McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh, Ferrari’s Luca Colajanni, Lotus’s Tony Fernandes, Mercedes’ Jock Clear and Force India’s Paul di Resta faced question from 150 Formula 1 fans in London today.
The forum, hosted by James Allen, discussed topics including the quality of racing to green technologies in the sport and how F1 is presented on television.
F1 Fanatic was there – here’s a summary of what was said during the forum’s major talking points.
The panel agreed that more information needs to be shared with F1 fans – particularly while the races are going on. Jock Clear said:
There is a vast number of people out there who would really appreciate the kind of information I have available to me on the pit wall. When I watch a race I’ve got all that evolving in front of me.
I think people, if they want to, would value that information. If we could have that sort of information it would enhance their viewing.
I think it’s quite frustrating for people like my mum, who understands Formula 1 really well, but she can’t understand why Michael Schumacher is stuck waiting for a red light at the of the pits.
Luca Colajanni said the teams “need to put more pressure on our friends upstairs” to provide things like completely open radio communications:
We need to understand that it’s not that the teams don’t want these things. We have to consider that there are agreements like the Concorde Agreement which put in place limits.
So even though we would love, for instance, to put the radio conversations on websites live we are limited. But this is something we need to look at for the future for 2013 when there will be a new Formula One.
Tony Fernandes also argued in favour of more openness in the sport:
The more open we are the better because port is very accessible now, there’s a lot of competition out there and I think the days of holding everything secretive were destructive.
We need to do more to explain the sport better. To be honest, I still don’t understand the safety car rules!
Getting the result right
Later the panel was asked whether it was detrimental to the fans’ experience that results can change after a race has finished, as happened at Valencia and Monaco this year. Jock Clear discussed this at length, saying:
I think it’s something we’ve got to get a hold of. There have been too many occasions recently where the fans have turned their television off only to read a newspaper the next day or seen on the news that someone isn’t in the position they thought they were.
I’ve heard it argued in the media that people, to a certain extent, that if we make this much information available it detracts from how exciting it is and how spontaneous it is.
From my point of view when I’ve got the level of analysis available to me each race weekend, when you watch what happens, for example in qualifying in Montreal, when the Red Bulls qualified on the hard tyre and McLaren qualified on the soft, the race was over. If anyone thought Red Bull were going to win that, I don’t know where they got that idea from.
So, from our point of view as engineers on the pit wall, you look at that race and you think, “well, McLaren are going to walk away with this, because Red Bull are on the wrong tyre, however much they claim they’re not.”
Now some people say that if you make that sort of analysis available then fans will just switch off. But I think fans like to have in-depth knowledge. Everyone likes to watch the football thinking they’re a football expert. You can’t do that in Formula 1 when things keep surprising you and you’re thinking “why did that happen?”
If you have that information available and are looking at that race and thinking “I don’t know how Red Bull are going to pull this off”, and then you’re proved right, you feel like you’re more involved with the sport. Because when you understand it, you’re engaged with it.
Inevitably a popular subject was the quality of racing in Formula 1 and the difficulties drivers ahve overtaking.
Martin Whitmarsh explained why FOTA wanted to experiment with the controversial proximity wing:
In the first four racers our drivers made 39 competitive overtakes. But that was mainly because we’d made a hash of qualifying…
We are doing some things next year such as the adjustable rear wing which I think are interesting. I think the sporting regulations are critical. I don’t think we’ve put enough thought into this idea of being able to have a proximity-sensitive device where you can only deploy low-drag if you’re behind another car and trying to overtake.
I think we’ve got to try some of these things and be prepared to admit if they don’t work. That is not what Formula 1 originally did.
People want Formula 1 to be a meritocracy, they want to see the quickest driver-car combination win, and they want to see something unexpected happen. That’s happened this year, I think we’ve got a fantastic world championship. So maybe now’s not the time to change too much but I think we shouldn’t be complacent, we should try some new ideas and work out how to deploy them.
Luca Colajanni described the adjustable rear wing as an “option” for next year. Paul di Resta explained drivers’ view on overtaking:
I think the drivers are equally very keen to be able to overtake. But they also want to race safely and they don’t want to see the kind of thing they have in America where every lap there’s someone slipstreaming past. They want to see individual battles throughout the whole Formula 1 grid.
Paul di Resta
He added that rules on what drivers can and can’t do to defend their position need to be clarified.
However Jock Clear pointed out that the general quality of driving in Formula 1 is part of the reason why there is not as much overtaking:
The level of driving in F1 is so good. Drivers make very few mistakes. It’s not about brakes or aerodynamics.
Asked about the adjustable rear wing he added “We really need to think about these things so we understand the implications of what we’re doing. I don’t know whether that’s the solution.”
As discussed here earlier today, several panel members put the case for a limited re-introduction of in-season testing. Clear said:
I have no complaints about a lack of testing. Cars are more reliable than ever and do less testing.
But the situation where young drivers are not able to test cars is dreadful. New drivers don’t get enough time in cars.
Look at the trouble Michael’s had this year with all his experience. It’s hard for the Maldonados of the world.
Luca Colajanni, who also reiterated Ferrari’s desire to allow new teams to run third cars for existing teams, agreed:
It’s time to re-think the situation. It’s an opportunity to bring F1 closer to you.
Videos from the F1 fans forum
Thanks to FOTA for the invitation and hello to live blog moderator DJDaveyP who I met at the forum! You can read more of what was said during the fourm in my live Tweets from the event.