Red Bull Ranting

Earlier today, the excellent F1 journalist Will Buxton posted his thoughts on exactly why Red Bull should be allowed to leave F1 without too much more fuss if that’s what the company really wants. The post is here, and it doesn’t need any further embellishment from anyone else.

But this is the internet, and the complete lack of space limitations or editorial control mean that we all get to chip in if we want. I posted the link to Will’s post elsewhere, and it was met with the valid question:

don’t you worry that F1 (a sport I love) is in real danger of becoming formula Mercedes and that already there are signs that season like last could become a two horse farce?

The short answer is: at the moment, Mercedes are crushingly dominant, but these things never last long. My longer, more ranty answer, with slight modifications, went like this:

That’s what you get for building a better car. It’s no more of a farce than it was from 2000-2004, and at least this time the two leading cars are allowed to race each other.

Last season was one of the best I can remember in terms of racing. The worry for this year is possibly that, as Brundle said on Sunday, it looks like the aero developments might have made it slightly trickier for cars to follow closely.

But mainly Melbourne was a combination of daft factors. Valtteri won’t always have a bad back, Felipe won’t always screw up his out lap, Kimi won’t always have a wheel bolt shear, Honda will get the engine working if it kills them, and if Manor can keep the lights on there is a *chance* they could be competitive.

There is always an argument for equalisation in motorsport. BTCC does it with ballast and randomly-drawn reverse grids, and it produces close racing and lots of bodywork damage. IndyCar does it with a spec chassis and the various manufacturers stick on limited aero kits (which are BONKERS this year). Sportscars have banks of Balance of Performance regulations to try and keep competitors as closely matched as possible.

F1 has always argued that it’s for pure innovation and racing as far as possible and resisted all of that lot. It’s a nonsense argument in that, as Horner rightly says, if someone develops something completely unforeseen it tends to get banned pretty quickly (F-duct, double diffuser, wacky engine maps that use more petrol when you’re off the throttle than on it). But I’m not sure reverse grids are the way to go either.

What I DO know is that if anyone is going to make suggestions for the future of F1, it shouldn’t be Horner, who never fails to come across as simply a mouthpiece for whichever of Mateschitz and Ecclestone he’s been talking to that day. As Will Buxton says, they whinged so hard about the tyres in 2013 that they got them changed and won every race in the second half of the season. That’s just Montezemolo-style spoilt brattism of the highest order.

The difference with previous changes in technical regulations is that Red Bull (blown floor), and McLaren before them (F-Duct), were doing something that was technically legal but considered outside the spirit of the rules. Personally I’m generally all in favour of that sort of thing – it gave Jenson a world championship – but equally if those in charge want to specifically change the rules to stop it I’m happy with that as well. In the case of Mercedes this year, and the Pirelli thing a couple of years ago, they have done exactly what was intended by the requirements, and then a competitor who hasn’t done such a good job is complaining about it.

My solution would be the same as it has been for a few years now. The FIA should completely get out of regulating car design beyond things that are directly safety-related, and should impose a fossil fuel limit and a cost cap on all teams. An old F1 engineer, Frank Dernie, said on James Allen’s podcast that if you let a team spend £300m and restrict development to wheelnuts, you will get a £300m wheelnut. By the end of 2016 they will have had three years with these engines, so use the next six months to draft some technical regs that just say “don’t kill anyone, injure as few as possible”, then ban them from spending more than £70m [plucked from the air, but balances current extremes] in any year. We’ll see some weird designs, maybe some covered wheels, maybe some diesel cars, maybe some solar panels for the desert races, and it’ll be innovative and competitive and fun.

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