An impassioned cry almost drowned out the sound of Formula One cars coming back to life at the Circuit de Catalunya, as Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, implored the sport to save itself at a meeting in Geneva on Tuesday afternoon.
The meeting is, effectively, the last chance for F1 to endorse a series of radical proposals to revitalise the sport in 2017 with more aggressively designed cars with wider tyres that are more difficult to drive and five seconds a lap quicker.
“We need to do it now because if we need unanimous agreement [required after the end of February deadline] then you might as well forget it,” he said.
The day that must be seized is a long one. A morning meeting of the F1 strategy group, involving the leading teams, will be followed by a full meeting of the F1 commission, involving Bernie Ecclestone, the sport’s chief executive, the FIA president, Jean Todt, race organisers, sponsors, the tyre-makers Pirelli and the teams.
Horner said: “It is a great opportunity to do something fantastic for the fans. We should do it properly. You don’t want to be half-pregnant. We’ve got to grab the bull by the horns and address the fundamentals that were set out for next year almost 12 months ago. We have a clean piece of paper.”
Radical change would suit Red Bull fine. For in Adrian Newey they possess the finest designer in F1. He craves a clean piece of paper more than anyone else so he can create a new, aero-led car. Horner, at his most evangelising, continued: “It would be a great shame if this opportunity was missed. The thing that concerns me is that every team has a vested interest. We need to see strong governance and leadership. I don’t think F1 is in crisis but we have got an opportunity to do something really good.”
More pessimistically, he added: “It will be an interesting day. We’ll probably go round and round again.”
Ecclestone has recently described F1 as “the worst it’s ever been,” adding, “I wouldn’t spend my money to take my family to watch a race. No way.”
Horner came to the aid of his ally when he said: “I think Bernie is frustrated with where Formula One is and in the old days it would have been easier to fix it. Now we have this democracy in Formula One it’s very hard to get everyone to agree.”
He asked Ecclestone to play a full part at the meeting. “We need the commercial rights holder [Ecclestone] and the governing body [the FIA] aligned, or there is no chance.”
The first day of testing in Barcelona was dominated by the world champion,Lewis Hamilton, who pounded around the circuit 156 times while his Mercedes gathered data for the season ahead. “It’s been an amazing day,” he said. “I’ve never had a day-one practice like it. To get in a new car and have no problems is a remarkable job done by the team. It was encouraging.
“It’s hard to improve. Perfection is always moving. The car is better. I feel very strong, and wanting to win is part of my DNA. It’s not as if I have to reinvent myself or get motivation out of thin air. There is more to come.” He has admitted he stopped training last season after winning the championship in Austin.
Hamilton was the busiest driver but Sebastian Vettel was the fastest for Ferrari. The quickest of his 69 laps was half a second better than Hamilton’s, though such figures are meaningless at this stage.
The McLaren’s racing director, Eric Boullier, is still haunted by last year’s awful start with the Honda engine and he seemed disappointed after the morning session when he said: “Not good enough. We didn’t have the best mileage and we had a couple of issues in the car.” McLaren looked happier at the end of the day, by which time Jenson Button had clocked up a very respectable 84 laps.