What will Formula 1 look like in 30 years?
A lot has changed in F1 in the past 30 years, how about the next?
Formula 1 faces a crisis. We live in a world of change and activism, and arguably Formula 1 has struggled to keep up. Current day issues are shaping how we perceive the sport such as the rise in electric mobility threatening the gas guzzling engines that fuel the sport aswell as safety standards taking away the thrill of danger. On top of this, it has become blindingly obvious that money decides success in Formula 1 resulting in a sport that is predictable and lacks competition. The lack of diversity in Formula 1 has also come under great scrutiny with Lewis Hamilton leading the charge in minority representation, aswell as the W-Series allowing talented female drivers to be noticed by the wider motorsport world. It is crucial that these issues are tackled head-on in order for Formula 1 to survive and pave the way for a more sustainable future. I have broken down these issues into five factors that will most likely play a key role in the sport heading forward. These are environmental awareness, standardisation of parts, financial influence, change in demographics and privately owned teams.
Climate change is arguably the biggest issue to face the human race today, it is affecting industries and livelihoods all over the world and will continue to do so over the coming decades and centuries. The world is moving towards a more environmentally conscious one in the hope of reversing the damage that has been done to our planet, and it’s time for Formula 1 to follow the same path. In 2014, Formula 1 introduced turbo-hybrid engines in a bid to be more environmentally aware however in that same year a new all-electric single seater racing series began, called Formula E.
The idea of an all-electric single seater racing series was conceived by Jean Todt in 2011 in a restaurant in Paris. The man he was with that night was Alejandro Agag, the man behind Formula E. Although its viewing figures are dwarfed by Formula 1, its growth has been incredible; in just 6 years the sport has accumulated 411 million viewers with 24% growth year on year since 2014. There is no denying that electric motorsport is the future, and this is where F1 finds itself in a sticky situation. According to then CEO of Formula E Alejandro Agag, Formula E has an agreement with the FIA to be the only all-electric single seater racing series for 25 seasons, meaning Formula 1 legally cannot go electric until 2039 unless they ask for permission by the FIA. This is an interesting topic because as countries begin to ban petrol powered vehicles, we could see F1 struggle to host races in certain locations.
Going electric brings benefits that stretch far beyond simply improving their image, electric Formula 1 cars would be considerably cheaper to build and develop. The total cost of a hybrid-era Formula 1 car is approximately £12,000,000 whereas a Formula E car will set you back no more than £750,000. Aswell as this, Formula 1 has had the reputation as being the pioneer for road car technology, however this title may begin to fall to Formula E as more road cars become electric.
Standardisation of parts:
As I mentioned earlier, one of Formula 1’s biggest issues is the predictability and lack of competition. In order to tackle this issue, there needs to be a more level playing field rather than have some teams dominate purely because they have more money for research and development. The best route to take for this is to standardise the parts that are expensive to build and research. We have seen that a standardisation of certain parts in other races series have allowed for closer racing and less predictability, such as Formula E for example that sees a different race winner almost every race. On top of this, it shows which drivers are the best in the field, hence why Formula 2 and Formula 3 follow this philosophy aswell.
When referring to which parts are best to standardise, Formula 2 goes to the extreme with the entire cars being designed and built by Dallara. This allows drivers to be on a complete level playing field to allow the standout drivers to be promoted to Formula 1. Formula E however is somewhere in the middle with the front aero, suspension and chassis all the same but allowing for manipulations to the drivetrain and software. This is why it’s wrong to refer to Formula E as a spec series. Regarding Formula 1 and its current state it makes most sense to standardise the engines due to the fact that these are the main reason we have seen such dominance by Mercedes in the past few years. I believe the best route for Formula 1 is to experiment standardising different parts of the cars – brake systems, suspension, aerodynamics, engine – in order to work out which allows for closer racing without losing the ability for technical innovation. In the end, the words Formula 1 are synonymous with innovation however we must remember it is also a spectacle with millions watching. It’s vital to put on a good show.
I have already briefly touched on this point regarding the standardisation of parts and the concept of going electric. We have already seen that from next year (2021) there will be a budget cap for the first time in history of £145 million to bring about closer competition and allow money to no longer decide success. Although this budget cap may take years to actually filter through until we see any major changes, it is a step in the right direction towards a more entertaining sport. And for some of the smaller teams it could not have come at a better time in the wake of COVID-19. For a team such as Haas F1, it most likely saved them from leaving the sport. Whereas for a team like Mercedes, it forces them to be much more resourceful and efficient, extracting every piece of performance from every penny they have. This works in the favour of teams like Haas simply due to the fact that they are already extremely resourceful regarding the use of their budget.
One interesting topic which I believe will carry on into the next few years of the sport is how ‘sister’ or ‘daughter’ teams will begin to follow the strategy of Racing Point by modeling their car off the title-winning Mercedes from a previous season. It provides a cost effective and legal way to bring performance to the car and although it undermines the philosophy of technical competition, it accentuates the sporting competition on track which in the end is what we pay to see. Therefore, heading into the next few years and decades of the sport, we may start to see strategies that involve customer parts and borrowing of design philosophies to keep up with the big teams in performance but also on the balance sheets.
As I mentioned earlier, Haas F1 have been able to achieve reasonable success due to their rigorous efficiency and resourcefulness but it is also their financial model that has allowed them to keep afloat, and I believe – unless regulated against by the FIA – that it will become the norm. This financial model I am referring to is focused on customer parts, such as the chassis, which is designed by Dallara. This design philosophy allows Haas to spend a fraction of what other teams spend, one fifth to be exact; Haas F1 spend £30,000,000 a year on average designing their car. Whether other teams follow this new and unique design philosophy is dependant on how many new small private teams join the sport in the future, as I will go into further.
Change in demographics:
Although COVID-19 has taken pretty much every headline this year in Formula 1 and beyond, the topic of diversity within Formula 1 has become a major talking point. Following the killing of George Floyd in May, the world responded with passion regarding racial discrimination and it has filtered through into Formula 1 thanks to Lewis Hamilton and his support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Formula 1 responded to this with the #WeRaceAsOne scheme to improve diversity within Formula 1 and increase the number of mixed-race individuals working in the sport. Although it is great to see Formula 1 supporting the movement, it is also frankly not enough in the pursuit of equality and equal representation within the sport. In the coming years, I am expecting Formula 1 and the FIA to tackle the grass roots of Formula 1 and allow for a degree of positive discrimination when helping younger minority drivers to compete professionally. In 70 years of Formula 1, only one black driver has competed in a race and that’s Lewis Hamilton, if there is any indication that F1 lacks diversity, this is one.
We have also seen a considerable push recently for representation of different sexes in motorsport, most notably with the creation of the first all-female racing series; W-Series. This racing series allows up and coming female drivers to compete on a global stage and get the recognition that they deserve. Therefore, it is a given that we will see a degree of positive discrimination in Formula 1 in the future to promote new and exciting female racing talent, and it’s about time seeing as the last woman to race in Formula 1 was Lella Lombardi in 1976.
One new and exciting form of positive discrimination within racing is being demonstrated by the new all-electric rally series called Extreme E, per team that competes in Extreme E there are two teammates much like in Formula 1 however what is unique is that one driver must be male and one driver must be female. This is fascinating as it is a brand-new outlook on women competing in motorsport. This push for equality has only just begun and it will most likely become a major talking point heading into a new era of Formula 1. After all, the proof will be in the pudding as to how much the lack of diversity in the sport will change.
Privately owned teams:
This is not so much a prediction but more a discussion. As money begins to play an ever-increasing role in Formula 1, smaller teams will struggle to stay afloat as big budget teams such as Mercedes and Ferrari swamp all competition (this is correct for at least Mercedes). We have seen this take place already this season with the Williams F1 team having to sell the team off to Dorilton Capital in the hope of saving the company. This is a clear indication that trying to start and succeed as a small, privately owned team simply isn’t possible, and without the new Concorde Agreement that all teams recently signed, I highly doubt Haas F1 would have stayed in the sport either.
As I have said already in this article, it is expected that the correlation between money and success in F1 will be reduced. Therefore, it is likely that we will see new and exciting small teams entering the sport in the coming years. Even for 2022 we are seeing an interest from a new team called Panthera F1 team who are interested by the new technical regulations aswell as the budget cap. However, the only drawback for small teams in the next few years will be the new rule agreed in the Concorde Agreement that states any new team will have to pay a lump sum of £200 million in order to enter the sport. F1 hopefuls Panthera F1 team have voiced their concerns regarding this lump sum, saying it may be a make or break decision from the FIA. Sadly, I think this could be true for many new teams wanting to join but we will need to wait and see what the outcome is.
In general, I feel Formula 1 has been caught in the headlights somewhat regarding their environmental awareness and lack of diversity in an increasingly aware society. Although I cannot predict the future, it is fair to say that if Formula 1 wants to survive it will need to make some changes in order to keep up with an ever-changing world. Currently, it is going in the right direction with the We Race as One scheme and W-Series pushing for more diversity and representation for all groups within the sport aswell as the 2021 budget cap allowing for more fair racing and closer competition due to less reliance on financial backing for the teams. The one area however where I feel Formula 1 will begin to struggle in is the push for electric racing simply due to the fact that Formula E have built a very strong brand and identity and I highly doubt they would want to give all that away to F1, nonetheless I doubt Formula 1 will simply die as a sport. For the next 19 years, F1 may have to either select races where countries allow combustion engines or receive some sort of exception for commercial purposes. After all, the future never works out the way you think it will, so its best to just wait and see…