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

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

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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?

    • teeb123456789 said on 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

      • Joey-Poey said on 26th April 2010, 21:48

        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.

        • DamionShadows said on 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.

        • BasCB said on 27th April 2010, 7:08

          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?

          • Henry said on 27th April 2010, 13:42

            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. simon booth said on 26th April 2010, 18:33

    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. Veteran said on 26th April 2010, 18:46

    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. irishlad (@irishlad) said on 26th April 2010, 18:49

    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

    • TomD11 said on 27th April 2010, 10:12

      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. Alex said on 26th April 2010, 18:52

    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.

    • Henry said on 27th April 2010, 13:46

      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. John said on 26th April 2010, 18:53

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

    • 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.

    • ZanteX said on 26th April 2010, 21:03

      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.

      • TomD11 said on 27th April 2010, 10:28

        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.

      • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 30th April 2010, 18:01

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

  7. Fer no.65 said on 26th April 2010, 18:54

    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.

    • DaveW said on 26th April 2010, 19:39

      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. sheep said on 26th April 2010, 18:54

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

  9. sato113 said on 26th April 2010, 18:56

    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. Spud said on 26th April 2010, 18:59

    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 said on 26th April 2010, 18:59

    Give un established teams a extra turbo :)

  12. Spud said on 26th April 2010, 19:10

    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 said on 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)

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 27th April 2010, 14:12

      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. Cacarella said on 26th April 2010, 19:27

    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.

    • Cacarella said on 26th April 2010, 19:29

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

    • DaveW said on 26th April 2010, 19:48

      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.

      • Gilles said on 26th April 2010, 20:01

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

    • MEmo said on 26th April 2010, 22:02

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

  15. DaveW said on 26th April 2010, 19:27

    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.

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