Ron at the Science Museum

So here I am having a quick sandwich in St Catherine’s Dock in London, having spent the morning at the new F1 technology exhibition at the Science Museum. This highlights the use of F1 technologies in a wider context and gives a good insight into some of the reasons that F1 had relevance way beyond the sport.

There was some spectacularly good engineering thinking on display and I recommend that anyone who can goes to see it. It will help to dispel the myth that F1 is a world of wasteful playboys, zipping around the world, molesting the local women and giving little back to the world at large.

“Contrary to popular belief F1 is not about glitz and glamour, or parties and celebrities,” said McLaren’s Ron Dennis in the opening address. “Of course it attracts more than it’s fair share of all of these, but intrinsically, at it’s heart, it is about technological and scientific innovation, carried out under extremes of time pressure, with relentless fortnightly assessment of progress and performance. We undertake this assessment under the glare and scrutiny of hundreds of millions of TV viewers – and we measure our successes or failures in fractions of seconds of lap time. The F1 world is no place for the faint-hearted. It is tough – ruthless in fact – and to paraphrase the great Charles Darwin in his anniversary year,is all about survival of the fittest. It is the pinnacle of not only motor racing, I would argue – but also of innovation under pressure as well.”

Dennis said that since he started hid career an amazing 79 teams had come and gone in F1. He said that on average McLaren makes a change on it’s cars once every 20 minutes throughout an F1 season.

“We innovate at such a rate that technologies whose applications are far broader than racing are created as a matter of course. Such technologies often have their genesis in racing cars, but then find suitability to products or situations never foreseen by their creators.”

Dennis added that for him the most powerful role of the exhibitionis to inspire the next generation of British engineers “to embrace science, technology and engineering to provide answers to the problems of tomorrow.”

Ron even went on to quote Nietzsche, which is a definite innovation on my experience of F1 team principals!

One thought on “Ron at the Science Museum

  1. Joe,
    A very interesting article and the statements by Ron Dennis make one wonder how F1 and its participants can be making moves which will inhibit the very thing he touts in F1, the “…technological and scientific innovation, carried out under extremes of time pressure, with relentless fortnightly assessment of progress and performance.”

    This of course is about history, not the future. To reign in costs Mssr. Dennis’ statement above will no longer be true. And the further reduction in testing will inevitably decrease reliability and/or prevent teams from attempting improvements during the season because of the inability to test. It will certainly be a disincentive unless you are either in a commanding lead or going to sacrifice the season as Honda, and to a lesser extent, Renault and Williams did last year.

    Prior to implementation of the new rules, teams could make great strides from race to race and the ability to go from an idea to a piece of hardware in literally days was tremendous. This was a good thing, not only for F1but, for other aspects of engineering disciplines.

    The inability to test an idea will lead to more conservative approaches which are fine if you’re designing and building airplanes but might very well stifle innovation in F1.

    I still hope I am wrong but increasing component standardization, frozen engine design, reduced maximum revs, and no testing don’t bode well. Even KERS which is certainly a big innovation will be restricted to two systems or technologies.

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