Even with cost caps on the horizon, Formula One is such a ridiculously expensive sport that it can be tough to justify the sheer amount of money that gets poured into tech development each year. And Enzo Ferrari’s only surviving son, Piero Ferrari, has some choice words about the situation.
“I wonder what is the point of investing huge amounts in [technical] solutions which contribute little to the show?” he mused to Motorsport.com recently. Here’s the full quote:
With the effects of the pandemic, it is not possible to follow F1 except through television.
We have the fastest single-seaters in history, but the images that come to us over the TV fail to give those sensations that you experience when you are at the circuit and get to see it in real life. What comes across to the people, to the fans, is something different.
These are F1 cars that go over 330 km/h, but looking at them on the screen, you don’t have the feeling that they are doing a different speed to Formula 2.
Then, I wonder what is the point of investing huge amounts in [technical] solutions which contribute little to the show?
Of course, because some ideas are covered by patents. But we spend terrifying amounts, and then keep everything under wraps. Can you explain to me what sense that makes?
Formula 1 must be a sport that must return to offering a show that entertains fans. We have very fast single-seaters with very advanced technology, but does anybody know about it?
Ferrari has a point—although I do want to point out the absurdity of the main railing against the culture of F1 just a year after Ferrari’s engines were deemed illegal but all the details of why that was the case were kept under wraps.
One of racing’s goals from the very beginning has been to push technology to its very limits in the pursuit of speed, so it does make sense that there would now be an absurd amount of spending going on to keep these machines on the apex of technology. And secrecy about those developing technologies has always been a tenet of the sport—after all, you don’t want your competition getting their hands on your super-fast trade secrets.
But there is something a little absurd about spending millions of dollars to be a totally uncompetitive team, or for a team to get in trouble for copying the design of another team’s car. And I think the feeling of absurdity there is only exacerbated by the fact that everything is kept under wraps. Does anyone have any reason why, exactly, Mercedes can drop millions of dollars into a single component? Not really.
And it’s often that technical stuff that can be the most interesting during a race that you’re watching on television. If you can’t have the visceral experience of cars racing by you at top speed—whether that’s because the pandemic has deprived you of the opportunity to attend an event or because the cost of a ticket is just prohibitively expensive—then it can be exciting to learn about the nitty-gritty of what makes these cars tick. But if you can’t even talk about that, what’s the point?
I won't say that Piero Ferrari is 100 percent correct here. But I will say he's offered some serious food for thought.