The debate surrounding Formula One’s new rules continued to rumble on ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix with Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo and Bernie Ecclestone meeting with FIA president Jean Todt to discuss the impact of the sport’s regulation overhaul.
The radical new rules have polarized fans and have invited criticism from major figures who have blamed the change for robbing the sport of its spectacle.
Formula One is in the midst of perhaps the most sweeping rule changes the sport has seen since its inception.
At the centre of the changes is the move to smaller, more efficient 1.6 litre turbocharged engines as the sport, in an attempt to keep in step with the changing times, adopts hybrid power in a meaningful way for the first time.
The change has not gone down well with everybody however, with the smaller engines producing a much quieter sound than the old V8s while the emphasis on efficiency has also led to complaints that races have turned into economy runs with drivers easing off to conserve fuel.
“I don’t think the way things are at the moment are acceptable to the public,” Ecclestone, the sport’s commercial supremo, told reporters ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix. “People buying tickets to come here expect to see what Formula One used to be.”
“What is wrong is these fantastic engines,” Ecclestone said. “The engines are without doubt incredible, the amount of power they produce for the small amount of fuel.”
“But I don’t think it is F1 business. They should do it in touring cars or something, not in F1.”
Apart from Ecclestone, Ferrari and Red Bull – who in particular dominated the sport under the old rules but have struggled to come to terms with the sport’s new era – have also been extremely vocal in their criticism of the new style of racing.
Ferrari recently released the results of a fan survey conducted by the Italian team that showed 83 percent of the respondents were disappointed with the new Formula One while Montezemolo has also hit out at the new style of racing by dismissing it as “taxi-cab driving.”
“We cannot have a Formula One that is energy, fuel, economy formula,” Montezemolo told reporters in the Sakhir paddock.
“The public doesn’t like a taxi driver that has to respect the fuel. This is not Formula One.”
“The second problem is the music of the engine, not the noise, the music of the engine that is Formula One. And the third is the rules are too complicated, particularly for the people on the track.”
However, Montezemolo emphasized that his criticism of the new rules had nothing to do with Ferrari’s lack of competitveness, with the team yet to make it onto the podium three races into the season, even as rivals Mercedes have been dominant.
“Listen, you make a big confusion as always happens when it’s not clear,” Montezemolo said.
“Ferrari has already said many months ago that they were against the limit of fuel because this is not Formula One and I told last Christmas in front of all the journalists that I was very afraid that the new formula means drivers that are taxi drivers.”
“This doesn’t mean that we have to change now but we have to take care of the situation and altogether look ahead,” he said.
“I think something without changing the rules for the short term is possible to do. I understand Mercedes’ position. But for me Formula One is more important than the rules. Formula One is our life so we have to think of the future together.”
However, several team-bosses have come out in support of the new rules saying they haven’t robbed the sport of its spectacle and were in fact positive for Formula One which was at risk of becoming irrelevant to the road car industry.
“We are eight-tenths off pole from last year with a car which is 25 percent down on downforce, with much harder tyres, we are at the beginning of the season, with 30 percent more efficient car, 30 percent less consumption, with more power, more torque and with greater straightline speed,” Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff told reporters, highlighting the fact that the sport’s spectacle remained intact.
“So what are we talking about? We are in a brilliant technical revolution and we talk the sport down,” he said.
Somewhat ironically, on the very weekend that all the off-track politicking surrounding the regulation overhaul threatened to drown out the on-track action, Formula One 2014 really hit its stride in the Bahrain Grand Prix, which served up one of the most thrilling races in recent memory and acted as a ringing endorsement of the sport’s new rules.
“I just don’t think you could have had a better race,” Force India’s deputy team-principal Bob Fernley said. “It was racing all the way through the field, it was wheel to wheel, really heart in the mouth stuff.”
“I don’t think anybody even mentioned the noise did they? And we could hear the crowd which is wonderful because then you’ve got the atmosphere going as well,” he said.
“When you get a race like this, it justifies everything. You’ve not had a race like this for a long time. And that’s a testament to the new rules.”
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic.