(Motorsport-Total.com) – Bob Bell can look back on a brilliant career as a top engineer in Formula 1, where he has worked for McLaren, Benetton, Jordan, Renault and Mercedes. During the years when Fernando Alonso won the title, he was Technical Director at Renault, and after Flavio Briatore left, he took over the position of team manager. Most recently he was one of the architects of the current success era of Mercedes.
One of his main concerns has always been to use the knowledge and technology of Formula 1 for the benefit of broad sections of society. To this end, in 2019 he launched the non-profit project Grid4Good.org, with which Formula 1 teams and engineers want to solve problems outside of racing.
This year, the group played a key role in Formula 1’s response to COVID-19 and, among other projects, helped accelerate the development of ventilators for critically ill patients.
What is behind “Grid4Good”
In the current episode of our #ThinkingForward series of interviews with leading figures in sports, Bell explains the mission of Grid4Good, predicts a golden age for Formula 1 and looks ahead to a possible fusion of Formula 1 and Formula E. The complete interview is available as a podcast and video .
Question: “Mr. Bell, how did the Grid4Good initiative come about?”
Bob Bell: “I turned 60 a few years ago and always said: If I reach this point, I will retire from racing and do something different, something for society. Motorsport does a lot for society, and I’m proud of that. But personally, I have always been of the opinion that the influence should be more direct. At the beginning of 2019, we and some colleagues from Formula 1 launched Grid4Good. “
“The idea was that we would take on non-profit projects in the background and link them to potentially free or inexpensive solutions from the world of motorsport. We helped some UK charities to renew their PR and marketing, some PR agencies from the Formula 1 did that for us without a fee. And we helped a Formula 1 team develop new electric wheelchairs. “
“At the beginning of this year came the corona crisis and everyone in the paddock was determined to support the government in overcoming the technical challenges. Grid4Good was part of it through the ‘Project Pitlane’ initiative. It confirmed the concept in a way that that I could never have hoped for. We’ve got a couple of older COVID-19 medical projects off the ground. And we’re always looking for new projects. “
Bob Bell: Motorsport can provide quick solutions
Question: “You already mentioned the ‘Project Pitlane’, this great reaction from the Formula 1 teams. Not only was the technical innovation remarkable, but also the speed of reaction. It normally takes a long time in medical technology to develop a ventilator, but that The speed that Formula 1 has shown in this area was simply outstanding. “
Bell: “Absolutely! It was all about the speed of reaction. Formula 1 has this ‘we’re doing it’ attitude, which is disappearing more and more in the rest of the world. The world is becoming more and more complex, more and more bureaucratic, it is becoming more and more difficult to act quickly. “
“In the motorsport world’s reaction to the COVID situation, it wasn’t technology that was decisive, but the fact that we managed to do it in that time. When we are faced with a challenge, we will find one faster with our means than anyone else Solution. Because that’s what we get paid for! “
Question: “You have long believed that the transfer of technology and working methods from motorsport to society at large is incredibly important. Many people are unaware that seat belts, disc brakes or malleable crash structures – many everyday things – originate in Motorsport. The fact that this fact is more and more recognized should make you pretty happy. “
Bell: “Yes, I am really proud of the achievements of the entire industry. You have already mentioned a few specific products from which many in society today benefit. What is being lost a little is progress, because motorsport and especially Formula 1 in workflows and methods. In Formula 1, for example, we use computational fluid dynamics (CFD) extensively to design the aerodynamics of cars. “
“During the COVID crisis, we used CFD to analyze the distribution of aerosols from hospital patients. If they have to cough during intubation, how are the aerosols distributed? How long does it take to evacuate the room? Such Analyzing really difficult problems is only possible with CFD. And we have the expertise to provide credible answers quickly. “
Question: “We are seeing a strong shift towards dedicated motorsport. This applies to all sports, but in the future it will no longer be enough for our sport to be just an entertainment platform, especially for the millennial generation. Sustainability, diversity and accessibility – the demand after all these things has accelerated. And the aspect of social justice is getting bigger and bigger in sport. How do you feel about these aspects? “
Bell: “The Corporate Social Responsibility [Unternehmerische Gesellschaftsverantwortung] is especially important for large corporations that have their own Formula 1 team. These companies need to be much more aware of the social issues in the world, and so do their racing teams. It really becomes important because society is changing. The younger generation, the fans we are trying to win and keep, ask something different of us than their predecessors. “
“If we don’t acknowledge that and don’t react to it, we’ll lose it. I think Formula 1 under the new leadership of Liberty, with Ross [Brawn] and chase [Carey], is doing everything it can to make sure Formula 1 is at the top. And it’s not just about environmental issues, it has a lot to do with inclusivity, things like STEM subjects, diversity, equality and fairness. “
Sustainability is crucial in Formula 1
Question: “Last year I met some young engineers at Mercedes, and quite a lot of them were women. And even if you look around the paddock, you will find women in important positions in many teams, for example in racing strategy. Feel that the participation of women in sport is increasing and that the faces on the pit wall will look completely different in five or ten years in the key positions? “
Bell: “Oh, absolutely. And it’s to be welcomed. But I think the problem starts earlier in society than in motorsport. I think there is a problem that starts in the first days of school. We have a much larger sector of society interested in becoming engineers and scientists. I think we have to work at all levels, from the grass roots upwards, from elementary school up. ”
“We have to create a culture of interest in subjects that have traditionally been viewed as ‘men’s subjects’, namely science. Formula 1 and motorsport can do their part. But we also have to see changes at the lower levels.”
Question: “This was an important year for Formula 1: the signing of the Concorde Agreement, a reasonable budget ceiling and leveling measures that I never thought we would see in Formula 1. It brought stability at a difficult moment. But with all your experience: Do you believe that sport will actually be able to capitalize on it and make Formula 1 even better and future-proof? “
Bell: “Definitely. Formula 1 is always good. I think what we have now and what we are going to develop on will be the best that has ever been. The direction in which it goes, with real attempts, that Cutting costs is absolutely crucial. You can’t justify the budgets that have to be spent on Formula 1 to the rest of society, that’s not sustainable. “
Bob Bell: Formula 1 must appeal to young target groups
“And we have to level the playing field; it won’t happen on its own. It will only happen through strong leadership, and we have that with the owners of Liberty and with the FIA. I don’t think that will diminish the sporting spectacle in any way There will still be great races, we still have great champions, great drivers. “
“Formula 1 is not just about what happens on the racetrack. Increasingly, what happens off the racetrack is of great interest to the public and fans. The success of the Netflix series ‘Drive to Survive’, the Growing importance of social media – people want more than just the race on a Sunday afternoon. To be sustainable, Formula One must change and reflect the wants and needs of a potential fan base. Otherwise, it will only wither. “
“Where does the future of sport lie technically? We have this challenge ahead of us. Formula 1 is essentially a hybrid formula that is currently dominated by combustion engine technology. We have Formula E running in parallel, which is fully electric . This dual tone has to be resolved at some point. I am very optimistic about Formula 1. I think it is in good shape and the prospects are good. “
What is the future: electric or hydrogen?
Question: “We are currently seeing that the budgets of Formula 1 and Formula E are converging. As you say, the series will have to merge at some point in the future. But Formula E has received an exclusive license for electric formula cars for a long time. If we Look at the track in 15 or 20 years and imagine what motorsport would be like then: Do you see electric or hydrogen-powered cars in the top formula class and at Le Mans? And how will it be in customer racing, in series-based categories such as the Touring car look like? “
Bell: “Ultimately, the top of the market will get along without CO2 emissions. Formula 1 and Formula E will settle their differences and perhaps merge into a series, whatever it will look like. The same applies to Le Mans – these formulas are all electric or with Hydrogen powered or whatever comes our way. I think there will still be a place in the hearts and minds of many people for racing that goes back to another era. “
I think there are many elements of racing, especially at the base, that may be a bit out of date. But it is important to preserve this legacy. The big picture, sustainability, can be achieved with large series. The difference between Formula 1 and the other major series is the pioneering role, demonstrating technologies that can be used around the world and accelerating technical progress. To set an example for the rest of the world. “