There were some interesting quotes from Max Mosley in the second media lunch last week (I went to the first one), which took the discussion about KERS and the challenge of designing F1 cars a bit further than the discussion of which I was part. Here’s what he said,
“It is a little bit sad in Formula One and it is, in a way, our fault with the regulations. They have constricted the areas in which the teams can work, to keep the car speeds under control and also to keep costs under control, to the point where you get the best returns by endlessly refining every single component on the car. The top teams look at every single component even though they don’t make the slightest bit of difference, and brave innovatory engineering has completely disappeared from F1. People like (Colin) Chapman, or (John) Cooper or (Keith) Duckworth would be lost in modern F1.
“So suddenly having had this culture of minimal innovation and endless refinement, we dump on them an absolutely new concept (KERS), cutting edge technology and some serious engineering, and they don’t like it – except for some. There is the odd person like Patrick Head, who is a proper engineer, who sees it as a fascinating challenge.”
There has been a lot of whingeing from the teams, since last summer, about KERS. Some of it is because the teams in question are worried that their inability to get the right solution will make them uncompetitive, most of them are upset about the cost, at a time when money is tight. As you know there was a vote within FOTA on whether to stick with KERS in 2009 and everyone except BMW said no. And so, because they were not unanimous, it had to stay.
But what interests me about Mosley’s quotes is that he draws parallels with the great engineers of the past and says they were the great innovators, whereas today’s engineers merely refine endlessly the same components. He accepts that the rules may have something to do with that.
And that’s surely the whole point. In the 1970s and 80s the rules were relaxed but the money and technical resources were very limited so people invented six wheel cars, fan cars, twin chassis cars and so on, but they were quite crude. Then the huge money came into the sport from TV rights and now the opposite is the case; the resources are massive, but the regulations are very restrictive. So what else can the engineers do, but keep polishing the same piece, looking for a thousandth of a second?
This is where F1 is today and it cannot unlearn what it has learned about aerodynamics, electronics, tyre technology and so on. The challenge for the teams and the FIA now is to maintain what is special about F1 cars, what differentiates them from single chassis formulae, but at the same time to redraw the rules to allow innovation in certain areas, without sending costs through the roof.
In Max’s mind KERS is a chance to come up with something magical from a clean sheet of paper. He’s looking for the hybrid equivalent of John Cooper putting the engine behind the driver and Williams with their flywheel, which spins at something crazy like 40,000rpm, have possibly done that. It may not be as obvious as six wheels on a car, but it’s something to talk about in the pub… in Max’s eyes.