While the summer break may be a time for Formula 1 to cool down and take stock of the season that has unfolded thus far, the sport’s bosses will be quietly mulling over not only what the second half of the year will bring, but also what lies far beyond that.

F1 is currently trying to acquire ‘2020 vision’ - in so much as it is working hard to define just what its engine regulations will look like beyond that point.

In the wake of Porsche and Mercedes’ decisions to enter Formula E from season six, bolstering the manufacturer representation in the all-electric series, talk has been rife about the place of road relevance within motorsport and how F1 should react.

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At a time when just four global manufacturers are in F1 - the pinnacle of motorsport - what does the sport have to do to get more around the table?

Regardless of the direction the sport takes come 2021, sticking with the existing V6 hybrids does not seem to be a viable option given the criticism they have faced since their introduction in 2014.

The arrival of the new power units was a move intended to make F1 more road relevant and keep manufacturers interested, but those involved at the time were unable to come to a complete agreement over how the rules would play out.

As such, the V6 hybrids were a compromise; a middle-ground that left none of the parties entirely happy, but all having invested a significant amount of money into their development.

Back then, hybrid was the in thing. It was where manufacturers saw the global automotive landscape heading in the years to come - and while it is true to some extent, electric vehicles are fast emerging as the new priority.

This year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans proved the pitfalls and complexities of hybrid technology. While the LMP1 class has been of particular interest in recent years given the tight competition between Audi (until the end of last year), Porsche and Toyota despite running varying specifications of power units, the rate at which they failed in June’s race did not look good; Toyota president Akio Toyoda even went as far as questioning whether hybrid technology was yet ready for Le Mans, having seen all three of his manufacturer’s cars hit trouble.

Hybrid technology has proven itself well in F1. Even with the gripes about the sound of the power units and their complexity, the FIA has achieved one of its original goals by increasing efficiency and reducing fuel burn.

Another one of its targets was to popularise hybrid technology. This has been an uphill struggle given the complaints from the outset about the negative impact the introduction of the new V6 hybrids would have on the sound and spectacle, but there is a bigger problem here.

People struggle to latch on to hybrid technology as something to get excited about. The idea of making cars go faster than ever despite using 30 per cent less fuel, while deeply impressive and very nice, is intangible and not immediately measurable. When it comes to such a sensory sport as F1, removing one of its big selling points - the impressive sound - hurts. No matter what fuel economy numbers you throw at fans, they want to be convinced by what they see and hear on-track, not by statistics.

Alas, F1 now finds itself at a crossroads: does it try to keep up with the ever-evolving automotive industry and set in place an engine formula that looks almost a decade down the line, or does it decide to move in the opposite direction?

If Formula E can tick motorsport’s road relevance box, why can’t F1 become the lavish exciting series that says “to hell with road relevance!”

Formula E is currently the only series for manufacturers to be involved in if they are putting road relevance above all other factors. The majority of car makers have already committed to producing electric cars in the future, or at least electrifying their models in some degree, while governments across the world are beginning to plan legislation to ban the sale of vehicles with internal combustion engines. Electrification is the way things are going, but there’s already a series for that - so where will F1 go?

“I think the technology belongs in Formula E,” Red Bull F1 chief Christian Horner says. “It has its place, it has the interest from the manufacturers in that type of racing.

“F1 should go back to basics in many respects and focus on the ultimate competition, modern day chariot racing in many respects: who is the best driver, without the technology not playing so much of a high percentage role.”

It is a fair assessment that many would agree with. If Formula E can tick motorsport’s road relevance box, why can’t F1 become the lavish exciting series that says “to hell with road relevance!” and go back to the noisy V8 or V10 engines that, combined with the current cars, would produce an incredible show?

The simple answer is that manufacturers simply would not have it. A number of companies both inside and outside of F1 have attended the engine meetings held with the sport’s leaders in a bid to define what the post-2020 regulations will look like, and it is doubtful any of them will be looking to go back in time.

“The way they are thinking now, there are no constructors who would like to go back to normally aspirated engines,” Renault F1 advisor and four-time world champion Alain Prost explains.

“They would like to keep at least not as complicated as what we have today, but keep the electricity involved in a different way, maybe using it in different things.

“They would not like to go back, which makes sense.”

Horner agrees: “I doubt we will go back to normally aspirated, despite it being my wish. We will end up with a V6 twin turbo I believe - but the acoustics are a key aspect of what has been put on the table because when this engine was introduced the costs or the attractiveness by noise were fundamental parts of what the engine should be.”

V6 twin turbos (as used by IndyCar) with some kind of electrification that is more simple and straightforward to use and understand - how about that for a middle ground?

If F1 wants to try and stay road relevant, it is going to be playing catch-up for a long, long time. Formula E may be the series to be right now, but it is by no means a safe bet for the future. Concerns about a manufacturers arms race, such as the one F1 experienced in the 2000s, are justified given the number of big names involved.

If costs spiral and they get bored of finishing 14th (because someone has to), where do they then go? Will hydrogen-powered cars then be the big thing by that point? Will everyone be clamouring to join 'Formula H'?

But if F1 shifted away from road relevance, even a little bit, it may give companies new reasons to race: aspirational and marketing reasons, not technological ones.

“Perhaps a Lamborghini is a more attractive brand, or an Aston Martin is a more aspirational brand in Formula 1, and technology-focused brands end up in Formula E,” Horner ponders.

“Formula 1 has to be attractive, it has to have the popularity that it has enjoyed over the last 20 or 25 years. There’s so much competition from other sports, other activities now.

“At the end of the day, Red Bull’s investment and involvement in Formula 1 has to be to support its core business, which is about the can at the end of the day.

“Eyeballs, audiences and creating great content is extremely important to the brand, that Formula 1 is a great show.

“It’s the best drivers, at the best race tracks, in the best cars.”

Road relevance has varying levels of importance from manufacturer to manufacturer - so different series can fit different needs.

While F1 will need to retain some degree of relevance in order to give manufacturers some kind of justification for being involved, it needn’t get too hung up on it. Its heyday as the series pushing the boundaries of automotive technology is no more.

So perhaps it can use this liberation to have some fun and, in the words of commercial chief Sean Bratches, “put the spectacular back into the spectacle”.

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Like it or not the major manufacturers and sponsors want some return for the huge outlays 

Without their money F1 would go back to the days of play boy racers. Probably be more fun for the spectators but difficult to see how it would remain the pinacle of motor sport

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I say it again. F1 does not have to be relevant to anything. F1 is the pinnacle of motorsports. F1 cars were never relevant to road cars. They always were more related to aircrafts than cars. I don't care who builds the engines. I want V12's and V10's back. I want the best drivers race tooth and nail, pedal to the metal. I don't want to see endurance racing, saving engine, fuel, tires, gearbox... If I wanted to watch endurance racing, I would watch WEC who does endurance way better than F1 can ever dream of. I want the thrill of F1 back.

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F1 used to be exciting with its high pitch wail alone. Now that its noise is gone, everything just feels hollow and unsatisfying. Then you get added complications of no fuel stops (means heavy car at the start), degrading tires (really dumb idea), engine & drive train penalties just suck any joy out of 'racing'. Its more nursing the car better than driving flat out to win. The 'Halo' concept for 2018 is just an annoying fly on a stinking pile of turd that is F1 today.

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ppl keep moaning halo even the article isnt about. what a stupid keyboard warrior

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F1 used to be about racing.  Now it's who can nurse their cars the fastest before they run out of fuel.  It's pathetic.  You take the best racers in the world and cripple their chariots so they can't actually, you know, race.  

At least MotoGP is still racing.

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I watch the start, come back halfway through and occasionally watch the end. F1 has lost its excitement.

Let's all hope Motogp doesn't go all hybrid on us. Still fantastic racing with an entirely higher level of skill compared to F1

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It's a pain that manufacturers have such a huge say in rule making.

 

I don't care if they all leave and leave independent teams to fight it out with normally aspirated V10's.

 

Also, with Jean Todt the president of the FIA & his campaigne for road safety & road relevance, he'll keep F1 road relevant which in turn will turn fans off & lead to its demise!

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Yes, it is a pain that the manufs have such a big say but there again, they do provide all of the engines and have the resources to pay for the best and most expensive drivers. Remove them and you remove all the top drivers who will go elsewhere for the big dollar. So the Hybrexiteers will still grumble as the grid would become full of Palmers and Strolls and the cars would become Indycars mk2.

The real problem is money. To keep the huge income rolling in the FIA have to pander to the rich kids (manufacturers) or everyones income suddenly drops drastically. And they have to keep increasing the income year by year as their greed increases.

So, you can have your all private teams and lots of noise but you'll not have any of the top drivers who will all have cleared off to follow the big money.

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Absolutly spot on. One things for sure is a lot of supposed F1 fans won't make up the loss of revenue - many of them even refuse to pay to watch it on TV!!

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