In Luc Besson’s Hollywood flick, The Fifth Element, Zorg is the head of an evil empire. In order to prove a point to his hostage, Father Vito Cornelius, he shows off an array of hi-tech gadgetry. Some of them utterly superficial. One such gadget brings up a glass of Martini, which he arrogantly gulps down, only to be choked by an olive. Zorg panics and presses every button possible, but nothing can save him, until his hostage comes to his rescue by giving a whack on his back, sending the olive flying out. Max Mosley might not be that lucky.
He talks of ‘fuel efficiency,’ ‘energy storage devices,’ ‘hybrid engines,’ ‘surge power,’ ‘CDG,’ so on and so forth. In fact, the FIA predicts that the first F1 surge power units will deliver an additional 60bhp for up to nine seconds and as developments are made this will increase to 120bhp.
While all this very fascinating, Max is missing the point. People want to watch the best racing driver win. Not wonder what hidden gadget in the car made him go faster. And there is the issue of costs one has to consider. So the show can get better only by simplifying technology; not by making it even more complex and elitist, as Zorg painfully discovered.
A case worth paying attention to
There are lessons to be learned from America, where NASCAR was once dismissed as a stone-age series where only rednecks raced. Until poor management of the leading open-wheeler racing series led to its split, into CART and IRL. The result has been a gradual drift of money, teams, and prestige to NASCAR, despite it being very low-tech (stock cars, carburetor-based engines, 4-gears, etc).
Similarly, as Bernie and Max pop the champagne for scuttling GPMA, there is a storm brewing in the Middle-east – A1 Grand Prix. It is the Worldcup of Motorsport, hence it appeals to intrinsic patriotic fervor. In fact, the series has broken all records for TV coverage right in its first year.
While Sheikh Makhtoum and his team have always said that the intention of A1 Grand Prix is not to rival F1, their recent announcement of upgraded cars that are “comparable with Formula 1” shouldn’t be overlooked by any count.
At the moment Formula1’s 2.4-litre V8 engines are producing between 750 and 800bhp but there are plans to freeze them at 2006 levels, with a 19000rpm limit. With the upgrade of A1, we’ll see a bigger and more aerodynamically-efficient chassis, a 90-degree all-aluminium 3.4-litre V8 at 720hp, which can be boosted up to 750hp, putting them at par with current F1 cars.
Trouble in Bernie’s own backyard
Grapevine has it that the Bernie- and Flavio-owned GP2 Series is falling apart. At par with A1 in terms of technology and performance, its cost-versus-earnings to the participating teams has been considerably high. And its TV coverage is not even a speck when compared to that of A1. Understandably the participating teams are unhappy (some of whom also run A1 teams) and are planning a winter series to counter A1 and achieve year-round earnings. The question is, at what cost? What if they find A1 more viable?
Laws of Economics apply to everyone
F1 demands huge sums in fees from teams, circuits and television channels. Many F1 tracks survive only because the governments help them. Otherwise they disappear like Spa, A-1, San-Marino and others. This is where F1’s biggest weakness lies.
Currently Bernie is the only one who deals with all the circuit owners and the 26-member WMSC. None of the team bosses have the time or the inclination to do the wheeling dealing. What if Sheikh Makhtoum offers the current F1 circuits a deal which reduces their dependence on government support? What if A1 manages to put cars that rival those in F1 in terms of performance but at a fraction of the cost? What if it gives global television channels a more equitable deal? What if GP2 teams join A1, which then turns into a year-round Worldcup of Motorsport?
If Max Mosley doesn’t climb down from his ivory tower, hi-tech Formula 1 could turn out to be more than he could swallow.
Thanks to Father Cornelius, Zorg survives the olive. But in the end, he is killed by a rival’s low-tech bomb.