x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Pole Position: Motor racing needs more mistakes

Carbon brake discs, KERS and now automatic gearboxes all mean fewer driver errors, but what racing needs a reduction of is the influence of automation.

Driver aids. No, I'm not talking about a disease. One of the most common aids used by drivers on our roads is the automatic gearbox. This cunning piece of engineering means that we now have a whole generation of drivers that have never learnt to operate a car with a clutch pedal and a manual gearbox. In turn, their driver's licence forbids them from doing so.

This is fine for everyday driving on public roads at a sensible pace, but what happens if they are invited to drive a performance car on one of our local racetracks? They will be limited to an automatic or one fitted with paddle shift. But even that can be a problem if they have never taken an interest in when, or which way, to change gear.

Fortunately, the use of the paddles behind the steering wheel is typically optional - if you ignore them, the gearbox will ignore you - and change gear when it wants to.

But what about real racing cars? Spectators argue that driver aids are having a negative effect on the quality of racing. After all, if we lose spectators, we will lose sponsors, and if there are no sponsors, there will be no drivers. Is it really that important?

Well, spectators normally pay to watch exciting and close racing; drivers making mistakes and lots of overtaking going on.

In Formula One, automation has developed to such a point that it is almost impossible for the driver to make a mistake operating the controls. With hot carbon brake discs, braking distances are so short that overtaking on track is generally limited to mistakes being made during pit stops.

We even saw relatively inexperienced young drivers from GP2 testing F1 cars for the first time at Yas Marina Circuit doing the same, if not better, lap times than the F1 drivers.

Instead of eliminating driver aids in order to make the F1 cars harder to drive, the FIA implemented overtaking strategies in the form of even more driver aids (DRS and KERS) and playing with the tyre compounds.

There is a conflict of interest here.

The designers and engineers invent all this clever equipment to ensure that their drivers cannot make mistakes and to improve the performance of the car, while most onlookers are keen to see drivers making mistakes on occasion.

Typically, they would prefer them to change gear manually with a clutch pedal and to use steel brakes, thus ensuring that the person in the seat is the most important driver aid. And drive a bit more sideways.

But is there hope for us? The FIA had proposed that F1 engines be reduced from the current 18,000rpm 2,400cc V8 to a turbocharged four-cylinder 1,600cc that only revs to 12,000rpm. There was such an outcry from the engine manufacturers, teams and spectators, particularly about what this would do to the sound of F1 cars, that the FIA has had to alter its proposal to a turbocharged V6 that revs to 15,000rpm V6.

People power? A spring revolution? Can we get rid of driver aids in motor racing?


Barry Hope is a director of GulfSport Racing, which is hoping to find an Arab F1 driver through the FG1000 race series. Pole Position appears every week in Motoring. Join the UAE racing community online at www.gulf-sport.com or on Facebook at GulfSport Racing.