CAUTION: OPINIONS AHEAD
A few years ago Niki Lauda suggested that for F1 to be more exciting, they needed to go to wider tires and bigger wings and lots more horsepower. Basically, turn the clock back to when he was racing. He’s not the first person to suggest going back to “the old ways”. When the new turbo motors came out, everyone complained and wanted to go back to the V10 era. Was the V10 era that much better? Were the 70’s the peak of F1?
People in drifting have some thoughts on the current state of the sport as well. There was a time where 500 horsepower was considered a lot, and the steering mods you needed were rack spacers and modified knuckles. Now the top Formula D cars make around 800 horsepower, completely redesigned steering components for crazy amounts of angle, and over fenders on over fenders to cover the tires because the steering mods have pushed the wheels so far out from their original location. But were the lower power, simpler days so much better than today?
Back in the day, you could fix damn near any car with nothing more than a socket set and a bucket of carb cleaner. The bodies were made of steel, and they were designed by guys with slide rulers and very little understanding of aerodynamics. Modern cars are massive compared to the old cars, and the technology is so deeply embedded in every aspect of them that working on them is nearly impossible. But were the old steel bodied classics better than the stuff you can drive off a dealer’s lot?
Well… No. Modern race cars are demonstrably faster, more efficient and safer than their old counter parts, drifting has graduated from “a bunch of idiots in a parking lot” to a legitimate motorsport, and modern cars are faster, safer, more efficient, and better equipped than the designers ever thought cars could be. When Niki Lauda won his first World Championship in 1975, he turned a 1:26.40 lap in qualifying. In 2011 Sebastian Vettel ran a 1:13.556.
With more knowledge and data, the Formula D cars are moving through the courses faster and making more tire smoke. Couple that with the amount of angle the drivers are using going through the corners, and you have something far more interesting to watch than what was happening in 2007.
Modern cars are heavier and bigger because they have more stuff in them. Stuff like multiple air bags and other safety equipment, infotainment systems that play your Pandora stations and read your text messages to you! In 1975, a V8 Camaro 13 mpg in the city and 19 on the highway. A 2016 Camaro does 16 mpg in the city and 25 on the highway. The humble Corolla went from 21/33 forty-one years ago to 28/37 now. Modern cars of all varieties are demonstrably better. But why do we keep holding up examples from the past? In my opinion, it’s a familiarity issue.
Let me try to explain this with an analogy. Michael Jordan is the best basketball player I’ve ever seen. I say this because I watched him for more than a third of my life. I saw him win multiple championships, MVP awards, and even a gold medal. Now if you were to ask someone ten years younger than me, they probably wouldn’t say MJ was the best. They’d probably say Kobe Bryant, or LeBron James, or even Steph Curry is the best. Why? Because they watched them at their peaks, like I did with Jordan. That hypothetical person grew up knowing only an old MJ and young, rising talents in LeBron, Steph and Kobe. Now replace MJ and LeBron with an AE86 and a new FRS/BRZ. The Corolla was amazing, but that’s not the hero car for the new generation. It’s legendary, and they know about the old Corolla; but, the FRS/BRZ has been around since some of these kids became aware of cars and their coolness.
Same with F1. Some people came into the sport WITH the turbo V6s, and have no idea about the previous eras. There are countless hoards of people out there that are convinced that to have a fun drift car you need a high horsepower 2JZ or LS, all of the Wisefab you can get your hands on, and as much fender as one can fit on a car. And let’s be honest, spending an hour in stop and go traffic in a car with weak A/C, a semi-functioning tape deck, and an ever falling fuel needle isn’t as good a place to be as a car where you can throw it in D, crank up the A/C, listen to your Spotify playlist of choice, and not having to stop for gas at every exit. It’s easy to look at the past with rose colored spectacles, but you can’t deny that things are better now than they used to be.