Perilous times

31 July 2017

The mid to long term future of motorsport is in jeopardy, especially in Europe. The British Government has said that it will ban the sales of diesel and petrol cars and vans by 2040.

France has decreed the same thing while Norway, the Netherlands and Germany are all said to be ready to introduce their own proposals. The fact that an independent survey shows that 33% of NOx sources in London in 2020 will be from non-domestic gas usage while bus, coach and taxis between them will account for 22% is not taken into consideration, nor the fact that diesel passenger cars will account for 7% and petrol cars just 1%. However, such measures are popular with politicians because it makes them look good in the voters’ eyes. Not even on their radar, though, are the implications for motorsport, at least in Europe, which are massive.

Motorsport has always been more than an entertainment, at least in Europe, with the spin-off technologies proving beneficial to a wider society, not just automotive but in very many areas.

However, if the heart of motorsport is to be ripped out with funds draining from the internal combustion engine R&D funds, what’s the purpose of being involved, at least from a manufacturers’ point of view. If you were on the main board of one of the four car companies currently supporting Formula 1, would you now be questioning your long term commitment? As it is, we have seen Mercedes announce that it is pulling out of DTM at the end of next year to put more resources into Formula E. When will they start to re-evaluate their involvement in Formula 1?

We are now at the start of the journey over the next couple of decades that may see a very different landscape at the end of it. Perhaps Europe will become the bastion of electric and hybrid racing while the US will still be upholding the internal combustion engine banner. By then, perhaps with its American owners, Formula 1 will have refocused on that and other countries in which the engine as we know it is simply not going to disappear. We might even see a shift of gravity with Formula 1 teams either relocating or setting up in North America.

Europe, and the UK in particular, does not have a God-given right to being the motorsport technology hub. Although not quite related, it is very interesting to see Mazda team up with Joest and Acura with Penske to compete in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next year. That certainly is a statement by all concerned.

The other question that seriously needs addressing from the motorsport point of view is the suppliers. What is your mid to long term future is you manufacture pistons and cranks, camshafts and other engine components, including dynos and test cells. What about if you’re the manufacturer of exhaust pipes and other such components? What’s the message you are getting and how to you plan ahead?

Then there are the young who are not to be overlooked. Last week I was at Silverstone for Formula Student, the event where students from different universities design, develop, build and then compete in motorcycle-engined single-seaters. Many are superb with some demonstrating quite clear original thinking.

However, if you are now into your second year as a mechanical engineering student concentrating on the powertrain, what is your future, not just in motorsport but in the automotive industry? Is the message that by your mid-thirties you will be surplus to requirements? I would have thought that clean though modern internal combustion engines are, there is always room for improvement, but what’s the point in further development if they are going to be banned in 23 years? At a time when we desperately need the young to come into engineering, we are telling them in effect don’t bother, at least when it comes to engines.

As I have written before, these are revolutionary times and there will be winners and losers.

We’ve got to make sure that the motorsport industry as a whole isn’t on the losing side and consigned to the fate of being just another sport like horse racing.





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