Rule changes designed to cut the cost of competing in F1 and to increase the competitiveness between teams could be having serious unintended consequences for the UK motorsport industry, according to a new report.
Research has demonstrated that a raft of recent regulatory activity from the FIA risks reducing opportunities for innovation. It was carried out by Professor Rick Delbridge, of Cardiff Business School, and Dr Francesca Mariotti of Stirling University, on behalf of the Advanced Institute of Management.
It is exactly the opposite result to what was presumably intended by the FIA when it introduced new concepts like the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS), in hopes that it would produce a green technology that would ‘trickle down’ to road cars.
In their report Racing for Radical Innovation the researchers found that the UK motorsport sector – worth around £7 billion to the country’s economy – is in danger of losing the global innovation race, leaving F1 much less able to make a contribution to wider society.
Prof Delbridge told BBC News: “For many years, Formula One has been a beacon of the UK’s engineering and innovation capabilities.
“Such spillover into the real economy is going to be less likely in the future. Our study shows that innovation activity is under extreme pressure.”
He stressed that the FIA’s regulatory regime was not directly to blame for the pressure, saying: “Regulation does what it does for good reasons.” But he did discuss the potential “unintended consequences” and the knock-on effects on engineers who feel their creativity is now hampered.
The reports’ findings were echoed on Saturday by Brawn GP team principal Ross Brawn, speaking to the BBC F1 team about the planned cost-cap and ‘two-tier’ regulation system planned for 2010 – a move that is being fought fiercely by the teams, with at least two threatening to leave the sport.
He said: “I am not sure there is merit in winning a race when you’ve got a huge technical advantage from the regulations. But we have got to do something to bring down the cost of Formula One and do it quickly.
“I come at this from an engineering perspective and what I think we are doing at the moment is just tightening the rules up so much that there is hardly any space to move.
“What we should do is open them up and say: you can have this much money, or you can have this many people, do what you want, but that is the restriction. And put a boundary round it and allow people work in their own area, and keep costs within that boundary.
“A budget cap will do it, maybe a headcount reduction will do it with other constraints, there are a few things that can be done. But I think that trying to control costs by the regulations themselves, we’re just ending up with standard cars with no scope.
“It’s been a great year this year because the rules opened up and lots of different ideas came through, it’s exciting.
“This is what we want in Formula One, teams with different ideas, innovations, making a big jump. But we have to keep an umbrella on the costs.”
The report’s release follows concerns about the future of the British Grand Prix after doubts over whether the Donington Park circuit will be in a fit state to host the 2010 Grand Prix, leading to the possibility that the UK might not even host a Grand Prix.
The issue was recently raised in the House of Lords, with Lord Davies of Oldham, the goverment’s deputy chief whip in the Lords, stressing the importance of the race to both the industry and the country.
He said: “It is important that Britain is able to stand tall in the world of engineering and to emphasise that it can enhance, develop and cultivate the high-level skills that guarantee that we will be at the forefront of research and technology. That is an important part of the success of the British motor racing industry.
“I continually emphasise that the Government will do all they can to build upon the high levels of technology deployed by the industry. In these days of loss of confidence, which is bound to attend difficult economic circumstances, the British people ought to take pride in an industry which is so dominant in the world.
“I emphasise that the industry has an annual turnover of £7 billion, with 50,000 full- and part-time workers, including 30,000 engineers. That is a significant part of our economy. It would be a blow if the Grand Prix were not held in this country, and we will do our best to ensure that it will be.”
Read the BBC News piece on the Racing for Radical Innovation report here >>