Red Bull Racing design guru Adrian Newey yesterday launched a broadside against the 2014 rules, questioning the environmental imperative for switching to hybrid turbo engines, the cost of the changeover and the relevance of the technology to the outside world.
“You have to question the whole thing,” he said.
Speaking as part of a panel of team technical experts in the Friday FIA press conference in Bahrain, the 55-year-old didn’t hold back in his criticisms and afterwards further detailed his reasoning to waiting TV and radio crews.
“It seems to me that what we have done is create a set of regulations which, whilst technically interesting, [still lead me] question whether it gets all the compromises right,” said the Red Bull Racing Chief Technical Officer. “Ultimately, there is a relationship between cost, weight, aerodynamics… all sorts of factors if you’re going to go into road relevance. How you weight that, how you proportion it is impossible for an open-wheeled single-seater. It’s a very different beast. So no easy answer. We’ve gone for a package which is very complicated, very expensive. The cost of the power unit has at least doubled compared to last year, which is difficult for some of the smaller teams.”
There are discussions behind the scenes this weekend, especially involving FIA president Jean Todt, Bernie Ecclestone and Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo, with the latter pushing hard to spice up what he describes as “Formula Boredom”, particularly with reference to the lack of noise from the engines and the drivers being forced to drive “like taxi drivers” because of fuel saving.
Like Ferrari, Red Bull Racing finds itself well behind Mercedes under the new technical regulations. Newey did not spare Renault’s blushes either. Sitting in front of Renault’s Remi Taffin at the evening’s press conference, the body language was very clear and at one point Newey referred a question about when the Renault power unit might match Mercedes to Taffin with the words, “I don’t think we’ve actually got anything particularly different this weekend but in reality, I think you should be asking the person sitting behind me.”
Asked what changes, if any, he would like to see to improve the show from the talks likely to take place in Bharain this weekend, Newey said: “I guess ultimately the spectators and the television viewers are going to vote with their feet. What we say in here won’t make much difference in truth. I think obviously all the talk is about the engines, as mentioned earlier, it’s not just about creating a formula that looks at how many litres of fuel you use per kilometre with everything else fixed, because everything else isn’t fixed in reality. If you go into the real world, cost isn’t fixed, the cost has gone up hugely to create this.”
Newey also questioned the rationale behind the changes to hybrid turbos, questioning the free credentials of the changes, the relevance of the technology and the cost,
“My opinion is from a technical aspect first of all you have to question…the whole thing. When you get into things like batteries then an electric car is only green if it gets its power from a green source. If it gets its power from a coal-fired power station then clearly it’s not green at all. A hybrid car, which is effectively what the Formula One regulations are then a lot of energy goes into manufacturing those batteries and into the cars which is why they’re so expensive.
“And whether that then gives you a negative or a positive carbon footprint or not depends on the duty cycle of the car – how many miles does it do, is it cruising along the motorway at constant speed or stop-starting in a city. So this concept that a hybrid car is automatically green is a gross simplification. On top of that there are other ways, if you’re going to put that cost into a car, to make it fuel efficient. You can make it lighter, you can make it more aerodynamic, both of which are things that Formula One is good at.
“For instance the cars are 10 per cent heavier this year, a result, directly, of the hybrid content. So I think technically, to be perfectly honest, it’s slightly questionable. From a sporting point of view, to me, efficiency, strategy etc, economy of driving, is very well placed for sportscars, which is a slightly different way of going racing. Formula One should be about excitement. It should be about man and machine performing at its maximum every single lap.”
However, sitting next to him in the FIA press conference was Williams technical director Pat Symond who dismissed his old rival’s negativity.
“Many people from the UK will remember a guy called (Gerald) Ratner who basically killed his business by negative comments on it. I think we should be positive. We’ve done something good and we should tell the world about it.
“The technology that we’re employing in Formula One now is impressive. The road car industry – rightly or wrongly – has to hit CO2-per-kilometre targets and those are very difficult targets to meet. And they will have to employ technologies such as we are using in Formula One. So we are moving things forward, we are more relevant than we used to be and I think that’s very important.”
After the press conference, one press room wag pointed out, “Why is it that the people who make the most most money in this sport are the ones so vehemently criticising it?”