• The Inside Line

Change the attitude, not the regulations

Kate Walker April 4, 2014
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Extreme weight loss of any sort can be a dangerous business. Stories of jockeys eating paper to fill up and dehydrating themselves before weigh-ins have done the rounds for years. Catwalk models have their own ways of staying thin enough to show off clothes to their best advantage.

And now Formula One has its own weight-loss issues to contend with.

There are rumours that one driver fainted at a sponsor event during the Malaysian Grand Prix weekend, Jenson Button spoke openly of the concept of tactical dehydration, and Adrian Sutil has now told the world that he will be competing in Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix without a water bottle, so great is the need to save weight.

Understandably, the reaction in the world at large has been one of shock. These are extreme measures after all, and extremity is rarely a good direction in which to go. Questionable teenage style choices aside…

One suggestion repeated by many is that the regulations be amended to ensure that the drivers are able to operate within healthy limits for their frames. And in the real world, that's an idea that makes an awful lot of sense. But Formula One is not the real world. It's about as far from it as it's possible to be while still occupying the same points in space and time.

If the minimum weight of car plus driver is increased by (say) ten kilos, then the engineers and designers will use that weight elsewhere in the car. If the driver's weight is removed from the car, so that the machine itself must weigh a minimum of x, then teams are still going to hire the lighter drivers so that they can get the advantage on track.

The big problem with driver weight isn't the numbers - it's the attitude. For many of those who spend their lives honing the finer aspects of single-seater car design, tweaking this front-wing endplate or sculpting that sidepod for improved aerodynamics, the driver is little more than the fleshy non-aerodynamic inconvenience inside the cockpit.

This is not an attitude that persists for 24 hours a day, of course. When the race team sit down to dinner with their drivers, or listen to their feedback in a debrief, the person in front of them is very much a human being. Same with the factory teams, as they share a joke with the driver on his way to the simulator, or during a seat fitting. But when reviewing the data generated by simulations, or going back to the digital drawing board, the fleshy inconvenience attitude returns.

Because attitude shifts do not happen overnight, Formula One should look to finding a regulatory solution that will safeguard the drivers' health both in the long- and short-term. But the sport must also adjust the attitude. The competitive instinct that sees teams try to get every possible competitive advantage imperils not only the health of those drivers forced to go to extremes this year, but it is the same instinct which makes it impossible for the teams to work together to safeguard their interests off-track, imperilling the long-term future of the sport.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'.
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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'.