The 60th season of Formula One racing is set to conclude in November, and the sport continues to represent the pinnacle of racing technology. Hitting speeds of well over 200 miles per hour, our cars are the fastest and most aerodynamic on the closed circuit. We—the drivers—have the most high-end gadgets and take the most risks. Yet a number of recent changes to the rules threaten to make Formula One less innovative and, potentially, less technically challenging.
For years, the budgets of Formula One racing squads skyrocketed, as top driving teams such as Ferrari spent hundreds of millions of dollars a year in an effort to build the fastest, most agile cars on the planet. Then came the credit crisis, and sponsors—many of them big banks—began to limit funding. The result: teams such as Honda, Toyota, and BMW withdrew, putting the league’s viability in jeopardy. In response, Formula One organizers implemented a series of rule changes intended to lower costs and prevent the wealthiest teams from having a major advantage. These rules include limiting the number of wind-tunnel hours logged, the number of people employed on each team, and the number of engines used in a season. This year, drivers were even banned from refueling during races and were permitted to drive cars with a much larger gas tank.
These changes have led to at least one positive result: there are 12 teams competing this season—far more than in past years—and the races have been highly competitive. Yet Formula One still runs the risk of restricting too much innovation and thereby changing the nature of the sport. Technologies such as active-ride suspension and electronic power steering have unfortunately been banned. They are also part of what sets Formula One apart from the other great racing leagues: the fact that Formula One’s vehicles are more like fighter jets than Ford Fiestas. Our sport’s history has been like a space race of sorts, with each team rushing to beat its competitors in terms of speed and maneuverability. Spending limits should exist and competitiveness is important. But if we go too far in restricting technical freedom and handicapping teams so they don’t continually finish first, our best engineers will jump ship to other industries and our sport will become little more than glorified go-kart racing.
Formula One Races East
Traditionally a European sport, Formula One is making a major push into Asia and the Middle East. Today, the majority of Grand Prix are held outside Europe.
6 out of 17
The number of Formula One Grand Prix races outside of Europe in 2000.
9 out of 19
The number of Formula One Grand Prix races outside of Europe in 2005.
12 out of 20
The number of Formula One Grand Prix races outside of Europe scheduled for 2011.
Coulthard, a former Formula One driver and current analyst for the sport on the BBC, is a friend and ambassador of the Laureus World Sports Academy (laureus.com), a group of 46 of the world’s greatest living sportsmen and women.