Against a backdrop of debate over how the new rules have changed the sport and Ferrari’s lobbying for changes to the regulations just two races into the season, Red Bull’s chief technical officer gave a critique of the switch to V6 turbo engines and energy recovery systems.
Newey, whose cars have won the last four constructors’ championships, began by questioning whether the new cars do represent the step forwards in terms of efficiency and environmentallypositive technologies they have been portrayed as.
“When you get into things like batteries then an electric car is only green if it gets its power from a green source,” said Newey. “If it gets its power from a coal-fired power station then clearly it’s not green at all.”
“A hybrid car, which is effectively what the Formula One regulations are, then a lot of energy goes into manufacturing those batteries and into the cars which is why they’re so expensive.
“Whether that then gives you a negative or a positive carbon footprint or not depends on the duty cycle of the car – how many miles does it do, is it cruising along the motorway at constant speed or stop-starting in a city. So this concept that a hybrid car is automatically green is a gross simplification.”
Newey argued there were “other ways” the cars could have been made more energy efficient.
“You can make it lighter, you can make it more aerodynamic, both of which are things that Formula One is good at. For instance the cars are 10% heavier this year – a result, directly, of the hybrid content.
“So I think technically, to be perfectly honest, it’s slightly questionable. From a sporting point of view, to me, efficiency, strategy etc, economy of driving, is very well placed for sports cars, which is a slightly different way of going racing. Formula One should be about excitement. It should be about man and machine performing at its maximum every single lap.”
‘Danger F1 would become irrelevant’
But Williams’ chief technical office Pat Symonds said it had been necessary for Formula One to adopt the new engine rules to reflect developments in road car manufacturing.
“The road car industry – rightly or wrongly – has to hit CO2 per kilometre targets and those are very difficult targets to meet,” said Symonds. “And they will have to employ technologies such as we are using in Formula One.”
“So we are moving things forward, we are more relevant than we used to be and I think that’s very important. I think there was a great danger – and I mentioned this in one of these press conferences last year – that we would become irrelevant. We would become the focus of gas-guzzling and not having social responsibility. And I think it was really important that we did move away from that.”
Force India’s deputy team principal Bob Fernley endorsed that view, adding: “one thing that is important is that Honda are coming in next year and it’s the first time we’ve had another major motor manufacturer coming back into Formula One for a long long time, so that’s a tick in the box that says that actually Formula One has got it right”.
Ferrari has begun a PR offensive against the sport’s new rules, claiming they are widely disliked by fans. However Fernley pointed out the new cars are visibly harder to drive, which makes for a more exciting spectacle.
“I think that it’s great that we’re seeing cars that are difficult to drive, that are on the limit, that are breaking away at the rear end, which is something that we’ve not done for a long, long time, so I think the show is good.”
Mercedes’ executive director for technical Paddy Lowe refuted the claim the change in technology has drastically altered the quality of racing:
“From our perspective, the racing is just as it was. I don’t understand either the stories about economy drives, etc… Formula One has always been a formula in which you had to manage your fuel through the race.
“For us, that’s not different, so there are good stories around fuel saving whilst maintain the spectacle and I think we should be talking more about that.”
Doing a Ratner
Several of the team representatives warned about the dangers of those in charge of Formula One being too critical of its own product in public. Symonds used the example of Gerald Ratner, the British businessman who destroyed the value of his jewellery chain by describing its products as “total crap”.
“I think as a business we should focus on the positives,” said Symonds.
“Many people from the UK will remember a guy called Ratner who basically killed his business by negative comments on it. I think we should be positive. We’ve done something good and we should tell the world about it.”
While Newey warned “the spectators and the television viewers are going to vote with their feet”, Symonds insisted the sport has far more pressing concerns than altering its recently-devised new rules package.
“I have found it disappointing that there are so many negative comments about the new formula,” he said. “We’ve had two races, that’s not much of a sample.”
“I think the racing could improve but I don’t think that’s to do with power units and things like that. I think there are lots of other things.
“The tyres have changed very significantly this year but I think the thing that Formula One really needs to face up to is costs, it is costs that is going to kill Formula One and that should be the most important thing on our agenda right now.”
2014 F1 season
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Images © Red Bull/Getty, Force India, Daimler/Hoch Zwei