of the turbo era in the mid-80s, but that was eventually capped in the interests of safety, which we all understood.

Perhaps 1000bhp cam would make the racing less close because there would be very few drivers capable of getting the most out of them. But it would certainly be worth watching. Taking a broader view, the whole discussion of how Formula One develops in the future is certainly not an easy one. The only tiling I can state without any question is that I still find the whole business absolutely absorbing. I cannot image life without being at the races. Sir Frank Williams

The Legend

Although I have to say I found the thought of actually killing myself absolutely appalling back then, I really do think Formula One is totally over-regulated now, completely smothered. The FIA and all its controls have finally ensured that the drivers and the teams are merely a commodity, to be traded, and this is a terrible shame, a real tragedy. There was a time, not all that long ago, when someone would actually take the trouble to design a car for a given circuit; now it all seems to be reduced to designing a circuit for a particular type of car — totally backwards — no real challenge at all for anybody and, of course, terribly expensive.

In some senses, the whole sport is almost inside out now; whereas Formula One really should be right at the top of the tree, the absolute ultimate, about demonstrating the fruits of the labours of the whole team, all of them, it’s not. Instead, it’s just completely about commerce. Drivers and teams are bought and sold, and the rules and regulations, (far too many of them), are simply not geared to offer particularly interesting racing. If they threw away downforce, for example, then you’d have a situation which would be much more back to where it was. At the moment, the results of a race are all too often merely down to pit-stops, and while they are quite interesting, because of the speed and dexterity of the crews, I do feel that the race should be won or lost by the car and driver actually moving, rather than standing still.

Right now, as we speak, the sport is just not going down the right road. Please don’t get me wrong, I like Max Mosley a hell of a lot and I respect him, but I cannot approve of the authorities taking the position they do now about all these regulations. Its like a crusade. It’s almost as if they’re saying to the designers and the teams and the drivers and the spectators, everybody, in fact: ‘stand back you lot — we’re taking over all the responsibilities for all of you’ — and that is just plain wrong. Far too much control.

Many of the changes in racing now, from my day, are due to all the new money, it drives the whole thing. It’s almost as if the designers are being totally controlled by the rule-makers now, and of course, while I think one’s got to look ahead, we really do need to find a way of making what we’ve got more interesting and also give the new guys more of a chance. There is no room for them — it’s Schumacher and a crowd of others who are moderate. There’s no real overtaking, no demonstrating what the driver can really do, (except hold other people up, which is totally wrong) and there’s obviously a lot of favouritism from those same authorities. In my day you’d simply never get drivers behaving the way some do — they’d never have dreamed of it, but now they just seem to get away with it. Some of them behave so unprofessionally.

In terms of where it all goes, a few points are worth making. I think the fastest lap should be worth a point again, but I’d also say this — if we have two dozen of the world’s best drivers, whom we must trust, why do they have to stop just because of a yellow flag? It should be a caution, not a signal top racing. If you work as hard as you have always had to to make up make 0.5sec, it must be rough to see it thrown away because someone overreacts to a situation.”

I’d like more people to take interest in the sport’s history — to see where its core values were before commerce took over, when it was the greatest sport in the world, not just an entertainment or an occasion. There was so much more emphasis on the people, and much less on the politics and regulations. Now, I’m afraid the pendulum has swung far too far the other way from those days. It is being totally stifled now. It’s a great pity. Stirling Moss

The Elder Statesman

Formula One is doing extremely well. It has a huge following on TV, almost every Grand Prix you go to is sold out and it’s attracting more manufacturers all the time.

But the problem of overtaking needs to be addressed. If Schumacher had got into the lead at the start in Japan he would probably have stayed there and won the championship. Even if you are two seconds a lap quicker than the guy in front, you can only pass with his co-operation. I don’t agree at all that F1 races should be like a chess game. That’s never been the appeal of motor racing. I think that the governing body should ask a couple of designers to work on the cars’ aerodynamic package so there is a reasonable chance of overtaking.

As for the issue of tobacco sponsorship, if it does get banned — and they seem to be gradually finding ways around that — I don’t see another group replacing the cigarette companies. There’s just no-one else out there with that amount of money available. If the cigarette companies were allowed to advertise on television, they wouldn’t be on a racing car.

But Grand Prix racing is not going to stand or fall on that. If there’s less money it means that instead of Schumacher getting his 25 million he’ll get 10 million. No big deal. Instead of the cars being full of electronics, the technical guys would have to work within a smaller budget. There would be less testing. But it would not affect it fundamentally. Colin Chapman always used to say, “The amount of money it costs is the amount of money you’ve got available”.

And there is absolutely no possibility of the sport going wholesale to the Far East to avoid a tobacco ban. That’s just a threat. There isn’t the will in Formula One for it to happen. At the moment, of course, we’ve got the big manufacturers coming in, so they will probably make up any shortfall from the tobacco companies. I think it’s terrific that F1 is becoming about car manufacturers fighting it out on the track — that’s exactly where it ought to be. Little teams like we used to run are not really what it should be about now.

The manufacturers are attracting other manufacturers. The fact that Mercedes has had a good go has probably brought BMW back. Toyota has probably decided to come in because of Honda. I think the next decade will be like this. But if and when the manufacturers do go away the budgets will drop and teams will just have to compromise on the amount of money they spend.

Formula One will always be there, just as the best drivers will always come along. People ask today where are the Stewarts and Rindts, but the truth is we have them. We have Schumacher and Hakkinen who are two fantastic drivers. I don’t at the moment see who is going to come along and challenge them but you can be sure that someone will — they always do, and when they do it is usually obvious. When I first saw Jackie Stewart or John Surtees drive, it was so obvious you’d have needed to be an idiot not to see the ability. You almost didn’t need a stopwatch. I don’t see the direction of F1 changing much. Bernie has brought it into the new millennium with a tremendous following, higher circuit standards and facilities second to none; he has raised the profile hugely and delivered it to the TV audiences. What happens when he retires? It will be run with a more structured style of management, but they will develop it along the lines already established by Bernie. Ken Tynell

The Journalist

Bernie Ecclespone will be 70 next year, and for me far and away the biggest question, with regard to the future of Grand Prix racing, is what will happen when the little man either tires of it finally, or departs for the great bank in the sky.

Unquestionably, the business has grown to a point that it is beyond the control of any single individual. Bernie apart, of course. And if we finish up with a committee at the helm, the results could be messy, as CART has demonstrated. It is not by chance that Formula One, with Ecclestone at the tiller, and NASCAR, ruled absolutely by Bill France, are the most successful racing series on earth.

Undoubtedly the major manufacturers – Mercedes-Benz, Ford (jaguar), Honda, Peugeot, BMW, Toyota and so on — are going to play an increasingly prominent role in the coming years, and this will undoubtedly be beneficial, in terms of technology and finance. At the same time, however, it should be borne in mind that these companies are not involved because of a love of motor racing, and if economic or other outside factors so dictate, they will drop it in an instant. From that point of view an increasing reliance upon them makes Formula One vulnerable. Think of Honda at the end of 1992, or Renault five years later.

Inevitably, the manufacturers will have to take up some of the financial slack left by the eventual disappearance of tobacco money, for I find it hard to imagine that alternative sponsorship, on the same level, will easily be found.

The manufacturers’ deepening involvement, too, will inevitably make for an even more ‘corporate’ paddock, with the emphasis ever more on marketing and PR, ever less on sport. Today’s press conferences are buttoned up to a degree inconceivable even 10 years ago; how bland they will be in another 10 does not bear contemplation.

As for the shape of the World Championship, one envisages that it will become ever more ‘global’, with European races being sacrificed to events in the Far and Middle East Today the only thing of consequence is TV, and the income it generates, and it seems to matter not where the cameras are located: a race is a race is a race.

As 2000 beckons, it is not the easiest thing to be a Grand Prix racing purist. As Max Mosley has said, we are of little account in today’s world, and Formula One is increasingly geared to what the FIA President calls, The public at large’. The casual TV viewer, in other words. Why else would we have refuelling, a wholly unnecessary danger in an era otherwise preoccupied with safety?

This artifice has made Formula One far less sophisticated, reducing it to a series of sprints between pit stops. My great admiration was always for a driver who could get his car to work on full tanks and empty. Tony Brooks’s opinion, expressed long years ago, was that, ‘A racing car should always have a little more power than its chassis can comfortably handle’. That being so, I would like to see a return to slicks, and the decimation of aerodynamic downforce.

I agree with Mosley’s contention that driver aids should be kept to an absolute minimum, and to that end it would be splendid to see the back of semi-automatic gearboxes; changing gear was always a fundamental part of the racing driver’s art.

Perhaps more than anything, I hope that we don’t lose great circuits like Spa and Suzuka, or theatres of racing like Monza. And it would be good, too, to have the odd season where the World Championship did not go to the final race.

Oh, and I’d like traction control banned again.. Nigel Roebuck