As we approach the Indian GP again, a surprisingly stupid question rears its ugly head once more – is F1 a sport? Um, well, yes of course it is, but our government – in all its infinite wisdom – needs some convincing.
So, let’s set that aside for now. Let’s ask the question of whether F1 is a spectacle or not? And, once again, it most certainly is. It involves, after all, among the most advanced machines on the planet. In some ways, they even make the space shuttle seem backward – notwithstanding the fact that the space shuttle was designed in the 60’s. F1 cars are constructed out of the most advanced materials, to the strictest tolerances imaginable. They’re shaped exclusively in wind tunnels with the sole objective of speed. Powered by engines that shriek all the way up to 18,000rpm. And driven at physics defying speeds by the best drivers in the world, who have fitness levels on par with Ironman Triathlon athletes. Up close, an F1 car at speed is one of the most spectacular sights in the world.
But why is that important? Well, let me try and put it in perspective. You see, all the kids in 1969 wanted to be astronauts after seeing Neil Armstrong’s giant leap for mankind. And those who failed the eye exam wanted to join NASA as scientists instead. The same year, the Concorde took its first flight, and all kids suddenly wanted to become pilots instead. You see, you have to capture the imagination of the next generation. And, as you’ll see from Karl’s column later in this issue. that’s exactly what RAF Wing Commander Andy Green plans to do with his Bloodhound SSC project. He and his team aren’t satisfied with having broken the sound barrier in a car, they’re now out to achieve 1,000mph on land. His rationale for such madness: “Our legacy is not a car that can do 1,000mph. It’s a whole bunch of young people who will engage with solving climate science problems, who get into civil engineering to build the next generation of bridges, or rail transport, or power distribution infrastructure, or even to help to solve the food and water problems of the world, which are becoming more acute every day. What’s going to make them passionate about engineering and technology right now, when they’re 12-years-old at school? It’s being able to watch someone build a 1,000mph car.”
By that rationale, could watching someone pilot an F1 car have the same effect? Well, there’s nothing like the deafening shriek of an F1 car to wake you from your slumber. What about the message it sends to the youth then – that burning fossil fuels is good? Well, in F1’s defense, the engines are being downsized massively to V6 units from next year onwards. In addition, the Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) that are already in use will be more than twice as powerful. And this is one aspect of the sport that will only continue to grow with each passing year. In fact, this technology is already finding its way onto the road, courtesy of supercars like the McLaren P1 and Ferrari LaFerrari.
So, really, the government should be subsidizing student tickets to the Indian GP. Attending an F1 race should be required coursework at every IIT. But, first, let’s just agree that it’s a sport to begin with. Let’s agree as well that it’s good for the country. The Indian GP is something that the whole country should be proud of – even if you can’t fathom why these cars drive around in circles!
F1 does appeal to the next generation, and it can inspire them to strive towards the pinnacle of engineering. F1 is a massive spectacle that fires on all cylinders – and it certainly has the potential to fire up the imagination as well.