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.

45 comments on “Four mistakes F1 must avoid”

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  1. David Watkins
    2nd October 2008, 19:27

    There are a few things I’d like to see

    1) an American-style points system that applies to every position. It cannot be fair to finish in 9th place and score the same as people 50 seconds behind you and score a point less than someone 1 second ahead.

    2) a sole engine manufacturer

    3) Single-lap qualifying runs without race fuel. Unlikely to produce many wild grids since it wouldn’t take long but would certainly put the drivers under incredible pressure. Qualifying at the moment is duller than it should be.

    There are many changes that could be made (as Keith has outlined) that I would hate but could live with but if they even consider introducing speed boosting I’d be out of here.

    If they do that they might as well go the whole MarioKart hog and introduce giant banana skins and a button to hit all the other drivers with a bolt of lightning.

  2. Airborne Williams Cap
    2nd October 2008, 21:01

    With respect to the current 2 sesions of 90 mins, I have been to the Spannish GP for the last few years and it really adds value having an opportunity to go to any grandstand on the Friday and watch the cars / take photos from a number of different viewpoints. Its also good to see what kind of times the cars are doing so that you can get a feel for qualifying and race performance.

    I guess its also a good way of saving the teams money as these sesssions greatly reduce the need for private testing.

    Changing things for the sake of it is pointless. If they want to spice up the show, just make the actual racing more exciting (which will hopefully be the case next year. Always next year…)

  3. 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…

    As Keith says, success ballast is deliberately designed to be unfair. Equal, yes, but fair, no. A handicap by definition is not fair.

    Mandatory pitstops aren’t needed but a pitstop creates excitement more than watching cars driving around a track

    Interesting. I’d have thought the whole point of a motor race was to watch cars go round a track – but apparently that’s the least interesting aspect of it? That’s a bit like saying we only go to football games to see the queue for the pies at half-time.

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


    Once F1 is well and truly run by the bean counters, anything will be possible.

  4. there was an interview with bernie on croatian national television. among other things he said, probably under the influence of olympic games, that podium finishers would get medals. and no points systems… most wins gets you the title. i think that would be most fair.

  5. They could do the reverse grid for maybe 2 or 3 races a year, selected at random and announced after qualifying to stop people perposefully qualifying badly. This would eliminate the problem of it happening too much and could be quite interesting.

    Though, one way perhaps to spice up racing is to give the drivers a reward for overtaking, maybe points or money or sometihng and then they will be more encouraged to overtake other cars.

  6. David Watkins
    2nd October 2008, 22:46


    Surely if you are prepared to sacrifice the integrity of the contest for entertainment (by reversing the grid) then why bother even having winners or points.

    If a sport needs to handicap its best practitioners to tempt people to come and watch then it can no longer call itself a sport

  7. Great article Keith. Totally agree with all of your points.

    Interesting to see many people doing exactly the same as FOTA and coming up with alternative ways to spice up the race weekend. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea to let Max’n’Bernie run the show after all! (joke)

    I have one suggestion myself, however. Let the teams and heirachy try to fix what’s wrong next year. You never know, they might get it right this time. What I would like to see (similar to Armen) is a truer ability indicator of each driver. Maybe a Winter Cup that runs for a fortnight or so in the off season. Drivers in equal machinery, chassis’ made by whoever, engines by Cosworth and only minor setup changes allowed to suit driving style. Base it all at Silverstone (close to base for most teams), short races, two or three a day, no pitstops, just pure racing between (apparently) the world’s best. This could help teams and fans to get a better idea of the pecking order, especially if there was a rookie leg to the Championship aswell. Football has intra and inter-season cups, Aussie Rule Football has a pre-season cup, cricket with 20-20 and the one day game, the list goes on – why not a cup for current and potential F1 drivers?

    Leave the race weekend alone, it doesn’t need to be any more farcical at the moment.

  8. David Gleeson
    3rd October 2008, 2:31

    To: David Watkins
    2) a sole engine manufacturer

    A sole engine. Isn’t this the same as the engine freeze? Good theory but politics will always get involved to put holes and grey areas into the rule.
    You could possible lose some/all of the car companies. BMW doesn’t want to have a Toyota engine in it, Ferrari would want a Mercedes enging in it. Ferrari, BMW Sauber, Renault, Toyota, Honda. You could put McLaren-Mercedes in this group as well. Anyway Bernie could get as much money.

    On the qulaification side of things why not just have 4x10mins qualification sections where you have 5 cars on at a time. Have some way of trying to get the cars that are closest together to ensure that there is a smaller chance of overtaking. This would be on empty tanks.

    This is the pinnacle of the motoring sport. Why would you want to make it easy for any team to win. They may just want to select first place via a chook draw or have see who did the best drive of the day and give them first place. This is a competition of the highest order. Any restriction just moves it closer its rivals.

    By the way Keith, great work.

  9. Car numbers are put into a hat. Drivers draw a number each out of the hat for which car they will qualify with. They keep their qualifying place but redraw a car for their race car.

    Sprinkler systems are installed at all tracks and turned on randomly.

    and most importantly…. bring back the traditional Le Mans start!

    Let’s go racin’ :)

  10. Toby, I think that an off-season “cup” race in equivalent machinery is probably an even better idea than the one I threw out which adds that event to the race weekend.

    I like the race weekend as it is right now, although I don’t often watch the Friday sessions.

    I think it would be lots of fun and pretty informative for fans and teams alike to see the drivers competing in similar cars. Right now picking/hiring the drivers involves a lot of guesswork and assumptions.

  11. Crap…. Idiotic… Horseshyyt…
    apart from the “fastest lap – pole” idea… all are idiotic…

  12. The soon-to-be-relaunched Formula Two has a new twist on the ‘mandatory pit stop’ nonsense:

    In another effort to style the F2 series as an F1 proving ground, the second race at each round will feature mandatory pit stops. However, there will be no tyre changes at these stops, and the drivers will simply remain stationary for 10 seconds before rejoining. Palmer explained that the idea behind this rule was to train drivers in maximising their in and out-laps, and positioning their cars accurately at pit stops, but that he did not want external factors like fumbled wheel changes deciding race results.

  13. The soon-to-be-relaunched Formula Two has a new twist on the ‘mandatory pit stop’ nonsense:

    In another effort to style the F2 series as an F1 proving ground, the second race at each round will feature mandatory pit stops. However, there will be no tyre changes at these stops, and the drivers will simply remain stationary for 10 seconds before rejoining. Palmer explained that the idea behind this rule was to train drivers in maximising their in and out-laps, and positioning their cars accurately at pit stops, but that he did not want external factors like fumbled wheel changes deciding race results.

    For the love of God…

  14. Cynic inside me says the Formula 2 pitstop is to get drivers ready for F1 stop-go penalties.

  15. Boy ow boy… what next!!
    A drivers helmet change and a car wash?

  16. I have heard some crazy ideas but Amy that is the craziest ever. 2 or three random races a year you reverse the grid. Apart from the fact that should one of the faster guys have a problem and end up on pole everyone would think it was fixed the whole idea is grossly unfair. Imagine you are a driver and get the only pole of your career on the day that someone randomly decides to reverse the grid.

    Pit stops do not spice up anything. How many times have you heard a driver say that he decided to wait to see what happened at the stops rathe than just try and overtake the car in front. Pit stops should be banned in all races in all clasees that run for less than 3 hours. Let the drivers sort things out on track rather than let the pit crew/strategists/statiticans decide who wins. Think of it being kinda like a race. That works for me.

  17. I had to laugh at your spin off article from this one Keith about the Daytona 500 and how annoying Darrell Waltrip is. If you want real annoying, listen to his brother Michael, he has an ego the size of Texas and talent the size of Rhode Island.
    To the point at hand, the basic structure of Formula One races is good, but I would like to see more incentive for rewarding drivers who lead laps. Maybe a points system for the driver who leads the most would not be a bad idea, and rewards the spirit of the enterprise, which is to come first!
    On the odd occasion when a team that would normally not be a contender leads a race, such as Renault did recently with Alonso, then that would indeed spice things up in the constructors championship aswell as the drivers.
    Also, a cash prize to the winner and the team should be introduced, with a cut in driver salaries so there is more incentive to actually race than just sit at the back of the field, ala Ralf Schumacher, and collect $30 million for doing sweet f.a.

  18. I used to enjoy the series that was, at the time, called “Toyota Atlantic Series,” now I think it’s just “The Atlantic Championship” (a CART orphan) but was once “Formula Atlantic,” in specification and principle it’s like F3 with spec cars.

    The reason I used to enjoy it was because the crews would make very basic mistakes that made the races completely unpredictable, like, sending the driver with loose wheel lugs, or sending a car while the fuel is still filling. It’s a bit sadistic but at the time I was 13 years old.

    Mandatory pitstop windows are stupid, not just because someone should have the right to dare to run on spent tires, but you should also be allowed to change tires if you get a puncture before the “window” without being forced to stop again for no reason.

    Success ballast is stupid, not because it is unfair to the winners, but because it is a road to hell paved with a good intention. You see, ballast makes the car heavy, but it also can be used to adjust the balance of a car, and if placed strategically, it can give a tall car, like a touring car, a big advantage. If success ballast was installed in Formula 1, the ballast weight would have to be negligible because of how razor’s-edge sensitive the cars are, and I assure you, the engineers would use a weight-jacking system to create a sort of active counterweight suspension with the success ballast.

    I have nothing against the bonus point for qualifying, though I agree it doesn’t really add anything to the competition. Best qualifications would make for a good tiebreaker following the “most wins, most seconds,…” if it was ever necessary to use it. The bonus point for fastest lap, like Indianapolis’ “leading at halfway” prize, seems a bit meaningless, however. Such prizes should earn drivers and teams money but not be worth points towards the championship.

    I like the simplicity of F1’s point system as well. The only reason American series will give points to any competitors is that it serves as incentive for teams that cannot show at every race.

  19. I think people are mistaking the purpose of this idea. I think the idea is not meant to intervene with any of the normal racing or even really meant to “spice up” the show. The idea comes from FOTA not from the FIA so I don’t think it is meant to intervene with the racing.

    The idea is properly more aimed at hardcore F1 fans (to give something extra back to the fans) and perhaps more for the spectators at the track. At many races there are sometimes still very few people on Fridays, so it would perhaps also make Fridays a bit more interesting for the not so hardcore fans.

    But it might even be more interesting for the hardcore fans, we are always discussing who was really faster, tyre and fuel strategies saving the engine at the end or how well the track is rubbered in, or traffic; we are always speculating about these things. So something like this would perhaps provide us with some more definite answers. The truth of matter is even if we think it is a silly idea, I bet everyone would watch it in any case, and everyone would soon be debating that their driver has the most raw pace.

    There are perhaps better variations on the idea around(like letting the test drivers race on Fridays), but in principal I don’t think it is a bad idea.

    The fact that they are offering prize money, means that it isn’t something that should get into the way of the actual grandprix’s or even qualifying. Besides I don’t think the FIA would approve of something like that in any case.

    F1 should never even consider things likes ballast and reverse grids, things like that are just gimmicks, with different manufacturers it would be unfair to “award” mediocre type performances. Although it wouldn’t be so bad to give points for pole and for the fastest lap, many other racing series’s does this.

  20. Let’s just go all the way:

    Every driver in the top 10 has to make a pit stop in the last 10 laps.
    They get out of their cars and run around them 3 times, get back in and rejoin the race.
    No fuel can be added or tyres changed in this pit stop.

    That should let the back markers win a few.

    If any driver gets more than a 10 point advantage in the championship then they could start the next race once the field had finished their first lap.


    Get rid of most of the aerodynamic devices and give the teams some massive slick tyres instead, ban carbon brakes & give us low fuel qualifying for Q3 and let all the teams pick their fuel load before the race.

    If they really want to make us happy then let the teams innovate & don’t ban all of the new technology they develop.
    Active suspension is good racing technology, traction control is not – differentiate between the two, allow the former, ban the latter.

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