Improving F1 means solving a three-dimensional problem (Making F1 better)

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Containing costs to allow new teams in is vital for F1
Containing costs to allow new teams in is vital for F1

Cost, Safety and The Show. If you want to get anything changed in F1, these are the three criteria you’ve got to satisfy.

So how do our ideas for making F1 better measure up?

The Show

Ordinarily I avoid using the phrase ‘Improving the show’ but I use it here to make a point: however much the powers-that-be in F1 talk about improving the show, the reality is they can’t do it by compromising costs and safety.


F1 has been preoccupied with cuttings costs for years. But the onset of the credit crunch inspired a new urgency in efforts to make F1 cheaper as the teams faced dwindling sponsorship revenues – which the blank bodywork on the Sauber and HRT cars makes painfully clear.

If costs get out of hand teams will drop out, leaving F1 races with dwindling grids.


Formula 1 has gone 16 years without a driver fatality and it’s nine years since the last death due to an F1 race.

But it will not prevent further fatal accidents by resting on its laurels – and the governing body understands that. Felipe Massa’s escape from a shocking accident at the Hungaroring last year was thanks to recently introduced advances in crash helmet safety.

But what about…

There are other important factors – but none as decisive as these three.

For example, there is a growing recognition of F1’s need to support the car industry in its efforts to reduce emissions and waste. But the teams’ collective decision to abandon KERS this year to save money shows that other priorities – containing costs – trumps that need.

What the 3D problem tells us

There’s been a lot of criticism of the number of small changes made to the F1 rules each year. This season we’ve had a new points system and a rule forcing drivers who qualify within the top ten to start the race on the same tyres they qualified on.

These can be seen as attempts to solve one part of the three-dimensional problem – improving the show – while not making the other two problems worse.

But even if these changes have helped in some small way I doubt anyone would say they’ve cracked the problem of improving the quality of racing in F1.

I suspect real progress will only be made when someone makes the call to sacrifice one of the three parts to improve the other. But that will not be an easy decision to make.

For example, in January Adrian Sutil claimed part of the reason F1 had become less exciting was because of track like Yas Island which are “too safe”.

Can F1 afford to give track designers more freedom to create exciting circuits, with faster corners and less run-off, and improve the show – potentially at the expense of safety? Sebastien Buemi and Natacha Gachnang’s accidents two weekends ago are powerful arguments against relaxing safety standards at F1 tracks.

Over to you

We’ve all got ideas for how we would make F1 better – hundreds of them have been shared here in this series the past few days.

But are they all realistic? Can they pass the three-dimensional test? Pick an idea that you think would make F1 better and see if it does.

Are there any changes F1 can make that would improve the show without pushing up costs or risking safety? Are there some changes that are so important that accepting compromises on costs or safety are necessary? Have your say in the comments.ta

This article is part of “Making F1 better”, a series of articles looking at ways to improve Formula 1. Fore more information see the introduction: Making F1 better: a discussion series

Making F1 better

111 comments on “Improving F1 means solving a three-dimensional problem (Making F1 better)”

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  1. IMO, you don’t have to make the tracks dangeous to become challenging. Why can’t there be slightly less run off, but with these padded barriers we see being used these days?

    1. teeb123456789
      26th April 2010, 20:49

      the way to implement this would be to change the ‘f1 track desgn rule book’. (There genuinely is a rule book/ guidance book for track designers). You would change the rules allowing there to be less run off, steeper gradients (more hills) etc. Probably the return of gravel traps would be good in my opinion. More people will be caught out by them, separating the best from the best =D

      1. Absolutely, I agree with this. I don’t know why they have the gradient rule in the first place. Some of the classic tracks of old had GREAT hills which made them more interesting.

        Honestly, I think closer barriers are possible without making things that much less safe. Obviously at places like the end of the straight in China, it’s good to have a ton of run-off. But on other corners not at the end of the long straights where speeds will be huge, why not give less run-off? Mistakes will be punished without having too much of a high-speed impact.

        1. DamionShadows
          26th April 2010, 23:10

          You pretty much summed it up perfectly in my opinion Joey. There should be more high speed corners instead of these long, slow curves or slow right angle corners piled on top of one another.

        2. For track design I think it is possible to get rid of some chicanes and enormous run of areas and put some of these new padded barriers in place.

          The risk of damaging the car when mistakes are made is a little higher, the danger to drivers and bystanders not.
          Cost would not be higher, possibly lower for new tracks, as they would need less space for run off.

          Does anyone know why the gradient is so stringently avoided?

          1. The problem with having barriers that close to raise the risk of damaging the car is that the teams wont like the idea of having to pay to rebuild cars even more frequently, it’ll put up costs. And as we saw with Natacha Gachnang’s accident even with those padded barriers you can still cause serious injury to the driver. Safety has to be paramount, no one want to see some one seriously injured or worse.

  2. I think a move back to turbos, and larger wheels with thinner tyres! This will give drivers more of a platform to overtake! And it will reduce fuel consumption!

  3. Getting rid of the double deck diffusers and all the extreme aerodymanics will improve the show considerably and reduce costs, while not comprimising safety.
    Because this would create less downforce, my vote goes to more mechanical grip, and no rev limiter on the engines. If these changes would come through, overtaking (on dry races) wouldn’t be impossible and racing would be important again.

  4. Whatever about making runoff areas smaller , make them more of a threat , nowadays a trip to the tarmac on a new track is a lovely drive, and you back on.
    But what about having more deeper runoffs, where when a car goes in they will find it hard to get out, and if they do they will have lost time and maybe clogged a radiator or something just as a penace for their mistake.
    That is my point :D

    1. Exactly, I mean on several occasions Kimi went off, onto the run-off at Spa and it was more advantageous to him than staying on the track.

  5. As far as cost cutting goes car development is by far the most expensive. But instead of limiting this, there cutting costs in other ways. Thats why they should make a budget limit for car development. Bigger teams will cry about this but as the STR guy said a couple days ago: They’ll just have to decide if they want a whole cheese sandwich or 3 grams of caviar to fill there hungry stomachs. And then loosen up the rules in some areas. If they just set a fixed horsepower limit (instead of the complete engine regulation), this could attract lot’s of teams. For example Volkswagen could show off their knowledge of small turbo engines, ferrari their mighty V12’s and toyota could go back to hybrid systems of maybe full electric drive. And it would be a lot easier to transfer technology to road cars.

    1. But that would lead to a technology war amongst the engine suppliers, and the engine is probably the single most expensive part of the car in regards to development. They froze it because the prices were just too high.

  6. Why not keep the large run off areas but make them gravel instead of tarmac therefore punishing the drivers more for going off track.

    1. The reason gravel traps have been gradually phased out in favour of tarmac is because if a car goes sideways into the gravel, it is likely to roll. But tarmac doesn’t really punish drivers for making mistakes. I’d like to see a solution like they have at Paul Ricard, where the runoff is extremely abrasive tarmac. That would slow the cars down faster, and provide a punishment (in the form of tyre wear/damage) for going off the road.

    2. Everyone seems to want to get rid of the tarmac zones, but would we really have had the pleasure of watching this had there not been any tarmac zones?

      I think that by putting tarmac zones by the track, at least the drivers can’t use the “I didn’t want to overtake because it’s too risky to end up in a gravel-trap” excuse.

      I don’t know about the safety difference between the two though, maybe the gravel is better in some cases, so perhaps the first part should be tarmac and further toward the walls should be gravel.

      1. Well most of the times MAS or KUB went off, it wasn’t by a long way and it was usually grass. Only at the end Massa went all the way off and he got superior traction, which I don’t think is right. Instead of being punished for going off track he gained an advantage. Although Kubica shouldn’t really have shoved Felipe off the track in the first place and perhaps he wouldn’t have done so had there been gravel.

      2. It would have been just as good a battle, they just wouldn’t have kept going off the track.

  7. making better tracks doesn’t mean making them less safe…

    for instance… gravel and grass around the track instead of miles of tarmac… then, if you go off a bit, you lost it… but it can also slow you down in case of a crash

    Whats the point of being careful at a corner if there’s plenty of runoff area to avoid any kind of time lost? drivers can push a lot more when nothing is around the corners and the runoff areas allow you to take back the track without much problem…

    but risk a bit more than needed at Monaco and your race will be gone.

    1. An F1 car entering a gravel trap sidways at triple-digit speeds has poor odds of coming to stop with the wheels down. You can Youtube enough horrifying accidents at Elkhart Lake or Road America to verify this conclusion. That is the primary reason for tarmac-runoff, not reduing the punishment for errors.

      But I have gone on the record often regarding the foolishness of having the Hamilton-Spa rule but still allowing people to shove others off the track, which the tarmac runnoff development allows. For example, Sutil putting Trulli in the grass at Brazil is perfect example of how drivers have no qualms about “taking their line” against a driver on the outside nowadays, because now, normally, there is no consequence for such behavior to either driver. Letting such behavior continue but forbidding taking advantage of running off track has been proven to be an unenforceable, inane state of the driving rules.

  8. Building an F1 car is a many-thousand dimensional problem, this should be easy!

    1. Kudos for the avatar : )

  9. ban double diffusers. which is already going to happen! :) the first couple of dry races in 2009 (Aus, Bah, Mal) had some closer racing than previously.
    2009 would have been a vintage season had there been compulsory KERS and no DDD.

  10. I reckon if the FIA gathered some F1 drivers and designers (past and present) around a table, there would be no shortage of ideas.

    The FIA don’t need to let them make all the decisions, obviously, but they would have the opinions of drivers from different eras and who raced under different rules, then it could be discussed what changes need to be made, ie. car design, circuit design.

    Maybe they could have their own survey for the fans aswell, although not one like the LG survey, that was just a gimmick.

    Then the FIA can group the best ideas together make the rules accordingly, have an indepenant group build a scale model of a car to see if they work.

    And make sure there is not of this “spirit of the rules” business either. Rules are rules, if the car abides by the rules, it can be raced. If not, then it can’t.

    May have gone of on a bit of a tangent there… sorry about that.

  11. Marc Connell
    26th April 2010, 18:59

    Give un established teams a extra turbo :)

  12. F1 tracks nowadays look a lot like car parks that have a track painted on them for the occasion, example being Hockenheim they really butchered that track.

    Bring back the gravel traps.

    Actually, now that I think of it the gravel trap at the end of the back straight in China probably saved Sebastien Buemi’s life. Imagine if that had’ve been tarmac… ??

  13. fred schechter
    26th April 2010, 19:26

    Questions for your question Keith,
    1. Why does everyone feel that exciting track design, and track safety are mutually exclusive. Designs that reward good driving with a variety of curves, overtaking opportunities, and high speed don’t need to be made while ignoring safety.

    2. Ah, the show, there are 3 shows going always too (this point is often skipped, TV, “media” (anything shown/written about after the live event), and of course attending the live event in person. It seems these aspects of “the show” are thought of separately rather than at the same time. It seems the results of “the show” are different according to which show a viewer gets. (just a bit to think about there)

    3. If mechanical grip is pushed through the roof, and technical innovation for road car improvement are highlighted, it seems we can improve greatly in this regard (are we thrashing this to death or what?!) Here’s a great example of fantastic racing, that’s simply mechanical grip and driver chutzpah on a relatively simple track.
    Granted we don’t want F1 to be anywhere this homologated, but by the same token, the racing itself is fantastically exciting. What we want is an exciting event with an announcer completely on his/her toes for the length of a race, a tv director showing you the maximum excitement (REGARDLESS OF LIVERY!!! (I’d like to see a torro rosso driving please)) and better video technical explanations. Maybe even an attempt like the American series that do side by side picture when in commercial so that you can see what’s going on when the ads are going (I don’t know if the Beeb has this problem or not, but Speed sure does!) It seems this comes back around to Napo,,, Bernie’s belly scratching over-commanding tactics and more creative freedom needs to be excersized for broadcasts.

    Got a little wound up there I guess. Glad the circus is coming back to Europe! (too bad I can’t be there)

    1. On point one you’re probably right – it’s just that we’ve had a lot of new circuits in the past few years and I don’t think anyone would miss them if they were gone overnight.

  14. I think the best thing that F1 could do to improve racing and ‘the show’ (i hate that term as well), is to leave the sport alone. Try presenting and promoting an already incredible sport differently. I’ve watched a NASCAR race on TV, there is no room for error, there are a thousand overtakes in a race and the tracks are almost all the same (from what I can tell), and I found it the most boring spectacle ever! But they give their fans incredible race coverage, Internet coverage, the drivers and teams have personalities, and they appear on Television broadcasts to try and promote the racing.
    I think they have one thing right, in order to improve ‘The show’ they have improved ‘the show’ and not changed the racing.

    1. I hope I don’t get in trouble here for admitting I watched a NASCAR race. I swear to god it was only once!

    2. I gather many Europeans are victimized by NASCAR’s marketing and their monopoly of racing-coverage in the U.S. Every Sunday night in America the local news has a NASCAR segment in which we see 2-3 massive pile-ups, and then we hear there was a pass for the lead in the last 2 laps. What you don’t get to see is that before that pass you had 4 hours of cars driving in circles, that the “passing” recorded in the books is just slight adjustments among the cars driving in two rows at all times like highway traffic, and the last lap pass occured because there was a yellow flag for “debris,” or something, in the last 5 laps. Or that the car behind rammed the one ahead going into the final corner to get by, which is called racing in that sport. NASCAR is boring.

      1. In fairness, Cacarella has a point. F1 can do better in selling its product and reducing its distance to the average fan.

    3. Agree with you 100%: NASCAR is boring as hell…

  15. Keith, you are missing a dimension: the Brand.

    It would be quite easy simultaneously to increase safety, improve the show, and reduce the costs. The France family has got it down to a science(excpet maybe for safety), but I don’t think many of the people who buy tickets, or watch on TV, are impressed with that solution.

    F1’s challenge is to maintain a unique, elite brand while maintaining a balance of innovation and affordability for the teams. Because the teams want both. And sponsors must be offered an affiliation of a higher perceived sophitication than they can find in IRL or BTCC, to convince them to pay the high costs.

    Improving your 3Ds cannot come at the expense of the brand, because other high-tech, high quality racing brands like ALMS are ready to compete in a lower-value space.

    We should not forget the lesson of the 90s when Group C became more sophisticated and was drawing more manufacturers than F1. Group C had high tech, it had marquis drivers, it had a signature annual event that was a bona fide racing event. It had close racing among technically diverse cars. The 91-93 recession was F1’s fortune in that case, and the FIA sabotaged it’s engine diversity. But it was a real threat.

    1. You’re right that it’s an important part of what F1 is. For the purposes of this debate I consider it part of the show.

    2. Intelligent input DaveW. Comment of day!!

  16. Cost cutting is the worst road to go down. I have watched for 40 years and there have always been smaller teams in the sport and also doing well. F1 is a sport and sport is big business. football teams will have double the budget of F1 teams and that is wrong. There are many categories available to race in without making F1 budget. To keep it the best requires money and if you don’t have it go somewhere else. I am not saying that we should return to quali and race engines and the use of 40 sets of tyres but if you can generate money let them spend it. Sponsors are leaving because F1 is losing its position. Reduce the politics, allow creativity and let the team’s race. Too many teams are upset and concerned by 2mm areo flaps/F ducts/diffusers etc. Please remember the days when at the first race of the year cars turned up with 6 wheels and hovercraft fans. F1 is about technology.

    1. That was a party political broadcast on behalf of the Ferrari party.

      1. yes, and although Ferrari have a huge heriatage, a massive following of loyal fans, and years of success, their opinon is to be ignored, because people disagree with them.

        Oh, it is even worse a fan agrees them, because then they are just been ‘horse wispered lies from LDM’, or blindly whorshiping at the alter of ferrari. After all, if you are a ferrari fan, you opinion is somehow tainted. Lets ask the fans of USF1.

        1. I remember Ferrari becoming a bit irrelevant in the early 90s, because of their lack of performance.
          I’d say sponsors are leaving F1 because of the ‘business case’; it’s harder to have a meaningfull return on 100m than on 40m.

  17. Personally I’m very confused by F1’s so called safety standards. In my simple world something is either considered safe or it is not. I cannot see how something is acceptable at one track but not at another. That to me is double standards and totally illogical. The street circuits particularly Monaco have far less run off and far harder barriers than the permanent circuits. If a poor road surface, Armco barriers etc are perfectly safe enough to stage the Monaco grand prix, then why can’t the new circuits like Yas Marina on similar speed turns have no run off and Armco like Monaco…. if that’s not safe then why are we still racing at Monaco (mind you we all know the answer to that!)….. I don’t ever want to see another driver die, but the cars are so strong now and the dangers of places like Monaco so consistently ignored that to me the argument about track safety rings hollow.

    1. Rubbish Dave
      26th April 2010, 23:22

      Monaco is also considerably less quick than other circuits, due to much shorter areas or acceleration and higher drag. So while the walls may be closer, there is also much less speed to be disapated when they’re hit.

    2. Yup, monaco is far lower speeds, so less danger…yes the car will be smashed up but the driver should be fine – unlike what might happen is one comes off the shanghai straight at 300+ kmh

    3. I completely agree, it’s completely illogical that they reduce the challenge of the likes of Spa and Suzuka with huge areas of run off, whilst introducing street tracks with no run-off like Singapore, Valencia and soon Rome.

      Safety in F1 shouldn’t come at the expense of diminishing the challenge. Replacing gravel traps with run off areas means the challenge is significantly reduce without much safety benifit.

  18. I’m curious. Sutil says some tracks are to safe. I’d like to ask him if he thinks it’s possible to build a safe but driver challenging track and or if there is a circuit of this nature in the F1 calendar this year or in general does a track of this kind exist anywhere or are these question an oxymoron in themselves lol…

  19. look at the china GP, it proved an exciting race, a show. why don’t we look at why that was good and copy it.
    one reason why it was good, was that head wind at the end of the straight. now you cant put a wind machine at the end of the track, but we could design the stands to channel the wind to the cars, making it easier for silpstream cars to over take. its a bit out of this world but any thing to encourage overtaking

  20. Fix the core issue: wake turbulence. If cars can close up on each other, there will be more overtaking and hence a better ‘show’ no matter which track they’re driving on. It would make all tracks more or less interesting. I would go for wing cars, focus on aero which is less dependent on clean air.
    Is this more costly ? I think not: all development teams are in place, they just need to design their car differently. Keep standardization and resource restrictions, they keep most of the field on the same level and hence more chance of close racing. I said this before: FIA/FOTA are on the right track in this area. I heard they’ll introduce a small turbo with kers for 2013, great idea ! If 2010 produces the same racing excitement in the dry as it did in the wet, then it’s actually hard to point to improvements. But that can be said for all wet races off course. I expect 2011 and 2012 to be very interesting as the big teams will have to start scaling down to the levels of Brawn.
    In order to spice up things, I would introduce a US GP on Indianapolis and a French GP at La Sarthe. Maybe an additional aussie GP at Bathurst and US West at Laguna Seca. This would be less safe compared to the current standards, but wouldn’t need to cost that much.
    Current tracks could be tweaked in order to improve overtaking, with driver input off course. I’m thinking a long the lines of: the outside track in Bahrain instead of the current infield, sharpen some corners in Singapore. If they can’t follow closely enough however and slipstream, all this would be to no avail.
    So, more Show and still the same Cost, at the expense of a bit of Safety.
    You can grill me now !
    Extreme idea: introduce a tunnel so that an F1 car can actually overtake upside down. Clean air on the ceiling, wouldn’t that be spectacular ? I propose putting a white line at the end which you cannot cross to improve safety, like the pit exit.

    1. Aww, you’ve been watching the Schumacher commercial!

    2. “I would introduce a US GP on Indianapolis and a French GP at La Sarthe. Maybe an additional aussie GP at Bathurst and US West at Laguna Seca.”

      Now thats a calendar i’d love to see!

      1. Sean Newman
        27th April 2010, 9:20

        Once upon a time all the F1 tracks were very different, each with their own character and challenge. These days the tracks are nearly all the same. The new far east fly away races are just a blur to me. I constantly get confused which track I’m watching the race on.
        This is one of the reasons why Indycar is so good to watch. The variety is unbelievable. Bring back the old Ostereichring, Interlagos and Hockenheim. Those were true tests of driver and car. Even Monaco has gradually been homogenised with low kerbs and a few run off areas. The real point I’m trying to make is the improvement in saftey is a good thing but it has reduced the challenge imeasurably. Bring back the challenge!!!

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