Matters of Moment, January 2013

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188

If Lewis Hamilton is a Motor Sport reader, which I grant you is something of a long shot, there’s a quote from his new boss in this issue which may cause him some cheer as he contemplates a potentially tricky ‘fresh start’ in Formula 1 for 2013.

Back in 1990, Ross Brawn stepped away from Grand Prix racing to mastermind the car that graces our cover and what turned out to be Jaguar’s unforgettable swansong in Group C sports car racing. For anyone who witnessed the short-lived wonder that was the XJR-14, it was clear that things would never be the same again. That Group C wouldn’t survive the era of 3.5-litre Formula 1 engines was a sad consequence, but it was hardly Brawn and Tom Walkinshaw Racing’s fault. As Ross tells Gary Watkins this month, all he did was to adopt what he calls a “competitive interpretation” of the regulations he had to work with, in the timehonoured fashion of Chapman, Barnard, Murray and so on.

So if Lewis is regretting his move from McLaren to Mercedes-Benz as much as Martin Whitmarsh has suggested he might be — which I strongly doubt — he can take succour from something I’m sure he knows only too well: that his new boss has a history of setting the agenda when regulations are rewritten.

“That Jaguar project provided a lesson about taking opportunities with new rules,” Brawn tells us. “It taught me that when new regulations come along you can’t start early enough on designing and developing a car. I think I can say it was probably significant in Brawn GP’s success in 2009.”

In other words, mighty Mercedes will already be well ahead in its plans for the new 1.6-litre turbo efficiency formula that will take its bow in 2014. Granted, with rules stability for the 2013 season Mercedes might struggle to claw back all of its lost ground for Hamilton’s first year. But Brawn and his team are too good and have too much ‘previous’ to remain mired in the midfield. Nothing stays the same in Formula 1 for long. Lewis Hamilton is going to be just fine.

*

The success of the DeltaWing was one of the best motor racing stories of the past season. But will the tale continue into 2013 and beyond? There are no guarantees at this stage, despite the Nissan-powered machine’s headlinestealing performance at Le Mans, where it claimed the ’56th garage’ experimental entry for the 24 Hours. In October, the car survived being turned over in a collision with a GT Porsche during testing at Road Atlanta, to finish the 1000-mile Petit Le Mans fifth overall, albeit unclassified thanks to its unique status outside any rule book yet written. The thing clearly has potential.

The American Le Mans Series has kept the door open by creating a special invitational class for the DeltaWing in 2013, but despite the patronage of championship founder Don Panoz, and so much support and development work by both Nissan and Michelin, none of the parties have yet to confirm their continued support for Ben Bowlby’s ground-breaking creation.

The British designer was on hand at the RAC in Pall Mall to pick up the Simms Medal, awarded for innovation that exemplifies a ‘spirit of adventure’, during a lunch at the club at the end of October. “The concept has proven more important than I realised when I started,” he told me, with a fully justified glow of satisfaction. “I just wanted to show what you could do without a rule book. The interest in the DeltaWing shows that innovation appeals to the crowds.”

Doubts that the car would even turn corners have long since been scotched, to be replaced by genuine worldwide respect. Bowlby dared to be different, to try something new — and it paid off. “It is very gratifying,” he admitted. “People used to ask ‘will it turn?’, but now their question is ‘how?’. It’s a genuine story and it was never a publicity stunt. Ulrich Baretzky once told me that the power of motor sport is that it can change people’s perceptions of a technology, and that’s what I hope we’ve achieved.”

Audi’s famed engine man knows of which he speaks, from four-wheel-drive rally cars to his own turbodiesel Le Mans game-changer. But it’s always been this way, Bowlby citing Alec Issigonis’s Mini and how it only really took off once the likes of Sir John Whitmore and Paddy Hopkirk proved the little car’s worth on both track and stage. Racing improves the breed — if rules and budgets allow.

Bowlby reckons that had Satoshi Motoyama not been nerfed out of the race so early at Le Mans in June, the DeltaWing could have completed an incredible 10 stints on one set of tyres, such was its efficiency. And after only two races, there’s clearly more to discover.

So where to next, if Bowlby has his way? “What I don’t want to see is a bunch of cloned DeltaWings running around like a one-make series, because that goes against everything it stands for,” he said. “I’d like multiple engine manufacturers to support it, for it to be a proving ground for the next direction on better efficiency. And it shouldn’t just be about winning. Look at Nissan — they didn’t win Le Mans and yet they got an enormous return on their investment.”

No doubts, Nissan performed a golden PR coup in 2012. So who’s up for some more of the same in 2013?

*

The world of Fl never ceases to amaze when it comes to showing how out of touch it is with the real world. As you can read on page 20, Bernie Ecclestone has proposed his teams should work to a new budget cap, to reduce costs and help secure their futures. Fine. It’s not a new idea and most would agree that if restrictions can be properly policed, it makes sense. So what is Bernie’s definition of a suitably stringent austerity measure? A sum of $250m. Yep, that’s right — £155m. Yeah, that’ll do it.

Forgive me, but I thought one of the benefits of a budget cap would be to allow the smaller teams to compete on more of an equal footing with the big guns? I’ve clearly got the wrong end of the stick. Take a team such as Marussia, which spends in the region of £60m a year. If the top teams can still spend more than double available to the minnows, the ‘cap’ is utterly pointless. Isn’t it?

And just think about that Marussia budget for a brief moment: £60m in the real world is a massive amount of money, and of course it’s way beyond the levels spent elsewhere in motor sport. To offer some perspective, a season in the FIA World Endurance Championship, for a two-car LMP1 campaign, would cost less than a tenth of what Marussia spends. Sure, there’s more at stake in Fl and it should cost more if you want to join the elite. But the chasm between Grand Prix racing and the rest of the motor sport world is now unbridgeable. Which is probably exactly how Bernie likes it. Funny old world.

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