Motorsport: past, present and future



By Jamie Howlett

Oxford Brookes University is celebrating its 150th anniversary, and as part of a series of special events it hosted ‘Motorsport: Past, Present and Future’ on May 29 to celebrate the contributions the University has made to the automotive and motor sport sectors.

The main part of the evening was a lively debate chaired by Brian Sims, founder of the Motorsport Industry Association. Brian was joined by guests Andrea Toso (head of R&D at Dallara), Mark Williams (head of engineering at McLaren), Gavin Ward (aerodynamicist with Red Bull Racing and Oxford Brookes alumni), Frank Bachmann (managing director of BMW (UK) Manufacturing Ltd), Paul Anthony (race engineer with Team KTR) and John Surtees, who needs no introduction.

The lecture centred around the question: “If you could run F1, what would you do to take it into the next decade?”, although the discussion branched off into several other areas of F1 and automotive engineering.

John Surtees had plenty to say with his wealth of experience, stating the cars were too complex and that he hated hearing about drivers watching fuel consumption or managing their tyres, and that opening up tyre competition would spice things up.

Gavin Ward (below with Mark Webber in 2013), being a current F1 team member found himself having to defend the current cars against comments like these. “I don’t think it’s a matter of engineers doing too good a job, the box is too small. If you want the cars not to be looking the same, you need to open the rules up. To me F1 is supposed to be the pinnacle of the sport, a combination of man and machine pushing things to the limit and at the moment I don’t think it is. Everything is stifled by the rules.”

He also believes increasing rather than restricting driver aids is the way to go, arguing that electronic driver aids made the cars faster and thus more difficult to drive. “Drivers still need talent to drive them faster than before. I personally think F1 should be the pinnacle of technology, with people standing beside the track in awe of what they’re seeing.”

There was further talk around technology and the use not only of this in the cars but also in terms of simulators and their role in cost cutting. Andrea Toso told an interesting tale about Pirelli tyre tester Luca Fillipi, who could not physically test in Bahrain as he was in Indianapolis. Rather than have to restart the entire testing cycle with a new driver, Pirelli was able to place Luca in a simulator in the US while engineers in Italy controlled the session and spoke to Luca as if they were standing trackside.

However, Ward cautioned, “I don’t really think you can pin it down to a cost cutting measure. Plenty of people could argue that the motor sport industry has gone away and spent an absolute fortune on simulation.”

John Surtees added, “You can’t get away from that experience of actually doing it. That feeling through the seat of the pants, tips of the fingers,” while Andrea Toso said, “There is a price to pay which is real life experience, the smell of fuel, smell of tyres. This is racing to me.”

In the lower formulae Paul Anthony explained, “What we really end up using the simulator for is driver training. It doesn’t save money, because a lot of the smaller cars are not so expensive to run, it’s simply down to the rules and regulations.”

“I don’t think there is enough seat time for drivers,” agreed Mark Williams. “Simulators have a place, but I always used to say to the guys: the only true model of a cat is a cat!”

For the automotive side of the discussion Frank Bachmann gave some insight: “Serious production is not possible without simulation, but none of the OEMs would just rely on simulation.” He also explained that current software is not capable of simulating an entire vehicle’s behaviour.

The discussion also touched on the fan experience. “F1 treats people as spectators, as passive people,” said Toso. “In the US they’re treated as fans, they touch the cars, they shake hands with the drivers. For $10 they can go into the paddock. F1 is exclusive, they keep people away. I think it’s a form of disrespect, because in the end people pay for tickets.”

“I remember the day the paddock was closed to the public,” agreed Williams. “I used to look forward to going to the British Grand Prix every year, going to look at the cars, wander around the pitlane, go into the garage and actually see the cars, and suddenly there was a fence. It finished it for me then.”

Earlier in the afternoon Oxford Brookes Racing gave a presentation on the previous year and its successes and, importantly, its failures. These mature young men and women learn to accept failure as a necessary part of their growing success moving forwards, while maintaining their passion and focus to achieve their goals and doing so as part of a team.

They launched their new Formula Student car in the lobby of the John Brookes Building, tackling such rule changes as noise reduction requirements that are tripping up other teams.

These young engineers conceive, design and build a car in nine months before competing with it – which is some achievement – and many of them go on to bigger and brighter things in both the motor sport and automotive industries. Former team leader George Simmons is off to work with McLaren in September, and he owes much of that success to demonstrable skills he learned with Formula Student.

If it wasn’t for universities such as Oxford Brookes forging close links with the industry – such as its partnership with Dallara – and helping place students with F1 teams, then the industry would lose its fresh input. One young member of the team casually remarked to a friend, “I’m off to work with Toro Rosso.” That’s not a bad thing.

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