Red rag to a raging bull alert: is the best hope of a bright future for Formula 1 a partnership with Formula E?
Right now, the two codes are light years apart in terms of speed and popularity. But the thought occurred to me, not for the first time, in the wake of the government’s new deadline for zero-emission motoring by 2035. If fossil-fuelled cars really are to be obsolete just 15 years from now, motorsport – and most of all F1 – is in a race against time.
So, will motorsport be wiped out? I don’t think so. It will adapt, as it always has. The grassroots can still thrive, with historic and club racing existing perhaps as archaic pastimes – like steam railways today. For the high-end sport, the penny has already dropped. Le Mans is active in alternative fuel research, including hydrogen; the World Rally and British Touring Car championships are pursuing hybrid futures; and this week a European electric touring car series has been launched (watch this space for more).
But F1? By far the best-known form of motorsport, it will always be in the direct line of fire. Its new sustainability targets are a start, and the current turbo hybrid powerplants are underrated things of wonder, but only a synthetic fuel revolution will thwart what is surely an inevitable move to full electrification.
Formula E is proof that that time is not yet here. The electric single-seater series, now in its sixth season, remains hugely divisive: its cars are too slow, even on its tight pop-up city street circuits. But it does have major clout: Germany’s ‘big four’ of Audi, BMW, Porsche and Mercedes have all bought in, as have Nissan-Renault, Jaguar and PSA. Like it or loathe it, the series is a pioneering beacon.
And as the old cliché goes, motor racing is like war: the perfect living lab in which to develop technology at speed. Over the course of this new decade, Formula E will get faster, fitter, better and stronger. What it lacks is the audience and deep heritage of F1, and that can’t be manufactured. But perhaps it can be bought, in the form of a coalition.
Agendas are at play – of course they are – and F1 has always gone its own way, even if it grudgingly accepted long ago that ‘relevancy’ is essential for its survival. But starting down the same road from scratch is illogical when Formula E is learning the hard lessons already. Joining forces makes sense – but that doesn’t mean it will happen.