Thursday Thoughts: F1 Engine Parity

Pitlane Fanatic is the host of this week’s Thursday Thoughts question, which is this:

Is engine parity necessary for 2010?

Absolutely not. With engine parity we have seen the F1 grid close up like never before but it has come at the expense of passing. I would argue that it is this factor which is offsetting the improvements made by the aero changes – there is less wake behind the cars yet nobody has enough grunt to take advantage, unless they have KERS in which case their KERS-less victim is a sitting duck (see Kimi and Giancarlo at Spa), yet if both have KERS we are back to square one.
With differences between engines we would find some drivers have a power advantage, but perhaps not enough that a well-driven disadvantaged car couldn’t still beat them from time to time.

Without differences between engines what is the point of having different engine manufacturers? Perhaps this is a ploy to get us used to similar engines should the ‘world engine’ concept come about. Let’s hope not. Some engines are more powerful than others. Some are more fuel efficient, and their time would (or should) have come in 2010 with the ban on refuelling. While none of us (except the Tifosi) like to see domination, I don’t think many of us want to see top line racing reduced to a group of spec series – and occasional domination is part and parcel of the sport anyway.

The differences between equipment make up a fundamental part of the sport, and let’s not forget this is a sport, not entertainment. If I wanted to watch entertainment I’d watch a comedy show. Sport is about tackling a problem with different techniques to see which comes out best. In some sports that’s using similar equipment in different ways or simply being better than the others. In motorsport you are and should be allowed to find a better way.

The cost issue is a concern. Manufacturers were spending ridiculous amounts of money on engines in the V10 era and the beginning of this V8 era and that had to end. Yet consider all the money currently being spent on aerodynamic work which bears absolutely no relation to anything else done not just in the car industry but anywhere. It has no other purpose. Yet the area the car industry needs to explore most urgently right now is engine efficiency or even alternative engines, and this is the area being cut back in the arena which develops tech faster than no other? I find that absurd.

Let’s reduce the aero spend – OK I accept they already are – and allow the teams and manufacturers to explore different engine technologies with their money, should they wish to. There is nothing wrong with a new concept being five seconds per laps slower at the beginning of its life. If you believe it works, persevere and make it faster. They did it with turbos. They did it with V6s, V8s, V10s, V12s in the 1990s when engines were more open. That’s how it should be. That’s F1.

Is parity necessary in 2010? No. I’d get rid of it completely.

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Thursday Thoughts: F1 Launches

This week’s Thursday Thoughts question from Sidepodcast:

Should F1 teams launch 2010 cars in a single launch event?

When I first read the question I thought I would be in favour, but after considering the pros and cons I’ve turned out to be against the idea. Let’s run through them.

In favour of a group launch:

– It cuts costs for everyone. Perhaps they would each pay a flat rate to FOTA who would hire a venue, perhaps they could even get a neutral company (say a series sponsor like LG) to sponsor the event and make it break even.

– All of the world’s F1 media would be in the same place at once. Not only would this cut their costs but it would mean not having to choose between competing events held the same day.

– It would create a huge pre-season buzz with all the new cars appearing before the world at once, or in reality probably in stages through the day. The publicity would be huge! You could even set up a dummy grid, though I’m sure you’d have to draw lots for the order.

In favour of individual launches:

– ‘Launches’ these days aren’t the frivolous affairs of the late 90s with the Spice Girls and the dry ice. The cost of plonking a tarpaulin-covered car in the pitlane in Jerez really isn’t that high when it is there for testing anyway.

– If there are launches held on the same day in different countries, the bigger players tend to have enough staff or freelancers to be able to send one or two to each.

– We already have a huge pre-season buzz, it just isn’t concentrated into a focal point, it is spread over many weeks or even months. This for me as a fan is the clincher. The anticipation builds from late January as car after car is steadily launched right up until we can visualise the full grid in early March, just days before the real thing. No other form of motorsport can or does do this.

– If they launched at the same time only the specialist motorsport press will cover every team. At the moment the general media might have a larger story for McLaren and a smaller one for Force India, but they’d pretty much all get something, at least in newspapers. If they launched all at once the editors would have the same space to cram in 13 or 14 teams and it just isn’t going to happen, they’d pick Brawn, McLaren, Ferrari and maybe one other. This should be the clincher for the teams but they seem to have missed it.

The group shot idea I had above – it would look cool to have the cars lined up together but the team sponsors would probably prefer the focus to be on their car on that day. With an individual launch you get the focus on your team and your sponsors. For this reason alone I am amazed a team like McLaren, with their focus on “corporate partners” (never “sponsors” for McLaren) is prepared to even entertain the idea let alone consider it seriously.

In other responses I have seen it said the new teams would prefer individual launches to get the focus but actually I disagree with that. I think they are pushing for a group launch. Why? Because it legitimises them to be seen alongside Ferrari and McLaren and so forth. At this stage that is worth a considerable amount more to them than a single-focus launch – but that isn’t enough of a reason to go for it.

Then you have other issues such as the invited guests. Would you have one conference room, wheeling in each set of sponsor’s bigwigs before wheeling in the car? Then getting them all to leave in a timely manner before the next group, bearing in mind you have essentially 8am to 8pm to launch 13 teams?

I think the cons outweigh the pros on this one, not just in number but in gravity. It was a good idea and let’s not fault them for coming up with radical ideas for they are needed, but the execution of it is a logistical nightmare and the media benefits – which after all is the point of holding a launch – are diminished in my view.

Thursday Thoughts: F1 Team Principal 2009

Who do I think deserves the theoretical title of F1 Team Principal of the Year 2009?

There are some strong candidates, particularly the men running the teams battling for the championship – after all most of expected it to be a fight between the ‘usual suspects’ of McLaren and Ferrari so the emergence of Brawn and Red Bull came as a pleasant surprise. That’s not to take away from McLaren in particular who improved their car enormously.

When this question was first asked of me I only had one response. Ross Brawn. It had to be, didn’t it? Brawn and his lieutenants not only developed a fantastic car pre-season but also found time to save the team from extinction. They’d built up such an advantage that the wave carried them through some pretty lean times in mid-season when the car just wouldn’t work with the tyres, and yet despite those characteristics they still salvaged points from crap qualifying positions.

This is actually a close run thing. Christian Horner has arguably run the more sporting campaign with what would probably have been the fastest car on the grid if double-diffusers had been outlawed (their DD wasn’t added until later) while allowing the drivers to race each other until surprisingly late into the season, which is how I prefer it to be. Webber was deployed in a ‘support’ role only when it became essential to do so. Now this may be an unfair comparison because Barrichello was still in the title running until Interlagos, yet it wasn’t as clear cut at Brawn.. it almost seemed as if Rubens was being shuffled out of the way at times.

Still, the way RBR racked up points in the latter portion of the season shows they did a fantastic job and Horner has clearly turned the outfit into a Championship operation just as his fans from the Arden F3000 days, and I count myself as one of them, always hoped and suspected he eventually would – even if we didn’t expect it this season! Still, RBR were a midfield team and Honda had fallen from even that position.

So, on balance, I give this award to Ross Brawn for his achievements in turning the team from back-of-the-grid no-hopers in 2008 to title winners in 2009. Frankly that’s a hell of an accomplishment even without rescuing the team from extinction in the middle of it!

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Blog Note

This is the first in what will hopefully be a weekly series as part of Sidepodcast’s Thursday Thoughts initiative, in which a collection of F1 bloggers write about a chosen theme and post their entry at roughly the same time, currently slated to be 9pm GMT (a little late this week, it being the first week). Check out the idea here and if you have a blog feel free to join in!

Regular readers may remember I participated in a similar scheme during last off-season which was slanted around IndyCar. Unfortunately I couldn’t keep up with it as I was studying heavily at the time, and it seems the concept has since been dropped entirely. I used my posts in that series to take a different angle to my colleagues, trying to relate the IRL questions to other championships as part of this blog’s remit to cover a variety of racing. I plan to do the same with Thursday Thoughts wherever the questions allow it.