Four mistakes F1 must avoid

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.

45 comments on “Four mistakes F1 must avoid”

  1. You are absolutely right that none of these ideas belong anywhere near F1 or any other form of motor racing. If someone excels it is up to the others to do a better job and catch them. Success ballast is a complete insult to the point of racing and the very idea of reversing the grid or worse still part of the grid just fills me with dread. We have cars that can’t overtake racing on circuits you can’t overtake on. Imagine the Trulli train with a reversed grid. All the best drivers stuck behind him while Force India and Honda disappear into the distance.

    Racing is about racing and points should only ever be given for that. Pit stops should be completely banned and any idea that fixed windows would help is horrifying. I hate the idea that a driver in the junior formulae can have his career influenced by something as irrelevant as a pit stop or the abiltiy of some non-entity to find one quick lap in a whole race.

  2. Apart from the point for pole and/or fastest lap — the latter having been an F1 fixture from, IIRC, 1950-1960 — all these ideas are artificial. And to ‘spice up the show’ with this type of measure, is just plain silly.

  3. Success Ballast doesnt have to follow the WTCC model, the BTCC apply ballast for the next race only which works well.

    The only problem is, we could see a situation where the car from the top (x) teams that finished lowest last race will almost always win the next.

  4. Success Ballast; awesome, you’d get Ferrari purposely losing two races before monaco to load up with 50kg of extra weight, giving an advantage at such a track, then you’d get a place like monza where the suspension breaks on the kerbs because of the extra wieght.

    Reverse grids; nope, teams would suddenly “park it at the last corner”, much like Rallying people do (the ford of Hervonoun did that recently in order to get Loebs Citroen to clear the dusty track for him, subsequently beating him at stage 3 of the course.)

    points for pole; the second in command would play the muscle man in that case, getting points for the team, and holding the pack up with a disadvantaged pitstop schedule to allow the number 1 a chance.

  5. i want them to just go back to the old ways, no race fuel qualifying crap, i dont mind the refuelling during a race as it can add abit of spice to races, think of turkey this year, hamilton on his 3 stopper was great to watch him flying around the track trying to make up time.

    i dont want to see reverse grids or any of that either, just reduce the aero dependency of the cars so that they can overtake more and then it would be fine in my opinion

  6. The friday million-dollar shootout sounds a bit random to me, largely because they won’t tell you what the equivalent reward is for winning the actual GP on Sunday. So it maks it sound more like Friday is the important thing and the race is the side-sho, which is daft. I’m sure the prize for 10 points is bigger than a million dollars, but I don’t know how much by.

    Besides, I do tend to think they get too much practice time on Friday: two 90-minute sessions is too much I think. If they want to pound round the track then they can do it as soon as the light turns green, and none of this “go out, do an installation lap and then come back and sit in the garage for 40 minutes”. So my plan for the weekend would eliminate the second Friday practice. The first one is kept, either as one 90 min. session or split into two 45 minute sessions separated by 30-60 minutes. Besides, more time just gives the cream longer to rise to the top and reduces surprises.

    With this time saved something new and interesting could be done – though exactly what I don’t know. You could either go conservative and keep Saturday/Sunday as they are and do something different on Friday afternoon, or if you wanted to be daring (and probably controversial) move qualifying to Friday afternoon, change the whole weekend format and do something totally different on Saturday.

    The former would be fairly safe as the reason Friday practice isn’t talked about is that everyone’s at work, so arguably it’s mostly about entertaining those at the track and giving TV companies highlights of it for the evening. The latter option would be a complete rethink and would probably involve some sort of GP2 format of two races which would probably fall under the category of “mistake”, for the hardcore fans anyway – I suspect a short race on Saturday (with the “feature” on Sunday as usual) would get more viewers than quali would, which is basically watched by the hardcore no matter what the format is.

  7. I agree that rather than forever playing around with formats, rules, and points systems, they just need to fix the fundamental flaws as to why a faster car cannot pass a slower car.

    The whole Firday thing seems so random to me too, it’s there for the teams to get the best setup possible for the weekend ahead, ultimately (theoretically) giving us the best spectacle with the cars in the best condition when it comes to the actual racing.

    As a side, does anyone know why they used to only count the best however-many results in a season to work out the points tallys, rather than the whole season like they do now?

  8. It wouldn’t be a popular idea with the teams, but after watching the GP2 reverse grids, I wonder what it would be like if each race began in the same order as the previous race finished – not reversed.

    This would add a certain momentum factor to the race, someone at the back might take several races to get to a race winning position; and Massa/Raikkonen mistakes would be punished twice.

    Just think, if this was in place the next race would start with Alonso on pole and Rosberg also on the front-row with all the championship contenders further down. It would be great…

    …until you remember the Shumacher years, it would have made them twice as bad!

  9. The only one of these ideas I would entertain is a variation of the point for pole position, where the driver who sets the fastest lap time in the low-fuel Q2 gets a point. At least then we would actually see who is the quickest on a low fuel run.

  10. Is there a problem with the racing at all?

    Next year they’re taking the emphasis off aerodynamics so the cars need more mehanical grip and will be able to slip stream.

    To suggest that changes are needed in turn suggests that there’s a problem. Even before next year’s changes come in.

  11. Here’s another popular mistake: awarding points to every finishing position. Usually justified by the racing series as a way to increase overtaking further down the field. But also makes it impossible to follow the championship.

  12. The main problem with F1 is the constant tinkering with the rules. They should make qualifying simpler, sort out stupid rules like the safety car/pit lane and the overtaking-one-corner-after-cutting-a-chicane ruling that appeared out of nowhere.

    But of course, they won’t do that, because it would mean Max giving away the merest atom of power over the sport.

  13. Well, I think F1 is suffering of an excess of rules and burocratics…

    Return back F1 freedom to built and put in place new ideas. Some years ago, F1 was sending technology to customer cars. Now, technology from customer cars are coming to F1!

    Overtaking is the big problem of current F1 and the way to solve it is work on the aerodinamics. I think next year we will see if the new system is good enough.

    And to promote overtaking, give extra points to the driver who overtakes taken from the driver who is overtaken.

    So, if you are in 3rd, and the driver in 4th position take your place, this last one will have his 6 points plus one additional from the other driver who will not have just 5 but 4.

    For all drivers just out of the points, give them 1 point for all places they achieved to gain racing on track, not because DNFs or whatever. So, if a Force india is capable of making 4 overtakings on the track he will have the same number of points of a driver starting and finishing in 5 place. Surely this Force India will not win the championship that way, but we will see a lot of action behind the big teams!

    All F1 aficionados, want to see action on the track, give a prize for this, not for being quite quick in one lap, and quite conservative the rest of the weekend.

  14. I don’t like most of these ideas either but I would like to see some variant of the Friday race and here’s why…

    The argument we have forever is which F1 driver is great and which one’s are great but stuck in cars that aren’t or don’t suit them. Inevitably this is a very difficult argument to settle because even if the same drivers share teams somewhere in their careers, the teams’ fortunes change so much from year to year that it is impossible to say how they would have done if they were in the same team at the same time.

    Why not have a Friday race that uses the reverse grid idea (based on the standing from the previous race)? That will mix things up a bit for Friday and make it interesting enough to watch I think, even if the race is under an hour, particularly with the supposedly easier to pass with cars of 2009.

    Or how about having a Friday race with the F1 drivers but with the chassis from another racing series like GP2 or A1GP?

    Basically I am dying to see the F1 drivers race each other in cars that are similar enough to where I can compare them :)

  15. Success ballast is inherently fair in the long run, but many people aren’t capable of perceiving this. Considering attitidues of many F1 fans who complain about everything, it wouldn’t be worthwhile…

    Mandatory pitstops aren’t needed but a pitstop creates excitement more than watching cars driving around a track and gives visibility to hard working mechanics. F1 doesn’t need to make it mandatory, teams do it because it allows them to complete the race distance in the shortest possible time.

    Reverse grids aren’t even applicable as there is and will only ever be one race a weekend.

    Drivers used to get a point for fastest lap in the 50s even when the timing was only accurate to the nearest second or if you were lucky a tenth. May keep a race setttled early interesting. Points for qualifying adds little but in other championships it adds extra interest to qualifying.

  16. Michael – How is success ballasting “inherently fair in the long run”, then? The way I see it, the most capable car/drive combinations have to carry more weight in total over the course of a season. That doesn’t strike me as fair.

    Besides which if it success ballasting is “inherently fair in the long run”, isn’t it by definition pointless? Surely the aim of success ballasting is to help the slower cars/drivers to win occasionally, therefore it has to be unfair in order to have the desired effect?

  17. Ollie’s comment that it’s “just plain silly” is about the nicest reaction to it I’ve read.

    Heh. Often, when I’m writing posts the original language is quite different to the language that eventually gets published. This was one of those cases.

    Good post Keith, I can’t add much really, but just wanted to say I hadn’t even thought about how some of these ideas may actually end up becoming a part of the F1 weekend if Whitmarsh’s idea is anything to go by. Let’s hope FOTA see sense though and don’t turn F1 into a Whacky Races show.

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