Making F1 better: a discussion series

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

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

163 comments on “Making F1 better: a discussion series”

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  1. 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

    1. ha! that will be the day. i’d settle for more on-board cameras

  2. 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

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

    1. there is nothing i hate more than “success ballast”

  4. Rubbish Dave
    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.

  5. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

  6. 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.

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

      1. Accidental Mick
        23rd April 2010, 7:48

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

        1. 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.

  7. 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.

    1. That should have been “change OR should” in 5.

  8. 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.

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

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. his_majesty
    23rd April 2010, 6:01

    Bernie is somewhat correct with his changing drivers with teams. You only get what you win, (purses would increase of course, drivers would have personal sponsors on their suit, and helmet) drivers will compete for cash! You get a true drivers champion and a true constructors champion. Drivers with the highest points pick the car they want to drive next. You can’t pick the same car twice until all have been driven. Then the driver with the most points picks a team for the final races, and so on down the line. Can others tell me how they feel about this, I think it’s pretty bad a$$

  12. damonsmedley
    23rd April 2010, 6:04

    F1 isn’t too bad at the moment. All I think it needs is a few more classic circuits with more variety (less street circuits and Tilke creations), a bit less aero (but please, no reducing width of rear wings and increasing width of front wings, just restrict them to circa 2000 levels) and most importantly yet least damaging of the racing; better coverage by FOM. If FOM can lift their game a little F1 would be dramatically improved and the rules wouldn’t even have been changed. All they need to do is broadcast F1 in high definition and fit all cars with onboard cameras as well as decrease the delay in radio transmissions that are often irrelevant by the time we hear them.

    1. This is madness…
      (No! THIS IS SPARTA!!!!!)

      Nah, I would never watch such race

      1. damonsmedley
        23rd April 2010, 17:22

        Pardon? What are you saying?

  13. my top three tips would be, (one of them WILL NEVER HAPPEN)

    1 – standard rear wing or reduce the number of elements a rear wing can have to one, making it a lot less efficient

    2 – let the drivers adjust their front wing as often as they would like, i.e when in clean air, certain setting, when behind another car, a certain setting

    3 – 200-400 more HP…. F1 cars have less power than nascar and indycar…. the brabham engine with 60lbs of turbo boost had over 1400HP , 20 years ago…. F1 cars should be very very difficult to drive and should easily overpower their aero and tires, …. look at senna and mansell around monaco 20 years ago, and how the cars are fighting all the time…. these days, its simply too much aero and too LITTLE POWER!


  14. fred schechter
    23rd April 2010, 6:17

    SERIOUSLY?! Not one mention of monkey juggling, or pit stop games of operation before returning to the car,, some show!
    But seriously,, maybe monkeys in the cockpit?
    Monkeys taped to the front wheels to increase mechanical grip.
    Possibly some sort of isolation room for girlfriends and wives of drivers and possibly pugil sticks, or simply a single plate of food for them to fight over,, and lots of cameras.
    Maybe some new tethers for Torro Rosso’s wheels (who are we kidding, THAT was exciting!) (Poor guy, I’d have yelled at my engineers to!)
    Monkey co-pilots?
    Better yet, monkey lorry drivers doing the parking of the trailers in the paddock!!!
    You may be noticing a theme here.
    More mechanical grip,
    More Monkeys,
    A little less rear aero wake turbulence.
    Actual good interviews,, (why not, Peter Windsor is free!)

    Oh, Oh,, AND MONKEYS!!!

  15. The main problem is (was :)) not in the cars but stewarding. Let the guys race out track instead of engineers competing in labcoats and the “show” is improved.
    This means that every overtaking attempt gone wrong should not be awarded with penalty and no more results altering decisions after the race.
    So far, so good this year :)

  16. JohnnyBlazeFire
    23rd April 2010, 7:17

    Imagine Alonso in a Virgin, battling Button in a Lotus?
    Simply issue the cars on a race weekend on a random basis by a draw.
    That would shake the show up, but the best drivers would still end up shining.

    1. Webber would get the virgin every weekend!

  17. John Edwards
    23rd April 2010, 7:32

    If I could change one thing and one thing alone:

    -Race at better circuits.

  18. I want to see F1 come back to the be the showcase of technology that it once was & to be more relevant to normal cars.

    The first thing would be to progressively reduce the amount of fuel used, but allow the manufacturers to develop new forms of energy recovery – not just the limited KERS system.

    Secondly the resource restriction should be kept in place to prevent it being won by the company with the deepest pockets.

    Thirdly dramatically reduce the rules – the Le Mans rules are much simpler – except for safety aspect. That will encourage inovation, not engineering legal experts:)

  19. please stop with the “Improving the show”
    It is NOT a show, it is a sport.

    My own opinion is that F1 does not need improvement. It is fine the way it is. The reason Bernie and the media want to “improve it” is of course to have more viewers, and thereby, more money.
    And there is the problem. Bernie and co. are trying to make F1 appeal to everybody who is watching and thereby appealing to the lowest common denominator, who just want mindless action to fit their beer.

    These is no technical solution to this problem. We can go on and on about banning and un-banning slick, banning and un-banning movable aero, or diffusers, but it will not solve the underlying problem.

    1. bmw, and the colloseum was just sport right?

  20. Accidental Mick
    23rd April 2010, 7:58

    Get rid of all the nit-picking rules. Specify the dimensions of the car plus the minimum weight (to avoid the Chapman effect) and set a maximum turbulance left behind (to stop designers deliberately designing a car that is difficult to pass).

    Then allow the designers and engineers do what they want within those parameters.

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