x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Equal weight is equal chance at single-manufacturer races

Pole Position: Equality on the track can only be achieved by equals cars, and Barry Hope prefers to let the drivers win the races.

Motor racing is a bit of a black art, a sort of mystery that can completely baffle the casual onlooker. For example, a driver may be told to go slow in order to go fast. By going a bit slower into a corner the driver will be able to maintain better control of the car, hit the apex and stay on the racing line. In simple terms, overdriving ruins lap times. Inexperienced drivers almost always drive too fast into corners.

The public are used to reading road tests about sports cars that emphasise engine size and horsepower yet rarely talk about weight. Thus a car's performance is perceived to be based on its engine size.

Of course spectators love to hear big powerful V8 engines and see drivers on the ragged edge trying to keep control.

But in multi-manufacturer race series we typically get a bit of a procession whereby the more powerful cars are at the front and the less powerful cars are at the back. This predictability is not good for anyone. Classifying cars into separate classes by engine power and car weight helps but is an imperfect system that is difficult to police.

So when it comes to trying to assess who is the most skilled driver, the single-manufacturer series is crucial. All drivers have the same chassis, tyres and engine so the biggest variable by far is driver skill. Engine size and power becomes irrelevant. This is where serious driver evaluations can take place. Karting, Formula BMW, Formula Gulf 1000, Formula Renault, GP3, F2 and GP2 are all race series where the drivers use identical equipment. Even F3, a multi-manufacturer series demands 2-litre four-cylinder spec engines with a 26mm restrictor to ensure identical power.

Ironically, the most successful drivers in these one-make series will progress to-F1 on their ability to win but their destiny is then shaped almost entirely by engineers, a prototype race car and budget limitations rather than their driving prowess. Many of these drivers will never win a race again.

When racing in a one-make championship, all drivers have the same power and all use full throttle down the straights. At this stage engine size has no significance at all. The difference between winning and losing is what they do on the brakes and through the corners.

We ran a four-day test session for Formula Gulf 1000 drivers on the Yas Marina's Southern Circuit, which is nearly 2.4 kms long and has 12 corners. The drivers use full throttle for only 61 per cent of the lap. The other 39 per cent is where we see the differences between the drivers.

So when a young driver decides not to race in a single-seater series because he doesn't want to drive a car with a smaller engine than the one he's used to (which weighs three times that of the single seater) we really do have a problem of understanding.

Especially as F1 will soon use a 1,600cc spec engine.

Barry Hope is a director of GulfSport Racing, which is hoping to produce the first Arab F1 driver through the FG1000 race series. Join the UAE racing community online at www.singleseaterblog.com