Formula 1’s safety car could become driver-less in the future as part of an effort to promote autonomous technology, the FIA has revealed.
While motor racing’s governing body is determined to ensure that drivers remain a key element of F1’s attraction, some thought has been given to showing off autonomous technology through other elements of a grand prix weekend.
In an exclusive interview with Motorsport.com, Marcin Budkowski, the head of the F1 technical department, suggests that a driver-less safety car would be a good way of proving automotive advances without detracting from the show.
When asked by Motorsport.com about what impact autonomous cars could have in F1, Budkowski said: “Let me give you an example, but it is not the only one: we have spoken about an unmanned safety car.
“It would promote a technology about which there is a bit of scepticism and, instead, it could be shown that it works.
“The safety car driver would no longer be essential, because it would leave the controls to the computer. But we must be aware of the attraction of [F1] race cars without drivers: the engineers would love it, but not the fans.”
Although Budkowski is sceptical about potential fan interest in a driver-less F1, he does think that other series like Roborace do have a role to play in promoting autonomous developments.
“I see it [Roborace] as a very interesting thing, which pushes things in one direction. But can this idea of having no F1 driver captivate millions around the world? Frankly I have doubts.
“However, using the motorsport platform to promote to the public new technologies, like an unmanned safety car, or events like Roborace, can be fantastic in exploring the possibility of new solutions.”
Budkowski’s views on autonomous technology in F1 are especially valid because part of the reason he was recruited to the FIA, after years spent working for McLaren and Ferrari, was to help formulate plans for adapting the sport to better suit future technologies.
“The FIA was starting a project on connected autonomous vehicles, and it wanted to understand how it should be placed in front of these new technologies,” added Budkowski.
“The idea was to understand what will change with autonomous driving in the automotive world, and what influences it would have on the individual national federations.
“There were also implications in defining the business model, not to mention how to use the new technologies in motorsport to promote them – because solutions will completely change the world of cars and safety.
“Autonomous driving will have a very strong impact on safety and we know how the FIA and Jean Todt are engaged in the Action for Road Safety campaign.”
Addtional reporting by Franco Nugnes