Pat Symonds has lauded F1's rulemakers' newfound willingness to try out innovative ideas such as the reintroduction of KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) and advent of the moveable rear wing this year – and he suggests that far from detracting from the sport's appeal for fans, the seemingly incessant political infighting actually increases it.
Two years ago, F1 was rocked mid-season by the spectre of a manufacturer-led 'breakaway' series, with the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA) even going so far on the eve of the British Grand Prix as to announce the launch of just such a venture.
The threat has never truly dissipated and indeed was revived late last year by Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo, who has made little attempt to conceal his evident distaste for the practice of cost-cutting, arguing that should the newcomers not be able to pay the going rate to compete at the highest level with the big boys, then they should go and play somewhere else.
There has always been in F1 the fear that off-track polemics will overshadow the action on-track, but Symonds does not believe this in any way harms the sport's allure – and just as Bernie Ecclestone has repeatedly dismissed the 'breakaway' menace almost out-of-hand, so the former Renault F1 executive director of engineering reckons there is more than an element of bluster and hot air to di Montezemolo's fervent pronouncements.
“It's a very, very bold thing to say,” the Englishman mused, speaking to Crash.net
. “Of course, it got a lot closer a couple of years ago and I think people were seriously looking at it. In fact, I know
people were seriously looking at it then because I had to do work on it myself.
“I think when you do look at it seriously, though, you realise what a huge undertaking it is, particularly on the promotion side. Now, there are people who might say Bernie isn't doing as much to promote the sport as he could, but it's bloody healthy and he's got contracts in-place with a lot of countries and a lot of television companies. If you want to launch a breakaway series, you have to match that or exceed it – and that's not easy.
“Politics always have taken over, so why should this year be any different? I think to be honest, that's part of the attraction of F1, isn't it? I know that sounds a strange thing to say, but people are interested in it – it's the modern way of life. As long as it doesn't get destructive – and let's face it, it did a couple of years ago – while there are little arguments about 'is this wing too flexible, has this guy spent too much money', it's not the end of the world.
“I hope in 2011 we can look forward to a season as good as last year – it really was exciting all the way through, and it was exciting because there was so much quality there. The racing was really close, the cars were really close and we've now got five champions there, so I think there's every reason to believe it's going to be another great season. I hope that the changes to the rules don't destroy things, but I don't think they will.”
Ah yes, the rule changes. Out has gone the 'double-decker' diffuser, in has come the moveable rear wing and making a return is KERS. Then, in two years' time the sport is set for an even wider-reaching regulations upheaval, with 1.6-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged engines the major news. Symonds is not convinced the aerodynamic modifications will resolve the overriding issue of a lack of overtaking, but he is pleased that the FIA is giving things a try.