• The Inside Line

Worst-case scenarios

Kate Walker March 13, 2014
© Sutton Images

At the start of every season, Charlie Whiting holds a special press conference in Melbourne where he explains the rule changes in plain English. At least, that's how it usually works. In past years we've had explanations of platypus noses, track limits, and KERS, to name but a few.

This year, with the greatest sea change to the technical regulations in Formula One history, the press conference took on a slightly different flavour. The assembled journalists had already spent the bulk of the off-season writing features on MGU-H and MGU-K, explaining the whys and hows of the new power units, and establishing just when a crash structure stops being a crash structure and starts getting phallic.

So when the floor was opened up to questions, poor Charlie Whiting was faced with 45 minutes of doom and gloom scenarios, as good news rarely sells papers.

How would the FIA allocate points if no driver finished a race? What would happen if all 22 cars retired on Sunday afternoon? Would the race be run for its full two hours of empty track time (and the attendant fascinating TV coverage), or would they give it up as a bad job and stop the show?

To give him credit, Whiting answered every question thoughtfully, no matter how unlikely the worst-case scenario posed to him.

And given the level of professionalism we have come to expect from Formula One as a sport, the odds of 22 cars failing to make the finish are so slim as to be irrelevant. Wicks may well be turned down, fuel will almost certainly be conserved, and it's almost certain that the final classification of the Australian Grand Prix will be changed after the chequered flag once fuel weights and samples have been checked.

For while the bulk of pre-season interest has been in the power units, and the likelihood of any of them making the finish, the biggest stumbling block facing the teams is actually going to be fuel consumption. Teams need to ensure that their cars are adequately fuelled for the formation lap, race, and slowing down lap, with enough in reserve to give the FIA their mandated sample.

There will be no exceptions, and no leniency - according to Whiting, there is no tolerance in the 100 kilo fuel limit for Sunday's race. If a team is found to have used 100.001kg of fuel, they will be penalised as much as a rival team that had used 105kg, or 200kg.

For the future of Formula One is a future grounded in efficiency. This new hybrid era is not just about selling F1 technology to manufacturers, making ourselves an appealing prospect at board level. It is about clawing back the mantle of 'sport of the future' from the World Endurance Championship, which - while woefully underappreciated by the world at large - has been beating F1 into a cocked hat for years when it comes to developing technology the man on the street might want on his car.

There are limits to the amount of aerodynamic development you can apply to a family sedan, after all. But when it comes to miles per gallon, the man or woman on the street can relate. The fuel efficiency on display in the WEC is but one area where Formula One has been lagging behind its racing rival. We have the TV coverage, and they have the technology.

But as of 2014, Formula One will have both the TV coverage and the technology. It's up to us to promote that as a positive, to ignore the doom and gloom of the worst-case scenarios, and for the FIA to get tough on enforcing rule infractions that go against our leaner (greener) message. The FIA gets it. Charlie Whiting gets it. It's time the naysayers got it.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Kate Walker Close
Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'.