Never before in the last few months have I read so many articles and statements that have either directly or indirectly posed the imminent downfall of the sport of Formula 1 as a result of recent decisions regarding the sports rules and regulations. From the outset may I say “rightly so”. However I do find it somewhat ironic, almost comical, that this be the case. Let’s face it, Formula 1 attained immense commercial success while under the auspice of some of the sports most destabilising powers, who battled yearly to gain greater control of the sports ever-burgeoning coffers from the 70s through to the 00s, all the while inadvertently entertaining the viewing audience, who were increasingly enthralled by events off the track as with those on it. Now we are faced with the increasing reality that these very powers, now content in their level of ownership (or wealth attained from once having owned it), finally making decisions for the sport that now threaten to destroy it not from within as they once posed to do, but from without. In other words, so poor do many believe are their decisions, and so out of touch is their appreciation for what made Formula 1 so great, fans may simply decide to switch off.
Without being arrogant, the analogy is quite simple. Formula 1 has attained a core group of support across a wide number of countries, over the course of a number of years. Over those years little has changed in where the sport stands amongst motor racing enthusiasts, in fact, it hasn’t changed. It is the pinnacle of motor racing. The greatest drivers, in the most advanced machinery, constructed by the greatest automotive minds on the planet. Spectators don’t come just to see a race or the drivers, they also come in large part to see the cars. If you need more proof, go to a historic car event like the Goodwood Revival or Festival of Speed, and sure enough, people still flock to see the cars. They don’t really flock to see the drivers because sadly a lot of them have now passed on. They attend to see a quality of racing that befits the very cars being raced, this regardless of whether the title is on the line or not. In the search however to increase Formula 1’s global audience, new regulations appear at odds with the core values of the sport and the very ideals that attracted it’s core audience.
Let’s take a quick look at some of these regulations and assess whether their presence in the sport is warranted.
Energy Efficient Engines:
Cons: Don’t fit the ideals of the sport in that at present, they are not the fastest means with which to power a race car. The reduced noise of the new power units may detract from the appeal of the sport for those spectators attending the circuits.
Pros: Satisfy the criteria for being the most highly advanced racing engines in the world. The engines noise is more distinct and complex and enables the viewer to hear noises previously not possible such as tyre squeal. New technology will attract more manufacturers back into the sport. New engines provide for greater unreliability and unpredictability in the outcome of races.
Verdict: Greater advancement of the formula that is Formula 1. Formula 1 cars shouldn’t be loud for the sake of being loud.
Current Qualifying Format
Cons: The current system can result in drivers not contesting Q3. Inferior to the one-lap qualifying system adopted in 2003 in that the broadcaster can’t focus on one car for an entire lap.
Pros: The current knockout system has been a genuine success since its introduction in 2006. Puts pressure on drivers to perform while enabling them the opportunity to push for the perfect lap.
Verdict: Qualifying tyres should be re-introduced for Q3 and the top 10 should race on the tyres they finished Q2 on to ensure a competitive shootout for pole position.
Drag Reduction System (DRS)
Cons: Overtaking should directly result from the skill of a driver behind or a mistake made by a driver ahead. DRS can make overtaking too easy, and even though this is not intended by the system, the assistance alone is seen by some as generating contrived entertainment. It is questionable whether the DRS was required following the introduction of new aerodynamic regulations in 2009. The new power units for 2014 have already been shown to be much more difficult for drivers to handle, further reducing the need for overtaking assistance.
Pros: Deemed necessary due to the configuration of current day Formula 1 cars. The system itself is very impressive technology. Increases the excitement of Formula 1 through more overtaking.
Verdict: DRS should be removed for 2014 due to the new power unit and aerodynamics regulations. The integrity of the sport is stronger without DRS and should only be permitted once a series of regulations are shown to require it. The presence of DRS in the sport is acceptable on a very tenuous basis in that it is an engineering solution to a problem that has arisen out of engineering developments.
Compulsory Pit Stops
Cons: Formula 1 cars should only stop for tyres where necessary or as part of a strategy. They should not be obligated to adopt inferior tyre strategies for the sole purpose of entertainment. The excitement of Formula 1 should not arise through contrivance or artificiality.
Pros: Increases the need for strategy in the sport and the skills that this requires. Additional pit stops adds to the unpredictability of the races and enhances ‘the show’.
Verdict: Lure tyre companies back into Formula 1. A tyre war would ensure high performance tyres are produced that require tyre changes for the optimum overall race time.
Cons: No race in the history of Formula 1 has ever been worth more than another. The championship has been designed to reward consistency over the course of an entire year regardless of when or where a champion is crowned. The introduction of the rule, allegedly agreed to by all Formula 1 team principles, has only increasingly been called into question after most either distanced themselves or openly criticised the rules introduction, giving greater weight to the belief that Abu Dhabi, the hosts of this years final round, paid to have the rule introduced. The argument that all participants are aware of the rule prior to the season starting is fundamentally flawed in that it fails to address the clear unfairness of the rule itself.
Pros: Prolongs the championship outcome to later in the year with the aim of enhancing ‘the show’.
Verdict: Double points has no place in Formula 1. This would have to be the most contrived rule ever introduced to the sport and an offence to the history and traditions of the sport. It must be removed or simply ignored by both spectators and broadcasters alike. Double points could only be justified in circumstances where a race distance was doubled in length.
Increasingly Restrictive Design Regulations
Cons: Stifles the variety of design and innovation of current day Formula 1 cars. Will not stop teams spending money on development. Restrictive regulations don’t keep the teams close as Caterham and Marussia continue to perform well below the rest of the field.
Pros: The restrictions ensure driver safety, and reduce the disparity in performance between teams and thus produce closer races. Limits the areas where money can be spent by teams on developing their cars. As shown by the appearance of cars in 2014, the regulations still enable designers to adopt cars of differing appearance. The best designers will still find a way to innovate within the rules.
Verdict: Current regulations are becoming far too restrictive, however we do continue to see innovative designs e.g. F-Duct and blown diffuser, and the appearance of the cars are discernible. Should an effective spending restriction be created, a move to widen the regulation parameters should be considered.
Cons: Shared componentry goes against the ideal that all cars are designed and constructed individually by their respective teams (the exception of course being the engine). Seen as a contrived way to make the cars more equal. Would not save money as teams would place more attention on developing other parts of the car.
Pros: Enables teams to save money by not having to develop certain parts of the car. Limits the areas of development on the cars in which additional performance advantages could be made.
Verdict: While the logic behind its implementation is very simple, the use of standardised componentry is a step in the wrong direction for Formula 1 and damages the image of the sport as being a technical championship as well as a drivers championship. As reported by Dieter Rencken of Autosport 7 March 2014, discussions held during the final Bahrain test weekend raised the issue of shared componentry, but no firm decision was reached.
Formula 1 is a sport that despite having existed largely uninterrupted since 1950, should never be taken for granted. You need only ask Kevin Costner what a couple of misguided decisions can do to a once undisputed reputation. In the world of open-wheeled racing, Formula 1 remains the sports pinnacle. What Formula 1 threatens to destroy is the identity upon which it earned it’s reputation. More than any other form of motor sport, Formula 1 is just as much about the cars as it is the drivers. The show doesn’t require a close finish against the clock or points table to be exciting. Use of the term ‘the show’, once reserved for sports in the United States, simply makes me cringe when applied to Formula 1.
The implementation of the double points rule, despite fierce derision from fans, displays a dangerous lack of understanding and arrogance on the part of Formula 1’s stake holders. The sport needs to respect it’s core followers, those who accept that the greatest driver in the greatest car may well lead to processional races. By tampering with the formula that made the sport great in the search for increased popularity, the stakeholders risk destroying the ideals of the sport, ideals that have remained for 64 uninterrupted seasons.
What are your thoughts on some of the recent changes made to Formula 1? Do you agree with the implementation of the double points rule? Does Formula 1 need to change it’s format in these ways in order to attract greater popularity?