Will driverless cars make motor racing irrelevant?

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It wasn’t long after the first automobiles appeared at the dawn of the 20th century that someone had the bright idea of getting more than one of them and having a race. This moment of inspiration soon gave birth to grand prix racing, in 1906, and the Formula One world championship began in 1950.

But the next revolution in motoring could and probably will profoundly alter how future generations perceive motor racing. Because soon we won’t be driving ourselves to new destinations – computers will do it for us.

Will a world where people are forgetting the feel of the steering wheel in their hands and the pedals at their feet render motor racing irrelevant?

After all, if a computer can learn to obey traffic signs, navigate complex junctions and find a parking space, surely one can just as easily learn to take a racing car to the limit of its capabilities? Will we still be able to marvel at humans doing something computers can do much better?

This is not an entirely new area of discussion for Formula One. In the early nineties the sudden growth of electronic driver aids prompted fierce debate over how much computer assistance was too much.

Anti-locking braking systems, fully automated gearboxes and (eventually) traction control were among the devices pruned from the cars. The sport’s governing body rightly drew the conclusion that while the cars provide the spectacle, the human element of competition is vital.

But back in our own cars the computers have been taking over for decades. Road cars have the luxuries mentioned above and many more: radar-guided collision avoidance systems, automated parking, and other new applications which are bring developed and announced all the time.

Control over our cars is gradually being taken out of our hands. And a sudden step forward is just around the corner as the first self-driving cars are beginning to appear.

Google Chauffeur is a driverless car system currently in development by the technology giant which could be road-legal in the USA in as little as two years. And at last year’s DTM season finale Audi showed off a driverless car it also hopes to put on sale in 2017:

While manufacturers press on with solving the technological challenges, the legislative obstacles to driverless cars are also being removed. The British government is already planning a review of road rules to allow for driverless cars on its roads over the next two years.

The line connecting these development and the popularity of motor racing may seem tenuous. But you only have to look at the growing popularity of professional gaming to understand the close link between how commonplace an activity is and how much interest it gets from the general public.

And if car manufacturers are chasing a new market for self-driving vehicles, will they still be interested in using motor racing to promote their products? The manufacturer backing championships like Formula One crave could be threatened.

Only a small number of us might have seen a self-driving car on the road already. But it seems inevitably that most of us will, one day in the not-too-distant future. Of course it will seem unusual at first. But from that point in time, how many years will pass until the sight of someone driving their own car becomes unusual?

And when that happens, what will the first generation of people who consider it unusual not to let a car drive itself think of the idea of people racing them? Will they look on in awe at the drivers’ abilities as we do now – or will it seem as relevant as chariot racing does today?

Share your thoughts on how the driver-free future of motoring could affect motor racing in the comments.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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127 comments on “Will driverless cars make motor racing irrelevant?”

  1. The introduction of the bicycle has not made the sports of walking and running irrelevant, and the invention of the automobile has not made the sport of cycling irrelevant. Driving a race car quickly is a skill and a talent, and at the end of the day, people will still probably want to watch it. I know that I will, regardless of whether driverless cars (an idea I am not overly keen on personally) takes off or not.

    1. @craig-o You also got an article coming on the site – changed your name? :)

    2. @craig-o

      The introduction of the bicycle has not made the sports of walking and running irrelevant, and the invention of the automobile has not made the sport of cycling irrelevant.

      As @keithcollantine said:

      But you only have to look at the growing popularity of professional gaming to understand the close link between how commonplace an activity is and how much interest it gets from the general public.

      Riding a bike and walking and running are all still common place.

      Should cars be driverless (which it will pretty soon), will driving one still be common place?

      1. @davidnotcoulthard I think so. Not every technology imposed into road cars are immediately used by everybody. We have had hybrid and electric-only technology around for years now, but how many cars on the roads worldwide actually use hybrid or electric cars?

        Unless driverless cars become mandatory, which I hope will not happen (computers are prone to errors in the same manner that us human beings are) then we will see everybody have these cars, but if not, how many of us will actually buy a car which is potentially very expensive just because it can drive itself?

        1. With regards to your question about the prevalence of hybrid and electric cars, at the moment figures for the US (where hybrids are fairly popular) would suggest that hybrid vehicles represent about 3.5% of total vehicle sales – that said, that does also include light commercial vehicles, so the actual proportion of hybrid vehicles that are sold to the wider public is probably slightly higher.

          That said, considering that hybrid drive cars have only been around for about 15 years, to be selling at a comparable rate to many conventional models today is still an achievement.
          Equally, in the European market, part of the reason for the relatively low take up of hybrid cars is the fact that conventional diesel powered cars have, until recently, had fairly lenient tax status – however, with the EU now imposing much stricter air pollution limits and withdrawing some of the favourable tax breaks on diesel cars given the proven link between diesel exhaust particulates and respiratory system cancers, that situation may change in the longer term.

          As for who might buy such a car, the clip that Keith has linked to highlights the fact that, whilst a conventional car might be OK for an able bodied person, a self driving car could offer considerable assistance to those who are disabled, elderly or in some other way unable to use a conventional car in the way they would like and would like such a car to give them increased autonomy and flexibility in their lives.

          To that segment of the population, the idea of a self driving car would be very attractive – if you start looking to the benefits for the wider population, the idea of a self driving car is potentially attractive to a fairly sizeable number of people.

          1. I personally really enjoy driving… but not in traffic. You don’t really get to feel the road, manage a turn with precision, and keep a car balanced as it flows from corner to corner; when you’re bumper to bumper.

            Self-driving cars appeal to me for my daily commute.

            So long I can still take my manual car out whenever I want to go for a drive.

        2. Also, let’s be honest, can you imagine telling people on low incomes who may spend as much as half of it on having a car that that they have to scrap their old car and spend large amounts of money on a new one? Furthermore, the government would not be allowed to impose a ban on driving manual cars. This is because essentially, they would be forcing you to spend money on a car (a sum which will be high for a while, as much as the producers wish to charge). Unless they were to subsidise them, I can’t see driverless cars becoming obligatory. Also, as long as there are people who have money to spend on both road cars and motor racing, they will both exist.

          1. I think it might happen for inner-cities in the future, but not for a very long time (read, decades).

            Autonomous vehicles don’t work particularly well in rural areas either. Our land producers will still need to manually control their vehicles.

            Also for all those who like to go 4WDing in the bush. A computer might be able to help maintain a steady decent, but it can’t make a snap decision to take another track because one is washed out. Or if it needed to, even drive across the wash out. Or tow someone out that’s stuck.

            So, you’re absolutely right.

    3. But car has basically completely replaced horse carriages, bicycle has completely replaced the older style bicycle which had huge front wheel. Steam has been replaced by petrol and eletric motors, cable driven systems have been replaced by hydraulics. Wooden tires have been replaced by rubber ones, drum brakes have been replaced by disks. And so forth…

      The thing about driverless cars is not that it allows you to buy a car which drives itself. It is about not having a driver’s license nor car and still being able to go anywhere by car.

    4. Well, computer versus human made chess more visible for some time, people still play chess and probably still have a human world championship, I really like the historic racing so at least that will remain and like horse racing may attract the general public long after computerised transport has replaced human driven transport. Now you have made me think about it the greatest benefit will be to the Taxi industry where your mobile phone will report your position and a single dispatcher will program 1 of dozens of cabs to pick you up and deliver you to your destination.

      1. @hohum I would think that on the one hand the renewed interest in racing as such – much like those hyped man vs machine chess matches – and off course not being allowed to drive your car on public roads should really bring back track racing as a desirable past time for many.
        Afterall, weren’t limits on racing on the roads the impulse to build tracks and race cars there the reason we have motorsports as we now know them in the first place?

        I agree that is for example city centres mandate computerized cars that will mean far less people will be able to afford having a car there and it will boost public transport and taxis.

    5. I do not think motor racing will die out for a long time. It may go into decline in 50 years or so when not many people drive any more and those of us who remember are dying out.

      Comparisons have been made with running and cycling. I think the real comparisons to be made are with horse racing. Not too long ago riding a horse was a mainstream form of transport. People would likely have had the same concerns about horse racing when the car started it’s rise, yet horse racing is as popular as ever, if not more so.

  2. We don’t need horses anymore to pull our carriage or ride them yet we do so as a hobby. We don’t need to hunt yet people do so as a hobby. If one day we don’t need to drive ourself on the road, we’ll not forget how to drive and abandon this hobby. I would not care for racing when there are no drivers involved in the car.

    1. @xtwl
      I was thinking the same, horse racing is still the 2nd most popular spectator sport in the UK (only football gets more fans through the turnstiles) and it’s been almost a century since the horse was a popular form of transport.
      Racing drivers all start their careers long before they can drive on the roads and I’d guess that most other F1 fanatics were, like me, hooked on the sport while they were small children and far too young to be able to drive anything bigger than a kart.

      Driverless cars may be the future but we’ve got a long way to go before they’re the most common vehicles on the roads, most drivers can’t afford a new car so will still need to learn how to drive for at least another 10-15 years.
      Even when they’re driving most people around I reckon there will still be plenty of gamers playing Gran Turismo 20, Forza 2030 and other racing games.

    2. I certainly hope you’re correct. But here in America, NASCAR is popular because the cars “resemble ” what you can drive yourself and the fantasy is “that could be me!”
      So people being able to identify with the sport directly really helps. Maybe F1 will have to promote itself through racing games? …”yes, it’s just like you fake drive at home!”
      BUT I seriously expect my grandchildren will live in a world 50 years from now where you have to get a special license to be allowed to drive your own car rather than letting the stupid computer Do it.

    3. to be completely honest, as a car guy and a race fan and former (hopefully future) parking lot cone killing champion (autocross) I would love to have a driver-less car for my daily commute as long as i can have a real car for when i want to cruise or have some fun. That’s 90 minutes a day of sitting in traffic that i could put to good use. It’s a difference between necessary transportation that i want to be as easy as possible and a fun hobby.

      1. @lancer033 I can’t read in cars so I’m not bothered. Plus I love to drive to work with the radio a touch to loud, in the sun, window open.

  3. Aqib (@aqibqadeer)
    3rd May 2015, 13:37

    cars might be getting driverless but there always be people who prefer driving cars and hence manufacturers will sell those cars i think the trouble might start when cars that are being driven become illegal

    1. @aqibqadeer Which probably won’t happen before riding a horse on the road becomes illegal, and riding a horse hasn’t despite being in the situation we expect human-driven cars to be once most cars are driverless.

      1. @davidnotcoulthard Riding a horse on the public road is illegal in Belgium except for those places specified for horses and if you have a license.

        1. OmarR-Pepper - Vettel 40 victories!!! (@)
          3rd May 2015, 16:13

          @xtwl I didn’t know (honestly) that having a horse needed a license. What about license plates? and airbags? :P

        2. @xtwl Wow! Didn’t know that :)

          1. @davidnotcoulthard, @omarr-pepper – I can’t imagine it being so different in other western countries.

          2. @xtwl I think one can just ride it in the US, or am I wrong? (I live way east so I’m not sure)

            Anyway, regarding the licence part….well one needs that for cars but that doesn’t in any way do anything to our perception of how legal it is to drive one, so neither should it to our perception of riding.

          3. @davidnotcoulthard Never been to the USA and horse riding, in some parts, is a much bigger part of your culture where it is a hobby here.

      2. Aqib (@aqibqadeer)
        3rd May 2015, 18:25

        @davidnotcoulthard thats probably because riding a horse on a street isnt that dangerous but driving cars on the road might be considered dangerous in the future when self-driving cars become the norm and get accident free which probably would be the case once all the software bugs are removed but i think governments would face a lot of pressure before passing a law like and some might not consider it altogether

        1. thats probably because riding a horse on a street isnt that dangerous but driving cars on the road might be considered dangerous in the future

          @aqibqadeer Hmmmmm…if riding an animal less intelligent than a human but with more free will than a machine is not considered dangerous, why would driving a car be?

          Unless both ends up being banned over safety reasons which may happen in the future….

          1. Because horses are alive and have a sense of self-preservation?

  4. Not only will they not render motorsport irrelevant, they also won’t render driving for pleasure irrelevant.

    The advent of horse domestication didn’t render running as a sport and pleasure redundant, the rise of the horseless carriage didn’t make horse racing redundant. More importantly cars didn’t mean horses couldn’t be used on public roads for pleasure regardless if the impracticality and safety issue of a horse trotting along a national speed limit carriageway.

    Even with driverless cars, we will still be able to drive normal cars for fun. Too many rich people own too many expensive cars for that to get banned.

    And we will still watch humans race cars against one another.

    1. In the near future we’ll see autonomous driving cars appear as an option, in the long run they’ll be mandatory. In cities and on highways there’s simply no argument for the continuous allowance of drivers apart from nostalgia, they will always be unsafe compared to well designed systems. They already are.

      The idea governments on the long run will allow for cars to be around on roads simply because people take pleasure in driving is in my opinion very optimistic. Automated cars will be safer, more economical and can make much more efficient use of infrastructure due to the incredible predictability of all of traffic – especially on highways, not to mention additional benefits like efficient parking away from city centers and more convenient car sharing. I love to drive, but 99,9% of journeys are completely utilitarian and the vast majority would welcome automated transportation.

      No idea how racing will fare with the disappearance of manual driving. It’s a concept easy enough to explain to anyone, which is why so many kids love it, and a skill that’s impressive to behold. As long as it’s competitive, dramatic and dangerous people will be drawn to it. I doubt you need the experience of driving through rush hour at 8 in the morning on a Monday to appreciate racing. :)

      1. The idea governments on the long run will allow for cars to be around on roads simply because people take pleasure in driving is in my opinion very optimistic.

        The idea that people exist to serve governments rather than governments existing to serve people is in my view very pessimistic. And wrong.

        1. I don’t see your logic, perhaps my phrasing was a bit unfortunate. Obviously this would not happen without public consent – but ‘fun’ isn’t an argument that’ll likely win from safety, economy, efficiency.

          If the technology turns out to work as well as currently expected, public opinion is likely to shift quickly. A reliable, cheaper, safe and more economical way of individual transportation that’ll allow you to read, watch or sleep while on the road makes sense for all involved except the few why feel the roads are meant for fun rather that utility.

          There’s no need for such cheap rhetoric.

        2. Don’t forget there are speed limits: people may hate getting speeding tickets, but more than half of the population think they are necessary for safety reasons.

          Driverless cars will be safer, consume less power and cause less accidents. If too many people cause deadly crashes, driving your car manually could become illegal very soon.

      2. Horses have never been banned from public carriageways and the only purpose for their being there is for pleasure.

        That present a hazard and inconvenience to motorists. But removing them from the road would require a massive change in laws, I would anticipate a similar situation for manually controlled cars.

        Insurance rates will likely be huge so much like horse riding it will likely become the last time of the upper and upper-middle classes.

  5. A very interesting concept. I think at least for now, even though these cars are just around the corner, it will be a long time before everyone wants one and has one, so we’ll still be driving for quite a time yet. I
    love driving so I can’t see myself ever getting a driverless car, and if more and more accident avoidance systems come into play that correct a driver’s mistakes, I can see driving being around for quite some time, with accidents rare.

    I also will assume that driverless cars will ‘doddle’ along and won’t be providing any kind of fun in terms of acceleration or fast cornering for example, like we enjoy with our cars today. So I think many people will never want one and certainly won’t relate to them as performance cars. I think we are perhaps at least 50 years away from driverless cars being so prevalent that drivers racing cars seems irrelevant, and even then, I think drivers doing the racing will still exist if nothing else to fulfill people’s need for speed and to see speed that they will never get with a driverless car.

    1. Don’t you think at a certain point it’ll be mandatory to have a self driving car, rather than optional? Certainly for the next few decades we’ll still have a steering wheel, but at a certain point economics and safety will simply lose out to the fun of driving.

      1. pxcmerc (@)
        3rd May 2015, 14:22

        if enough people keep buying smart phones and smart water, anything is possible. lolz.
        but no, considering how far countries like Russia and China have gone in their histories with their peoples,, driving being outlawed and banned is not far fetched.

        1. You don’t need to be an authoritarian state to ban certain types of behavior for the benefit and safety of society as a whole.

          There are plenty of vehicles not allowed on public roads, no reason why that couldn’t happen to driving, at least on certain roads.

          1. @bs Maybe but horses and carriages seem to still be allowed in most places…

            So is the Sinclair C5………..

          2. @davidnotcoulthard True, but the prime reason cars are as lethal as they are is because of what they hit – other people’s safety. A horse isn’t as fast – especially not on public roads – or as heavy as even a small car. Similar story for that Sinclair C5 contraption, which I doubt is allowed on many roads here in the Netherlands.

          3. You don’t need to be an authoritarian state to ban certain types of behavior for the benefit and safety of society as a whole.

            Well, yeah, actually you do.

          4. Yes you do.You just defined it.

          5. @rm and @russ

            So every country which has roads with speed limits is an authoritarian state?

      2. Personally I think we are a long way away if ever from driverless cars actually being mandated. Citing the parameters economics and safety…electric cars aren’t really economical yet in the sense that they are still expensive and needing subsidization by governments. So I see driverless cars also being a tough sell for a long while yet too, as few people will want them initially which will make them expensive too. From the safety aspect, it is just as likely to me that cars will have more computerization than ever to take over when it suspects an accident may need avoidance, well before driverless cars are needed and wanted in enough numbers to make them feasible.

  6. No. Because there’s absolutely no way everyone will be using driverless cars ever. It just won’t happen, it’s not in our nature to hand control to other things.

    1. Lol. Ever used an elevator?

      1. Yes. Ever driven one?

        That question is about as relevant as yours.

      2. We still have stairs.

    2. I agree with maxthecat, most people will not be interested in driverless cars – it is a crazy idea.

      1. Washing machine, dishwasher, food processor, air conditioning, telephones, computers, internet, toaster, electric stove, oven – these are all things that people use every day because it’s a lot easier than the old manual way of doing things.

        Driverless cars aren’t crazy. They’re real and they will be mainstream within ten years.

        1. But are those valid comparisons? Learning to drive does take effort, but after that initial process it’s fairly easy and not that taxing (considering the irritation of commuting will remain whether you’re the one driving or not).

          Whereas most of those items you mention are creature comforts that have no obvious, reasonable substitute.

          And while driverless cars may be more common in 10 years, I doubt they’ll be mainstream until later than that.

    3. I think the ‘game-changer’ in this discussion is not driverless cars but car ownership. Just look at all the space used up for car parks at railway stations, town centres etc. If a car can drive itself then why do you need to ‘own’ a car. Why not jut use your smart phone to order a ‘journey’ from A to B. If the waiting time is short enough and the price is cheap enough why bother with owning a car?

      1. +1

        Another question: if you buy a car you can’t drive, do you really own it, given all the software is the property of the company selling it to you?

    4. I’m pretty sure it will happen at some point.

      The roads are so congested already and it’s only getting worse. The only way to fix that is by making cars go faster and much closer together. Humans can’t cope with that, so driver less cars will take over someday.

  7. No, people who would buy a driverless car don’t watch motor racing anyway.

    1. Ah, but they could watch motor racing while being driven somewhere in their robot.

  8. No it won’t. People like watching other people doing amazing things because we can identify with them. The only people that will identify with driverless car racing are engineers. I don’t think they’re a big enough market to fill Bernie’s pockets.

    I wonder if any aspects of driverless cars came out of F1 developments? Anyone know?

    1. @danieljaksa, I doubt a direct F1 developed technology (except the old ones, traction control and anti-lock brakes) will transfer to the vehicles but I imagine all the sensors developed to report on performance will be useful for programming the computers .

  9. I would love a championship for driverless cars (I am a sucker for modern technology) and believe that such a championship could do a whole lot of good for the development of these systems, but I know that classic motor racing will continue to exist for a long time. Let’s be honest here, modern motorsport reflects very little on how cars are actually used these days, otherwise any tintop series would have four race drivers carpooling.

    1. With driverless cars, we could pursue much higher speeds than we do now. No need to reduce the downforce anymore for a drivers safety.

  10. No, human-driven motor racing will still exist but driverless cars will create opportunity for a whole new series of motor racing to come into play. A series where live size cars are either remotely contolled by star “drivers” or pre-programmed and released on track.

    1. ColdFly F1 (@)
      4th May 2015, 5:36

      Not sure how big a sport a driver-less race would be, @tata.

      We have not really seen computer chess tournaments taken off, have we?

  11. Running out of ideas Keith?

    1. It’s a legit question.

      1. It’s a complete non-sequitur. Every motor sport is irrelevant. Where is there a need in real life to drive to nowhere, delivering nothing as fast as possible 50 times in a row?

        The relevant part in motor-sports is the “motor”, some technology and the advances in that technology is what is shared between the real world and sport and that would not change.

        Driver-less technology will not affect racing in the slightest, except that it could create a new niche in racing for autonomous cars.

        1. It made me laugh. People are looking for common directions to go to. If they find one it`s completely relevant reason but they will substitute one us soon as it gets too energy consuming ( unproductive ) – alternative must have, of course.

    2. What the hell? It’s an extremely relevant topic to both motoring and motorsports, especially with F1 pretending it needs to stay relevant in relation to roadcars in order to keep manufacturers interested.

      1. @tata @bs Autonomous cars will make Formula 1 irrelevant the same way roller-blades made walking irrelevant.

        1. Motorsport, and specifically F1, has a fundamentally different premise to other speed sports. F1 cars, for most of their history, have been expected, without caveats, to be the fastest way to get around a grand prix circuit that technology will allow. Forget runners jumping into rollerskates or hitching a lift to the end of the track in a car. There is no machine that Michael Schumacher could have climbed into in 2004 that would have got him to the chequered flag in less time than the F2004.

          This ideal has been necessarily compromised in recent years with the increase in technical restrictions, variously justified by cost, safety and racing spectacle reasons. But because of the enormous confluence of personnel and parts that get an F1 car moving now, it’s still fair to say that in any one season, there is no existing vehicle that could outpace the current leading hardware on the F1 grid.

          That status will not necessarily survive the evolution of driverless cars. Already there are projects out there that are creating cars that try to solve the same problems drivers are there to solve. If in time they can get remotely near the abilities of a real driver (especially if allowed things like traction control and ABS) then the 100kg+ weight advantage that a computer can offer over a driver would surely be able to get what would otherwise be GP2-spec (hardware or even lower) to lap quicker than an F1 car with pilot riding on board.

          If your position is that driverless technology could never affect F1’s position in the sporting world, you’re wrong. If you think that F1 can survive that change and remain relevant then you have a perfectly legitimate answer to Keith’s question. But roller-blades have never threatened to do what walking does best, but better.

  12. Theres more danger of pilots becoming irrelevant due to drones rather than motor racing. I dont think, companies like ferrari or any sports car manufacturer would ever build a driverless cars cause that’d be against their ethos.

    1. @illusive Just as Ferrari would never build a hybrid as that’s against their ethos?

  13. Like others, I believe that the sport will continue even if driverless cars become ubiquitous in our lives. After all, I don’t own a car and take a driverless train to work most days, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the sport.

    I wonder if it opens up new opportunities for the sport, in fact. What about having an automated car, programmed to take the optimal lines complete the course, and then time trials to see who can come close (or even best) the driverless car? Vettel would probably kick behind in that. Or a completely open formula – with no driver safety to worry about, let the designers go crazy with motor and aero design and see what a completely unrestricted automobile could do.

  14. There will never be a truly driverless car for the simple reason that accidents will still happen and somebody has to have the insurance to cover the costs of such an accident, that will be the designated ‘driver’.

    Also the driver may have much less to do, perhaps only to get the necessary documentation together, but rather like the aircraft that could have its entire flight plan pre-programmed, the responsible person must be present, sober and probably awake in order to cover the occasional equipment failure.

    1. Insurance costs will go down by incredible amounts due to the increased safety of driverless cars. There is no reason insurance couldn’t work similarly to how it does now. The idea that human input is needed to justify insurance is archaic.

      1. It’s a matter of who is responsible for an accident when it happens. Then where do you look, the manufacturers – I doubt it, they wouldn’t sign what amounts to a blank cheque. It would be left to the law/lawyers, which means someone has to pay, that someone would probably still be called the driver even if their task has been watered down, therefore they need insurance against that eventuality.

        I’d like to think you’re right about the accident rate going down, it would take control from all those people for whom driving doesn’t come naturally.

        1. And all those drivers who think they are on a scenic cruise, thankfully.

      2. If it is true that insurance costs will drop dramatically with driverless cars, then you can count on the insurance industry either lobbying very strongly against driverless cars, or hiking home and life insurance hugely to make up for auto rates they would no longer be able to justify in a driverless car world.

    2. There are driverless cars waiting to be used in trials in several parts of the UK once the government finishes the review of relevant regulations this year.


  15. No, or at least, not for a long while. Technology is developing apace, and it is a common assumption that the next step is driverless cars, but automated racing drivers? Traction control and anti-lock brake systems are perhaps the best example of a computer outperforming the driving abilities of most (although in most cars a faster laptime would result from disabling these systems), but a system that can make in the millions of decisions a human driver makes over the course of a race remains many years away. And as long as neurons, synapses and plenty of respiration remains the best way of getting around a racetrack, motorsport remains relevant.

    Also, what remains an irreversible fact is that the human animal enjoys strapping itself to plenty of BHPs and going very quickly. Our urge for adrenaline will always see us put ourselves in the firing line, so surrendering cars, some of humanity’s most emotive and beloved creations, will take some encouragement. Asking whether motorsport will decline amid a technological revolution is to ask whether sport will decline, and since homo sapiens gets such a kick from competing, from chasing, from being chased, from racing; I doubt it. Aquaplaning at 150mph and being chased by a sabre-tooth tiger; it’s all the same…

    1. @countrygent I actually think it would be fascinating to see AI ‘learn’ how to drive on the limit.. in the same way Deep Blue finally beat Kasparov or how IBM Watson combined learning language and the internet (base of knowledge) to beat the best Jeopardy players.

      Some sort of visual feedback e.g. camera on the bonnet, or driver’s seat, and maybe a sensor for loads in the seat would be needed? with a CPU in the middle linking the two and agile connectors to the wheel and pedals…

      1. PS. If racing is replaced by driverless racing, there’s still sim-racing where we could compete or take them on. I just won a good online race yesterday in the best impression I could do of Vettel’s 2011 or 2013 seasons..

        1. E.g. One of Bottas’ karting rivals is now one of the best sim-racers in the world. That is a very high level of competition indeed!

  16. Interesting point. I think the motor racing as a sport will survive, simply because it’s one of the few sports where engineering and the human aspect are so intertwined. Mercedes and Renault could at some point decide that there’s no point in participating in F1 because no one really cares what they’re driving anyway. So the manufacturers will pull out, perhaps car performance related companies like Total will pull out, but I don’t think the big sponsors will abandon F1. So I guess if it ever comes to self-driving cars, F1 will have to take a few steps back, perhaps even switching to a single engine formula, but it really won’t disappear. I hope.

    1. I think the amount of championships will decline (we don’t need as many championships as we have now: F1 GP2, FR 3.5, GP3, FR 2.0, F3, F4, Indycar, WEC, BTCC, Super Formula, Formula E, Karting, Rally …) but I’m sure motor racing will still be a thing by 2100.

      I don’t have a driver license, but I love seeing people pushing a car to it’s limits. Motor racing is fantastic to Watch, even if you don’t know how to drive.

  17. Motorsports might take a hit – but less from driverless cars and more from the fact that people in urban areas will move away from the concept of cars for individual transportation, so the interest in cars will probably fade and hence the sport shrink. But it will probably never disappear.

  18. I really don’t know on that subject because a midfield team could go for a driverless car if it goes faster, makes near no mistake and is over regular. As a motor sport team principal I would go for the best choice to go from start to finish fast and safe, which could be a “robot”. As a fan I love watching motor sports just because every second, every corner, every sector, and every lap counts. I’m human, Iwant to see human races.

  19. OmarR-Pepper - Vettel 40 victories!!! (@)
    3rd May 2015, 16:19

    I guess a driverless car will always be more expensive, and not necessarily less dangerous, than a traditional car. What about a hacker figures out how to turn on your car remotely to steal it? Believe me, I would prefer not to give them that option.
    It would be totally fine if there were roads just for “smart” cars. The problem of mixing drone cars with “old” ones is that, want it or not, the accidents will still be originated by humans.
    And about the sport, the only thing that could happen in the future (and knowing how Bernie / moguls always are) is that FiA reserves 2 slots on the grid for “drone cars”, driven by oil kings, too fat, old or inexperienced to drive the real ones, and from the comfort of their living rooms!

  20. It won’t affect racing.

  21. Driverless cars will never be mandatory in our lifetime.

    The infrastructure and laws required to back up such an idea would be impossible to implement in the world as we know it. Roads, signage, signals and every single vehicle would need to be connected to one another, whereby each thing could work out the most efficient and least dangerous way of moving multiple vehicles from A to B.

    Imagine an animal running into the road near a blind corner. An autonomous car might take avoiding action better than a human could, but then put itself into a potentially more dangerous situation by being out of position for the corner. Without knowing what lies behind the corner and indeed on all the roads around it, I don’t believe autonomous vehicles will ever be safe enough to remove a driver from the situation completely.

    Every country in the world would require the same infrastructure and laws (which is the biggest giveaway that this won’t happen), to avoid human operated vehicles crossing into driverless countries etc etc.

    I don’t think future generations will ever have to worry about the effect autonomous vehicles might have on motorsport if this future did become reality.

    The cars in f1, and most, if not all categories of motorsport are technical masterpieces in their own right, but it’s the drivers who are standing on the podium at the end of the day. They’re the guys we root for, and will continue to root for.

    1. @sparkyamg, your scenario doesn’t take into account the computers advantage of being wirelessly connected to all nearby vehicles so they can all react in unison.

      1. Mark G (@)
        4th May 2015, 9:18

        Well actually that’s what I was trying to get at; if we are to go fully driverless then everything will need to be connected. Not just all vehicles, but roads, signals etc too.

        The autonomous vehicle is available now and can do some clever things, but the infrastructure to support every manufacturer, model, highway agency etc to ensure a safe enough environment to make such vehicles mandatory is such a long way off.

  22. Paul Rodríguez
    3rd May 2015, 18:12

    I actually like the idea of car manufacturers walking away from the sport altogether, so f1 would become again -a bit like horse racing nowadays- smaller, leaner, more Garagist. So maybe it’s not so bad, no 50 million fee for hosting a race, cheaper tickets, no run-off areas the size of football fields, v12s, long lasting tires…

  23. I don’t think the sport will become irrelevant as it answers to different needs. At the roots of the sport lies the competition, and while we could very well see a race of driverless cars sooner than later, there is still the competition between men which is as old as humanity.

    On the other side, driverless cars brings potential safety, speed and organisation. I think we are still far away from that, but things are moving in that direction. I’d be really interested in having my city traffic computer-organized as it can not be worse than now, but I still would want to watch some great F1 action.

  24. It’s just like ‘The Knowledge’, which London’s black cab drivers have to complete (even though GPS technology made remembering all the streets and highlights in London obsolete). It’s a celebration of human life, a celebration of our capabilities, and a proof that we are actually better than a computer at this, or at least just as good.

  25. I don’t know, but F1 already has trouble keeping itself relevant to anything like a wider public as it is.

  26. It is a lot of data the computer would have to process to drive at the limit, such as how much grip is in the tires, braking zones (how they vary or if they they vary at all during the race due to increased fuel load, tire degradation etc) adjusting brake balance and spatial awareness and also correcting mistakes in a split second. Not to mention throwing in variable weather conditions. Also the driver inputs on the throttle and brake pedals is not very simple (just looking at telemetry data shows that). So I don’t think robots will be replacing racing drivers anytime soon, highway driving is a lot simpler to accomplish as there are less variables involved (with respect to drive-ability).

    I think that racing will be in no danger due to automated cars, as there are some out there who seek thrills and enjoy the pumping adrenaline that is associated with it. Even stopping the manufacture of the standard car, which would obviously make acquiring them much more difficult for the enthusiast, would not stop some people from driving cars themselves. As long as that remains, racing will not die.

  27. How about unmanned F1 cars? where there’s no driver in the car but is controlling it from the pits or something. with onboard cameras and VR, could it see the light of day?

  28. As the example of chariots perfectly explains, things are meant to come to an end, sooner or later. I like to think of myself as the character Will Smith plays in I, Robot, where everyone will use technology for everything and I still will like to do some things “the old way”. Actually, maybe the “vintage” effect will make motor racing interesting again after a period of decline. Not relevant, but interesting. The fact it is a sport will certainly help it hang on a little longer, but one day we will be talking about this event using the past tense.

  29. There are robotic championships already. Soccer for instance. Why not have races for driverless cars?

    Would make it a lot easier it there wasn’t a WDC and WCC mixed up together, but just a WCC :)

  30. 1thing I think we might end up seeing before driver less cars is unmanned pit stops and maybe even your typical ‘box’

    1. Pitstops are already redundant, they can make tyres to last the full race and fully fuel the car, it’s a human part of the competition that will stay as long as they mandate tyre changes.

  31. We already live somewhat vicariously through our top series race car drivers anyway. That will likely continue.
    Maybe the next racing series will be full scale Formula RC cars…

  32. I don’t know about “relevant”, but driverless cars just might make motorsport more popular than it’s ever been.

    Right now, a lot of people use their road cars for “driving for pleasure”. To one degree or another, this involves appreciating the power and/or cornering performance of the vehicle under their control – in other words, some of the basic principles of motorsport. With the exception of death-defying street racer types, though, this isn’t taken to a level on the open roads where the challenges really start to overlap with those faced in motorsport.

    In a world where owning a “manually-driven” road-going car is an inconvenience, much more expensive and maybe even illegal, the allure of these same kinds of thrills in the world of closed-circuit motorsport could attract never-before-seen numbers to kart circuits and track day centres. This in turn could substantially inflate interest in the achievements of professional competitive racing drivers – ultimately creating a new golden generation of motorsport fans.

    I’m not sure if it’ll remotely come to pass, but when it comes to game-changing technological innovation, history teaches us to expect the unexpected.

  33. Really there’s no point asking this question because there’s no way self driving cars will become a major part of people’s life’s anytime soon.

    First of all, not everyone lives in a first world country. Horses, bikes, motorcycles and normal cars will continue to be the main method of transport for 99% of the world population for many centuries to come.
    Yes these cars will exist but in a very limited way, not the way we see them in the movies. There’s so many variables, so many different driving conditions, unexpected events, etc that only in certain roads and areas you would be able to use them and you still need someone in the driving seat just in case.

    Also it doesn’t take much to create distrust in people’s minds, if this technology fails and the early versions are plagued with bugs (just like anything new these days) and god forbid someone gets injured sales will drop and there will be long delays in their development. So yeah, motorsport is safe for now.

  34. As long as there are people with money who want to see some of the most talented drivers in the world, racing in cars designed by some of the best engineers in the world, Formula 1 will always exist.

  35. Sorry for double-posting, but on another level about driverless cars:
    If you are involved in a car accident, at least you can say “yes it was my fault” or at least there is someone responsible. However let’s say that, god forbid, there was a large accident on a motorway including 10 people, seriously injured or worse, how are people going to be able to not think, “I have no control over my vehicle, that could just as easily have been me.”
    Also, there are so many unanswered questions:
    – What happens to the hundreds of millions of cars in the world that would become illegal to drive?
    – Who is at fault in a collision? Harder to hand out compensation and so on…

  36. GB (@bgp001ruled)
    4th May 2015, 0:53

    if by having no driver in there the cars will be allowed to drive way faster (and i mean waaay faster) since safety wouldnt be a concern, I am totally for driveless F1! in the end, it is not about a driver (I hate that notion, and yes, I dont support or follow a driver, but the team!!!!) it is about speed! and since the only way was through someone driving, having a driver was the only way! but if the tecnology comes where a driver is not needed (at least not inside the car), that would be amazing!!! imagine cars with mivable parts, wings and winglets everywhere, impossible lap-times, and everything safe since there is no driver inside!!!!).

    1. If that is what you want, why is there not another sport like that already???

  37. Somebody better inform the organisers of Cheltenham, the Grand National and the Kentucky Derby irrelevant.

    I consider the skill, speed and reflexes needed to pilot an F1 car successfully to be so far removed from what an everyday road user experiences that it is of no moment whether cars become automated in the future. There will always be people attracted to the thrill and feel of racing cars, not just driving them.

    1. Oops meant to say “that they’re irrelevant”!

    2. could not agree more :)

  38. They’ve been able to make commercial planes pilotless for 20 years. They haven’t. Drones are not pilotless, just not one on board. We won’t have driverless cars. We can, but humans still like control.

  39. the point about driverless cars is that one rents one on a need basis, there is no need to own one. Big unit for family journey, small unit for one person journey. Insurance becomes the responsibility of the fleet owner. Driving becomes a recreational skill, one is not allowed to race on the public road.

  40. Just to add. to that, what is the point of owning a car that you dont, or cant, drive? Driving is linked to ownership.

  41. Interesting question. The hugely popular Kentucky Derby was yesterday. Who rides horses anymore?

  42. In New Zealand, where I live, we used to have a Give Way rule for turning into a side road that differed from the rest of the left hand side driving world. When Parliament asked for submissions on changing this rule to bring it into line with the rest of the left hand side of the road world, one of the reasons I said we needed to change was exactly this subject: robotic cars / self driving cars.
    One important difference between a robotic vehicle and a human driven one is the human has a much bigger appreciation of what the reason for driving is and what the environment around the car is like. Often in F1 (and in fact motor racing in general) we see a driver have some serious problem and decided to pull off the track in some safe place, or make a judgement call that they can make it back to the pits for a repair, or weave through a field of debris and not get any damage. This is where humans have a big advantage over machines, because you it would be difficult to program a computer for every accident scenario.

  43. ColdFly F1 (@)
    4th May 2015, 5:55

    Quite the opposite – driver-less cars might make motor racing even bigger.

    The move to driver-less cars will have as a positive side effect that motor racing will be purer. Motor-racing does no longer need to show off driver aids developed by the car industry, as there is no driver to ‘aid’.
    Therefore, motor racing can once again move to become a pure sport based on driver skills and talents.

  44. Driven cars might just disappear faster than people expect. One of the big problems with them is the insurance costs for new drivers. Since driverless cars will be the cause of very few of those accidents, expect their insurance rates to be lower. Because driverless cars will exhibit the same accident rates whatever the age of the occupants, the rates for young people will be much more affordable. Young people will save money, even if the cars cost more, and so the take-up will be much higher.

    So the question becomes “Will motor racing still appeal to people who have never seen a car with a steering wheel and pedals?”. I doubt there will be any appeal for manufacturers to have their cars crashing every weekend while they are trying to sell the reliability of their vehicles!

  45. I don’t think it will make motorsport irrelevant – millions of people watch it for entertainment. Apparently, some people enjoy watching rugby, and would never dream of playing ;-)!

    I am in favour of driverless cars (if implemented safely). Let’s be honest … driving standards these days are terrible. It’s a Bank Holiday weekend in the UK … most people are driving in a very … “carefree” way :-| The majority of drivers are in a “bubble”, putting very little thought into their driving. The sooner these people are controlled by computer … the better. Let them watch BGT, X-Factor, send texts and update their Facebook etc …. while a computer drives them safely :-)

    Go Google! ;-)

  46. It seems not many have thought much about what I think of as the most important bit of Keith’s article.

    Which manufacturers will still think F1 is a relevant advertising platform for their businesses?

    I believe that driverless technologies will change F1, if only by making it less affordable and relevant than before.

    Some, like Ferrari, whose business relies solely on selling exciting cars where a person driving is the whole point, will not exit for a long time. Also high end sports car business will not be greatly affected by driverless technologies (even if they will implement them as optional features).

    Others, like Mercedes or Honda, are a different matter. To them, F1 is relevant for a combination of reasons. These might change with any new technological leap (full electric or driverless cars could be the next leaps). It’s possible that we’ll get a breakthrough in battery/storage technologies in the next few years, which could make Formula E suddenly much more relevant to selling road cars (I’m looking forward to next season there).

    We’re living in transitional times, where a lot of our old values/assumptions are questioned or turned upside down. It’s exciting to watch, but must be somewhat scary to be involved in. Some will adapt better than others. Motor racing will be around, but I see F1 could struggle to find its identity in the near future.

  47. Rohan (@neobrainless)
    4th May 2015, 10:38

    I’ve thought quite a lot about this and come to the conclusion that track days might become mighty popular! I would LOVE a self driving car for 90% of the time, and would probably be more than happy to use one to get me to a circuit for some actual driving… Which would suggest it becoming a hobby, like mountain biking is for me, and so I think some form of racing is quite likely to still happen – maybe on much tighter budgets with different brands, though. More like Atom F1 using it to shout about their track ready beasts?

  48. Microsoft word added auto spell check, but that didn’t eliminate the spelling bee.

    I seriously doubt any human skill, especially one as compelling as controlling the fastest car in the world, will ever be replaced by machines doing the exact same thing. It just doesn’t hold the charm without the human element.

  49. I think this is not so much an issue of legality, but of interest. Here in the US there is a lot of debate at present on whether American football will be around some years down the road. The issue is that with the prevalence of concussions, these days very few parents sign the waivers allowing their children to play the game. Instead, the children are playing soccer in droves and so its reasonable to assume they will grow up more likely to follow soccer than football. Nobody is about to make football illegal, but it might just have a much lower profile in time. In the case of motor sports, I think we actually have two additional long term challenges to consider in addition to self-driving cars. One is that in large urban areas, traffic has sapped any enjoyment from driving. I used to own an E Type Jag, but I sold it because I couldn’t drive it enjoyably without heading out of town for two hours first. For those of us in major urban areas, the lack of fun in driving turns cars into mere appliances for getting from A to B. Second, the mechanical evolution of cars makes them far less prone to be tinkered with by their owners. An interest in motor sports is easy to develop if you spent your teenage years taking apart engines. I did that, and used to keep my parents’ mechanically simple vehicles tuned. But the cars I own now are far too complicated for my kids (or me) to really do much of anything with.

  50. This is such a stupid argument !!

  51. The hackers will save the art of driving one’s own vehicle. Bet on it. Any network capable of managing a large amount of autonomous vehicles can and will be hacked, at times with murderous intent. Making a grid like this is begging for another 9/11 every day.

  52. It’ll be like watching a giant Scalextric…
    Unless you’re the one with the contoller, iit’ll be utterly boring!!!

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