Formula One has always been regarded as the pinnacle of Motorsport and rightly so, in the past 65 years that the sport has been alive and kicking, it has shown the world just that these constructors and engineers could do with some (plenty) know-how, a parts bin and time to tinker around. And just look at what they could accomplish.
Honda for example pioneered the way forward in the dark art of building Formula-grade engines and showcased it for the world.
Take for instance when the engine supplier returned to Formula One in 1983 to power formidable teams such as Lotus and McLaren, who eventually went on to becoming very successful constructors in their own right.
Those were also the days when Honda used to churn out massive fire breathing monsters made from space-grade materials that were so highly strung, it needed a school of top engineers just for it to wake up in the morning. The tolerances were so astronomically thin that when an engine was cold, its pistons are effectively seized solid onto the walls of the cylinders, and the only way to bring them to life was to circulate warm water and oil through its innards.
Not only that but these damn things so were highly technical, it requires over a thousand different surgically-machined parts and components that is needed to bring it to life and even then, the margin of error is so razor thin, that there is almost virtually no room for error. Failing that however, all we’d see is a cloud of smoke on lap 5.
Small wonder than, these relatively small displacement engines lined-up in configurations ranging from V6’s all the way up to massive V12’s were the flavor of choice for engineers back in the day and just as you thought it couldn’t possibly get any better, a couple of the best quality turbochargers built by man with no mind to cost, were strapped to either side of the banks.
And the end result was a wail that was so damn distinctive it couldn’t possibly be mistaken for anything else but. The Banshee also churned out the power to match the horrific noise. Even though it was a very well-kept secret, it’s no surprise that they would spit out excesses of a thousand horses and countless more torque to suit.
Such was the sheer excitement that drove swarms of ardent fans decked out to the nines in support for their teams and colours like a perverse Halloween party. Not only that but back in the day, the racing was anything short of heroic with drivers such as James Hunt and Nikki Lauda in the 1976 season, who showed the world the true meaning of the word – Racing.
But don’t take my word for it, Ron Howard did a better job than I ever could in bringing that epic rivalry to life. In the nineties though, Michael Schumacher was a haloed name in the sport that was undefeated for years (which still stands) and even at his stature, someone always came around to prove that fact dead wrong, and as memory serves, the most notable of them was but a soft-spoken, humble Finn by the name of Mika Hakkinen.
This writer could drone on and on till the cows comes home but in the interest of getting to the point, there’s an interesting question that needs to be asked – what the f**k happened?
In a word, downsizing.
It’s a trend that seems to have choked the automotive industry into submission because of some air quality issue, whatever. What this translates into in terms of declining viewership is that the cars just aren’t as ferocious as they used to be, couple that with insane FIA regulations that seemed to have cropped out from literally thin air, have taken the fun out of the sport. Yes some might argue that Formula One has shifted from being constructor-oriented to focusing more and more on the drivers and their capability to outdo a field of cars.
Yes, the focus shift still leaves engineers with the job of figuring out the next step forward but because of the trend, these cars just aren’t what they used to be. End is the era that these cars could do blistering times around Silverstone and echo those glorious notes of the symphony of fire and fuel in its wake.
Gone too are the beating hearts of steel that spat out excesses of horse power to the tune of four figures. These days, you would find that the sport has shifted the focus over to mild-hybrid KERS systems and small displacement V6 lumps which are no bigger than the mill found in that of an Audi A4, as opposed to the 3.5-litre V10's of yesteryear that sent chills down your spine every time it went past the grandstand.
Don’t get me wrong, the cars that line the grid today are no less fearsome as the brute that their predecessors once were but having witnessed both eras, it’s hard to see where the appeal is anymore with muffled and restraint cars. It certainly takes away from the immense entertainment value its fans and spectators crave so dearly for.
Speaking of appeal, in certain Grand Prix stops on the calender, there has been such a declining number of spectators that event organizers are hard pressed to find good excuses to keep the sport on the calendar. Take for example, the Malaysian GP at Sepang. Event planners have lamented for the last few years on the staggering costs of bringing the contingent there as opposed to the revenue that’s generated in return. The numbers simply don’t add up.
There are plans that are spoken of in hush whispers by smartly dressed men in suits about canning the sports pit stop there for the time being or until event organizers can find a way to make it more viable for organizers and spectators alike.
But let me remind you, that it was the sheer merit of the cars exceptional, almost other-worldly performance and characteristics coupled up with the utter heroism of the men that dared to pilot and push these machines to the ragged edge that made the sport what it is. No mere mortal could just put on a pair of gloves and racing overalls and decide to make it big out there. It just doesn’t work that way.
We as ardent fans of the sport would be hard pressed to see the pinnacle of motor sport go the way of the dodo and into the pages of history.