Formula 1 has always been at the forefront of racing technology. But having the most advanced cars on Earth hasn’t been able to stop viewership numbers from tanking. The series has lost a third of its viewers (200 million people) since 2008, according to F1Fantatic.co.uk. If it’s going to survive, F1 will need to find new ways to draw people back to the sport.
One way to do that would be to make the competitive aspect of the sport more compelling. Since 2010, only two teams have won the title: Red Bull and Mercedes. And it’s not like they’ve been battling back and forth. Red Bull won four straight from 2010-13, while Mercedes has won the last three.
Indeed, no non-Mercedes driver has been within 100 points of the title in any of the last three seasons. The winner feels like a foregone conclusion before the season even starts.
Creating competitive balance isn’t F1’s forte, though. Creating super-cars is. Instead of trying to implement more rules and regulations to make racing more competitive, I think we’ll see F1 try to lure viewers back with what they do best — new technology!
Here are some options they could toy with.
Odds on F1 innovations in the next 5 years
1000+ Horsepower Engines: 1/4
This seems almost inevitable. The Ferrari design department has its eyes set on a power output of 1000bhp, which appears to be within reach. This is a logical step in the sport’s never-ending endeavor for faster and stronger, but will it actually benefit the sport? I’m not sure increased horsepower will lead to a more watchable product.
Enclosed cockpits: 1/1
This idea has been around for sometime now. After a slew of high-profile injuries and the occasional death, there have been serious attempts to make the sport safer for the drivers. Enclosed cockpits is probably the most effective measure the sport could take. But Formula 1 without open cockpits is a drastically different look, and the sport is understandably weary about making such a big change.
Even fatter tires: 11/19
This is something Ferrari has in mind. Tire width was already increased for 2017, which we can all agree looks super-cool (in addition to having practical advantages, like better traction and stability). Why stop here? If fatter is cooler, shouldn’t fattest be coolest? Val Kilmer sure thinks so.
Alternative Power Sources: 19/1
Formula 1 cars already have hybrid engines, so why not take it one step further and use alternative power? Formula E has been growing in popularity of late while F1 has been dropping. Taking a few notes from their playbook could drum up interest, even if it’s just in the short-term.
Driver-less cars: 49/1
As F1 technology improves, drivers have less and less of an impact. At the same time, self-driving cars are becoming more and more common on the open road. Is it only a matter of time we hand over the reins to our robot overlords and Lewis Hamilton becomes completely expendable? That way we don’t have to worry about safety at all (except safety from the robot overlords, that is).
While seeing driver-less F1 cars would be quite the novelty, I don’t think we humans are ready to give up just yet.
Robot pit crews: 49/1
This would be pretty cool to see. But with pit stop crews already so streamlined and efficient, it’s hard to imagine robots could save that much time. Also, a malfunction could be disastrous (or hilarious). Rrobots will eventually steal all our jobs, but pit crews are safe for now.
An F1 reality show: 60/1
Formula 1 needs to boost viewership, do they? Well, forget about the sport itself. If you want an audience, you need to focus on the wacky characters and the personal feuds. Picture The Ultimate Fighter but with Formula 1 drivers. This doesn’t exactly fit under the heading “new technology” but it would be an innovation!
How could an F1 reality show not be a ratings success? So many drivers have had intense feuds in the past, see Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, and Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost before them. Getting an inside look at what happens when the garage door closes would be fascinating.
An F1 car that runs on Red Bull: 1000/1
Picture this: a driver wearing a Red Bull cap, holding a Red Bull can, and driving a car fueled by Red Bull. The way things are going, that seems like a not-too-distant reality. No word on whether Rockstar has a car in development.
Photo credit: “Formula One Photoshoot”, by Ian C (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/].