Expensive and irrelevant technologies are threatening to kill off F1 unless dramatic changes take place to secure the future of a sport that cannot 'carry on the way we have in the past with the excesses we have seen in various fields', Prodrive chairman David Richards has warned.
Richards is a man with prior experience of F1, having led both Benetton (in 1998) and BAR-Honda (from 2002 to 2004) with a considerable degree of success. What's more, Prodrive has been on the fringes of top flight graduation for several years now, seeing its efforts to make the grade scuppered by the customer car row in 2008, by governing body the FIA earlier this year and most recently by Renault's decision to sell a majority stake in its Enstone-based operation to Luxembourg-based investment consortium Genii Capital rather than to Richards.
However, the 57-year-old Welshman has repeatedly insisted that Prodrive will only finally join the grand prix grid when the economic conditions are such that the team can be competitive without spending a fortune – and it is the ongoing ethos that spending equals success, he argues, that has led to the manufacturer exodus over the past twelve months and fears for the very future of F1.
“The last year has made me have a very careful think about our business,” Richards told The People
newspaper, “and there were times during these twelve months that I had to seriously question the role of motorsport. The last few weeks have brought that into sharp perspective, with the withdrawal of BMW and Toyota from F1 and question marks still remaining over Renault.
“But as I looked at our organisation and at the way we have constructed ourselves, I really came to the conclusion that not only will motorsport still play a valid role in the future but it will, by necessity, have to change – and we are at a point of time when we are starting to look at a complete new environment for motorsport.
“I think it very appropriate that [new FIA President] Jean Todt has taken over the reins of F1 just at this turning-point, because I don't think we can carry on the way we have in the past with the excesses we have seen in various fields.
“[There is] also the irrelevance of some of the technology with which we have been working within the motorsport world. Probably one of the best examples is in aerodynamics, where we talk about relevance of motorsport technology and yet I can't think, today, of anything less relevant than aerodynamics to the general automotive industry.”
Insisting that road car-relevant technology is the way forward, Richards pointed to the £50 million wind tunnel built by Honda for BAR – subsequently double 2009 F1 World Champions Brawn GP – in evidence of an exorbitant 'waste' of money on appendages like wings and aerofoils that bear no relation to everyday motoring in the real world.
“Sure, it has a minor part to play,” conceded the 1981 World Rally Championship-winning co-driver, “but when one compares it to efficiencies in other areas such as the drive toward the electric vehicle and generative braking systems, I think motorsport has to take a very serious look at itself.”