Motorsport’s revolutionary ‘new model’

4 February 2019

How was it that the old idea of normal , or common sense, has been upended? I am quoting this from a BBC Radio political podcast I very recently listened to where the narrator tries to understand just what has gone on in society at large and around the world that has enabled such huge changes in politics, allowing politicians and others to say and do things that were unthinkable to say out loud just a few years ago.

I found it fascinating but wanted to apply the same line of thought to motorsport. Are we living in the “new normal” or is life just carrying on as before? The answer is that I think it depends where you look.

When it comes to the US and Australia, it would look that all the top series there are pursuing the dollar entertainment route. That’s very much part of the DNA there and you wouldn’t expect anything different. Yes, car manufacturers are involved, but it is very much part of marketing rather than developing technology and processes for the mainstream automotive. I know I will be taken to task here and while I know from personal experience that boundaries are being pushed, but it’s more on a team basis to gain that competitive edge than anything else.

I know this is a generalisation, but in Europe in particular, motorsport’s DNA from the very start is in developing and testing cars against each other with any lessons learnt being fed back into the production vehicle. If you think about it, it was all about the powertrain, chassis, wheels and tyres, brakes, throttle and the steering wheel. Over the last 124 years, nothing has fundamentally changed.

However, we now have to consider the “new normal”. What has stood the test of time for over a century is now being tested as never before. I am not thinking hybrids, which are no longer innovative, but fully electric with the rise of Formula E and other electric series that are said to be introduced over the next few years. I know I am out of step here, and people will shout at me, but in my heart of hearts, I cannot see Formula E or any electric race series other than going down a technology cul-de-sac, although it may take a few years to get there and no doubt useful lessons will be learnt on the way.

The car companies are obviously embracing the series, as I would if I were incharge, as I can display my lovely green credentials using motorsport to show how I am improving the world. Drill down and deep, though, and that’s when I begin to question things.

It is far more revolutionary than that. I am now going to quote Bryn Balcombe, Roborace’s chief strategy officer, who has just written: “Imagine if we started from scratch in automotive, would we really end-up with a steering wheel, throttle and brake pedal?  These mechanical constraints can be reshaped completely as we integrate drive-by-wire and artificial intelligence. On top of this base, how can we design completely new interfaces that even adapt to individual needs or enhance vehicle performance and safety? In the gaming world, the Xbox Adaptive Controller gives a glimpse of the future of type of inclusive interaction design. We all want to play, we all want to feel in control, we all want our own autonomy. As Microsoft says ‘when everybody plays, we all win’. Surely now is that time to bring this thinking into motorsport and push the accessible mobility debate beyond simply self-driving?”

That’s what I call the “new model”. Let’s see if any governing body is prepared to take up the challenge.



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