BY KIERAN RUDRUM (@Kieran_Rudrum) AND JAKE DEWBERY (@JakeDewbery)
Formula One is in crisis; excitement and audiences are down, financial problems are hitting the small teams, the race calendar is threatening to let go of fan favourite circuits and it is under threat from a new series (Formula E) which could eat into its support and become more relevant. We will be posting a series of blogs in the run up to the new season to discuss the issues bugging the sport currently in detail, and suggesting how to create a solution to these problems. This week we shall discuss how to improve the structure of the race weekend itself.
This topic is very relevant right now, after the F1 commission’s decision to revamp qualifying to a more intense knockout version of the current system. To start we will layout our own opinions of this change, and then go on and discuss our own ideas of how to revamp the format.
KR: The change to qualifying is a unnecessary change to one of the parts of Formula One which still was still working and popular. Gone will be the tense end of session moments when 10 drivers shoot out for pole or about 9 different drivers scrambling last minute to get in the top 10. Instead there will be waves of 20 anticlimaxes until just two drivers compete for pole. There are better ways to make qualifying create more entertainment for the race, such as a 3 point bonus for pole, encouraging all drivers to go for pole, or making it mandatory to run the new “ultra-soft tyres” in every section of qualifying.
JD:I agree largely with KR; the current qualifying format should remain. However, to introduce an increased level of excitement a reverse grid could be introduced. This needs to have a points incentive to avoid teams trying to ‘fix’ their qualifying results. I propose for the current qualifying structure to remain with the top 10 fastest drivers vying for pole in Q3. The points from this order could follow the format; pole = 10 points, with 2nd to 8th scoring 8, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 point/s respectively. With the grid decided a random number from 6-10 could be chosen out at random by an impartial computer system from the pole sitter. The number chosen dictates how many cars will be reversed on the grid, for example; if number 7 is chosen it would mean the top 7 is reversed on the grid from qualifying for the main race. This is very similar to the format in the British Touring Car Championship for their race 3 reverse grid, a system that works very well. I would also like to introduce a 5 point bonus for the fastest lap during the main race, to encourage teams and drivers to push until the end, regardless to what position they are in.
KR: I like the idea of reverse grids, but if I was a Sebastian Vettel or a Nico Rosberg under that rule I would aim to qualify about 6th or 7th, get a couple of points, and take a better chance of winning the race, which leaves this idea with serious problems. If we were going down a reverse grid route I would completely reformat the stricture of a Grand Prix Weekend. I would have just Two Practice sessions (both on a Friday), A Saturday Morning qualifying session and then two 75% current race distances races. Race One would be on a Saturday and would line up as the qualifying result dictates it. Race Two be on a Sunday, and the grid would be reversing the positions of the top ten finishers of Race One. I would also implement the fastest lap rule to just a single point, as I think the five points suggested is too much of a point advantage for something which in the grand scheme of the race result is quite trivial.
JD: With two sprint races there’ll be less options for tactics to play out, but two 75% races might be a bit excessive. Instead I propose the first race to be 30 minutes long with no pit stops, with the second race an hour and requiring the use of two tire compounds to be used. It’s an idea I like but one I doubt will ever go through, unfortunately I believe politics and business have overtaken the true sporting value and until there are revolutionary changes Formula One will continue to lose the real fans to alternative motorsports such as Formula E.
KR: I don’t think there needs to be a revolution. There is in fact a far more simple way to make Formula One more exciting. The best years I remember watching the sport was between 2005-2009, where we had high performance tyres and refueling, where drivers would push from start to finish, and there was little restriction for what strategy any given driver could do. Currently strategies are restricted by the life of the tyre; while back in the refueling era there was a variety of strategies in almost every race. Bring back this, and current issues signified by the lack of strategy variety between the two Mercedes cars can be solved, as the drivers could chose their fuel loads and create real variation in strategy.
JD: The problem with the sport is there isn’t a single clear cut issue to solve to make it great again, that said a lot of people would have you believe that there is a single issue, the tyres. A quick recap of the last decade shows that refueling, (or lack of) and durable tyres that can be pushed don’t necessarily lead to more exciting racing, just look at the graph below showing overtakes per season in F1.
Whatever rules you change, either to limit fuel flow rates or to have tyres with high thermal degradation drop offs, won’t necessarily lead to increased excitement. The reason for this is arguably intelligence, quite simply the teams are methodological and strive to complete a race in the shortest possible time, often regardless of all the drivers around them, it’s a race against the clock, not each other. F1 shouldn’t be like that, it shouldn’t be an endurance race. I think out of shear principle F1 needs to implement more durable tyres, as drivers should have to push 100% throughout a race. But even if this is the case then they still won’t due to saving fuel for example. I don’t see refueling aiding this so I think it should stay banned, helping to also save costs. So if these changes won’t aid F1 what will?
There is an agreement between both of us that more durable high performance tyres should be reintroduced to Formula One to at least make the racing more exciting for both the drivers and the fans. We differ however on the idea of bringing back refueling, where one of us believes it will create more variety in strategy and excitement, while the other believes it will make little difference. However our conclusion is that although there are options of a mass overhaul of the format of race weekends, it is not needed, and instead all that is needed is a look at what created more excitement in the last ten years before the unnecessary overhauls of 2009-2011.
Next week: We shall be discussing the issues of cost and engines.