1 July 2011
FOTA Fans Forum - Woking - Pt. 1
FOTA Fans Forum event June 2011 - segment one featuring Martin Whitmarsh, Ross Brawn, Graeme Lowdon and Bob Fernley.
Present: Martin Whitmarsh (Chairman of FOTA and Team Principal, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes), Ross Brawn (Team Principal, Mercedes Grand Prix), Graeme Lowdon (Sporting Director Sporting Director and President, Marussia Virgin Racing) and Bob Fernley (Deputy Team Principal, Force India).
Do you think it's important for F1 to be seen as the technological peak of motorsport?
It is clear that F1 has to be the pinnacle of motorsport. The technology is the bit that differentiates it from the other branches of motorsport. We used to argue about active ride in technical working groups, as well as other technologies that I was very passionate about, but there's got to be a balance. We have to have the most advanced vehicles in motorsport; we have to balance and control performance – the circuits that we race on have to be safe – and the technologies that we develop have to be relevant. On too many occasions, and this is something that I've definitely been guilty of, we pursued things that we found passionately interesting and exciting. But they really weren't relevant. Every time the regulations became more restrictive, it was very disappointing news for engineers but my experience over 23 years is that there's always something new. We had double diffusers, we had F-ducts, we've had blown diffusers and as we prohibit some of these areas there will be something new and something fresh. There has to be because if we can't innovate in F1, it will be very disappointing for all of us.
I agree with everything Martin says. F1 has to be the pinnacle of motorsport technically and commercially. The fascination of F1 for me is that combination of the drivers and the technology, and the fact that championships can be won by a good driver in a great car, sometimes a great driver in a good car, but never a great driver in a poor car. We've got to have that technology to add that ingredient to F1; we do need to be mindful of keeping the technology relevant. In the case of Mercedes Benz, KERS is having a direct spin-off on our roadcar side. The great thing about F1 is that it accelerates any developments. This sporting war that we have just accelerates every technology and we find and develop technologies in months that in the outside world might take years because we want to find that competitive edge. Look at the battery technologies that McLaren in fact worked with Mercedes to initiate. Those battery technologies are going down to the roadcars and that makes us much more relevant for the road car manufacturers to get involved. One of the exciting things in the future is the fact that the engine is going to come back into the equation. At the moment they've been sterilised in a way. They are all very similar, they've all been homologated and no-one really talks about the engines anymore. There is a lot of exciting technology coming through with the new engine in 2014 and I'm really excited that engines are coming back into the equation and they're not just a space filler between the chassis and the gearbox.
Is a 1.6-litre V6 Turbo the right way for F1 to go in 2014?
This is the right direction. It's very relevant for the motor manufacturers and, as was mentioned by both Ross and Martin, we have to look at being aligned with our partners in this and being able to get the benefit through to the public as a whole. It's very important that we do that. F1 is similar to the space race and military development; it's not entirely geared to achieving something to a budget. Performance is the key and we can do an awful lot to help the motor manufacturers and that's what we should be focusing on.
As long as there's a cost cap, why can't the number of cylinders be left open?
It's an issue of risk-management. We're in the situation at the moment where there are three automotive manufacturers in F1, and one independent manufacturer. The automotive manufacturers have been very significant investors in F1 and we need to create an environment where the engine rules are sufficiently defined so that people can come into it knowing that if they do a sound job, they'll be competitive. I've certainly argued for diversity in the past, but the danger is that automotive manufacturers become inhibited about entering the sport if there's too great a variety. Typically, although the regulations are fixed, they evolve and if you had a range of engines it would become clear after a year that one particular solution was right and the manufacturer that had developed the alternative would have to re-invest all of that money. It's about reducing the risk so that we can have four or five automotive manufacturers in F1 at any one time. They're always going to come in and out as it suits them, but we've got to create an attractive environment for the companies involved in F1.
One point that Martin touched on there is that we're not going to get manufacturers to come in with the V8 normally aspirated engine that we have now. No-one's interested. We've got to create fresh opportunities for new manufacturers to come in because who's going to come in and build a V8 18,000rpm engine? The new engine gives a fresh opportunity and it's a more relevant specification for manufacturers.
F1 has always built itself around a concept of exclusivity. How do you think that needs to balance out with getting more fans involved?
It has to be a balance at the end of the day. F1 is the pinnacle of motorsport and it has to have an element of exclusivity. However, there are lots of different ways in which we can open the sport up to a lot more people with new media and different ways of communicating. I hope the teams are doing a lot of things to include the fans more. From our point of view, we're a new team and one of the things we've done is hire Stowe School over the British Grand Prix weekend for the next five years. We've created a fan area there and people can come and camp with the mechanics. People can interact and what we want to do is open it up to as many fans as possible. We did it last year as well and we had some fabulous feedback from fans.
I could have gone on for hours about resource restrictions. F1 does require an awful lot of money and to generate that revenue you have to have a commercial structure that includes high degrees of exclusivity. That's a fact, but there's still a lot that the teams can do to open themselves up.
You guys have so much stuff you could show us, but you keep it hidden at races. Why is that?
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