The FIA wants to “improve the show”. Here’s how to get it right (and wrong)

The pit-to-car radio broadcasts are great - let's hear some more

The pit-to-car radio broadcasts are great - let's hear some more

Last year the FIA announced:

A mandate has been given to the F1 Sporting Working Group to develop detailed proposals to improve the show. The Working Group will meet in January and make recommendations for the World Motor Sport Council to consider in advance of the 2010 F1 season.

We’ve seen a lot of positive changes made to F1 in recent years – the banning of traction control and the return of slick tyres, for example. But sometimes the FIA gets it badly wrong – who remembers aggregate qualifying?

Here’s some simple changes they could make to improve the show in 2010 – and a few mistakes they need to avoid:

Let more people watch it

For all the talk of ‘improving the show’ there’s too little discussion of the fundamental problem that not everyone can watch it.

Here in Britain we’re fortunate to have BBC’s excellent coverage. But join the F1 Fanatic live blogs during any session and there are always fans from parts of the world where F1 isn’t broadcast live, looking for video streams.

Why isn’t FOA supplying a video stream for these dedicated fans who are trying to follow a sport in a country where it isn’t even shown live? A commentary-free pictures-and-sound version on, supplied only in regions which don’t have live television coverage for a particular session, offered for a fair price, could bolster F1’s popularity and bring in revenue.

Let people watch it in HD

There are many ways FOA’s outdated broadcasts could be brought up to scratch to improve the show. High definition coverage is the least of them, especially considering the 2010 football world cup will be shown in 3D.

In a similar vein, we’re starting to see too much of FOA’s best material held back from the live broadcast and kept for the end-of-season DVD review.

Use more team radio

Getting all the teams to agree to have their pit-to-car-radio communcations broadcast was an important step forward for the quality of F1 broadcasts.

Many of the most memorable moments of 2009 were framed by quotes from the radio: Jenson Button’s “monster of a car” at Istanbul which a few races later he complained was “terrible”, Rob Smedley telling “Felipe baby” to “be cool” and Mark Webber slating Kimi Raikkonen for holding him up in qualifying at Silverstone.

But it’s still used very sparingly. Watch an Indy Car or NASCAR race and the chatter from the pits is almost uninterrupted in the background.

We need to hear more from the radios. And why not let fans subscribe to their favourite drivers’ broadcasts on the internet? That way they could hear them in real time and uncensored.

Drop the compulsory tyre change

Let drivers pit as much or as little as they want to increase variety

Let drivers pit as much or as little as they want to increase variety

As discussed here recently, the banning of refuelling opens up opportunities for interesting strategy variations creating more interesting races. But the compulsory tyre change rule introduced in 2007 will work against this if it is not removed.

At the moment drivers are required to use both types of tyres at least once during a dry race. By removing that requirement drivers will be free to approach the race in different ways. One might use a softer, quicker tyres but make two pit stops for fresh rubber. Another might bolt on harder tyres and try to get through with one stop or none at all.

That variety will produce more interesting and exciting races – like the thrilling battle between Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet at Silverstone in 1987.

Read more: 14 reasons to love the F1 refuelling ban

Keep working on the cars

One of the most important avenues the teams and FIA must work on is how the cars can be modified to allow them to follow each other more closely. The 2009 rules changes made some progress here, but much of it was undone when ‘double diffusers’ were declared legal.

In the Indy Racing League a lack of passing last season was quickly remedied by some changes to the cars. It’s much easier for the IRL to address this sort of thing because all the cars are the same specification. And with the F1 teams just weeks away from launching their 2010 cars it’s too late now for any significant changes to the technical rules.

But we can’t ignore the fact that the design of the cars has a serious effect on how closely they can follow each other. If that’s going to be improved, the FIA needs to look at long-term changes as well as quick fixes it can make in the next two months.

Don’t overlook the world champion

Give the world champions a proper post-race celebration

Give the world champions a proper post-race celebration

Jenson Button came home in fifth place to secure the world championship at Interlagos. The official podium ceremony went on as usual to celebrate the race winner, while completely ignoring the fact that the championship had been won.

Why ignore the new world champion until the official end-of-season FIA prizegiving – which gets far less media attention than the championship-deciding title race?

Bring back Friday test drivers

Third drivers get hardly any opportunities for testing these days, so let them have some track time on Fridays. It’s good for them and good for the fans.

…and how to mess it up

With only 67 days until the first practice session at Bahrain there is little time for the FIA to make major changes to things like car design. Whatever innovations are introduced are likely to be cosmetic.

The danger is they might rush into unnecessary changes to the race weekend format which will leave us with some dreadful error – like the terrible aggregate qualifying which was introduced and then quickly dropped in 2005.

The worst thing they could do would be to introduce some of these flawed ideas seen in other racing categories:

Point for pole position – Offering extra points for anything other than where a driver finishes in a race would make things more complicated rather than exciting. Pole position already gives a driver the significant advantage of starting in frotn of everyone, so why increase its value? This would only open up the possibility for the championship to be decided during a qualifying session, when far fewer people are watching, which is no good for “the show”.

Point for fastest lap – Cue arguments over whether a fastest lap was set while a yellow flag was out. A dispute over exactly that handed Lewis Hamilton the 2006 GP2 title after the race had finished.

Success ballast – Making the winner of the previous race carry extra weight is fundamentally opposed to the spirit of racing – it’s a disgrace to see it happen even in touring car racing. Also, it would pretty much guarantee the world championship being decided by a battle in the lowest reaches of the points.

More mandatory pit stops – As described earlier, making drivers pit two or three times would remove any potential for variation in strategy and scupper many of the benefits of the refuelling ban.

Reverse grids – Normal qualifying can be relied upon to throw up an unusual grid and an exciting race once in a while. But if every race started with the quickest cars at the back the novelty would wear off quickly.

For more on why these favoured methods of ‘improving the show’ would only cause more problems, see here: Four mistakes F1 must avoid

How would you “improve the show”? Does the show need improving? Leave a comment below.

Images (C) Red Bull/Getty Images, Renault/LAT, Brawn GP

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99 comments on The FIA wants to “improve the show”. Here’s how to get it right (and wrong)

  1. JohnsonsTwin said on 4th January 2010, 10:46

    Steel brakes and a maximum downforce level at 160mph.
    These 2 things more than anything else would give F1 the overtaking it needs.
    I have delved into the idea of “groundeffects” and there is definatley room for scope in this area.

    Either way, Todt is technically minded enough to know better than I which is the best way forward. I just pray he has the conviction to do somthing great instead of just appease his (FIA)electorate.

  2. Jim N said on 4th January 2010, 10:55

    Keith, I agree 100% with everything you said.

  3. Two suggestions that might have a positive effect:

    1) Allow only a certain amount of energy (kJ?) to be used per Grand Prix weekend, regardless of engine capacity, output or power source, for that matter. The fixed amount could be reduced each season, too, like MotoGP did/does.

    2) Allow only a certain amount of downforce (P?) to be available at any given time, regardless of number of wings, venturi tunnels, diffusers, et al.

    • JohnsonsTwin said on 4th January 2010, 11:33

      The kj idea is a great one. Do Moto GP actually implement this and if so how?

      Will this come down to a formula of 1 litre of fuel equals X amount of kj’s? So in effect the Highest fuel efficient to power ratio will be best?

      • IIRC, MotoGP have reduced the size of the fuel tank a couple of times during the last few seasons, e.g. from 23 to 22 litres.

        You’re right on the formula, I reckon: 1 litre of fuel for a petrol engine equals x kJ, while 1 kWh — bear with me, I’m no physicist — for an electric car equals y kJ.

  4. Terry Fabulous said on 4th January 2010, 11:04

    Team Radio Case Study:

    Last month I was volunteering as a grandstand steward at the V8Supercar Sydney 500.
    At the track you could buy a special radio for about AU$80 that came with a frequency guide for each of the 15 teams!

    So you could pick your team and sit there all day listening to the pit to car conversations!!

    Wouldn’t it be great if we could do that for F1

    • V8 Supercars are brilliant. I’ve really got into that lately.

      F1 could take a few leaves out of their book.

      1) The rotating on board camera.
      2) After the race, the race commentators can talk to the race winner over the radio.
      3) Sprint & Longer races. (I’m not sure how they work just yet. I’ve only started watching lately.)

      Back to F1, take away the two compounds per race rule, very artificial.

      No points for pole or fastest lap, points are going down to tenth now so thats enough.

      Most importantly, CONSISTENT RULES!

      • I like points 1 and 2.
        And perhaps when a safety car is out the commentators can also talk to the drivers whilst they follow it.

      • Matt said on 6th January 2010, 4:42

        Most of the leaves of the V8 Supercars book should remain with V8 Supercars. Watch it for more than one season Spud and you’ll see they change rules every year, if not mid year.

        -2 tyre compound rule
        -compulsory pitstops to put in a compulsory amount of fuel
        -09 was a new type of fuel
        -first they say that all races (either sprint or enduro) are worth the same amount of points as each other then that changes to sprint being worth less
        -each year they make more and more of the cars standard across the grid (only thing different between Holdens and Fords are the engines and body panels
        -don’t get me started on stupid things like reverse grids that they have done in the past

        The only thing F1 should look at is the TV coverage, its done pretty well. Cameras everywhere inside / outside / under the car, if someone goes out because of a broken part they often will get a hold of that part and show how and why it broke, talking to the drivers during the race (Dick Johnson was known for telling jokes while driving that would take a whole lap of Bathurst to tell), commentators that really know the rules

      • Matt said on 6th January 2010, 4:56

        Oh I forgot the rubbish point system

  5. Prisoner Monkeys said on 4th January 2010, 11:12

    At Monaco, the winner must run the length of pit stright to celebrate. It worked for Jenson Button, it should work for everyone else.

  6. all the drivers know where on every track they can overtake, make the tracks with more of these places. simples more overtaking oppertunities

  7. Woffin said on 4th January 2010, 11:37

    I actually disagree about the “point for fastest lap” situation. Think about it. There’s 5 laps to go, everyone has burned off their fuel and have nice light cars. Normally, you would be told to save the car and bring it home but now there is an extra point up for grabs. Everyone is going to be banzai-ing it right to the end of the race to try and get that fastest lap, especially the guys outside the points that have nothing to lose. I personally think this would put an end to the whole “cruise and collect” mentality we have at the moment where after the second round of pitstops are over, nothing happens.

  8. I am thinking of a point should be awarded for leading most laps in the race. This will give some reward to drivers who dominated the race or to the drivers who led the race for most part of the race and lose it at the end because of engine/mechanical failure or other similar type problems.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 4th January 2010, 12:19

      I think this wouldn’t necessarily make things more entertaining, just more complicated.

      And again, whenever we decide to start giving points for things other than finishing the race, you raise the prospect of the championship being decided in a rather unsatisfying way.

      For example, driver X becomes world champion on lap 44 at Interlagos because he’s led every lap apart from the first eight and now no-one can lead any more laps than him so he must get the bonus point… doesn’t really do it for me.

      • For example, driver X becomes world champion on lap 44 at Interlagos because he’s led every lap apart from the first eight and now no-one can lead any more laps than him so he must get the bonus point… doesn’t really do it for me.

        Later on I also thought on this.

  9. Macca said on 4th January 2010, 12:17

    Having the 3rd driver on a friday is a nice idea, although in a time where cost cutting is taking most importance, have to supply an exrtra car for that driver doesn’t seem right. I guess you could let him drive one of the main drivers car, but then if he puts it in the wall then the main drivers weekend is effectivly stuffed.

  10. nixon said on 4th January 2010, 12:59

    I agree with every single word you typed Kieth except the “Don’t overlook the world champion” thing because i think that the other drivers who won the race deserve to be seen just like any other place. And you won’t believe what i am about to tell you… in the middle east there are 2 F1 circuits Bahrain and Yas and those are the only 2 races that they show on free T.V. imagine that! to see any other races i think (not sure) that you have to buy Jazeera.

    • Just to correct the info, this was true before 2009, in 2009 the rights were bought by Bahrain Sport which is free if you have a cable dish..
      The so called “show” definitely needs to be more accessible to more fans, they could also look into reducing the costs of the race tickets so that more enthusiasts can afford to see the action live..
      Excellent suggestions Keith :) I love the team radios and they never have enough of them on, I understand the issue might be censoring some of the conversations, but there should be a way of screening them and making more of them available, it really gives us a taste of what’s really going on behind the scenes..
      I really hope they don’t give points to the fastest lap or pole position that will just ruin the value of the race!
      I’m all for giving the new Champ a chance to celebrate as well! They should also make the awards Gala more accessible just like the races, after a whole year of following each race, the fans deserve to see it live!

  11. I always find it interesting to watch way lower-profile racing series, who don’t pull half the shenanigans Formula One currently or formerly did to “improve the show” and provide equally, or even more interesting racing. From those experiences, I’m pretty convinced that it’s not necessary to have or introduce reversed grids, forced pit stops, weight penalties or bonuspoints for pole positions or fastest laps to produce interesting racing.

    The underyling question of those discussions, however, is a hugely important one. What is missing from (modern) motor racing that could make it more interesting?

    My answer, I’m afraid, isn’t one that could be rushed in as a change for the new season. One of the most important factors for me right now are the race tracks. Especially since the evolution of the technical regulations over the last two years seems ot have succeeded at unleashing some potential for close and interesting races, I’ve been all but underwhelmed by most of the new circuits that have been added to the calendar in recent years. I find it very sad to see that modern race tracks primarily seem to baffle spectators and “professionals” alike with their vast, impressive architecture — while the actual race track, for example, offers three chicanes, an array of slow, 1980s street circuit-esque corners and only one semi-fast bit.

    In my opinion, the vast improvement of the last fifteen, twenty years, which led to the modern track safety standards should have opened up a lot of potential for much more interesting, challenging and diverse circuits. Instead of that, if I’m following some of the discussions, every reveal of a new track layout seems to produce a lot of yawning and more or less appropriate name-calling of the architect…

    • Tomcat173 said on 5th January 2010, 4:38

      I’ve been all but underwhelmed by most of the new circuits that have been added to the calendar in recent years.

      I have been pretty disappointed with the new tracks as well. Unfortunately Bernie has put alot of energy into taking F1 to nations that are the most desperate for international exposure.

      every reveal of a new track layout seems to produce a lot of yawning and more or less appropriate name-calling of the architect

      You hit it on the head. When there’s an appetite to create a new circuit, the aim of the game has to be to create a circuit that has some classic features, not simply build every new circuit to the same formula.

      They seemed to have done the job at Istanbul Park, but sadly the list of recent circuits that follow the same standard formula is far too long – Sepang, Shanghai, Abu Dhabi, Singapore to name a few.

  12. Daffid said on 4th January 2010, 13:27

    Whole-heartedly agree Keith on just about every point. One thing I’d add though, is that a lot more tech needs to be brought to bear on the coverage as a whole.

    For a start, they need a lot more cameras. The old days when cameras were expensive and huge are long gone, if they can put an on-board camera on every other car, they can put an extra 50 small unmanned cameras around the circuit for peanuts. They may not be the very best quality, they may not all be able to be cut in, in real time, but the coverage would be there for post race review and nothing would be completely missed as is so often the case. That I think is more important than hi-def.

    Also, while I find the on-screen info often annoying, badly thought out and badly positioned – so I’m not suggesting covering the pictures in thousands of graphics – but there are many many ways to improve the coverage with more data. That cricket enjoys more hi-tec coverage than F1 speaks volumes.

  13. I agree with all the points in the article.

    I don’t like the FIA calling it improving the show, and worry that they may introduce gimmicks such as reverse grids, or make some changes in a hurry without being thought out such as the new points system with the problems with seventh place.

    For me the format of a Grand Prix weekend doesn’t need massive changes, apart from the points mentioned in the article the main thing I would look at are increased access for fans and allowing the winner to celebrate after the race on the in lap.

  14. ITS NOT A SHOW!!!

    please stop referring to it a show.
    Its a sport, not X-Factor!

    But apart from that, I agree upon all your ideas apart from the “improve the cars” bit. Cars do not need to be improved, they were fine in 2008. There will always be progress and with it advantages, disadvantages loopholes etc.

    Remember, F1 is a sport for engineers, and well as drivers!

  15. Thandi said on 4th January 2010, 13:49

    Excellent ideas Keith
    You should be getting paid for these

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