“Many of the advancements in motoring technology can trace their origins to motorsport”


Rob Margeit

LOVE it when non-car people write about cars and motorsport, painting our four-wheel objects of obsession as world-destroying monsters out to gobble up men, women, children and cute baby seals all while laughing maniacally as melting icebergs cause sea levels to rise.

I was reminded of this during the lead up to last month’s Australian Grand Prix when that oracle of motoring wisdom, The Big Issue, featured Australia’s Formula 1 superstar Daniel Ricciardo on the cover. I like The Big Issue. I buy it every fortnight and I like what it stands for (empowering homeless people); I like most of its content, thought-provoking opinion and analysis by some of the finest writers in the country, under the editorship of the Walkley-winning, former Fairfax journalist Alan Attwood.

But when I opened the issue featuring Ricciardo on the cover, I was soon reminded why people who don’t know stuff about cars and motorsport shouldn’t write about cars. Or motorsport.

Attwood’s editorial, far from providing insight into either the Australian Grand Prix or Ricciardo, offered these insightful snippets.

“We should know better by now,” Attwood wrote. “Cars are dirty and noisy and dangerous. They cause pollution and accidents…” While there’s no argument that cars do in fact contribute to the Earth’s pollution, and have done for more than a hundred years, modern advances in automotive technology have seen a steady decline in carbon dioxide emissions. Additionally, the growing hybrid and all-electric sectors are becoming increasingly viable, both in terms of affordability and providing realistic performance parameters for everyday driving. Yes, cars have been, and will continue to be, an environmental challenge, but the industry is meeting these challenges head-on, a fact not acknowledged by Attwood.

But, as a lifelong motorsport tragic, what really crunched my gears was the following: “Every year, in the days leading up to Melbourne’s Formula One Grand Prix (held in Adelaide, also on a street circuit, between 1985-’95), and also on the weekend of the race itself, two sides of motoring co-exist, separated only by fencing around Albert Park and buckets of money. On one side of the high fences, Ricciardo and his colleagues burn fuel and rubber…” Yes, Formula 1 cars “burn fuel and rubber” but some quick research by the writer would have ascertained that since 2014 modern F1 cars are strictly limited to the amount of fuel they can consume over a race (100kg) which represents a 60 percent I decrease over previous years. Further research would have revealed that 100kg of fuel per race is actually not enough in and of itself to complete a full race distance. That’s why F1’s modern turbo-hybrid technology is so important, harvesting energy from a number of sources including braking and the turbocharger itself. This energy is then stored and used as needed to provide power to the car. In short, a 2016-spec F1 car spends much of its time on the track recycling its own energy.

Which leads me neatly to my final issue with Attwood’s article.

“Some of the names of the racing teams replicate marques spotted on streets and in traffic-jams all around Australia: Ferrari, Honda, Mercedes, Renault,” he wrote. “The theory (propounded by F1 advocates) is that technical advances achieved in the racing world inevitably find their way to regular vehicles. This is similar to the defence mounted by apologists for the space program: we got useful things like, well, non-stick frying pans, because men landed on the moon.”

Maybe Attwood is right about the space program, but he’s very wide of the mark when it comes to motorsport advances in tech and motoring. The next time he straps himself into his car, maybe Attwood could take a moment to reflect on many of the advancements at his disposal: hybrid, ECUs and telemetry, traction control, ABS, turbocharging, rear-view mirrors and semi-automatic gearboxes (even disc brakes and seat belts) are just some of the motoring innovations with origins in motorsport.

Motorsport, solving the world’s problems one technological advancement at a time. M