Roborace Will Deliver The Racing Challenge Of Bernie Ecclestone's Dreams
Roborace, the Formula E offshoot which promises a glimpse of a future where cars race themselves and drivers are redundant, took to the stage at MWC to unveil its official race vehicle.
Looking outwardly similar to the protoype the new car does look to be full of promise. The news that there will be two race types was even more interesting - a non-contact and a no-holds barred challenge.
Promises to be somewhat tasty.
What the series will do is change the dynamic of motorsport, which has always been about the drivers and the marques. In Roborace the human face of each team will probably be the lead programmer. The human interest angle will be worth monitoring as it will have a big say on whether the championship succeeds or fails.
Human racing drivers have emotions and physical limitations, which makes results somewhat unpredictable. Who can fathom the thought processes and emotions that caused Alain Prost to run Ayrton Senna off the road at Suzuka in 1989? Or Mika Hakinnen to crack under pressure at Monza and drop is car into the gravel before bursting into floods of tears behind the barriers?
Without these human elements will Roborace become something clinical and lacking in excitement? Are you ready to cheer on one computer program against another?
Thirty-five years ago Bernie Ecclestone would have jumped at the chance to do away with the drivers in F1. New terms for the driver's super-licenses effectively made them just another component of the car for the team to control. At the season opener in South Africa the drivers went on strike and in the shakeout Ecclestone prevented his lead driver, reigning World Champion Nelson Piquet, from taking part in practice sessions.
Ecclestone saw the driver as a lightbulb to be swapped out whenever the team felt ready, and in subsequent years we've seen that, for a driver at least, holding a contract for a seat means very little indeed.
Whether Roborace will generate the passionate fan interest that characterises high end motorsport remains to be seen. Without drivers it will certainly need to find a new star for its show.