Silent motorsport? We may have to get used to it.

Below are the first three paragraphs of my introduction to the 2018 season.  Comments are welcome.

The history of more than 120 years of motorsport had been underpinned by one invention more than any other, the internal combustion engine; now governments around the world were pledging to phase out petrol and diesel vehicles to tackle the rise in exhaust emissions, and this called into question the future of motorsport as it has been understood throughout its history. Various national governments and the European Union pledged to begin phasing out the sale of petrol and diesel powered vehicles from as early as 2025, and in July 2017 the French government of newly elected President Emmanuel Macron announced that the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles would be banned by law from 2040. Later in the same month the British government announced a similar policy, with the concession that it would still allow the sale of hybrid vehicles. Neither government could be confident of retaining power until 2040 in order to be in a position to enact the proposed laws, and the policy assumed technical breakthroughs which had yet to be made. The environmental impact of the internal combustion engine could not have been foreseen by the pioneers of motoring; there was no noticeable impact while the numbers of vehicles were low, but since the end of World War II there had been a rapid expansion in the number of motor vehicles worldwide. In the developed world population growth, rising living standards and a substantial increase in the number of people choosing to learn to drive had driven a rapid growth of motor vehicle ownership. The largest increase in the number of qualified drivers had been among women; female drivers were very much in a minority in the pioneering days. At the same time motor vehicles had spread in large numbers to all parts of the less developed world, creating a perfect environmental storm, albeit that modern engines generated much less pollution than their predecessors. The internal combustion engine could be sure of a safe haven in the United States; in June 2017 controversial President Donald Trump announced that his country was withdrawing from the 2015 Paris Accord on Climate Change. This policy could be reversed by a future President, but it appeared unlikely that a ban on the sale of vehicles powered by the internal combustion engine would ever be passed by the United States Congress.

On the wider issue of climate change those with extreme views on either side of the argument were wrong; the truth lay between the extremes, that exhaust emissions were affecting the climate and causing health problems in cities, but they were only one of several causes and the climatic changes were occurring over a longer timescale than many environmental campaigners were claiming. On the narrower issue of how the switch to electric powered vehicles was to be achieved there was the problem of how the additional electric power required was to be generated; if it were to be generated by conventional power stations it would be merely transferring the emissions from one source to another and if it were to be generated by nuclear power there would be a dramatic increase in the number of spent fuel rods, which would remain radioactive for thousands of years without a major scientific breakthrough. Unless the additional electric power was to be generated using green energy sources it would merely be substituting one type of environmental pollution for another.

On the specific issue of how this would affect the future of motorsport there already were championships for electrically powered cars and motorcycles, and the fastest machines contesting the TT Zero race in the Isle of Man were achieving speeds which would have been the outright lap record in the 1980s, but these machines were currently capable of completing a single lap only; their range was expected to increase with improvements in battery technology. Dorna were quick to react to the new reality, and in one of their wiser decisions they announced a new series for electric motorcycles, Moto-e, to commence in 2019. In the long term it was conceivable that the MotoGP series and the Formula 1 motor racing championship could continue using petrol powered vehicles, but most current motorcycle road racing featured tuned versions of production machinery, and it was at this level that the sport faced the greatest threat to its future. If petrol powered motorcycles were no longer to be manufactured in the near future this would spell the end of Superbike, Supersport and Superstock racing in its present form. The F.I.M., Dorna and the various federations could only wait to see how the future developed, because they were dependent on the manufacturers; by definition racing classes derived from Production machinery rely on a supply of machines manufactured for road use.

Since I wrote this, Dorna in their infinite wisdom have decided to restrict their new Moto-e series to machines built by a single manufacturer, stifling technical innovation in their perpetual quest for closer racing.  This was a golden opportunity lost.  The TT Zero races had proved to be a poor spectacle, featuring few starters on machines with wide variations in performance levels.  This would never do for Dorna`s television coverage, but it is still the only way to stimulate the technical advances needed if we are all to be driving electric vehicles within the next 20 years.  As to whether silent racing will appeal to the spectators that remains to be seen.  Certainly something will be lost from the experience of attending a race meeting, but this seems to be the direction we are heading towards.   

My view is that the environmentalists` case is strong enough to stand on its own merits based on the true facts.  They do not need to exaggerate their claims as they so often do.

Laurence Hammond.  December 2018.

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