MANAMA (Reuters) - Formula One needs to focus on the positives of its new turbo era rather than talking itself down, Williams technical head Pat Symonds said on Friday.
Speaking ahead of Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix, Symonds warned that criticism of the rule changes from within the sport risked a backlash similar to that faced by British jeweler Gerald Ratner in 1991.
Ratner wiped 500 million pounds ($829.50 million) off his firm’s value with a speech to business leaders that mocked both his merchandise and customers’ taste.
In one of the great corporate blunders, he boasted his company’s earrings were cheaper than a prawn sandwich “but probably wouldn’t last as long” and called a cheap set of decanters and glasses “total crap”.
Symonds said Formula One should not follow that path.
“We are in a good place and as a business we should focus on the positives,” he told a news conference after Friday practice.
“I think many people in the UK will remember a guy called Ratner who basically killed his business by negative comments on it. We should be positive. We’ve done something good and we should tell the world about it.”
Formula One ditched the old 2.4 liter V8 engines at the end of last season and replaced them with a new 1.6 liter V6 turbo power unit with systems harnessing exhaust gases and kinetic energy from the brakes.
The result has been much quieter cars that must now complete races with 30 percent less fuel in a bid to become more environmentally friendly and road relevant.
Critics, such as Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemolo and Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone, have condemned the new sound and the formula that puts an emphasis on fuel economy rather than outright speed.
Montezemolo is due in Bahrain for talks with Ecclestone and Jean Todt, head of the governing International Automobile Federation (FIA), on the new regulations and possible tweaks.
Symonds, a former Benetton and Renault technical director, said the new technology was impressive and necessary.
“The road car industry, rightly or wrongly, has to hit CO2 per km targets...and they will have to employ technology such as we are using in Formula One. So we are moving forwards, we are more relevant than we used to be.
“There was a great danger that we would become irrelevant, that we would become the focus of gas-guzzling and not having social responsibility. I think it was really important that we did move away from that,” added the Briton.
“The thing Formula One needs to really face up to at the moment is costs. It’s costs that are going to kill Formula One,” he said.
Mercedes executive director Paddy Lowe, whose team are currently dominant, agreed.
“I was very interested in Pat’s Ratner comment because we’ve seen a little bit of that going on and I don’t understand it,” he told reporters.
“I think there are so many positives around this formula. For an engine to deliver similar power to last year with more than 30 percent less fuel consumption is just an incredible achievement. And it’s something we should celebrate.
“There’s good stories around...and I think we should be talking more about that.”
Red Bull technical head Adrian Newey, whose team are on the back foot after winning the last four championships, was unconvinced however.
“Efficiency, strategy and economy of driving is very well-placed for sportscars. Formula One should be about excitement, about man and machine performing at its maximum every single lap,” said the designer.
“I guess ultimately the spectators and television viewers are going to vote with their feet. What we waste words saying in here won’t make much difference.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Gene Cherry