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There are many ways FOA’s outdated broadcasts could be brought up to scratch to improve the show.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 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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…

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. Jonesracing82 said on 5th January 2010, 1:15

    i dont like the point for fastest lap idea, a guy who is 15th with 5 laps to go will pit for fresh tyres and artificially get the point

  12. Monad said on 5th January 2010, 5:12

    Keith, from reading this article i found my self amazed on how well you know what you are saying. I agree with everything you said. I wonder if you are willing to work for Todt if he gave you a call, because he must. The solution to our problems seems to be putting you in charge of this F1 Sporting Working Group.
    Geezz..!! Why aren’t people inside he FIA think like that? Is it really that hard. What is it that makes them blind to the obvious?

  13. Sush Meerkat said on 5th January 2010, 6:07

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

    Include drivers in the weight of the car, there’s only a millisecond advantage to every 5kg’s but the disparity between the drivers weights are huge, and the disparity between the cars performance as of last year is minimal.

    Take Adrian Sutil for example, he’s 6ft of pure muscle, he can’t afford to lose weight since his body would eat his own muscles, including the heart.

    Seeing Kubica last year all lean I thought he was going to keel over.

    • I may have misunderstood your comment, but aren’t drivers already included when weighing the car to make sure it is not underweight?

      It is just that the lighter a driver is the more ballast they have to play around with when setting up the car, and this became an issue when KERS added extra weight meaning less ballast to move around for the optimum setup.

  14. This articles shows a nice breakdown of different “Show Improvement” measures.
    Totally agree and all that’s said.

    I especially support the idea of reducing the aerodynamics even more. Concerning the double diffuser story, I was under the illusion that it would be banned in 2010. Is that not true?

    After the ban on refueling, I think competition between various tyre manufacturers would bring a lot to the show. Indeed, if Bridgestone are left alone, they can afford to make very hard tyres so that drivers don’t have excessive wear problems. The result could be no pit stops at all. A Tyre war would force manufacturers to make the fastest possible tyre. Thereby probably forcing the drivers to make pitstops. It would be a much more elegant solution than the totally articifical rule we have now of forcing all drivers to use 2 different types of tyres. With Bridgestone leaving at the end of 2010, this might actually happen…

    Other thing I’d like to mention, in my view even more important than TV coverage, is ticket prices. A Sport that fans can’t afford to go and see for real is a dead sport.

    • Matt said on 6th January 2010, 5:14

      I agree with you on ticket prices but in terms of another tyre war, that would only raise costs when costs are trying to be reduced at the moment

  15. m0tion said on 5th January 2010, 22:15

    A performance test and limit for wake turbulence but no engineering reg prescription for how to get under the limit.

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