Four mistakes F1 must avoid

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

FOTA are looking at how to improve the action at F1 weekends
FOTA are looking at how to improve the action at F1 weekends

The Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) is looking at making radical changes to how Grand Prix weekends are structured.

So far they’ve come up with the oddball of idea of having a million-dollar prize for fastest lap on a Friday, which seems a bit… irrelevant. Ollie’s comment that it’s “just plain silly” is about the nicest reaction to it I’ve read.

The team bosses should exercise caution if they’re going to start tampering with the DNA of Formula 1. Here are four ideas, which have been tried in other championships to make racing more entertaining, that don’t belong in F1.

Success ballast

Success ballasting makes political lobbying more important than car development
Success ballasting makes political lobbying more important than car development

Series: World Touring Car Championship, British Touring Car Championship, German Touring Car Championship

‘Success ballasting’ is a polite way of saying ‘handicapping the winner’. It is anathema to anyone who wants Grand Prix racing to be about the fastest driver/car combination winning.

My concern that such a lousy idea might be given serious consideration in F1 is that it is often popular with car manufacturers. In touring car series, where the cars are based on stock shells, it is used to ‘help’ carmakers whose creations are less suited to racing to win races.

Thus halfway through a season the championship leaders are ballasted up to their eyeballs, struggling to pick up the odd point here and squabbling over the minor placings instead of fighting for race wins. The effects are particularly strong in the FIA-administered World Touring Car Championship, where the weight penalties are the most swingeing.

I can’t imagine the likes of McLaren and Ferrari giving serious consideration to performance handicapping just so Honda and Force India can win the odd race.

But when it comes to Formula 1 you must never to be too quick to say, “they’d never be stupid enough to do that.” Pitpass raised the spectre of performance handicapping in this article.

Mandatory pit stop windows

A1 cars must make two pit stops per feature race whether they need to or not
A1 cars must make two pit stops per feature race whether they need to or not

Series: A1 Grand Prix, German Touring Car Championship

It’s bad enough F1 has de facto mandatory pit stops in dry weather conditions because of the rule forcing each driver to use two different compounds of tyre during the race.

In A1 and the DTM, for reasons I cannot fathom, someone decided it would be good to force all the cars to make pit stops within a set time frame (‘window’) during each race.

For pity’s sake, why? All it does is give all the disadvantages of pit stops (drivers waiting until the pit stops instead of passing on track) and none of the benefits (drivers using alternative strategies to move up the field).

Unless you get your thrills sat outside Kwik-Fit watching people change tyres on cars, this is a dismal spectacle that ruins real racing.

Reverse grids

The F3 Euroseries uses reverse grids on Sundays
The F3 Euroseries uses reverse grids on Sundays

Series: GP2, F3 Euroseries, World Touring Car Championship

Reverse grids are fine for lower category series which hold multiple races at one event. But do we really want something as artificial as this in Formula 1?

Some of the best races I’ve seen have been ones where the top drivers have found themselves stuck at the back of the grid – think Suzuka 2005 and Hungary 2006. But if we had this every race weekend the drama would wear off very quickly.

Motor sport is exciting when it’s unpredictable. Reversing the grid all the time would make the unpredictable predictable, and it would stop being entertaining.

Points for pole position and fastest lap

Lewis Hamilton won his GP2 title after a fastest lap mix-up
Lewis Hamilton won his GP2 title after a fastest lap mix-up

Series: GP2

A classic “nice in theory, flawed in practice” idea.

I doubt Bernie Ecclestone would approve of it: Firstly because he’s in favour of getting rid of points and awarding the championship to whoever wins the most races (which is an excellent idea); Second, because he wouldn’t want the world championship to be decided during a qualifying session.

Giving a point for fastest lap would also be fraught with problems: a driver needing only one point to win the championship could use a low-fuel qualifying setup in the race to bag the point he needs and then park up.

Lewis Hamilton won his GP2 title in 2006 by gaining a point for fastest lap after Giorgio Pantano was stripped of his having passed another car under yellow flags at the time. It would be a shame to see an F1 title decided in the same way.

Better ideas

Of course, all this doesn’t mean F1 has nothing to learn from other championships – far from it. Here are five things F1 can learn from other racing series and what F1 can learn (and forget) from NASCAR.