Day one of Formula One

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Sunday, March 16, 2014


GENTLEMEN, start your engines!

It’s Melbourne, Australia for the first of 19 Grand Prix races this 2014.
F1 racing isn’t young. It’s 64 years old. But, beginning today, the organizers will enforce new rules that are some of the most revolutionary in decades.

Among the changes, they’ll a) reduce the noise, b) transform the engine into a smaller 6-cylinder version (for the first time in a quarter century, turbocharged 1.6-liter V6 engines will replace the V8s and V10s.), and c) lessen the fuel storage to 100 kilograms.

All these start today for the 22 cars that will rev their engines on the 5.3-km. Albert Park street circuit.

I’m no technical car expert. But, from my readings on the rules modifications, they’re massive. It includes giving the last race of the 2014 season, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November, double the points.

While a race win is worth 25 points, it will be 50 in Abu Dhabi. The reason: to transform that final race into a nail-biting finale.

The past four years, two names -- Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull -- have dominated F1 racing, winning from 2010 to 2013. This year is uncertain.

And this appears to be the most exciting question: Can Vettel do it again? He’s often relied on his Renault-powered car and his team, led by Christian Horner. Not now.

Why all these substantial changes? Jean Todt, the president of the International Automobile Federation, the sport’s governing body, said, “We have to consider the environment, even if it’s clear that these 22 Formula One cars alone are not going to increase the pollution in the world or in a city on a circuit. But auto racing is a show window of technology, economics and industry.”

What he means is this: F1 is hugely popular, it attracts a TV audience of over half a billion people annually worldwide. And if F1 does good -- by tweaking the engines to emit less noise and pollution -- then the audience, too, will take notice and do the same with their own cars. People will care more for the environment.

Consider their “Formula E” concept which begins this September. Only electric racing cars (all looking like F1 supercars) are allowed to compete in 10 cities including London, L.A., Beijing and Putrajaya in Malaysia. They might as well call that... E1!

I got hold of a copy of the Intl. New York Times “Formula One Preview” Special Report -- all of four full pages -- and the new rules are plenty.

“The new engines are smaller, less powerful, less noisy and more environmentally friendly than any the series has ever produced,” wrote Brad Spurgeon for the Intl. New York Times. “It is with these innovations that Formula One is hoping to maintain its cachet as the producer of the world’s most advanced racing car.”

I recall my brother Charlie, who’s been to the Singapore Grand Prix, explaining to me the deafening roar of these engines. Sure, they’ll still make noise -- but no longer screaming loud.

The other changes are immense. They include a “Pole Position trophy” at year’s-end for the driver with, obviously, the most pole positions.

Another rule: if a driver goes outside the track limits and overtakes another driver (previously, a five-second penalty was meted) they’ll ask the driver to slow down and let the overtaken driver zoom ahead.

The biggest worry of the racing world? The uncertainty. Many have predicted that worst-case scenarios of slow cars (maybe 10 seconds slower?) or races where over half of the cars breakdown and don’t make it to the finish because of technical trouble.

I’m sure Jenson Button, whom we met here in Cebu two years ago, is one who’s concerned. But this is good. It’s good for Mother Earth. It’s good for the eardrums of the spectators.

“They (new engines) will achieve fuel consumption and performance levels that are much, much better than anything that exists anywhere in the motor sport and probably better than anything that exists on the road,” said Rob White of Renault.

I agree. And I can’t wait for the engines to roar...Today at 2 p.m.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 16, 2014.

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