Friday, September 30, 2016
by Harry Rathod

What does the future hold for Formula 1?

Big wheels, small wheels, wide wheels, enclosed wheels, enclosed canopy, halo canopy… as the season continues in Malaysia this weekend, what does the future hold for Formula 1?

With the tragic death of French racer Jules Bianchi after crashing into a recovery vehicle whilst driving in treacherous weather conditions at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, safety has been put into the spotlight again – and many are questioning the sport itself for the failure of avoiding this fatality.

In the past, there was a saying that when people stepped into a Formula 1 car, they accepted the risk that they may not come back alive – but gone are the days of at least one death a year. Sir Jackie Stewart explained the perfect example of how dangerous the sport was: he stated that it came to a point where the ‘bigwigs’ of Formula 1 didn't listen to driver opinions - he had to take matters into his own hands, sticking a spanner to his car in case he crashed or witnessed a severe crash, equipping him to save himself and/or other drivers. Heartbreakingly, many big names have passed over the years, Ayrton Senna being one of them.

It can be said that the safety record of Formula 1 has been pretty strong in line with the progression of F1 cars, in terms of cornering capabilities and sheer speeds that can now be achieved, but it doesn't mean the sport will be criticised when a flaw is identified. As well as this, the FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile) has invested an incredible amount in research to make the sport safer, including introducing TECHPRO barriers, designed to absorb high energy and G-force from vehicle impacts. Tethers in the wheels have also been introduced: when the vehicle crashes and dislodges the wheels, tethers keep the tyres close to the car to avoid them flying off onto the track and causing further accidents.

So how do you make the sport safer? Some F1 teams have come up with ingenious ideas to help improve this: Ferrari created a thong-style halo, and Red Bull added a windscreen, both designed to protect the drivers. These have received mixed reactions, some saying it’s a breath of fresh air in the pursuit for change and safety, and some not liking the design of the car. It has even been said that if drivers want the sport to be safer, they should either cover themselves in bubble wrap or go to a different sport (ouch).

Personally, I think the canopy is a good idea – after all, it worked in Gran Turismo, where Red Bull created cars such as the x2010 and its junior equivalent. The car itself is a fictional prototype created for the video games Gran Turismo 5 and 6. It was a car to answer the question ‘What if rules and regulations didn't exist?’ - with the help of the current Red Bull F1 chief technical officer, a single seater car was created, which had an enclosed canopy (not in the junior version), enclosed wheels and a low resistance winged design – powered by a 1,500hp engine with turbos.

What makes this car even more jaw-dropping is the use of fan car technology, which was briefly introduced in 1977 on the Brabham F1 car. This uses the fan under the car to help create low pressure in comparison to the top of the car, making the car stick to the ground, i.e. downforce to maintain high speed around corners.

They should encourage teams to create unrestricted cars and then form rules around them. At the moment, there are so many rules in the sport, manufacturers are having to consider numerous factors before going ahead with even a minor change that could give them an advantage over competitors. Creating something as powerful as the x2010 is nuts, as well as being physically over the line of G-force that a human body can handle, but the junior version shows what a fast car can be, plus it features the canopy, which could add extra excitement for F1 fans and offer a new challenge for the drivers.

Another angle where the future has been in question for F1 is the race calendar itself. Many host tracks are not coming out with a profit after race weekends. One example is the German Grand Prix, which rotated between Hockenheim and the Nürburgring since 1926 and was cancelled in 2015 as a result of lack of funds - fortunately it recommenced this year. Many famous, established venues have also expressed their worries, such as the revised Silverstone circuit and Spa-Francorchamps.

However, it can be said that there are many new venues coming into the calendar, such as the Baku street circuit in Azerbaijan, which is a new and exciting addition to the schedule, but will it be here for the long haul? Many have tried and failed, such as India, which made only a few appearances and disappeared. The only ones that have cemented their positions in the F1 calendar are Singapore, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain, which offer something that makes them different – racing at night.

What do you think about the future of Formula 1? Share your thoughts by tweeting @Denfield using the hashtag #futuref1 - we'd love to hear what you think.

And don’t forget to watch all the action at the Sepang International Circuit in Kuala Lumpur this weekend.