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

Posted on Author Keith Collantine

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There are many ways FOA’s outdated broadcasts could be brought up to scratch to improve the show.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

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

  1. Jonesracing82
    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

  2. 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?

  3. Sush Meerkat
    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.

    1. 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.

      1. You are corrent PJA

  4. 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.

    1. 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

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

  6. If FIA is serious about cost reduction, set a target budget of say £80m and award up to 5 MANUFACTURERS Championship points for amounts below that ceiling. Could mean that both championships are more keenly fought as a better car is probably more costly and not necessarily more reliable & a lesser car could still do well in the manufacturers championship.

  7. and nobody suggests knocking 50% or more of the down force off the cars? The over emphasis on aerodynamics is what makes the sport so boring.

  8. To improve the show? More grip, more torque, less aero. Simple. As for the TV show? The director in the video-trailer twiddles from one screen to the next every few seconds, so it is too easy to lose track of which car is which. The paint schemes are flash but work like a camouflaged fish. Many of us do not have large modern televisions. We need simpler paint schemes and visible numbers. Also, polls show that fans love on board cameras. A view of the road, front tires, and the driver’s hands tells us more than the yammering announcer. Unless he is Jackie Stewart.

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