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.

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45 comments on Four mistakes F1 must avoid

  1. George said on 2nd October 2008, 18:09

    No comment necessary Keith – other than to say that you are absolutely 100% right.

  2. 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 :)

  3. michael counsell said on 2nd October 2008, 18:53

    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.

  4. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 2nd October 2008, 19:04

    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?

  5. 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.

  6. David Watkins said on 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.

  7. Airborne Williams Cap said on 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…)

  8. Robert McKay said on 2nd October 2008, 21:28

    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.

    Maybe…

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

  9. cvfta said on 2nd October 2008, 22:00

    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.

  10. 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.

  11. David Watkins said on 2nd October 2008, 22:46

    Amy

    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

  12. 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.

  13. David Gleeson said on 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.

  14. teamorders said on 3rd October 2008, 2:41

    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’ :)

  15. 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.

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