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Monday, February 14, 2011

'Gas-guzzling' F1 needs a new image, urges Whitmarsh

F1 must change its perception from that of ‘a gas-guzzling, money-guzzling sport’ to one that is far more society-relevant in the modern day-and-age and ‘leading the way’ in terms of environmentally-friendly technology, CEO of McLaren Racing Martin Whitmarsh has stressed.

The arrival of KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) in 2009 – and its return to the grand prix grid this year – is one of F1’s recent concessions to modifying its traditional ways, and the fervent cost-cutting drive and anticipated switch to ‘greener’ 1.6-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder engines from 2013 are further evidence that the most glamorous sport in the world is increasingly committed to cleaning up its act. Not before time, Whitmarsh contends.

“I think F1 has to recognise that we are on the world stage, and as such we’ve got to remain relevant to society if we are going to be such a great global sport,” underlined the McLaren-Mercedes team principal and Formula One Teams’ Association chairman, going on to point out his pride at the Woking-based outfit’s recent receipt of a Carbon Trust Award – the only team in the sport to have been bestowed such an accolade – as well as FOTA’s earnest vow to reduce its carbon footprint.

“We can always get romantic about what we have, but we must also be seen to be socially-relevant, otherwise it becomes very difficult. F1 has not historically done a good job of shaping its image of being a gas-guzzling, money-guzzling sport. Perhaps in the seventies and eighties that was acceptable and a part of the allure of F1, but increasingly, efficiency has become more important. We’ve got to change our perception, and we’ve got to be doing things that are passionate with regard to resources and money.

“The Resource Restriction Agreement (RRA) has been difficult for all the teams, but it’s important that we have reached some agreements there. I think we’ve got to [paint the picture] that people who win in F1 are the most passionate organisations in terms of how we use resources and technology relevant to what you’ll see in road cars in the future. If F1 can be a development hotbed and create public interest in such technologies and we make it our quest to reduce carbon issues, I think it can only be a good thing.

“KERS technology is back this year, which creates public interest. It’s a further step in terms of hybrid technology, which all helps to make the sport relevant – and looking to the future, in 2013 we’ll have downsized engines. F1 has to be seen to be doing its bit and leading the way. We’re all excited about the technology challenge, and we should be proud as a sport that we are really grasping these issues rather than just carrying the stickers – we’re actually doing something concrete, something tangible about it all.”

Another area close to Whitmarsh’s heart – and one in which he feels F1 continues to fall short – is that of taking the sport closer to the fans, with McLaren’s recent unveiling of its new MP4-26 contender in front of hundreds of Vodafone customers in Berlin one small way of approaching that goal.

“We wanted to do something different rather than just pull a silver cloth off the car,” the Englishman explained, expressing his appreciation for the ongoing support of the team’s sponsors in such tough economic times. “To have our fans and Vodafone customers and employees involved in such an event is fun, and stimulating for all of us. We’re trying to take it more to the people, which is something in F1 that we’ve got to do more of – we need to embrace the fans and the people who love our sport.”

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