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Engineers warn Strategy Group against radical changes ahead of crunch meeting

Luca Martini/Sutton Images

Some of Formula One's most prominent engineers have issued a stark warning to the Strategy Group ahead of crunch talks on Thursday about the future direction of the sport.

F1's Strategy Group, which is made up of the FIA, Formula One Management (FOM) and six of F1's teams - Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes, McLaren, Williams and Force India - is meeting on Thursday to discuss ways of making the sport more exciting. Talk of a "spectacular new formula" for 2017 has been circulating in the paddock since the start of the year, as F1 bosses attempt to arrest the decline in audiences both at the track and watching on TV.

Plans for 1000bhp engines, wider rear tyres, revised aerodynamics and a ban on windtunnels will all be discussed in Thursday's meeting, but Mercedes technical boss Paddy Lowe does not think radical changes will result in a formula that fans desire.

"Above all we must maintain Formula One cars as the pinnacle of motorsport," Lowe said. "That's the presentation that Formula One is and that's what maintains the show and the attractiveness to a global audience. Even amongst topics such as cost saving, which often comes up, above all we've got to maintain that show and that means the cars must be truly spectacular.

"But in terms of rule changes, I think it's not absolutely clear that we need to change the cars radically, that's something being discussed. Performance will increase anyway through normal development and we may arrive at the position we want to be through natural development.

"I think an interesting area is just in the sporting regulations. There are a lot of thing we can do that would improve the show without spending a huge amount of money changing the cars themselves. Changes to sporting regulations generally don't attach a lot of cost and can change the sport in subtle ways that improve the spectacle, improve the interest, improve the uncertainty, which is what you really want from race to race - that it's not absolutely clear who is going to win."

Williams head of vehicle performance Rob Smedley agrees with Lowe that the sporting regulations and not the technical regulations need the Strategy Group's attention.

"I think we should leave it alone," Smedley said. "In the main we should perhaps think about stopping tampering with it rather than thinking we're going to create a new set of rules and that's going to fix everything.

"Every time you create a new set of rules, you'll usually find the people with the biggest resource or with the cleverest thinking, or the people who stopped working on the current generation of Formula One cars, come out with quite a big gap.

"That's what, when we talk about these boring races, that's what we're referring to isn't it? A team dominating at the front - but a team dominates when we have radical rule changes. I think that we do have to seriously think about not changing anything."

Smedley added: "There's lots of things we can do with the Sporting Regs, which aren't going to cost a great deal of money. We have to be responsible in how we spend. I've said this before. The average man on the street, the people who we're trying to drag into the circuits, or who we're trying to drag into viewing us on a Sunday afternoon, they don't care about spend: they just want to see racing.

"Even the technology, to a certain extent, is of less interest. So it's got to be the racing spectacle that we put at the forefront. By having a radical rule change you're not guaranteed to increase the racing spectacle - but what you are guaranteed to do is increase costs."

Lotus technical Nick Chester is also wary of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

"There's a lot talked at the moment about the rule changes for 2017 but I think people forget at the moment the racing's actually quite good. There are some very good battles up and down the whole grid and as the cars' performance is improving a lot - I think we're seeing two seconds improvement from last year - do we really need a huge change of regulation?

"A huge of regulation is going to open up the grid again, there'll be bigger differences between teams and obviously it's going to add a lot of cost, so I think we shouldn't forget that show's actually not bad at the moment."

McLaren CEO Jonathan Neale thinks the V6 turbo power units should be left alone and focus should be on aerodynamics.

"I think that the sport needs to rethink a number of areas. Personally, I think it would be foolish to mess around with the immense amount of good work that has been done on the power units. Maybe some minor adjustments but it's a much more efficient package, it's got some great technology, it's still maturing in the sport and the price can come down if it's left to mature because just we're not putting in the same R&D costs. So I would leave that alone.

"But I would look for... we've spoken about that a step-change in aerodynamics, to make sure that these cars are difficult to drive and maintain that perform gap to the other junior series and Formula One remains and out and out race. We can still have the efficiency, we can still have many other attributes of the sport but I think it should just be a flat-out race."

Red Bull chief engineer Paul Monaghan is also for more development on the chassis side and leaving the power units as they are.

"As a personal view I'd seek to improve the performance of the cars. The mechanism by which we do it really will come down from Strategy Group to people such as ourselves and then we'll sort it out from there. That's what I would wish for at the moment."