F1's new era still has weighty issues

Posted on April 14, 2014

By David Coulthard

David Coulthard on why weight does matter.

Bahrain was a brilliant race but let's not get carried away. The new technology is still not quite there yet, with the knock-on effect on driver weight a serious concern.

OK, I think it's time to talk about the elephant in the room. Yes, we had a brilliant grand prix in Bahrain last time out. Yes, Mercedes were brave to allow their drivers to race each other and were rewarded with a one-two featuring some thrilling wheel-to-wheel action. Yes, it gave F1 a much needed shot in the arm after recent criticism of the new regulations. All that is true. But let's not pretend that everything is hunky dory. Not yet anyway. People are getting carried away. One good race does not a splendid season make.

I wrote last time about the disappointing lack of noise emanating from the new engines and this time I want to talk about something even more weighty. The truth is that the new 'power units', for all their technological sophistication and supposed relevance in the modern world, are not only slower and quieter than the old ones, but far heavier too. 690kgs compared to 640kgs. That is a significant amount when you think that 10kgs equates to three tenths of a second per lap.

The point is, nothing comes for free in this world. With the new power units so much heavier, and the cars so marginal to make the minimum weight limit, something has to pay for all this newfangled hybrid technology. And at the moment it is the driver. There is simply no getting away from the fact that smaller, lighter drivers enjoy a huge advantage in this new era. Not only is this unfair - in my opinion racing cars should be about driving skills and reaction speeds rather than how big you are - it is potentially unsafe. I had a well documented eating disorder as a teenager early on in my career. In my mind the only way I could keep my weight down was by making myself vomit. I became skin and bone. I would hate to see the same thing happen to drivers today. I don't think it will but we need to remain vigilant. Jean-Eric Vergne revealed before the last race that he had to go into hospital after effectively starving himself. Jenson Button eats no carbohydrates at all. Adrian Sutil threatened to race in Bahrain without a water bottle.

Sympathy may be in short supply for well-paid Formula One drivers who stay in 5-star hotels but it is not just the drivers suffering, it is the sport. This is not what Formula One is about. Even for drivers of similar size. Take Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Lewis has lost a lot of muscle this year and I believe the pair are now well matched weight-wise so that should take the weight issue out of the equation, right? Wrong. Weight comes at such a premium that if either of them can weigh in half a kilo lighter for a race, it could hand him the all-important advantage, especially in a race as close as the one we saw in Bahrain. Do we want the drivers starving themselves, or sweating it out in saunas, to try to get the upper hand on each other?

In my opinion there ought to be a set weight for 'seat plus driver' to which everyone adheres. Just take an accepted average and let's get on with it. Let's get back to racing being decided by skill rather than weight (within moderation of course). Jacques Villeneuve used to argue with me that he was lighter and should enjoy the advantage that conferred on him. And I used to say 'I can see your point but I would rather beat you because I'm better not because I'm smaller'.

Changing the rules would require smaller drivers, and teams with smaller drivers, to see the bigger picture; to be altruistic (never F1's strong point). But ultimately it has to be good for the sport. I'm not saying that the entire concept of the new formula is wrong - the future of the automotive industry is clearly not in fossil fuels - simply that the technology is not quite there yet. People can bang on all they like about carbon footprints and green engines, but while drivers are starving themselves half to death and potential world champions such as Nico Hulkenberg continue to get overlooked by top teams, simply because they are tall, there is clearly a problem.