With these past few weeks racing in the world is starting back up. First off was the second race of the season for the newly created Tudor United Sports Car Championship at the 12 Hours of Sebring, following was the first race of the Formula 1 season. Now these two racing series don't have a lot in common except for the fact that they have had fairly extensive overhauls for this new year. TUSC went from American LeMans with GT cars and LeMans Prototypes running together for an entire season to Daytona Prototypes, GT, and a few LeMans open cockpit Prototypes. All while having to deal with new rule changes, new owners, new sponsors and a whole host of other new additions or deletions from last season. Formula 1 has gone through the most extensive rules and car changes since the switch from front engine cars to mid engine cars. They have new cars, with new aero rules, new engine rules, new engines, new electronics, new brakes, new rules, pretty much new everything. The championship for once in the last few decades is completely up for grabs from almost every single team in the field. These series represent major overhauls in the realm of racing and a push towards a more eco friendly persona, better fuel consumption, better management of disposables and the like. But does this actually hurt racing and hurt the fans who enjoy racing? Leo Parente of the /Drive Network posed a question last Friday, will F1 and World Endurance Championship with TUSC, redefine racing?
With a push from the FIA to become greener, it seems that racing is less about who is the fastest and more about who can manage their cars enough to get them to the finish line. This is where I take Leo's question and try to delve a bit further into it. Will it still be racing if the drivers are just managing their fuel and tires all the time? This question and its answer will differ from each individual series. With the TUSC and WEC races, fuel conservation and tire management need to be considered because they are endurance racing. They have to complete a race within a specific time. Pit stops matter and the longer the pit stop the more time they will have to make up. Conservation of those items matter during these types of races. However, what about all out speed? Does this take a back seat to conservation? Can you really call it racing if the drivers aren't able to truly push the cars to their limits? This year marks the entry of Porsche into the Prototype LeMans category. Their entrant, a Hybrid electric V4 Turbo. Toyota has their Hybrid, Audi with their Diesel Hybrid, and Nissan with the fully electric ZEOD Deltawing. The rules of late have been forcing manufacturers to find better ways to be more energy efficient and to find greater and greater recapture technologies. Such as the Hybrid electric systems that convert the thermal heat of braking into usable power on acceleration. Now take Formula 1, these cars are completely brand new. They have new 1.6l V6 Turbo's for better fuel efficiency and they are only allotted 100l of fuel per race. They have the most advanced energy recovery systems on any racing car and indeed, they have two of them. The cars this year are some of the most advanced hybrids on the planet.
What does this all mean for actual racing? Let me first quote the late great Ayrton Senna, "On a given day, a given circumstance, you think you have a limit. And you then go for this limit and you touch this limit, and you think, 'Okay, this is the limit.' As soon as you touch this limit, something happens and you suddenly can go a little bit further. With your mind power, your determination, your instinct, and the experience as well, you can fly very high." He speaks about limits, about the limits of the driver, and the limits of a car. He understood that a racing driver should always be on the edge of the cars potential. Just watch his in car cameras in Formula 1, he isn't saving tires, he isn't managing fuel, he is racing, he is putting everything he has on the line. Senna understood that racing requires bravery; it requires the ability to think calmly in a moment that would for most other people inspire pure terror. He knew in his soul that a driver's job is to go as fast as he can go, just think about how he viewed gaps, "By being a racing driver you are under risk all the time. By being a racing driver means you are racing with other people. And if you no longer go for a gap that exists, you are no longer a racing driver because we are competing, we are competing to win. And the main motivation to all of us is to compete for victory, it's not to come 3rd, 4th, 5th or 6th. I race to win as long as I feel it's possible." This is what I feel is either being thrown out or no longer exists in racing. There is a mindset right now that racing should be about promoting green technologies, and in some respects, I can agree. However, these technologies should be designed to make the cars go faster nothing else. The goal of racing is to be the fastest person on the grid, it's not managing your fuel or managing your tires or anything like that, the simple goal is to come in first. Dictating that the cars can only have a certain amount of fuel is fine, so long as it's more than enough to complete a race at full speed. Having energy recovery systems is also ok when it helps performance. Racing cars should be the pinnacle of auto design and technicality. I want to see a field of the most advanced road going cars on the planet, not what they could build to circumscribe to the rules they were dealt. This is especially true in Formula 1. F1 is supposed to be the pinnacle of motorsports, the highest degree in the pecking order of all racing. They have the most advanced cars and the best drivers combining to form the perfect union between driver and machine so they can go the fastest and dare to push the limit.
Watching the first F1 race and indeed the practice and testing leading up to it, everyone was not only talking about the reliability of these new cars, but the fact that the drivers would need to manage their tires and fuel way more than ever before. All I thought about every time I heard them speaking about it was that F1 was going to turn into a hypermiling Prius fest. I personally don't want that, and I am guessing neither do all of you. Why can't we have a better balance that allows for constructer's and drivers to push the cars harder and really race them? Why can't the FIA allow more fuel and let Pirelli or Michelin, or Yokohama, or any of the tire manufacturers build the best tire they possibly can? Rather than dictating that they can only survive a certain period of time. Racing is fun when the cars and drivers are really pushing one another to go faster, brake later, and turn in harder. It is not fun when the rules make the drivers have to back off the throttle to ensure they make it to the end of the race. The real test will be from the fans. With WEC, TUSC, and F1 all going this more eco friendly route, will fans still show up or watch the races? I will at the very least say that one of the best noises right now in racing is from these new eco friendly cars, the Toyota TS040 leaving pit lane under full electric and then making the switch to the gas-powered engine is as if fire and brimstone was falling from the skies. Take a listen.
Follow me here on Twitter
Check out Sittin Waitin Wishin
Also head over to TheSmokingTire to see why we need Supercars.
Photo Credit to TUSC, and Sauber