The Radical Approach

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Sir

With regard to the views apropos motor racing and the environment expressed by Mike Cotton in his regular column in the September issue, I could not agree more that the sport must be seen by outsiders to be moving with the times with regard to its effect, as perceived by the ‘greens’ on the environment. Failure to do so will result, sooner or later, in it being used as yet another bandwagon to be climbed on by these frequently hysterical, politically motivated go-getters.

I would suggest, however, that recent history has shown that a fuel consumption restriction formula is not the way to go if we wish to retain the maximum possible spectacle for the viewing public? It always struck me as ludicrous during the middle to late Eighties that, having created a formula which resulted in the most powerful Grand Prix cars in history, their performance during races should have been emasculated by an arbitrary fuel restriction.

The purpose of the restriction was primarily to make a statement to the world at large that the sport cared about the energy crisis. Yet nothing of any great technical merit was achieved in engine design during this period as a result. What did happen was that at race after race, the viewing public was confronted by the less than rivetting spectacle of cars being driven, frequently in tandem and at a fraction of their true potential, by drivers who were endeavouring to finish the races in the car rather than on foot, as opposed to trying to win them. I am inclined to wonder whether the banning of the turbos was to some extent motivated by the team sponsors threatening to pull the plug on the sport if the spectacle was not seen to improve. Certainly the argument that turbo development was too expensive has been eroded by the vast expenditure since invested by the major players in the development of normally aspirated engines.

I would like to propose an alternative course of action. Though it may at first seem extremely radical, let us not forget that we are dealing with a sport in which radical solutions to technical problems have been applied throughout its history. Might I suggest that the governing bodies consider the adoption of hydrogen as the only legal fuel for Formula One? The adoption of this gas as a fuel would eliminate the exhaust pollution problem at a stroke. It is also a resource which the Earth is not exactly short of. What we are lacking at the present time, however, is a cheap way of extracting the gas from the atmosphere or water. I would suggest that the adoption of this fuel by a sport which has such wide exposure may stimulate pressure for research from the ‘green’ political element towards the solving of this problem. Among its other attractions are a reduced fire risk compared to petrol. This has to be good news.

Of course there would be technical problems to be overcome by the engine manufacturers. But is this not what they are paid for? Surely, a three to five year breathing space before the adoption of the rule, to allow research and development, ought to be sufficient for the likes of Honda, Renault, and Ferrari to produce useful and potent engines. The problems involved are by no means fundamental. Both standard I/C and jet engines can already run on liquified hydrogen with very little modification. With regard to the fuel companies, they have known for twenty years and more that the resources of fossil fuels are not only finite, but increasingly limited, not least by political considerations. They should be in the vanguard of research into alternatives. Indeed some already are, witness the initiative by Gulf Oil several years ago to sponsor research by the Chloride battery people into new types of batteries for electric car propulsion.

Motor racing has always enjoyed the distinction, unique among sports, of providing technical advances in tyres, brakes, metallurgy etc, which are to the benefit of everyone, even non drivers, in all walks of life, rather than merely entertainment to its followers. Perhaps the time is now ripe for the sport to take the initiative and be in the forefront of research and development aimed towards the ultimate solving of the energy crisis by the exploitation of this abundant alternative fuel. Surely such an exciting initiative would be preferable to a return to the technically stifling, dreary spectacle of high-speed economy runs in Formula 1, rather than motor races.

MW Hicklin

Derbyshire.