Consider this an invitation to a world of cautious speculation into what could await Formula 1 in the not too far distant future. The future, just like the past, is where people, places, objects and beliefs are far removed from our own. To quantify how much is beyond the bounds of possibility, yet at the same time undeniable.
Let’s set the scene: the twenty-twenties has hosted a period of rapid growth in automotive technological advances, with consumers reaping the largest benefit. 2030 will be a year where cars are largely autonomous, gizmos such as fingerprint recognition and holographic displays are commonplace, fatal accidents due to driver error have been substantially diminished, and anything with a naturally aspirated, non-hybrid engine is considered Jurassic.
Man and vehicle have become engaged in an emotional divorce. Opportunities seldom present themselves for owners to take pleasure out of driving due to stringent regulation and manufactures opting for safety – in the form of autonomy – over human operated machines of pleasure.
As dystopic as this may sound, to dismiss it is nonsensical. As technology will inevitably continue to become interwoven into our everyday lives, artificial intelligence will push many professions into redundancy and our every move will be uploaded onto cloud-space for ‘security’.
So, will the year 2030 still accommodate Formula 1?
Granted, the depth of this discussion is unlikely to facilitate accuracy, and it’s unclear whether future trends will work for or against F1’s popularity. But this exploration will offer a basis of what Formula 1 could become in 13 years time, and how F1 will need to adapt to stay afloat.
The automotive industry and F1 are on a diverging path. In the former’s case, the pursuit of electric power is the holy grail that may soon be realised. The magic figure for the electric car is a 500 miles range. Currently, world-leaders Tesla claim to have managed approximately 400 miles with their top of the range Model S, so by 2030 such figures should be achievable.
What’s more, just this week the company NanoFlowcell have announced the Quant 48Volt – a hydrogen supercar with a range of a staggering 620 miles. But whilst it remains 100% clean, the technology is very expensive and hydrogen fuel stations are scarce.
Furthermore, Tesla claim that all their vehicles “have the hardware needed for full self-driving capability at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver.”
In contrast, F1 has fossil-fuel hard-wired into its DNA and, despite the recent advances in hybrid technology, its efforts have failed to become relevant because of how complex the power units have become. The incredible feats of engineering that are showcased in F1 are unlikely to filter down to road cars before electric technology reaches adequate range and battery sizes come down.
One way F1 could combat this is to no longer worry itself with motor industry trends and become sheer entertainment once more. A product not bound by consumerism or the wider social expectation to become ‘green’. Let’s face it, championships like Formula E and Electric GT are both fantastic initiatives that merge motorsport with the technology of tomorrow, and monitoring our carbon footprint is essential for the long-term survival of the planet.
But does F1 need to do the same?
By following the crowd, F1 might lose sight of what it’s really about: the fastest drivers in the world racing the fastest cars in a variety of circuits around the globe. Has the technology, rather than drama and entertainment, ever been the reason for people to tune in on Sunday afternoons?
F1 has always belonged to the fans. Without them the sport automatically ceases to exist. Similar to how someone doesn’t need to know the anatomy of the dog to enjoy an evening at the races, knowledge of Formula 1’s technology is not a prerequisite needed to enjoy the sport.
Motorsport has its places for pioneering technology, all of which are invaluable to the acceleration of awesome new technology which will likely feature on cars in 2030. This is not an attack on such technology, but F1’s only obstacle is to become enthralling once again in order to turn the tables on its declining viewing figures and event attendance.
What’s more, doing this would be much easier, and crucially more cost-effective, than piling resources and millions of dollars into technology that fails to provide great racing.
Instead, a blueprint should be laid out by F1’s new shareholders to determine how F1 should move forward. F1 must balance end-of-year team payments to make competition easier for new teams and those without corporate giants as sponsors. Current engines would be scraped in favour of ones with similar power – and if that means bigger engines, so be it. Although F1 cars can’t be portrayed as gas-guzzling dinosaurs, as public image would still be high priority, a step ‘backwards’ may not be as bad as the word suggests.
“We have to see if we can develop the rules to reward innovation less,” F1’s new sporting director Ross Brawn recently said. “Because as it is now innovation is heavily rewarded and if you can afford it, the slope is still quite steep – more money, faster cars. If we can flatten that off with the regulations that would go in the right direction.”
Another relevant discussion has been around head protection. Now, motorsport must restore its perception of danger or else competitors might as well race simulators – the lack of engagement during the recent Vegas eRace speaks volumes about how virtual (risk-free) reality cannot yet engage a audience, and perhaps never will.
I think most will agree that the design by Andries van Overbeeke (the F1 images featured in this post) are the most elegant currently out there. F1’s days as fully a open cockpit series are numbered as head injuries remain the most common form of motorsport fatalities. By 2030 something will be in place to keep drivers safer.
Elsewhere, regulations would be written to bring the ‘wow-factor’ back into watching F1. Drivers currently make things look far too easy to the casual onlooker and if by 2030 everyday driving is becoming an ancient art, F1 must bring the awe and excitement back in order to enthuse a driverless population. This poses a huge challenge, but one that can be overcome.
However, a potential problem with trends between now and 2030 is how many young people will wish to engage in motorsport activities. Let’s not forget, 18-year-olds in 2030 will have been born in 2012 and, whilst there is still a toy car culture for children today, this has become marginalised by interactive devices.
A society without drivers due to the rise of autonomous vehicles will inevitably breed a culture without an interest for driving. Whether this will happen by 2030 is a highly contentious debate, but one that’s entirely possible given the rate of development we have seen since the millennium.
In fact, Derek Muller from the YouTube channel Veritasium argued that it’s a moral responsibility for us to produce such cars as fast as possible:
So the path is far from clear for F1 going into the future. It can’t be assured its place for decades to come, but it can go a long way in assuring that, despite lacking commercial relevance, it can once again thrill and fuel the enthusiasm of the people in all corners of the globe. Formula 1 in 2030 could be thriving upon a profitable business model which is both profitable and cultivating.
However, in order to survive for decades to come it must adapt. Something new CEO Chase Carey agrees with:
“We need to stabilise the small teams and get them on a better financial footing,” he told
“We need to reduce the scope of the technology because there is too big a gap between the bigger and smaller teams.”
New owners Liberty will be acutely aware of the challenges it faces in co-existing alongside a rapidly evolving technological landscape.
For F1, this could be the turning point where it stops trying to emulate the market and becomes the best motor racing has to offer once more.