Anyone who reads this blog knows that I am a fan of auto racing (and to an extent motorcycles as well). I have routinely and regularly called out NASCAR for their sleep inducing, near incestuous series, and I have spoken against F1 on a few occasions as well. NASCAR pretty much failed to move forward and lost me as a fan, and F1 had certainly been hovering on that side as well. Four years in a row of Red Bull dominance and an endless parade of rules bent and broken at will made F1 a bit mindless.
However, the FIA and F1 who sort of combine to actually make the series go saw the issues and decided that F1 needed to move towards being more relevant for actual road going technology. Few of us were going to benefit by increases aero effeciency by cycling our engines at high speed to detach airflow (exhaust blown aero), nor for that matter were very many of us driving around in normally aspirated high fuel consumption V8 engines. So with an eye to the future, they redid the rules to put a bigger emphasis on hybrid power, electric recovery, and fuel effciency, not only limiting the size of the engines to 1.6 liters (with turbo) but also limiting both fuel flow and total fuel allowed per race, which has certainly changed the game.
Three races into the new era of F1, and it’s pretty easy to see that some engine companies got it, some didn’t so much, and others just having been able to integrate the whole thing into a functional package. Mercedes has certainly put together a great engine package, which is powering most of the teams near the top, and Renault has pretty much dropped the ball, and served up a complex system that doesn’t seem to be work well and is prone to failures.
There have been complains and whining from all sides on this one, even F1 head Bearnie Ecclestone complained the cars were too quiet – until he heard them in person and then said it wasn’t that bad. Clearly the cars are quieter, considering they don’t rev to 18,000 rpm anymore and have their exhausts blocked by a turbo, but they turn out much more torque and power total than the old cars. There are also complaints that the cars are harder to drive and hard to make work propertly.
Not surprisingly, the sourest of sour grapes appears to be coming from previously dominant Red Bull racing. They have been the team who has dominated for 4 years, with a slick combination of the best packaging plus some incredibly inspirated rule… what would you call it… rule skirting. Everything and anything was fair game to them, including apparently heating the underside of the car so the floor would flex more during the race to increase downforce, to flexible noses, blown exhausts, and a whole bunch of other things that will one day come to light when the players are not longer in the game, and will reveal just how much of a charade it all was. Red Bull loved the old rules because they found all the ways to get around them, winning the last 8 or 9 races last season without even marginal opposition. They were just that far ahead.
Now, they find themselves having problems, and that has resulted in some pretty sad whining from them. F1 champ Sebastian Vettle was asked about the engine sound, and he said it was “sh-t” (poop). Red Bull honcho and Team owner Dietrich Mateschitz has made some not so veiled threats about leaving the series, and now chief engineer (and rule bender) Adrian Newey had made it clear he things all of this technology is expensive, meaningless, and not relevant. Of course, it probably pisses him off no end that he can no longer find another twist in the rules to apply an aero adjustment to make his cars slide to the front anymore, and in fact his original 2014 design was at least partially scrapped because the car kept overheating and catching fire.
My opinion? Red Bull can take the door and go. They are fair weather friends to F1, and as soon as things are not going their way, they are quick as a group to start talking the series down and making off the cuff comments that are not to anyone’s benefit. The races so far in 2014 have been interesting, with plenty of different strategies and challenges, and as a result, F1 is actually fun to watch again. Red Bull want it their way, the old boring way… and that’s just not going to happen.
In the never ending world of chess that is F1, Bernie Ecclestone perhaps gets the last word on this one, the one that is likely to get Red Bull to shut up already. He announced that two new teams would be coming to F1, which would pretty much negate whatever potential loss would come from losing the two Red Bull teams. So if Mateschitz thought he had F1 by the short and curlies, it turns out that he may just be giving himself the wedgie instead.