Hope and despair as F1′s new era begins

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Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Bahrain, 2014The pursuit of performance is what sets Formula One apart from almost every other sport.

At its best, F1 is a supreme sporting contest which goes beyond ‘man versus man’ (or woman); it is a contest at the bleeding edge of technological development. The space race on wheels.

Everyone has an opinion about the sport’s rules but I don’t envy those who have to write them. They have to strike a delicate balance between performance, safety, spectacle and costs.

The pace of development in Formula One is so intense the technical regulations are in a near-constant state of flux. From time to time incremental changes in the rules give way to revolutionary upheaval. This season heralds just such a overhaul.

Using an internal combustion engine for motive power was a thing of great wonder when it was pioneered in the 1800s. Two centuries later humankind faces challenges beyond simply getting from point A to point B in the minimum possible time. The new Formula One recognises the new consciousness of using energy in an intelligent way.

Racing cars and responsible energy use are not comfortable bedfellows. But the kind of pure research and development F1 can offer need not have a direct application to the cars you and I drive to be worthwhile. Honda, who turned their backs on V8 era F1 just five years ago but are on their way back already, understand that.

Replacing the eight-year-old V8 engine formula with V6 turbos featuring uprated kinetic and heat recovery systems is a fascinating technical challenge. The drivers are enjoying the challenging power delivery characteristics of the new engines. And pessimistic projections of cars being three seconds per lap slower have already been disproved.

Not all of the consequences of this bold change will be desirable. Testing form indicates Mercedes will have a considerable performance advantage to begin with, so we could be in for a processional start to the year. But it is likely to introduce new complexities to race strategy plus a significant increase in unreliability which should keep us guessing.

There’s no doubt some of the impact has been taken away from the sheer volume of the engines and that will be a disappointment to some. Personally I like the variation in texture between the sounds of the difference power units under the new rules.

But on balance the new engines represent a change for the better. It’s an encouraging sign of Formula One moving with the times and getting it right. Sadly its capacity for disappointment remains very much intact.

Marcus Ericsson, Caterham, Bahrain, 2014With so much fascinating technology at the rear of this year’s cars, it’s unfortunate that as soon as they appeared so much attention was concentrated on the front of them. The latest generation of the world’s fastest road racing cars variously appear to have been victims of botched surgery or donned well-endowed codpieces.

It is perplexing how every recent iteration of the regulations yields some strange new design quirk: the ill-proportioned wings of 2009 and the unsightly steps of 2012 spring to mind.

Familiarity breeds contempt and sure enough some have already begun saying ‘I’m used to them now’. But place a modern Formula One car next to a pre-2009 grand prix racer and the gawky 2014 machine looks like a cheap imitation knock-off, or something cobbled together by the presenters of Top Gear.

Yet even this is not worth getting too concerned about. No one wants the cars to look bad – the fact that they do is merely a by-product of the regulations, one which will probably be eliminated with further tweaking.

Another of F1′s new rules, however, is deeply troubling. The double points season finale race reflects a growing obsession with chasing television ratings, one which is having an increasingly caustic effect on Formula One.

Of course some concessions need to be made to the television audiences and the revenue they bring. But double points represents a leap too far, one which fans, media and even some team members have rightly derided. Perhaps it will encourage a few more fairweather fans to tune in for the season finale, but how many of the 96% of fans who don’t want this rule or anything like it will have switched off long before?

FIA president Jean Todt tried to brush aside the furore in a recent interview, describing it as “a little fog in a big picture”.

Todt was a major advocate of the new engines. It’s not hard to understand his frustration that they might be overshadowed by a row over a poxy little rule which has no place in anything calling itself a sport.

However he is wrong to say it doesn’t matter. If, in eight months’ time, a new champion is crowned because of the extra bonus points they won in Abu Dhabi, that will be all this season is remembered for.

Formula One’s brave technological leap forward is a heartening reminder that when it get things right it can offer innovation and inspiration other sports cannot rival.

But the shame of this double points gimmick warn us that when F1 gets it wrong it becomes something much less compelling – a racing-themed reality TV product. The sport’s fans, participants and its rich heritage deserve better.

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87 comments on Hope and despair as F1′s new era begins

  1. Sam (@) said on 10th March 2014, 17:37

    About the double points rule; I don’t like it either. But in the end a table does not make the championship. Close fighting between fast cars does. We all root for our favourite and want him to win. Not because he gets 25 (or 50) points in some table that is very far away from our own beds.

    We root for him because we like him and research shows that we share his adrenaline when he steps on the podium. We watch F1 because we’re all car enthousiasts and above that race enthousiasts. We watch the king of motorsports because we all adore fast cars on beautiful tracks. We want to see two cars going side by side through the stadium at Hockenheim, or to witness a long anticipated move in the chicanes at Monza. To see another ‘Webber on Alonso in Eau Rouge’.

    Who wins the championship, I could not care when it is not my favourite. The table does not make a championship good or bad. A race is not only about the leader. If two cars fight the entire time for that last point in P10, that for me was a good race.

    In the end I find DRS a far more ridiculous item in F1 than this double points rule that does not even affect racing. If the racing was good all season long, it is up to the driver who took full advantage of this double points to live with his championship as a forever ‘fake-championship’. That is not up to us. We must remember the battles that went on on track.

  2. FOM Fan (@) said on 10th March 2014, 17:58

    Yet again another sensationalist peice of reporting. No wonder knee-jerk reactions are made when fans make dreadful doom-laden predictions such as these.

    • montreal95 (@montreal95) said on 10th March 2014, 18:23

      @fom-fan Care to explain your position Bernie, or you’re only here to fly insults into the air?

      • Lucas Wilson (@full-throttle-f1) said on 10th March 2014, 18:42

        haha

        • montreal95 (@montreal95) said on 10th March 2014, 21:50

          @fom-fan Nascar has a stupid points system? Wow that’s a marvelous argument. You assume that the NASCAR fans are the same fans as F1? And even the NASCAR play-off based system is less ridiculous than this double points rule

          which other racing series has double points rounds? Only the WEC for Le Mans. Which is fair enough in that specific case

          If the double-points rule will get scrapped after 1 season, then it’s only because of the fans complaining you are so critical of. The team bosses got inquiries by their sponsors who have seen over 90% of the fans voting against this anti-sportive rule in every poll and pressured the teams into getting into confrontation with that senile cretine who’s willing to do anything for a bit more of the sheiks money. This is btw far from certain as Bernie no doubt hopes to convince teams otherwise by the time rules for 2015 have to be finalized, and he doesn’t give 2 cents about the fans

          ’ve seen lots of fans say stuff like “Oh I hate all this green, ‘artificial’ ERS stuff, i’m switching to the WEC”. The WEC has been using ERS for just about as long as F1! In fact it’s even more boring than F1 because Audi win it most of the time there! Look at other forms of GT Racing, Audi’s pretty much taken that over too, winning most of the races

          Really? plenty of fans said that? As plenty as about the double points which is criticized here in the article? I bet it’s not even one percent of that! And btw, although I’m not a fan of endurance racing what you have said about Audi domination is a thing of the past. Many manufacturers have come back to WEC like Porsche, Toyota and soon probably Ferrari. WEC is in a very healthy state without any artificial rules

          I feel that F1 gets unfairly criticised by it’s own fans, for anything it does, when compared to other forms of motorsport. I’ve seen plenty of fans posting on sites like this saying “Ohh, i’ve been following F1 since 1970-something and i’m now for the first time EVER not going to follow the season ever again because of this new [insert rule change here]“. And? If you’re never following it again, why the heck are you posting here in the first place?

          Why on earth are YOU posting here in a forum where 93% of the fans are reactionary and hate the oh-so progressive double points rule?

          F1 needs to say good riddance to these reactionary fans. Time marches on, you can’t spend your days longing to be stuck in the 1970s or whatever decade you preferred. People think of past eras through rose tinted glasses anyway, i’ve seen plenty of full length classic races and they are far more dull that I originally remembered. Look at the 1988 season, everyone says that was fantastic, but McLaren won all but 1 of the races. How boring is that?

          As i’d said above in your opinion F1 needs to say goodbye to these reactionists. all 90 or so percent of them. Sure we’ll go. Just know this: the sheiks won’t pay money for something irrelevant to the vast majority anymore. And saying that all who oppose gimmick rules are living in the past with 70′s style rose tinted glasses is a classic case of attacking the messenger instead of the message. A rule can be good or bad. Do you see many people attacking the qualy system? why not, might I ask?

          And speaking of 1988 is a very bad example to prove your point. 1988 was anything but boring. As opposed to the RBR walkover of 2013 for example we had a titanic battle for the title between two of the all time greats as team-mates. Moreover, the racing was usually quite good without needing gimmicks such as DRS. And definitely such pathetic gimmicks as double-points

          Younger F1 fans need to stop wildly over-reacting whenever something different is introduced and give it a go. After 5 or 6 races on a variety of different circumstances (tracks, weather), then you can maybe give an informed opinion, but slating the season before it’s even started is extremely unfair, IMO.

          Attacking a rule that’s completely unsportive and goes against everything a sport is meant to be before it’s introduced is unfair in your opinion? Riiight. Some rules I agree with you but not this one

          And older F1 fans who long for the boring days of the 1970s, when the only exciting thing to happen was a driver getting killed (which is frankly disgusting IMO) are certainly not going to find that in modern F1, let alone modern motorsport in general, and all for the good IMO.

          What a rubbish, rubbish, rubbish and also un-educated part of your comment. Have you seen any racing from the seventies that you say it was boring? I was born only in 1984, yet F1 history interests me so i watched lots of footage and read a lot about that era, and the racing was extremely close then. Please educate yourself. In fact the only era that’s as close between so many different cars laptimes-wise was in the past few years. But the racing? Was so much better in the seventies. And instead of solving real problems, of dirty aero, F1 reserves to gimmicks like DRS. To accuse fans of liking the seventies because of the danger is disgusting and pathetic in the extreme

          A case in point between F1 fan’s attitudes vs other motorsport fans, is the Pay TV issue. When F1 went to Sky, in the UK, despite the fact that many other F1 broadcasts worldwide had been on Pay TV for years (and most of those viewers reacting with “What’s the UK complaining about, we’ve had it for ages”), the British F1 community went Mental, and still is going mental over it. Yet it’s just been revealed that BT Sport DON’T have exclusive rights to MotoGP, and that ITV4 will be showing highlights of the championship for 2014. The reaction in the MotoGP community from what i’ve seen appears to be anger at ITV4 for airing highlights? They’re angry that BT Sport doesn’t have total exclusivity.

          I’m not in the UK, but that’s a bad case in point you’ve chosen. Moto GP fans are angry probably because they’re used to be paying extra and now some other folks get to watch it as well(pathetic attitude IMO but they’re entitled to it). If in other countries it’s on pay tv for years than that’s ok and no one should complain about that? Indeed such madness to complain about such wrong things if they are common in other places too. In my country F1 is on pay TV for 10 years already and the MOTO GP for five. And what’s the result? People do not subscribe but instead use proxies and illegal streams instead. The quality of the broadcast is pathetic now, since the Cable TV see the pitiful viewing figures and want to cut their losses. And there are talks that in a couple of years when the contract ends there will be no F1 on TV whatsoever. Is that what you want for UK too? Well, all the UK fans should stop arguing immediately and bow before your enlightening point of view and the F1′s completely sustainable viewing(and other aspects too) business model

          Madness IMO, Madness. Rant over. You’re lucky you have a championship at all. The FOTA race series, had it gone ahead would have featured plenty of wacky races ideas by the teams, far more than people think F1 is at the moment.

          Really? That’s a very logical and evidence supported point of view. It’s indeed madness to think that were people whose core business is racing running F1 , they would make better decisions and ruin their sport less than a senile madman representing people who don’t care if F1 burns to the ground as long as they milk every last penny out of it. Sure, it’s madness to think that way!

      • FOM Fan (@) said on 10th March 2014, 20:08

        The title of the peice: “Hope and Despair”. Plenty of other championships have double points rounds, yet you don’t see fans boycotting them. NASCAR has a (frankly way over the top when compared to F1) crazy championship reset part way through, yet you don’t see the fans boycotting. I cannot think of a single other sport where it’s OK for the fans and journalists to lambast it constantly. Fans wonder why F1 keeps tinkering to change things around, well how about stop complaining then? At any rate, it looks like the double points race will last for 1 season anyway before it gets scrapped.

        I’ve seen lots of fans say stuff like “Oh I hate all this green, ‘artificial’ ERS stuff, i’m switching to the WEC”. The WEC has been using ERS for just about as long as F1! In fact it’s even more boring than F1 because Audi win it most of the time there! Look at other forms of GT Racing, Audi’s pretty much taken that over too, winning most of the races. I feel that F1 gets unfairly criticised by it’s own fans, for anything it does, when compared to other forms of motorsport. I’ve seen plenty of fans posting on sites like this saying “Ohh, i’ve been following F1 since 1970-something and i’m now for the first time EVER not going to follow the season ever again because of this new [insert rule change here]“. And? If you’re never following it again, why the heck are you posting here in the first place? F1 needs to say good riddance to these reactionary fans. Time marches on, you can’t spend your days longing to be stuck in the 1970s or whatever decade you preferred. People think of past eras through rose tinted glasses anyway, i’ve seen plenty of full length classic races and they are far more dull that I originally remembered. Look at the 1988 season, everyone says that was fantastic, but McLaren won all but 1 of the races. How boring is that? Younger F1 fans need to stop wildly over-reacting whenever something different is introduced and give it a go. After 5 or 6 races on a variety of different circumstances (tracks, weather), then you can maybe give an informed opinion, but slating the season before it’s even started is extremely unfair, IMO. And older F1 fans who long for the boring days of the 1970s, when the only exciting thing to happen was a driver getting killed (which is frankly disgusting IMO) are certainly not going to find that in modern F1, let alone modern motorsport in general, and all for the good IMO.

        A case in point between F1 fan’s attitudes vs other motorsport fans, is the Pay TV issue. When F1 went to Sky, in the UK, despite the fact that many other F1 broadcasts worldwide had been on Pay TV for years (and most of those viewers reacting with “What’s the UK complaining about, we’ve had it for ages”), the British F1 community went Mental, and still is going mental over it. Yet it’s just been revealed that BT Sport DON’T have exclusive rights to MotoGP, and that ITV4 will be showing highlights of the championship for 2014. The reaction in the MotoGP community from what i’ve seen appears to be anger at ITV4 for airing highlights? They’re angry that BT Sport doesn’t have total exclusivity. Madness IMO, Madness. Rant over. You’re lucky you have a championship at all. The FOTA race series, had it gone ahead would have featured plenty of wacky races ideas by the teams, far more than people think F1 is at the moment.

        • matt90 (@matt90) said on 10th March 2014, 20:21

          Plenty of other championships have double points rounds, yet you don’t see fans boycotting them. NASCAR has a (frankly way over the top when compared to F1) crazy championship reset part way through, yet you don’t see the fans boycotting.

          Plenty of the world is starving, lets not complain if we experience a famine ourselves.
          But ignoring that the argument is already broken, what other championships can you think of? And not WEC, because that is for an obvious reason.

        • HoHum (@hohum) said on 10th March 2014, 21:11

          @fom-fan, it would be a dull world if we all thought the same but I do take offense at the suggestion that I was only waiting for somebody to get killed in the 70′s, I had enough of that in the sixties. I may be naive but it all seemed so much purer in the 60′s, Enzo wanted the most powerful motor, BRM wanted to prove British automotive engineering was as good as the Italians, Colin wanted to build the lightest most nimble cars and Blackjack reckoned a good average reliable car had a chance, everybody tried there own ideas and the differences in the cars provided interest enough for the fans without tweaks and gimmicks being necessary

          • FOM Fan (@) said on 10th March 2014, 23:59

            OK I may have been a little harsh in that last comment, but i’ve seen plenty of peoble bemoan the lack of danger in F1 nowadays, when they criticise modern tracks due to the amount of run-off etc, which are put in as a safety feature. I disagree with that point of view.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 10th March 2014, 22:38

      @fom-fan

      Plenty of other championships have double points rounds

      That’s utterly wrong, at least as far as most major championships are concerned (IndyCar, GP2, GP3, F3, F4, FFord, BTCC, DTM, WTCC, WRC and on and on…).

      The single example I can think of is the WEC where twice as many points are given out for one race which is four times as long as all the others. Is F1 offering a sporting reason for giving more points for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix? No, it’s a cynical attempt to keep the championship going for longer.

      But even if you weren’t wrong this would still be flawed reasoning. Just because a bunch of other people do something doesn’t make it right.

      The tone of the article is a million miles away from “sensationalist”. It isn’t even negative for the most part (i.e. the first ten paragraphs). An example of “sensationalist” would be claiming anyone who disagrees with you wants to see drivers dying.

      Nor is it “reporting”, it’s a comment piece. That’s why it says “comment” in big letters at the top.

      • FOM Fan (@) said on 11th March 2014, 0:07

        Well anyway, my overall point is that people are free to criticise F1 without giving it a chance first, wheras people are more cautious of criticising other championships when they make similar confusing or controversial rule decisions, for example. Personally I feel that the double points round should have gone to Monaco or Singapore, as they are one of the most challenging & unique tracks in the season IMO, although saying that, Abu Dhabi is no pre-2001 Hockenheim, in terms of circuit complexity & difficultly.

        Certainly I feel that in the tiltle, the use of the word “despair” was a little too strong, and I would be wary of a further reactionary fix from those within the F1 community, based on articles such as yours.

        I personally don’t care either way about the Double points issue. I think people are just objecting to it on princple, which is silly IMO.

        • FOM Fan (@) said on 11th March 2014, 0:08

          *my overall point is that people are too quick to criticise F1

        • matt90 (@matt90) said on 11th March 2014, 0:48

          I think people are just objecting to it on princple, which is silly IMO.

          “Principle – a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behaviour or for a chain of reasoning”

          You’re right, principles are silly. I object to torture on principle, for example. More fool me.

          Well anyway, my overall point is that people are free to criticise F1 without giving it a chance first

          Why would we ‘give it a chance’ when the reason we object to it is that it is unsporting? That won’t change whether we give it a chance or not.

          • FOM Fan (@) said on 11th March 2014, 0:54

            Having non-equal cars is unsporting IMO. But who here would prefer that F1 is a spec series? I doubt that many would. (And if you do, just watch GP2 or IndyCar – problem solved)

          • matt90 (@matt90) said on 11th March 2014, 2:20

            Irrelevant point, clearly there’s no point trying to debate it.

          • HoHum (@hohum) said on 11th March 2014, 2:25

            @fom-fan, now you are getting desperate, the rules don’t require that the cars are unequal, it’s a competition between teams to create the best and it’s for the unequal to work to overcome that deficit just as athletes train to be stronger and faster.

  3. toddjamin (@toddjamin) said on 10th March 2014, 18:55

    Great peice Keith, but you really have it in for the post 2009 wing change don’t you :) , i personally quite liked it. way more than the protruding winglets etc. i personally think the 2010-11 redbulls were some of the prettiest cars since the early 90s, but hey, thats all personal. what we can all agree on is that double points is **! :)

  4. Double points does seem very wrong, but it does seem that it will give advantage randomly or to those who drive well in the final and promote the teams not giving up development and focusing on next year (did that happen last year except RBR?). ..

    By comparison, what do you think of last years tyre change mid season? Certainly seemed to advantage specific team(s) and not necessarily those who had made good changes in preseason…?

    Hoping for some great racing this year, even double points can nit possibly make the season more of a farce than last year. (but I hope the title win margin is 51 points or more)

  5. PMccarthy_is_a_legend (@pmccarthy_is_a_legend) said on 10th March 2014, 22:12

    Very good article. I for one am looking forward to the new season. I don’t think the double points rule is going to play any part in deciding the championship, or at least hope it won’t.

  6. Jonesracing82 said on 10th March 2014, 22:53

    V8 Supercars had a ‘double pts rule’ years ago and got rid of it as it didn’t work and nobody liked it!

  7. Kiran Sripathy (@kiransripathy) said on 11th March 2014, 3:00

    Superb article

  8. Force Maikel (@force-maikel) said on 11th March 2014, 9:55

    Beast of an article @keithcollantine, I agree a full 100% with these sentiments. I have shared this piece with a lot of my F1 friends and have asked them to ‘spread the word’. Every F1 fan that cares and considers himself a F1 Fanantic should read this piece, because I’m sure most of them (96%) agree with your conclusion.

    It’s the way modern F1 is, a new dawn is breaking but already there is a virus lingering in the shadows, ready to destroy it once and for all.

  9. BillC said on 11th March 2014, 17:03

    In a season which maximizes unpredictability, a rule to mitigate the predictability of the past few seasons is beyond misguided.

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