Here we are. It's the 14th of February, and the Formula One season is 30 days away from starting. That's only 720 hours or so. 720 hours and counting until the start of a new era in the history of Formula One. But that begs the question: how different might this "New World Order" look from the so derided ancient regime of Formula One?
Both the FIA and FOTA have a a lot of interest in marketing 2010 as the beginning of a new era for the sport—but for two entirely different reasons.
The FIA with Mosley or with Todt has been leading Formula One towards a future that looks very different from the glorious past of the sport. The FIA wants equity, in both how the resources are distributed and how they might be spent by the teams.
The budget capping concept failed, but the "resource restriction" compromise plan has also been unsuccessful, with two possible no-shows when the lights go off in the sands of Bahrain.
In order to do this, the FIA also aims to make the sport less open to technical evolution. Just look at all of the cars released so far in 2010; almost all of them look exactly the same and strive to tackle the rather strict technical regulations in exactly the same way,by utilizing long wheel bases to allow for a bigger fuel tank, a double diffuser, and more often than not a duckbill front nose and a shark fin engine cover.
I know motorsports is a copycat endeavour, but to make the regulations so strict as to see so little variance from car to car is against the spirit of Formula One.
The FIA wants to make Formula One something it's never been, namely, "green," and the lengths it will go to make it so are fairly ridiculous. Things like the green stripe around the Bridgestone option tires, the refuelling ban, and most obviously and divisively the quick institution and banning of KERS (but only at the team's behest).
That is what the FIA's vision of the new Formula One is, and it has been highly obvious in the 2010 regulations that their requirements are being met. But what of FOTA?
FOTA represents the status quo in this power struggle. They wish that things could remain the same, and their vision of a new Formula One is shaped by that desire. But FOTA lost a lot of leverage because of one thing, the Global Economic Crisis. FOTA's strength was in its unity, a block of global auto manufacturers coming together to shape their vision in the sport.
But since 2008, FOTA has lost Honda, Toyota, and BMW from their membership only to be replaced by a crazy billionaire and the Malaysian government, or Proton more likely than the government itself.
FOTA has no desire to see "resource restriction," any diminution in the amount of technical freedom that teams can take with their cars, in appearing "green." Those things defeat the purpose of the manufacturers' presence in Formula One in the first place as a show of engineering and technical prowess that might turn fans into consumers. Going by that old mantra of Touring Car racing, "Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday."
But, ultimately, even if the FIA seems to have more power in shaping the policies and the direction of Formula One, the so-called new era is not so very different from the old one.
The old Formula One, or the assumptions made about it are as follows:
- The grid is dominated by manufacturer-backed teams. There are no small independent teams that can compete with the manufacturers.
- There is usually domination by a few teams every season, and only a handful of drivers can realistically compete.
- The races aren't exciting enough, i.e. qualifying seems to matter too much.
So let's take a look at how the new era of Formula One will look like.
- The grid will be dominated by manufacturer-backed teams; no small independent teams will be able to compete with the manufacturers.
Especially if Campos and/or USF1 aren't on the grid come Bahrain, when they will be replaced by Stefan GP, which is essentially just Toyota F1 in a Serbian disguise. Lotus, as I mentioned, is backed up by Proton, a major auto manufacturer, and Virgin Racing is associated with Marussia, not a major manufacturer but one nonetheless.
- There will be domination by a few teams this season, and only a handful of drivers will realistically compete for a title.
Maybe not as locked out as the 05-06 Ferrari Renault stretch, or the 07-08 Ferrari-McLaren stretch, but only Mercedes, McLaren, Ferrari, and Red Bull will be able to give legitimate shots at a championships, still a long way away from an even field.
Only Vettel, Hamilton, Schumacher, and Alonso will be in true contention for a Driver's title; everyone else's chances are slim.
- The races will not be exciting enough, i.e. qualifying will matter too much.
If there's one thing the world of Formula One learned in 2009, it's that double diffusers make it hard to overtake; not even KERS was able to cancel the double diffuser effect out. No mid-race refuelling and qualifying on race fuel will make already rigid grids even more rigid. There'll be a lot less overtaking in the pits and because of fuel strategy.
Also with a field potentially as large as 26 cars, qualifying will matter more now than ever, the midfield has suddenly become a lot larger, and the the difference in performance between the big teams and the backmarkers will be very noticeable, creating more incentives for not having bad qualifying performances and the handicap of being held up by an inexperienced driver in a an unproven machine.
So to sum up, the FIA has marketed this as a new era for the sport, made in their own terms and from their own image. But the reality of how this new era will look will not be much different from the championships in 2006, 2007, and 2008. Welcome to a new era in name only.