F1 Making it better

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Formula 1 is the only sport I have any interest in. I’m not sure why F1 has such a hold over me but it does. There are so many reasons why I find it 3fascinating and sometimes even exciting. Those who run F1 have been aware for some time that F1 isn’t all it could be and there have been many complaints of late, from the sound the latest cars make to how easy they appear to drive. As a long term fan of F1 and a great lover of some of the excellent stories that come from this sport I do have a few ideas about to liven things up.

Before we can discuss the changes we need to understand the sport that is F1. Part of its appeal must surely be the history. The cars may have changed but at the end of the day, F1 is about the best drivers and teams competing against each other. There has been much talk of late about making the cars all the same but that would be a mistake. Much of the fascination of F1 comes from the individual teams who compete.

F1 is a team sport. Let’s not forget that. The driver might be the one who gets the limelight but for every driver there are hundreds of behind the scene players who all work extremely hard to ensure their team does the best job. A one design formula would ruin this fundamental fact of F1 and what makes it so interesting and often exciting.

Let’s define what F1 is or should be. F1 is the pinnacle of motor sport. Every racing driver would like to be F1 world champion. It is the greatest accolade for a driver. F1 is cutting edge. Whatever people say about how the cars are too complicated, the simple fact is that throughout the history of F1 teams and designers have always used the latest technologies and materials to get that small advantage. Technology is always going to be a part of F1. The clever part is not letting it interfere with the human being behind the wheel.

Should F1 be running hybrids and saving fuel? Yes it should. Every sport must behave responsibly and reducing the impact on the environment in what is already not a very eco friendly sport is essential if F1 is to remain in business. F1 is a business lets not forget that either. But there is no reason why a business cannot offer a great quality product for a price that is good value and yet enables a profit to be made so that it can be reinvested in the future of F1.

Further more, fuel is heavy and throughout F1 history there have been situations where cars run out of fuel long before they get to the chequered flag. The less fuel a car can carry, the faster it will be. It will also take less out of the tyres. The more economical a car is, the better too. Saving fuel has always been a part of F1.

So far so good. Everyone knows F1 is in a mess and no one knows what to do. This much is obvious because never before have the powers that be in this autocratic sport asked for the public’s help.

What I fear most is F1 changing because of a knee jerk reaction. F1 has been around for 60 years and is bigger now that ever. I think it is important to realise this. Whatever strange rules are introduced, F1 has survived so it can’t be that broken.

What I do think is that it is too expensive. I also think the BBC should show all live races. In my opinion this is one of the worst things that ever happened to F1. The very fact that it is now only watchable on Sky TV is a tragedy. How can it be that F1 now has adverts that promote Betting, money lending at extortionate rates and insurance. If anything cheapens F1 it is this. That people actually pay their hard earned cash to pay to view F1 races on Sky and then have to endure the worst adverts as well beggars belief. Personally I will not pay Sky one penny preferring not to watch the race at all. I doubt I am alone and I fear that F1 lost a lot of good loyal fans because of it.

It is not clear to me how not offering F1 races on the BBC (or now C4) helps the future of the sport. How are we to attract the young to this sport. Unless F1 attracts new customers it will ultimately fail. Making F1 accessible is essential. Making it even more elite by only offering pay for view is unhelpful, narrow minded and very sad.

The price of tickets has risen so much that hardly anyone went to the German grand prix to the point where it’s deemed too expensive to even have one this year. A great tragedy. F1 would be better served by less greed and more generosity. Larger profits may actually ensue. Better than upping the price of a ticket until only the very wealthy can afford it. F1 would be better received if ticket prices were less. High prices carry high expectations. Fans are much less likely to moan if their tickets were not so expensive.

It takes enormous skill to be an F1 driver today. Personally I always reckoned I had the skill to do the driving part and I would have been particularly good at developing a car but when it comes to dealing with the endless mindless questions from the world’s press I would have faired very badly indeed. I take my hat off to the drivers, top diplomats all, especially considering the rarefied atmosphere where they live and their often young age.

One of the problems is that despite excellent camera angles and stuff, on the tv screen you do not get just how hard it is to be averaging 100 mph around the narrow barriered streets of Monte Carlo. Back in the early 90’s things were very different. Even with the sound off this video of a lap of Monaco by Ayrton Senna is spell binding. It’s so quick you wonder how anyone could manage this. Of course Senna owned Monaco. Then they were changing gear 30 times a lap by hand, which of course meant taking one hand of the wheel for much of the lap! Things are very different today.  If F1 looked like this today things would be very different.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GTJZTc1U1tM

Perhaps it’s possible with better editing or unusual camera angles, helmet cams etc but I can’t help feeling that even with the current F1 cars they could be made to look more exciting to drive. Obviously it’s not easy even driving a modern F1 car but it LOOKS too easy and that is part of the problem.

I think it would do no harm if F1 made the cars faster. How they do that is up to them but it would make for better racing. One thing is sure F1 should be considerably faster than ALL other forms of motorsport. It can’t be the pinnacle if it’s not the fastest.

There has been mention of reintroducing fuel stops and other such silly ideas. I just can’t see how it makes the racing any better to watch. The same is true of having different tyre manufacturers. Better that the tyres are the one constant. I do think that compound choice should be left to the teams and drivers to decide however.

The blue flags could be updated. I think they are important so that a slower car knows that a faster one is behind but I do not think they should have to get out of the way. Let the faster car get past anyway it can. It seems a shame that the slower cars, already penalised by their lack of pace have to lose further time getting out of the way of other cars. This is racing and back markers are part of it. It should make racing more interesting and bring in an element of luck to spice things up.

I also think that the idea of capping spending is just not realistic. Of course it is expensive to develop and run an F1 team but the big teams can afford it. I never understood why in season development was banned. What we end up with is one team doing really well and none of the other teams able to catch up. What this does is make for boring viewing. Witness Red Bull’s 4 years of dominance which only came to an end after the rules were changed. Now we have Mercedes dominating.

In the wake of the Austrian grand prix where the Mclarens were hit with 25 grid place penalties one has to question the wisdom of this rule. I just don’t understand the logic. OK, punish the team if they have to use another engine but why punish the driver and the sport? In the scheme of things, what difference does it really make if a team has to change engines every race? What we want is competitive racing and that is unlikely to happen if some of the teams are half way down the grid. No one understands the penalties, least of all the drivers or the commentators. How do these penalties help F1 to keep an audience?

Bring back in season testing. Throw as much money at the car as you like. Use wind tunnels when you want and do as much testing with the current car as you like. They are talking about making the cars faster, just let teams develop them and they will get faster. F1 is expensive and that is all there is to it. There’s no reason why even the smaller teams couldn’t manage to develop their cars. Their sponsors can help to fund the development as it is in their interests to do so.

Basically apart from these few niggles F1 isn’t in bad shape. Fundamentally it’s doing just fine. It just needs tarting up a bit.

And here are my two suggestions for improving the sport without ruining it, or changing it too dramatically.

The first thing I would like to see would be a read-out of drivers’ heart beats. It could be slipped in along side the other telemetry information and would give us a good indication into the head space of a driver. I don’t know why they don’t already do this. It’s one bit of extra info that would be very interesting.

But most of all, the question we all want to know is, who is the fastest driver? One of the issues with teams competing is that is hard to know who is the fastest driver? maybe they just have the best car? This question is at the bottom of why we all watch F1. To see who is the best.

Many years ago there was a race in Germany where all the current F1 drivers raced in identical Mercedes 190s. Senna won and Niki Lauda came second. It was brilliant to watch and very instructive.

What I propose is that at every F1 race there is also a race where all the grid drivers race in identical cars. The cars they use are not so important, perhaps in Italy an Italian car would be used, in Germany, a German one and so on. The races would have practice, qualifying and a race, albeit in a reduced form.

It could be run as a separate championship or the points won in these races would be added to the F1 championship. It would do three things. It would be a good showcase for a car manufacturer, it would show who is fastest and it would liven up F1 no end. I believe even the drivers would approve.

It would give rookie drivers a chance to earn a few points and show their skills when maybe they don’t have a competitive F1 car. Top drivers can hardly object as they would expect to be at the front anyway.

 

Update March 2016

Recently there have been some very silly developments. The revised qualifying is just a joke. How did anyone think that would improve the racing? This is the clearest demonstration yet that the powers who run F1 are deluded and out of touch. This is a mark of desperation, nothing more. What was wrong with Qualifying the way it was? All this talk about reversing the grid is just ridiculous. A qualifying place should be earned on merit otherwise, what is the point?

If you want to change qualifying then why not decide it by using road cars on a reduced track. They could be very fast road cars of course. I’m not saying it would be any better than the system currently in place but if you’re talking about entertainment then it would certainly make F1 more interesting to watch and would even up the field, at least temporarily.

The biggest problem with F1 is that it IS boring to watch for most of the time. To someone who cares nothing for motorsport it is merely some cars going around and around the same track and making a lot of noise in the process. Every F1 fan understands this. Not every race is a good one, but you wouldn’t want to miss any race in case that was the one full of excitement.

If F1 is ever to attract a new audience it needs to look at the sport with the eyes of someone who knows or cares little. Or it needs to teach the new audience the history and technical aspects of the sport in a way that is interesting and fun to watch. There is always a human story to be told, it’s just that F1 has become too money orientated. It is confused about what it is and the powers that be lack the imagination to change it.

Put simply F1 is too expensive and only showing it on pay for view is scandalous. After 2019 if they go ahead with this pitiful idea I for one won’t be watching it. I’m sure many people will crumble and pay Sky to watch but I’m not one of them.

Update: Just before the Russian Grand Prix 2016

Why can’t the powers that be just leave things alone? What was that pathetic attempt to change qualifying? I just don’t see how that makes the racing any better. Glad that we have reverted to a tried and trusted system.

The latest talk of halos and screens is just another nail in the coffin of F1. Motorsport is dangerous. Everyone knows this. Of course it’s dangerous. At 200 mph there are some serious physics involved. Nothing will ever change the fundamental fact that drivers may get hurt. We live in a ‘free’ world where if you do not wish to take the risk involved by getting in a race car, you do not have to do it.

Just as technology from F1 filters down to the road car, society’s ever growing fear of everything that might hurt you filters through to F1. I’m all for driver safety of course. No one wants to see anyone getting hurt but aren’t we just taking this a bit too far?

Would a halo have helped Senna? What is more likely, if he had that same crass in a 2016 car he probably would have walked away. Witness Alonso’s extraordinary crash when he clobbered the back of the Hass of Gutierrez and flew in to the wall at 180 mph. He walked out of that one yet that car was totally completely.

My opinion is that F1 is potentially dangerous but that these risks are managed and frankly the cars are so safe now that it is possible to see immense crashes where no one gets hurt. The progress made in the last 40 years is brilliant. However the drivers choose to race and they are very well compensated for the risks that they take.

Let’s just look for a moment at a few technical details. How is an aero screen going to stay clean during a race? Will it have tear off strips that the pit crew can remove? How will it work in the rain? It already seems to me that the drivers view out of the cars is ridiculously limited and the rear view mirrors are very small. Collisions between cars happens at every single race. If the drivers could see better what was around them, there would be less contact. Some may say that this makes the racing more exciting as it shakes up the grid but what I want to see in a race is fair racing. I want to see a win won on merit and not on chance because of a racing incident.

Reducing a driver’s vision even more is not going to help this. The screen itself causes more problems. It adds weight, which uses more fuel, the extra drag will probably have the same effect. There will be added complexity with whatever system is used to keep the screen clear during the race or if it is raining. Does F1 need to be more complicated?

The question I have to ask is this: Would an aero screen have helped Jules Bianchi or not? Since 1994, his has been the only driver fatality. I do not have all the facts but I would like to know the answer to this. If the answer is that the screen would not have helped then please explain why they want to fit one.

In my opinion we should leave F1 alone. Leave the rules as they are for a fixed three years. Stop adding unnecessary complexity and safety measures that are hardly justified.

 

2017. Making the racing better?

The idiots that manage F1 must only be using the bottom line to make all their decisions because it’s certain that the racing and the fans don’t come into their decision making very much. If they did they would just stop trying to fix what ain’t broke. The more they mess with it, the worse it gets.

What’s all this bollocks about changes for 2017. Just leave the fecking rules alone will you. This really winds me up. Perhaps that comes across? These days it’s all about the Aero. But the problem with that is that it makes it almost impossible for a car with similar power to pass. DRS helps a little but that is a fake tool which I’m not to discuss right now.

How will making the cars wider help overtaking? Surely they should be narrower if that is the case. More room on track = more overtaking opportunities. If the cars are going faster they aero will be more pronounced and that means even less passing as the car behind struggles for grip in the dirty air. You can be sure that the aerodynamicists take a great deal of care of how sweetly air moves over the car but they won’t do the same for the filthy stuff that comes off it, especially if that can disadvantage the car behind. It’s war out there, let’s not forget it.

If you want closer racing there are two things that need to be done. The first is to reduce the importance of down force, or only allow single wings without variable angles of attack which do not disturb the air so much when they create their down force. They would not be as efficient but it would be the same for everyone.

The problem is not in the speed of the cars but the closeness of the racing.

The second thing that needs to be done is to stop trying to change everything all the time. Bring in a new formula and leave it alone for say five years. It has historically been this way. Leave the rules alone and all the teams finally converge with very similar performances as they continually improve their design over the years. Change the regs too often and we get periods where one team benefits more than the others who do not have the time to catch up before the rules change again.

It really makes me laugh. They talk about spending too much money but if they stopped changing the rules all the time it would save the teams a fortune!

F1 may be a complicated and technically driven sport but it is clearly run by people who just don’t get it. There is too much fear for the welfare of the drivers and yet F1 has never been safer. Maybe the investors have too much say? Maybe F1 has just become too complicated with too many people wanted too many different things.

Some may say that by changing the rules you introduce uncertainty but I do not want that in my version of F1. I want all the teams to have developed their cars to the max so that they are all very similar and then I want to see good racing. When rules are stable, reliability gets better. Perhaps mine is an old fashioned attitude but if I were a team or a driver, I want to beat the competition on the track and not win because my nemesis had an electrical failure.

What I do know though is, new regs, wider cars and aero screens will NOT make the racing better. Leaving the cars alone and not changing the rules for a set period agreed to by all the teams would mean a much more even racing field and ONLY that will lead to closer and more exciting racing.

Update November 2016

The Brazilian grand prix was superb. Dull in places and far too much following a safety car in heavy rain but once the racing got started each time it was epic. There never was much doubt about Max Verstapen’s quality as a driver but if there were any doubters they must now be convinced. It was a superb drive from anyone, let alone a teenager!

A few more thoughts about how the powers that be can make things more interesting. Why not reintroduce refuelling but make it optional. So if you want, you can fill up your car and make no stops or keep it light and stop as often as you want. Would this help the smaller teams or would everyone opt to refuel? It would certainly liven up the tactician’s job!

Now that F1 has been bought by an American company perhaps we will see more audience participation? One of the things I liked from Nascar is the fact that fans can pay to take a ride around the track in a Nascar. Each team could make a two seater version of their car and take people around to give them a first hand idea of what it’s like to drive an F1 car.

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