Debate: Are F1 races too long?

Flavio Briatore, Sepang, 2007Flavio Briatore is banging the “let’s spice up the show” drum again:

A one hour and 30 minute race is too long because the last 30 minutes is really boring. Maybe one race of 45 minutes and one race of one hour with a reverse grid in the second race like we do in GP2.

People want to see people overtaking and fighting and if you put the quick drivers behind, the quick drivers will start overtaking, for sure. If not, the two cars quickest in qualifying are the two cars quickest in the race and win the race easily.

Although I don’t dispute that F1 races are, at the moment, not as good as they should be, I don’t agree with his proposals at all.

Formula One Grands Prix are supposed to be challenges of driver and car ability. Sustaining a red-hot race pace for lap after lap for up to two hours is a serious physical and mental challenge. Cutting the length of the races would erode that challenge.

Simply reducing the race length and fiddling with the format is not a be-all and end-all solution. Yes, GP2 races are far more exciting, but that is because the cars are far less aerodynamically efficient than F1 cars and can run closely together in packs. Last year at the most aero-sensitive circuits such as Barcelona even the GP2 racing wasn’t very good.

Banning either fuel stops or tyre changes would be another step in the right direction.

Banning fuel stops would force drivers to manage a car that is far lighter at the end of the race than the beginning. Banning tyre stops would force them to manage tyre wear. Either would drive them towards making tricky compromises with their cars’ setups which historically has provoked better racing.

Though in this era of one tyre supplier banning refuelling is probably the better way to go.

GP2 is, to an extent, a model for how F1 should be. But only in terms of massively reducing the aerodynamic properties of the cars – not as a template for a Grand Prix weekend. What do you think?

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11 comments on Debate: Are F1 races too long?

  1. Cooperman said on 2nd May 2007, 9:32

    I agree with you. Surely the sport has realised that messing with the format (the mess we had with qualifying) and all the endless tweaking actually works against the average fan on the sofa? I’ve been watching F1 for years and binge on all F1-related information but even I got bored with figuring out how qualifying works differently from the previous weekend.

    I put it down to greed. F1 has the largest audience apart from the World Cup and the Olympics (I don’t know if that’s an urban myth but I’ve definitely read it more than one place before) so why make the change? Surely the viewing figures show that the current format works? Why change it?

    The only advantage I can see to having two races is that ITV can make a better job of scheduling their adverts. Apart from that – why???

  2. I don’t expect the proposal to be taken very seriously. Frankly, F1 as many short races instead of one long one will cheapen the product. The point of Gran Prix is to test the endurance and stamina of the car and pilot as much as the general top speed. Otherwise, we’d just consider the race over after the qualifying session.

    I don’t really agree with banning pit work either; however, measures taken to encourage a zero-stop strategy will probably serve the good purpose. I get the impression Formula 1′s basic fan hates the notion of his favorite driver losing to a poor refuel or tire change, although I have to admit I’m used to it now.

    To reiterate, no limits on the size of fuel cells, and encourage harder tire compounds.

  3. F1 is supposed to be a middle-distance event. Turning it into two sprints (like GP2 and most other junior series) would represent a fundamental change in the nature of F1. The challenge would then be little different, meaning that F1 became less of a step-up. If a driver gets a good, or even half-decent team, it’s not much of a step now (witness Hamilton and Rosberg), but mental stamina is now one of the major differentiating factors between F1 drivers. 45- or 50-minute races would take that skill away, with no clear advantage in terms of requiring new skills.

    Grand Prix racing has faced this dilemma once before. Before the Second World War, races were generally three hours. Purists would have preferred it to stay that way, but economic conditions (eventually) prevailed and the then-recently-founded F1 went with a two-hour limit. The main differences are that there wasn’t a similar series in length and skill requirements to the two-hour format and the economic argument was considerably more pressing (I don’t see any team participation decisions hanging on an immediate format change!) As a consequence, my answer is NO.

    Postscript: The purists referred to in the previous paragraph were largely responsible for accelerating the growth of endurance racing. Could something like that happen if F1 moved to a shorter format?

  4. I thought Gran Prix races were longer in the early era, I just lacked the historic knowledge to say so.

    The Indianapolis 500 used to be an all-day affair, not unlike an endurance race, with onboard engineers and driver changes and such. Then again, they used to pave the place with bricks too.

    For whatever reason, the race remained 500 miles long although its original purpose (a showdown of now-defunct Indianapolis auto manufacturers) is long dead.

    When I see unpopular forms of racing, such as ChampCar and IRL teams with blank liveries, self-funded endurance teams and A1GP, you have to recognize that regardless of what comes of something popular like a Nascar or Formula 1, the notion of entertaining the spectators should not be so important, because you have to recognize that some of these people will keep racing in some way even if nobody shows up to watch and every penny of investment into the sport is lost.

    I wonder if Briatore always makes such boneheaded suggestions.

  5. Jack said on 3rd May 2007, 16:37

    Banning tyre changes would make it even more boring – do you remember 2005?

  6. Yes I do.

    Because of the rule that banned tyre changes we had a thrilling race at the Nürburgring where Kimi Raikkonen tried to hold to win despite having severely flat-spotted one tyre – he ended up spinning of on the last lap, letting Alonso through to win.

    And at Monaco the Renault team couldn’t manage the degradation of their tyres and Fernando Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella were both overtaken. The tyre change ban allowed drivers to overtake on the streets of Monte-Carlo where virtually no overtaking ever happens.

    The rule had its flaws, yes, but it was also capable of making the racing better.

  7. Robert McKay said on 3rd May 2007, 19:56

    I think Flavio is talking nonsense with this one, frankly. It works in GP2 mainly because (a) the cars are all equal, so it’s all about the drivers, and not who’s in the fastest package, and (b) the aerodynamics allows passing fairly easily, so starting 8th does not mean you cannot win. But in F1 it would just result in many drivers struggling to score a point in one race yet holding off the field fairly comfortably to win in a reverse grid race because the aero means passing is so damn difficult.

    Oh, and splitting your coverage is not a great idea: only took a few races to get the 2-part, Sunday morning+afternoon qual dropped, because noone was interested. Maybe two races would be covered better, or maybe the likes of ITV would just show you highlights of the first race along with the second.

  8. Journeyer said on 4th May 2007, 2:16

    I agree with Robert on not liking the split coverage. You only need to look at aggregate qualifying circa 2005 to see what can happen.

    I agree with no fuel stops, but keep the tyre changes. Why can’t pitstops be tyres only? After all, tyre stops are one of the entertaining parts of F1. As we saw with that 2005 tyre rule, fuel-only stops are VERY boring.

    To add to the article, no fuel stops means there will be variations in strategy. You can stop 3 times, or none at all. It depends on the driver how often he needs to change his tyres. So basically, the car balance is never the same at anytime in the race (because of the constantly lessening fuel and changes of tyres). That system worked so well up to 1993, but was removed because of the dangers if the fuel explodes. But given how strong F1 fuel cells are nowadays, can’t they bring it back?

    As for the main question, I like 90-minute races, thank you. The main reason they seem so long is that no passing happens. But if there were tons of action, 90 minutes would pass you by…

  9. Flavio frequently talks rubbish. It’s done for publicity.

  10. Number 38 said on 5th May 2007, 7:37

    I’m at the keyboard tonight, my fingers are flying and just can’t hold myself back. F1 races too long, eh? I think I agree with Journeyer, 90 minutes is fine … IF … something is happening, but F1 races are pretty much high speed parades.
    Consider this, in the three races so far this season, whoever led OUT of turn one on the first lap……..WON! So there’s the race ….. a half mile, start grid to turn two !!!
    We should be asking are the races too SHORT!!!
    Again, the question is: Are the races too long? Not if there’s something to watch, NASCAR run 500 mile 3+ hour events and no one leaves early and there’s been a couple of nail-biters thus far, SIDE by SIDE finishes and how boring is a 40 car pitstop. On USA tv I often get split screen, multiple images of four cars stopping simutaneously. The concept of running in circles is less than exciting but you never hear “BORING” used to describe a NASCAR event and 500 miles/3+ hours is NOT TOO LONG for them.
    F1 races have become stradgy games and frankly the disparity between the faster cars and the slower cars is the real problem. After three or four laps we rarely see two cars in the same picture frame. At Bahrain I was more interested watching to see if Davidson could overtake Wurz, neither running in the points but that was the best ‘action’ on the circuit, while it lasted. Let’s face it….TOO LONG is not the issue, NOTHING HAPPENING is the issue!

  11. The fix is simple. Ban ALL the top-side exotic aero and make the engineers do it all with ground effect. That’ll clean up the air behind the car and make drafting/overtaking easier.

    Of course, watching Hamilton run Alonso nearly off the circuit yesterday was entertaining. Technically nothing happened, but it was an exciting bit of nothing.

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