JANUARY 30, 2003
Peter's big idea
Peter Sauber's remarks suggesting that Formula 1 teams should buy standardized cars from a production racing car company if it wants to cut costs is not a new idea - but what is new is that a Formula 1 team boss with gravitas has actually put the concept into words in the public domain.
This is a pretty radical step. There will no doubt be a backlash from those who believe that Formula 1 traditions must be retained come what may but, before all that begins, perhaps we should analyze whether or not Sauber has a valid point? There is no question that Formula 1 costs would tumble dramatically if such a step was taken and that would be a good thing. But is it right? Is not Formula 1 about new ideas and technological breakthroughs? Well, it used to be. There was a time when Formula 1 designers had the freedom to come up with new ideas: there was the rear-engine revolution, there was the introduction of the monocoque, there was ground-effect, carbon composite technology, automatic gearboxes and then a mass of electronic development. But any relevance that the sport once had for the automobile industry has faded to such an extent that the automobile manufacturers today talk of F1 as being good for them because it trains their staff how to work quickly.
The fact is that nowadays the cars are all developed in windtunnels at huge cost and they all come out looking pretty much the same as one another. The last visible revolution in F1 was the raised-nose and that was more than 10 years ago. So to argue against standardized chassis is actually rather illogical as in essence the cars have become pretty much standardized through development - at least on the surface. The extra performance that is generated comes from the intricate and highly-expensive detail, from a more powerful engine, a better driver and a better relationship between the chassis and the tyres.
The convergence of design happened in the road car business some years ago but now companies such as Renault, Volkswagen and Chrysler have realized that a lot of people want cars with character rather than the most efficient machinery possible. The problem with this is that the days when F1 cars had individual character seem to have long gone. Opening up the technical regulations to allow for individuality would open a Pandora's Box of technical and safety issues, so why not follow Sauber's logic and go for identical chassis?
Those who argue about the heritage of the sport will inevitably struggle because history shows that Formula 1 has been changed over the years on many occasions to meet the needs of the era. The important point is that the best teams have always emerged as the winners and that is where the essence of the sport actually lies. If one looks CART and IRL in the United States one can see that Penske Racing has generally managed to rise above the opposition even if it could not always do so using its own cars.
The other point of note is that the F1 team principals have already admitted that they are willing to accept standardized parts on their cars. In December they agreed to look at the possibilities of standardized brakes and other bits and pieces. Now there is acceptance of standardized rear wings. So, as the principle is already being eroded, why not go the whole way and save a whole lot more money?
It is an interesting argument.
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