Making F1 better: a discussion series

F1 has had three good races since its widely criticised Bahrain season-opener

F1 has had three good races since its widely criticised Bahrain season-opener

In recent years F1 has become fixated with “improving the show”. And the calls for better racing doubled after the dull season opener at Bahrain.

Since then we’ve had three much better races. That doesn’t necessarily mean F1’s problems are solved.

In a new series starting today I aim to start a constructive debate on what can be done to make F1 better.

Why F1 is great in 2010

Usually at this point in a championship we know where we stand: last year the narrative was ‘Can anyone catch Brawn?’ The two years before that McLaren and Ferrari were slugging it out from the beginning. Four races into 2010 the picture is still coming into focus.

At Bahrain it looked like Ferrari were the team to beat but they haven’t come close to winning a race since. Red Bull are struggling to translate their one-lap pace into wins. McLaren are leading the championship despite not having the quickest car and Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes is somehow second.

This is great for those of us who tune in hoping for an unpredictable race and close fight for the world championship. And there’s plenty more to get excited about as we anticipate the season ahead.

Robert Kubica is working wonders with the Renault R30. While Kubica dazzles everyone has an opinion on what’s gone wrong with Michael Schumacher’s return to F1, if he can turn it around, and whether he would be better off packing it in.

A crop of new drivers have already grabbed their first championship points. Thanks to the six new cars on the grid we have the biggest races in 15 years and while they try to get on terms with the established runners the front-runners have to work that bit harder in traffic to get by.

Now the season stretches ahead of us with visits to classic F1 circuits in prospect – Monte-Carlo, Silverstone, Spa-Francorchamps, Monza and Interlagos.

Off-track the political fury of recent years has subsided. After last year’s row over race-fixing in Singapore, budget caps, double diffusers and everything else, that is a welcome change for the better, reflected in Jean Todt’s steadily rising approval ratings on this site.

“Improving the show”

Yes, this is a vision of everything that’s right with F1 at the moment.

It’s not an complete picture, of course. But before we dive into yet another discussion about what’s wrong with F1 we should remember that there’s an awful lot right with it at the moment.

After the Bahrain Grand Prix newspapers and websites were awash with criticisms of “boring” F1. Yes, some of that was a reaction against an anti-climactic start to the season after months of hype. But by any measure the first race of the year was a snoozer.

It’s got better since then but we all know we’ve been exceptionally lucky with the weather. Rain enlivened the Australian and Chinese Grands Prix and mixed up the grid at Malaysia.

But I suspect this is only temporary – Catalunya is the next stop on the calendar and races there are consistently rated among the worst year after year (see here and here).

In the meantime, with the panicky reaction to boring Bahrain behind us, let’s take this opportunity to really get to the bottom of the “improving the show” debate while cooler heads may prevail.

Improving the debate

The phrases “improving the show” and “spicing up the action” tend to provoke groans among fans. And with good reason – they’re usually the preface to some drivel urging yet more knee-jerk rules change to create an illusion of overtaking.

We need a better standard of debate about how to improve F1 and that’s just what we’re going to do here at F1 Fanatic over the next week.

Instead of trying to cover a complicated subject in a single article, we’re going to take the “improving the show” debate apart and look at it from different angles.

Beginning tomorrow we’ll have a series of six articles over eight days, conceived to provoke an informed discussion about what F1 is today and what it should try to be in the future.

In the meantime, please use the comments below to suggest what topics you think we should cover in the coming days to better understand how F1 can be improved.

Is it all about increasing overtaking? Has technical innovation become too constrained? Does the calendar need more variety? Or is everything perfect the way it is? Over to you.

The next part of the “Making F1 better” series will ask whether F1 had a ‘golden age’ and, if it did, when it was and what we can learn from it. Keep an eye out for that article on Friday on F1 Fanatic.

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Making F1 better

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163 comments on Making F1 better: a discussion series

  1. Dane said on 23rd April 2010, 1:46

    If they want to improve the show, make the entry prices cheaper.

  2. Mackie said on 23rd April 2010, 1:46

    I think that Formula 1 is an engineering feat more than it is a spectator sport. The real magic happens in the months of R&D before a season, which is given it’s true test when it is finally put out on track during races. I believe that the FIA’s focus on creating a more exciting F1 during a race by focusing on what will make overtaking occur more often is completely backward thinking.

    Research, engineering and testing will make for more overtaking.

    • TommyC said on 23rd April 2010, 7:57

      and it’s a damn good spectator sport as well anyway. my partner said she’d way rather go to a grand prix than a football match or any other sport. and she doesn’t really watch races on tv, she just liked them on track and the atmosphere of the event.

      “Research, engineering and testing will make for more overtaking.”
      good point. it seems the focus is on restricting the cars to be more overtaking friendly but maybe if the rules stay relatively the same, engineers will work towards making their cars easier to overtake by somehow reducing their sensitivity to turbulent air and so on.

  3. JFranti said on 23rd April 2010, 1:51

    They’ve got to get some of these bad tracks out of the season. It’s no mistake that the tracks with the best races every year have long sweeping corners, and very few of the dreaded straight-hairpin-straight-hairpin complexes that every new track seems to have. Even Monaco’s hairpin is in a slow section of that track.
    If Bernie is serious about improving the show I think that the tracks are the best place to start. There’s no skill in defending a position when you’d need to forget to accelerate in order to be overtaken. Valencia, the new Barcelona layout with the tight 3rd sector, and the snoozefest in Bahrain all need to be fixed, even if you just run the circuit backwards next year.

    • US_Peter said on 23rd April 2010, 7:27

      Wow. I haven’t heard that mentioned before and hadn’t thought of it myself, but some of the circuits might really benefit from being run backwards. Interesting idea.

  4. Einar AI said on 23rd April 2010, 2:10

    I feel that too many readers are negatively disposed towards the aerodynamic side of the sport’s technological development. I fear that restrictions on aerodynamics, especially the standardizations of front/rear wings, engine covers, etc will not do Formula 1 any good. The restrictions on the chassis, dimensions and engine of the cars are crippling enough – removing the aerodynamic aspects will limit further potential for development. Sure, more restrictions and standardizations drive the costs down and reduce the performance difference between cars, potentially allowing for the “closer” races and more on-track action. However, quoting Mr. de Montezemolo, we want Formula 1, with its cutting-edge technological development (BOTH mechanical and aerodynamic) and not GP3.

    Similarly I would disagree that aerodynamics are irrelevant to modern road car development. Certainly, the new MP4-12C has little to do with all the minuscule aerodynamic devices its big F1 brother has; and yet, we cannot rule out the application of modern f1 aerodynamic technologies to the road cars in the future. After all, F1 witnesses not only the meticulous fine-tuning of aerodynamic flaps here and there, but also the developments of wholly new interesting concepts such as f-duct. I am not sure about you, but the current F1 aerodynamic development, or call it the “aerodynamics war” if you will, satisfies me as a dedicated f1 fan. At least, it satisfies me much more than recent tyre wars.

    However, there is some truth in the claim that aero development has recently overshadowed everything else to do with the car’s chassis and perhaps directs F1 into a slightly biased direction. However, instead of standardizing aerodynamics just as everything else (engines, gearboxes, ECU, etc) I would suggest easing restrictions on all of these factors. However, then face the age-old problem of cost-cutting and unsustainability of the sport.

    How can we solve the conundrum? I would, perhaps to much criticism, stick to budget caps. Alright, let us not limit the amount of TOTAL cash each team is supposed to spend, but at least impose restrictions on the cash in specific fields of development. I.e. the lifting of the “engine freeze” would be accompanied by budget restrictions – the engines will then be capable of generating real performance difference while not sucking out the small teams’ finances.

    I perfectly understand that most teams would not agree with the “capping” principle, but it does sound very logical in the situation.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 23rd April 2010, 8:41

      Interesting you should mention a cost cap – I just saw a news story that encapsulated my fears about the infeasibility of that particularly solution.

      Australian rugby team Melbourne Storm have been strapped of titles they won in 2007 and 2009 after it was discovered they cheated their way around a salary cap.

      If F1 had budget capping, how long before someone’s in the dock for trying to get around it? I just don’t believe it’s enforceable without submitting teams to intrusive levels of financial scrutiny that they would never agree to.

      • Jared404 said on 23rd April 2010, 10:49

        Yes Keith, as we are finding out here now with the Melbourne Storm, a breach of the cost cap by a premiership winning team can be an absolute disaster for the sports credibility.

        And I quite like the idea of limiting the amount of fuel so that fuel economy has to be managed. It can add drama to the end of a boring race when we know the leader has to back off the revs to make it to the finish.

        • Gilles said on 23rd April 2010, 12:05

          I think this why FOTA suggested ‘resource restrictions’ instead of budget caps; indeed a budget cap would be impossible to enforce, any accountant can tell you that.

  5. Clay said on 23rd April 2010, 2:33

    Aero is king in F1, and as I’ve said many times it is aero which makes for dull races. The RB5 of 2009 was very quick in clean air but pretty rubbish when behind another car as it was in dirty or turbulent air.

    This is the problem. You cannot follow another competitive car easily. You then cannot nail them into the extraordinarily short braking zones and so overtaking is very hard. How is this not obvious to rule makers?

    To solve the problem forget mandatory pit stops, forget push to pass, reverse grids and all the other artificial novelty rules to strip the soul from the sport. Massively reduce aero and if downforce must be kept at all make it ground effect as this is the type of aero least affected by following another car closely. Increase mechanical grip and find a way to reduce the braking performance of the cars. Cutting downforce will be one way but maybe limiting caliper size or making everyone use steel brakes might work.

    In short, get rid of downforce, make the tyres stickier, makes the brakes less effective, and good racing will return. Stop the half measures and finally do things properly!

    • Steve said on 23rd April 2010, 8:49

      and allow drivers to adjust their front wing all the time

      in clean air, they adjust

      behind another car, they can adjust it again…., give themselves a bit more front downforce in the last turn, then turn if off down the back straight to overtake….

      just a thought…

      and MORE HP!

      f1 cars had over 1300 20 years ago… now they’ve got less than indycar and nascar…

      • TONY858 said on 23rd April 2010, 12:03

        Thats right F1 should have more horsepower that any other racing series.

        It’s ridiculous that 20 years ago cars had 1300 hp and car safety had nothing to do with today.

        F1 it’s the pinnacle of motorsport. Having 2.4L V8 with mere 700 hp, It’s like having professional boxers wear face protection!!!!

    • Gilles said on 23rd April 2010, 8:51

      I agree.
      I would also add ‘more interesting track layouts': Bahrain the outside track, Zandvoort, Brands Hatch, Indy oval, Laguna Seca, Watkins Glen, the pre-94 Imola, Nordschleife, Dijon, …
      Less focus on safety, the cars have shown that they can take a lot of battering.

      • Chapmondo said on 23rd April 2010, 14:00

        Totally agree, even bring back the Tamburello curve and get rid of them micky mouse chicanes. Bring Imola back to the calender. Kubica at Canada in 2007 proves Formula cars can take an hell of a beating, his crash was much worse then Ratzenberger and Senna, and Kubica just came out with a dodgy ankle

  6. nikolas said on 23rd April 2010, 2:39

    I like the idea that the sport is largely an engineering feat. Maybe there could be significant improvements by creating more coverage and better coverage of the actual engineering work thats involved with the cars both before and during races

  7. Johnny86 said on 23rd April 2010, 2:49

    Regulations on car designing were implemented to close the whole field up..and it was evident in the last season…private testing ban is also great as it closes the gap between the big and small team…we need to analyse why cars are unable to overtake despite being faster…its because of over reliance on aerodynamical grip and downforce which is compromised by turbulence…hence to better to enhance mechanical grip..i say we ban the wings…..bringing back traction control wouldn’t be bad i guess as it would encourage drivers to overtake in fast corners which is rarely seen…also i feel the regulations regarding overtaking by drivers should be more lenient….and lastly i would like to see a extra horsepower button which can be used not for a limited amount of time but limited amount of lap and i would prefer the extra horsepower to be significantly high so that overtaking is easily done and mistakes by drivers are punished

  8. winning teams will not use KERS, while lower teams use them.. like success ballast idea

  9. Rubbish Dave said on 23rd April 2010, 4:13

    A few things need to be considered when it comes to the overtaking problem. Aero sensitivity being only one of them.

    An often overlooked problem is that of the inability to run off line. By the time of the race, there’s one grippy line, surrounded by tyre debris with a lenghty penalty. Rain improves matters by washing the track, but there may be a possibility by looking at altering the tyres themselves.

    Circuit design also links in with that. Some circuits have by design only one properly usable racing line.

    Another factor is just how professional the teams are today. It’s a far cry from the 80s, even the 90s. Mistakes, both from driver and team, are much rarer. Long gone are the days where overtaking was generated by a fluffed gear changed.

    Add to that there’s comparitively very little scope for cars to have different characteristics, and due to the limited scope for improvements, any advantageous idea is quickly taken on across the board. Again, going back a few years, you had a much broader range of potential ideas to choose from, and less capability to implement every one of them.

    I’m not sure that having a reliability formula helps too much either.

    But having said that, I’m not sure overtaking is as much of a problem as people often make out. (Not least as the casual fan seems more interested in crashes than overtaking)

    Even without rain, I doubt we’ll see a race as conservative as Bahrain was, because the teams now know much more about the tyres than they did there. Yes, we’ll probably end up with a few ‘boring’ races but that’s not surprising, racing is a sport by nature, not a show, and in every sport, you have dull events.

    Judging by the amount of money in the sport, it’s not exactly struggling for fans, even during the turgid Bridgestone/Ferrari/Schumacher period of dominance. Because at its heart, extremely quick and nimble cars are exciting, and any race has the potential for things to happen.

  10. f1yankee said on 23rd April 2010, 4:22

    my thoughts on spicing up f1:

    18 inch tires are a good move.
    a tire war would be ok, if there are at least 3 tire providers.
    keep removing aero from the cars.
    leniency towards contact and aggressive driving.
    open engine development.

    • f1yankee said on 23rd April 2010, 4:27

      things to avoid:

      success balast, or any other performance-equalizing.
      boring-by-design race tracks.
      lots of 1, 2 and 3 weeks breaks.
      no testing at all.
      irrelevant technology.

      • Chapmondo said on 23rd April 2010, 14:05

        I’m no technical expert so I’m not sure, but how about focusing on Formula 1 cars that are designed to run in dirty air, rather then focusing on cars that don’t create dirty air.

        • f1yankee said on 23rd April 2010, 23:38

          there’s nothing stopping teams from doing that right now, except the loss in performance would prevent you from catching anyone in the first place.

  11. Jonathan said on 23rd April 2010, 4:23

    1. Ditch the stupid “must use both type of tyres” rule
    2. Increase the contact patch of the front and rear tyres. This year Bridgestone reduced the size of the front tyres instead of increasing the size of rear tyres simply because of costs. I personally think that’s the biggest mistake the can ever make. F1 cars already have trouble following another car. By reducing the size of the front tyres, this takes away the front end mechanical grip and making it even harder for cars to follow each other.
    3. I am not an expert on the technical stuff of F1, so I am not sure how they can implement it. But I think F1 should give the engineers more freedom. Instead of spending millions on refining the front wing end plate, we need more innovative design such as the F-duct, double diffuser and etc.
    4. Say no to standardised floor/gearbox/engine. We don’t need a faster version of the GP2. F1 is more than just racing. Its about showcasing the latest innovative technologies.

    That’s all I can come up with. People need to stop whinging about F1 is no longer “road relevant”. If they want road relevant, watch the WTCC or GT1. F1 was never about developing road relevant technology. Yeah we might occasionally find some useful adaptation of F1 technologies in the real world, but those are bonuses. F1 is about pushing the limits. F1 would have never gotten where we are right now if “road relevant technologies” are all the F1 engineers care about in the past.

    • f1yankee said on 23rd April 2010, 4:29

      i agree with ditching the “use both tires” rule, but the floor is regulated for a very good reason.

      • Accidental Mick said on 23rd April 2010, 7:48

        Looking for information not an arguement – what is the reason?

        • f1yankee said on 23rd April 2010, 9:10

          the floor is where most of the downforce comes from. as air moves from the front of the floor and out the back, it’s accelerated out the back as much as possible. this reduces the pressure under the car, effectively sucking the car onto the ground with a force several times it’s own weight (a.k.a. driving on the ceiling). the now-infamous diffusers are responsible for much of this acceleration.


          an airplane accelerates flow on the top of the wing, so pressure is greater on the bottom, and away we go. this effect is also used to draw 1 fluid into another, like a carburetor (fuel drawn into fast moving air) or squeezy-bulb bottle of perfume.

          “so, what’s the big deal?” you ask. well, besides driving aero costs through the roof, performance would soar right off the chart. ultra-high cornering speeds would make a mockery of lap times. unfortunately, it gets worse: the ground effect downforce is unstable, and very sensitive to ground clearance. if the car rides too high, air isn’t accelerated enough. if the car rides too low, the ground effect can stall.

          the worst would be having the car bottom out in a corner, like ayrton senna’s fatal crash. first, the ground effect stalls from too low a ride height, so there’s no additional downforce. then the car bottoms out, so the weight is going through the chassis and not the tires, bringing the grip down to effectively zero.

  12. W-K said on 23rd April 2010, 4:52

    1. Track design, corners designed/modified to increase overtaking possibilities. Consider shorter tracks, so attending fans see cars more frequently. Change the FIA design parameters, some of the classic tracks do not meet the present specs.
    2. Wheel size, should they increased, they virtually require total redesign of cars.
    3. Tyres.
    4. Mechanical grip or aerodynamics, what is the right balance.
    5. New materials, is F1 the place for innovation and change so should they be left in the 20th century using old proven technology.
    6. Engine size including blowers, types of fuel, hybrids.
    7. Pit stops, how many, should they be enforced. At some tracks the main stand sees virtually no action if there is no pit activity.

  13. CMONEY said on 23rd April 2010, 4:59

    I think we are barking up the wrong tree when it comes to aero. The most overtakes come in the rain where there is reduced mechanical grip. Throw on hard, slippery tyres and see how the racing changes.

    • The cars run slower in the wet so aerodynamic downforce (which increases with speed) is also reduced, meaning the cars can run closer together.

  14. Realist said on 23rd April 2010, 5:39

    I feel we’re being deceived by the last three races. They were full of alternatives because of the rain. We still need a couple of sunny races to really get a feel of how 2010’s technical regulations work out.

    Are we already discussing why F1 isn’t like the 80s (the most competitive era I’ve witnessed)? Two points: huge reliability and too much aerodynamics.

  15. m0tion said on 23rd April 2010, 5:40

    I would like to think that aero has further to go in terms what it can contribute to road vehicle design working in concert with weight reduction. The diffuser developments have been interesting. ie: lower passenger vehicle mass may raise aero vs mechanical significance over time, the development of wavy roofed TIR trailers could also be augmented by variable diffusers activated by measured trailer weight etc etc.

    I generally don’t believe in dumbing down anything except in limiting the use of high cost raw materials / commodities like rare earths-metals where such applications devloped have limited prospects for technology transfer.

    So I favour technology development companies – a la the emerging Williams model over the marketing franchise sellers like Ferrari/McLaren/RedBull.

    Thats why I do favour a team spending cap more inclined to the interests of the former rather than the latter.

    But I do believe in wake limits and wake performance testing. This is essential to counter balance the negatives of being pro technology because wake is currently an unregulated anti-competitive weapon. When it is regulated it should be done so explicitly and let the developers achieve the test performance criteria using the best technology they can muster with available resources.

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