The F1 teams’ plans: what’s good, what’s bad and what’s missing

The Formula 1 Teams' Association

The Formula 1 Teams' Association

The teams’ plans for the future of F1 revealed today are a mixture of sound ideas plus a couple of complete and utter howlers.

There was a lot to commend in the ideas they put forward today, but a few worrying omissions as well. Here’s my take on FOTA’s F1 proposal.

The most interesting part of FOTA?s announcement (which you can read in full here) is found at the end of the document: the market research they conducted into what people want and expect from F1. A few key lines from it include:

  • “F1 isn?t broken, so beware ??over-fixing? it”
  • “Formula One audiences appreciate the traditional gladiatorial, high-tech nature of the sport and would not respond favourably to a perceived ??dumbing down? of the current format.”
  • “A major change to the [qualifying] format will not result in a significant increase in audience.”
  • “Significant opportunities exist to build audience via other channels such as internet and mobile.”
  • “Race strategies were not highly ranked as a determinant of interest in Formula One.”

All these observations agree with the impression I?ve gained of what most F1 fans think of the sport in the years I?ve been running this website.

If only FOTA had paid more attention to what it said before coming up with their proposals.

What they got wrong

Two parts of their recommendations leap from the page when you read it not only because they are startlingly bad and ill-conceived, but also because they contradict the sensible suggestions that have come from the market research:

Points for pit stops

This plainly undermines the fans’ wish for F1 not to be dumbed down. The prospect of a “radical” change to how points are distributed is very worrying.

There is an obvious advantage to only giving out points based on finishing positions. It means that race results decide championships, which is sensible and logical.

Once we start giving out points for pit stops, or pole positions, or fastest laps, championships will be decided during qualifying sessions, or halfway through races because a driver put on soft tyres and used a light fuel load instead of trying to win.

I can see why the idea appeals in theory, but from watching other series that use such rules, I know it works poorly in practice, and F1 is better off without it.

Reduced race length

This is being discussed in a poll here with, at present, over 90% of readers opposed to a cut in race distances. I cannot see why making races shorter is desirable for a sporting or economic point of view.

Read more: Should F1 races be shorter? (Poll)

What they got right

Much of the FOTA announcement covers points that are already public knowledge – the cut in engine prices for 2009, for example. The good news is that they are taking these cost cuts further in 2010, which, if accepted by the FIA, should help bring new teams into the sport and prevent current outfits from leaving.

Not least of which is the plan for a standardised Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS). Max Mosley will hate it, but F1 teams have spent as much on this technology for 2009 as they used to spend on engines, and F1′s green message has to take a back seat to cost-cutting given the economic conditions.

Luca di Montezemolo said in a press briefing that the teams are now prepared to sign a new Concorde Agreement agreeing the commercial terms for F1 until the 2012 season. He also played down the remarks made by Renault CEO Patrick Pelata earlier this week where he hinted the team could leave the sport.

If the changes promoted by FOTA are accepted and prevent further manufacturers from leaving F1 as Honda have done, that will be a major achievement.

Read more: The cost-cutting plans: engines

What they missed out

It’s clear from the comments left in response to the earlier article that many fans had vested a lot of hope in FOTA’s announcement and there are some worrying omissions in what they have presented.

The most pressing concern is the calendar. Two important rounds have dropped off the schedule this year including the popular Canadian Grand Prix at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Other historic events such as the British Grand Prix are under threat.

Yet there was not a word from FOTA on the future of the F1 calendar: not on the loss of traditional races, not on the continued absence of the American Grand Prix, and not on the increasing homogeneity of the F1 calendar which reduces the scale of the sporting challenge it represents.

Their demands for increased adoption of ‘new media’ by F1′s promoters was short on detail. Are they going to put pressure on Bernie Ecclestone to improve the international spread of F1 and ensure fans in countries like Sweden, where F1 is not broadcast on television, can watch it online instead? What about HD coverage and future broadcasting technologies such as 3D?

Read more: FOTA wants more money for F1 teams – it should get some for circuits too

Conclusion

FOTA’s proposal was built on the solid foundations of a survey that appears to reflect very closely what the average F1 fan thinks of the sport. It is vitally important that they do not now make the mistake of pushing measures such as shorter races which would be hugely unpopular and alienate many fans.

With that caveat, FOTA deserve considerable credit for the work they have done on cost-cutting. It looks increasingly as though the new chord of unity between the teams can provide an effective bulwark against Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone’s rule by whim.

But I have one remaining concern. Montezemolo said in his briefing:

I think that every sport needs a strong political authority and regulator because we are not in a circus. We are in a sport with rules and credibility,so we need strong commercial activities and we need a strong unanimous commitment by the players. This is the triangle we have in mind.

What I want to know is this: where do the circuits fit into this ‘triangle’?

Who is standing up to make sure historic venues are being protected and new races are being established with solid long-term prospects for the sport rather than short-term economic gains? F1 simply cannot go on leaving behind capacity crowds at places like Montreal and hosting race in near-empty stands on the other side of the globe.

What do you think of the F1 teams’ plans?

Read the proposal in full here

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31 comments on The F1 teams’ plans: what’s good, what’s bad and what’s missing

  1. Dan M said on 5th March 2009, 20:49

    Some of us have to deal with commercial breaks when watching F1. When they shorten the race distance and time do they plan on cutting down on advertisement breaks as well?

    Doubtful, why would they want to give up the revenue? We will end up with the same amount of commercials in a shorter time span.

  2. Joe said on 5th March 2009, 21:06

    Is refueling going to be removed?

    PS
    I hope so I’ve always hated it.

  3. Some mock ups of future TV concepts have been unearthed by Autosport – http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/73568

    • Mark said on 6th March 2009, 4:05

      I love the cornering line comparison, but it could be even better if the color of the line conveyed telemetry info–either the speed of the car or the throttle/brake data. Say the line turns progressively red when more brake is added and greener when the drivers throttle on. That would be a fascinating visualization of critical data for the audience. You could see who’s braking latest, who’s getting back on the gas the quickest, and what line is letting them do it.

  4. ajokay said on 5th March 2009, 21:32

    Personally, from reading what’s been said, I don’t think they can see the wood for the trees. They’re all so caught up in it from their own point of view, and from trying to argue their way out of various corners with Max and Bernie, that they’ve lost sight of the views an opinions of the people they’re catering for. Us.

    And as soon as they put some of these ill-thought out plans into action, people are going to switch off, and stop turning up. Then none of them will have any money.

    And where were these surveys they were talking about? I’ve never seen one. It wasn’t the ING survey, that was an FIA jobbie.

  5. Boston F1 Fan said on 5th March 2009, 21:35

    - What about the revised points?

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 5th March 2009, 21:45

      It’s a mild improvement but I wish they’d gone a bit further. If you look at it this way:

      1991-2002: Second place is worth 60% of a win
      2003-2008: Second place is worth 80% of a win
      2009 (TBC): Second place is worth 75% of a win

      I’d prefer to see the gap between first and second closer to what it was in 2002. Something like 15-10-8-6-4-3-2-1, for example.

    • Arthur954 said on 5th March 2009, 22:05

      I would have added the possibility of eliminating the two worst races of the year. There is always the bad luck of someone running into you or the engine blowing up and its not the drivers fault

    • Phil said on 5th March 2009, 22:12

      Eh, Arthur – how would that work? Take off your two worst races? No difference to your score. Take off the worst two races from everyone – how are the worst 2 decided?

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 5th March 2009, 22:17

      They had a similar system until 1990 – you dropped a certain number of your lowest scoring races (I think drivers scored their best 11 from 16 rounds).

      The problem with it was it turned championship deciders into horrifically complicated mathematical exercises. I hope we don’t see that rule again.

    • Tim said on 6th March 2009, 11:59

      And it leads to situations like 1988, where Senna won the title despite Prost scoring more points.

  6. Robert McKay said on 5th March 2009, 22:50

    It’s a mixed bag of proposals.

    Points for pitstops is silly. Very silly. Gimmick with a capital G.

    Shorter race is just plain ugly and if that’s not “over-fixing” F1 I don’t know what is.

    The points are a step in the right direction but I’ve said till I’m blue in the face 12-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 is what it should be and I still think that.

    Best thing I’ve seen from them though is some of their suggestions for better TV graphic information, and making more use of alternative new media.

    I think the disappointing thing though is the fact that the survey is largely based on the opinions of (very) casual fans and non-fans.

    Obviously FOTA want to try and branch the appeal of the sport but I wonder if they really tried distinguishing the results of the real fans from the others. How many of the big fans actually want to see shorter races? Not many. But FOTA can suggest it as it might make fans and they know the hardcore will still watch it regardless.

  7. Toby said on 5th March 2009, 22:51

    I think the idea of shortening the races is to increase the viewership of F1. They’ve probably concluded from the survey that more people (non or casual fans) would watch F1 if the races weren’t as long, while existing (dedicated) fans would become used to it pretty quickly. I’m not opposed to the idea particularly. There’s bigger fish to fry, like, as you said Keith, retaining and reinstating classic racing venues and crowd numbers.

    The idea of changing qualifying is a bit silly to me. With refuelling banned next year, the current format will (imo) prove to be as exciting as just about anything else. There will be a luck factor if a driver was caught in traffic for his (or her) Q3/Q2 runs, mistakes will be punished harshly sometimes and at the end of the day, the fastest driver/car combo will be on pole – at least in qualifying spec.

    Overall, and there are exceptions, I think FOTA have gone in the right direction, but they are stating the bleedin’ obvious a bit, yeah?

    • Ben said on 5th March 2009, 23:19

      more people would watch if the races weren’t so long? You’re taking the **** right? An F1 race is about 90-100 minutes. Not too many others sports are that short. In cricket the shortest form there is is 3 hours but most matches are 7 hours or 5 days, baseball is about 3 hours, football (including half time) is 105+ minutes, Australian football is 150-180 minutes, American football is about 2-3 hours, tennis is anything from 60-240 minutes.

      This idea that F1 races are too long is misguided, in comparison to pretty much any other sport its quite short.

      You’d struggle to even be able to watch a decent movie in the same time as an F1 race.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 5th March 2009, 23:43

      I agree. NASCAR races are far longer and they’re enormously popular in America.

    • Mark said on 6th March 2009, 4:11

      Completely agree, Keith. I would mention that many Nascar fans would actually like to see shorter races at several tracks (like Pocono and California), but when a “short” race for Nascar is still pushing three hours, it only proves the point!

    • On the other hand; I think shorter races is what the teams want ( probably desperate for ).

      With 1 engine to be used for 3-4 races; I am pretty sure most teams are worried about reliability.

      If you think closely; a shorter race also means lesser scope for change in race strategy; something an average F1 fan will welcome.

      Overall; the reduction in length of races will be bad; but not as bad as most cynics here make it out to be.

  8. F1Yankee said on 6th March 2009, 1:52

    very strong article, keith. i think there’s a complete typo in the first paragraph :)

    fota isn’t in any position to start making demands about the calendar. i think bernie does recognize fota as his biggest threat to date, and i wouldn’t count on buying off ferrari this time around.

    i’d like to see points paid to the top 10 positions, with 2nd worth 60% of 1st. yes, i’m aware that is half of the starting grid on a good day.

    about tv coverage:

    still no hd…”pinnacle of technology”?

    i’m sad for the swedish fans. i’m not familiar with the swedish tv industry, but unless a swedish broadcaster can give fom enough krona, there’s nothing that can be done about it (?).

    i believe germany has an in-car camera ppv channel. why isn’t this an option elswhere?

  9. Jonesracing82 said on 6th March 2009, 6:37

    i worry for the Calendar, it has been given no consideration and i fear that in 10 years (or sooner) the Calendar will be of races in places with no racing heritage at all!

  10. Whewbacca the Cookie said on 6th March 2009, 6:45

    Long races are better. Only they could truly test the reliability of the cars. Refueling ban is a good move. Points system might be changed to something like: 15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1

  11. todd said on 6th March 2009, 8:12

    i liked pitstops and the strategy :(

  12. Nik said on 6th March 2009, 8:42

    F1 is available on TV in Sweden, but the company that owns the rights just can’t decide what channel to put it on. It’s back on pay TV this year to the best of my knowledge

  13. Kester said on 6th March 2009, 9:32

    Pitstops won’t go todd. Just the refuelling side of it.

    As for points for quickest pitstop I kind of like that idea. As stated in the plan it would be a constructors point and not a drivers point, and therefore why should the quickest constructor get a point for getting there car back on track in than 3.2 seconds?

  14. Without fueling stops I feel we will lose some of what we have gained over the last few years (but we shall see) Stratergy in my mind has become an integral part of winning a race/championship and has involved the TEAM without this I feel F1 leans further and further towards a spec series with every rule change. It WILL bring closer racing but it will also take away a fundamental part of F1 I have certainly enjoyed speculating over for the past few years. (No more guessing fuel loads :( )

  15. I think a lot of people are forgetting that from 2010 there will be no fuel element to pitstops so it will purely be down to who can change the tires quickest. So there will be no compromising race strategy just for a faster pitstop and it will reward back-of-the-grid teams who can’t field a race winning car but can work quickly to change the cars tires. I’m all for them.

    Shortening races, very bad idea…

    Totally agree that the teams should have put something in place to protect the traditional races, perhaps we should start a petition and send it to FOTA…

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