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 F1.com, 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There are many ways FOA’s outdated broadcasts could be brought up to scratch to improve the show.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. all the drivers know where on every track they can overtake, make the tracks with more of these places. simples more overtaking oppertunities

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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!

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

    Excellent ideas Keith
    You should be getting paid for these

  11. All very logical, sensible and well thought out Keith, you’ll never get a job at the FIA behaving like that ;)

    I’d like to add my voice the “It’s not a show it’s a sport” view.

    Other than the things mentioned in the article I’d free up the technical regulations to allow designers and engineers to innovate and put a greater emphasis on safety, maybe closed cock-pits. Better safety would mean that cars could go faster, much faster, which would improve the spectacle.

  12. wasiF1 said on 4th January 2010, 14:42

    They have to drop the idea of Drop the compulsory tyre changes,it will just destroy the show.
    Secondly shouldn’t they lower the price of ticket by some mean,I know the FIA has nothing to do with it but isn’t there a way.
    They should ban double diffusers.

  13. Pingguest said on 4th January 2010, 18:12

    To make Formula 1 really interesting again, the standardization should stop and we’d get rid of artificial means to ‘spice up’ the racing.

  14. Kevin said on 4th January 2010, 18:24

    I agree with Keith that F1 needs to be more accessible to the average fan as well as dedicated fans following a specific team / driver.
    If you take a look at NASCAR, they have done a great job on this. They have something called TrackPass on the internet. You can watch the entire race with every driver’s telemetry, and tune into specific driver or team’s radio for the entire race. On TV, they’re in HD.
    At the actual races, they rent out radios that also lets you tune into team radio. That is really cool. As a side note, there’s no way the Hamilton / Trulli fiasco could have happened if the teams knew fans in the stands all have access to their team communications.

  15. I think the calendar is an important point. It needs to made more logical. How can F1 not go to the USA, France etc., but go to Korea? I like the idea of varying lengths of races, and the ‘Grand Slam’ idea.

    Also some cricket-style hi-tec line comparison graphics. I thought we were supposed to have that in 09?

    And for those that say F1 isn’t a show….
    It’s just about the only TV-based entertainment I’ll watch. F1 is a show these days, X Factor is a Freakshow!

    • Common-sense stewarding as well please! The new points system is great by the way. Better than the medals system. I would have preferred something like IndyCar, to spice up the fight for 19th place!

    • James said on 4th January 2010, 21:45

      Actually, we did have the line comparisson graphics, although it wasnt used too much. If I remebmer rightly, it was barely used after Hungary…?

    • Matt said on 6th January 2010, 5:06

      +1 on the graphics call

      If WRC can manage to show the different lines drivers are taking out in the middle of the forest somewhere, surely we can do this at a track…

  16. The idea to make the races more exiting towards the end by giving a benefit to the fastest lap when everyone often just cruise around to protect their position is a good one I think. Somehow giving points seems out of tradition with F1 but perhaps gaining 5 positions on the starting grid of the next race would liven things up a bit.

  17. The BBC have been getting a lot of schtick lately with many vociferous complaints about the quality output of their HD programming. Apparently the bit rate (I’m not a techy so feel free the explain this further or moreso correctly if you wish) is much less than that of Sky. Despite the criticisms they insist programmes are not being compromised and yet on theirs and other forums the complaints continue to the contrary…

    • Here’s a few idea’s off the top of my head.

      Decrease the off season period.
      Allow fans more access on and off the track, including at testings.
      Discourage teams from charging membership on their sites as this puts fans off. Memberships are seldom worth the money anyway.
      Teams should offer more car and driver telemetry (revs, speed, brakes, g-forces, drivers heart rate, gps, in car camera feed, etc) that fans can access free and follow during races. FOA has a real opportunity to show-up the FIA and I would have thought they would relish that.
      Put more camera’s on cars to show different views and angles and camera’s should be able to be swivelled around by the tv director.

      • Oh yes and get rid of the rubbish circuits that don’t allow for much overtaking opportunities. On a lighter note, if they insist on staying on the calendar then FIA must demand sprinklers be placed around the track to go off for a single perhaps random period no less than for half an hour…

    • Daffid said on 6th January 2010, 11:15

      Not just their HD programming! And as I recall ITV was the same with their online stream, the picture would be fine up till the race start time (when I guess more people joined the feed) and the bitrate fell through the floor for some races.

  18. David said on 4th January 2010, 21:27

    I don’t think that the extra point award for the fastest lap would increase a lot the interest.
    Do you really have fun if you see a 12th placed car doing ten very fast laps while fighting with…nobody? Not to say that it may happen that drivers that don’t see any hope for points could pit during the last laps just to get soft new tyres and try a flying lap.
    What we really miss in formula 1 is overtaking and directly fighting for a position. And the many reason for that is technical.
    Point system could remain the same of 70’s, it was more clear.

  19. GeeMac said on 4th January 2010, 21:33

    For me, the first thing that has to go is the two tyre rule, it negates a lot of possibilities that the refuelling ban brings to F1.

    2 tyre suppliers, no refuelling, 4 world champions, now that’s a recipe for success.

  20. Duncan Klien said on 4th January 2010, 22:00

    I would like to see the traditional qualifying formats reinstated. I am sure many fans terribly miss the sight of 20+ cars chaotically flooding the track at one go when the hour mark is due to be up.

    Most teams will only attempt to set a best time when the track is at its prime condition during the closing stages. So the concern is that the track is usually empty during the initial 45 mins as teams wait for one another (usually the lesser lights) to lay down the rubber first.

    Here is the solution. Scrap the knockout format but keep the four 15-minutes segment. All the cars must set a time during each of the segments.

    To ensure the runs are competitive runs, any driver who fails to set a time within the traditional 107% (could be even stricter e.g. 103% to ensure everyone tries his best) of the fastest driver’s time is knocked out immediately.

    Fans are happy that the track is utilised almost every minute. On top of that, they get to see the mad rush at the end of the session where commentators fall over one another trying to keep up with the proceedings. Mr Editor, i hope you might take a liking to this idea and post up a page discussing this solution. I am sure it is one up for worthy consideration to really spice up the proceedings.

    • thestig84 said on 4th January 2010, 22:20

      The knockout qualifying is one of the few improvements of late.

      Your idea is basically the knockout system, just not as good. Right no we get cars out pretty much straight away and there is pressure to make their runs count. Yours sounds more complicated and you would loose occasions like Malaysia where Massa tried to get through Q3 with one run then got bumped down and out.

      With yours he could have trundled round easily within 103%.

      Qualy is great right now IMO and even better when low fuel returns!!!

    • Prisoner Monkeys said on 4th January 2010, 22:32

      I am sure many fans terribly miss the sight of 20+ cars chaotically flooding the track at one go when the hour mark is due to be up.

      Not really – when we had that system, the only time anyone went out was when the hour was nearly at an end.

      Fans are happy that the track is utilised almost every minute. On top of that, they get to see the mad rush at the end of the session where commentators fall over one another trying to keep up with the proceedings.

      We already get that in knockout qualifying.

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