Formula One launches new ‘green’ range of cars which may alienate fans

March 21, 2014
Ferrari drivers Fernando Alonso, left, and Kimi Raikkonen pose near the new Ferrari F14 T Formula One car.

Ferrari drivers Fernando Alonso, left, and Kimi Raikkonen pose near the new Ferrari F14 T Formula One car. Source: AP

FORMULA One drives into the unknown tomorrow, launching a phalanx of cars that risk alienating and bewildering millions of fans around the world.

The startling machines resemble anteaters or dolphins, depending on your view of the weird sloping noses on the new cars fit for the 2015 season.

Lotus has designed two proboscis on their even stranger E22 – two noses for the price of one as engineers battle to overcome strict new regulations designed to take F1 into a green future.

The fear is that it will turn out to be a technical jungle that baffles fans and underwhelms the generations used to listening to the scream of high-power engines.

Instead of thunderous V8 engines that shatter eardrums, this season cars will have tiny 1.6-litre V6 engines equipped with turbochargers and linked to complex battery systems to provide electrical power.

Worse still, it is all so very expensive for a sport that has spent the past few months bleating about how hard up it is. With seven of the 11 teams up against the financial wall, engine costs are trebling to about 20 million pounds a year, while the three big engine manufacturers – Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault – are said to have spent about 100 million pounds each developing the new technology.

It is an expensive leap into the technological dark for F1 and Bernie Ecclestone, the sport’s chief executive, who has spent half a century in F1, has voiced his fears that the engines will be too quiet and the sport too complicated for fans.

Broadcasters, including the BBC and Sky Sports, have met F1 executives to draw up new graphics that they hope will explain to fans how the new technology will shape the nature of racing, which will be geared to fuel economy and the use of the green power.

Commentators and pundits know that they are in for as great a test as any, bigger even than the recent challenge of explaining F1‘s arcane tyre strategies.

Jenson Button has been testing the system on McLaren’s simulator and warns that television viewers are about to see a very different form of F1 than the power blast that has always claimed to be the apex of world motor racing.

“The viewers need to know what is going on and I hope it can be explained to them, otherwise they are going to be confused,” Button said.

“The viewers will need to be informed accurately and correctly. For the drivers, it is a massively different feel and it is complicated for us all.”

The Jerez circuit tucked away in the south of Spain will provide the first view of the new cars in action tomorrow morning when pre-season tests get underway.

No one knows what to expect, with many believing that the engine manufacturer that finds reliability and fuel economy from the start will be in pole position for success.

Teams will also have to find ways of packaging the heavier and more complex power units. The new cars, with their press-to-go power boost systems – offering an extra 160 horsepower for about 30 seconds a lap – and need for drivers to charge their batteries, could also play into the hands of the smarter pilots who can grasp the complexities of energy recovery and how to deploy it.

The technicians will be in demand as they guide their machines through the strategy of races, not least to ensure there is enough fuel to finish because cars will be carrying 30 per cent less petrol than last season.

This new engine formula has been the most hotly disputed rule change in F1 in generations and even teams such as Ferrari doubt whether it is what fans want to see. Ecclestone is also keeping up his hostile reception to a change that is forcing F1, a profligate sport that burns more than its share of fossil fuels, to confront the same realities of drivers on the roads, just at a greater speed.

What Formula One does not know yet is whether the technology will work – or whether the fans even want it.

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