'Rule makers have an unenviable record of being outwitted by engineers'

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

Current page

157

Current page

158

Current page

159

Current page

159

Current page

161

Current page

162

Current page

163

Current page

164

Current page

165

Current page

166

Current page

167

Current page

168

Current page

169

Current page

170

Current page

171

Current page

172

Current page

173

Current page

174

Current page

175

Current page

176

Current page

177

Current page

178

Current page

179

Current page

180

Why does sports car racing have to be so cyclical in nature? When I entered this business, Group C was at its height with Porsches, Jaguars, Mercedes, Astons, Mazdas and many others all duking it out in a riotous assembly of rumbles, growls, howls, screams and shrieks. But then it got really expensive and everyone ran away, leaving a few thinly disguised formula racing cars. Group C died, but from its ashes rose the BPR and with it McLaren F1s, Porsche 911s, Ferrari F40s, Dodge Vipers and, briefly, all was well with the world.

But then once more money got in the way. Manufacturers started passing off prototypes as production cars, and sports car racing was heading for the doldrums until a load of factory teams turned up to take us to a point at Le Mans in 1999 where there were works squads from Audi, BMW, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, Panoz, and Toyota. And then just as things looked like they couldn’t get any better, they got a lot worse. We entered the era of Audi out-thinking and outspending the opposition, resulting in a run of 13 Le Mans victories in 15 seasons. Even then, remember that while one of its two losses in France was fair and square to Peugeot, in 2003 Audi didn’t send works cars to Le Mans.

And for the most part, particularly when inaudible diesels entered the fray, it got dull. Then the temptation of being able to showcase its hybrid technology meant that Porsche piled in, so did Toyota and with Audi not prepared to relinquish its territory, briefly sports car racing was as good as it had ever been. We had cars with four, six and eight cylinders, natural and forced aspiration, four- and two-wheel drive, hybrids storing energy, and all lapping in near identical times. The middle of the last decade was a golden era, but a short one. Porsche and Audi buggered off to pursue ambitions in Formula E leaving sports car racing once more in a very parlous state.

Two years from now there will be cars from Porsche, Audi, Toyota, Peugeot, Honda and Ferrari (at least) all vying for outright victory in what looks like the most exciting time for sports car racing since at least the BPR in the mid 1990s, and perhaps since Porsche and Ferrari last knocked lumps out of each other over 24 hours in France in the early 1970s.

“Emissions of race cars are nothing compared to those of aircraft”

But how long is it going to last? Someone will find a way to build a car that’s faster than all the others and a graphene-thin film away from illegality. The others will be faced with either spending millions catching up, by which stage the goalposts will have moved, or finding another sandpit in which to play.

Who’s to blame? It can only be the rule makers who have an unenviable record of being outwitted by race cars engineers ever since their rulebook came into being. So why not just get rid of the rules, because you can’t break something that doesn’t exist? The idea of a return to the simplicity of Formula Libre has an appeal, but it’s not practical. The reasons you need rules today are not just to ensure a level playing field (which they never do) but to stop cars going faster than is safe. So having no rules is never going to work.

So what to do? You can balance performance in the usual way but that addresses merely the symptoms of an inadequate rulebook
and creates other problems, such as teams deliberately under-performing in the previous race or qualifying to gain a favourable BoP for the actual race they really want to win, usually Le Mans, and we all know that happens.

It’s not easy, but I’d be interested to see if strict enforcement of a presumption of illegality made a difference. Instead of being able to put anything on the car the rules don’t specifically disallow, instead teams wouldn’t be able to put anything on the car unless it was specifically allowed. Maybe that’s what happens already but unless someone finds a way of breaking the boom-and-bust cycle of sports car racing, two things are clear: in a few years sports car is going to be wonderful; after that, we’re going to be having this conversation again.


Porsche’s suggestion that it would take a serious look at involvement in F1 if the sport adopted synthetic fuels seems to be more than a toe in the water. F1 last year announced it was looking to have its cars powered by ‘sustainable’ fuels by 2026, and unless it means fuel cells or battery powered cars – and it doesn’t – petrol produced in a lab seems the only way forward. So Porsche’s proviso appears to have been met, and in a timescale that coincides with the vast Porsche-Siemens synthetic fuel plant being built in Chile to come fully on stream. Whether it will maintain its presence in Formula E and LMdH is not known. As its sports car programme will have barely started by then, if it were to give up something, it would seem logical for it to follow Audi and BMW out of Formula E.

But the bigger question is whether Formula 1 can claim any form of environmental credibility when the emissions of the race cars are as nothing compared to those of the aircraft that fly the circus around the world. That’s where synthetic fuels are exciting: the car industry has more than one clean and credible alternative to the internal combustion engine, but the airline industry none. If F1’s move to sustainable fuels is to be more than a gesture, it needs to use them not only to power the race cars that are its public face, but the fleet of cargo aircraft that are the real source of its significant emissions.


A former editor of Motor Sport, Andrew splits his time between testing the latest road cars and racing (mostly) historic machinery
Follow Andrew on Twitter @Andrew_Frankel