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201330 Dec

How F1 Could Be Better

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Formula 1 may lay claim to being the pinnacle of motorsport, but that is now an increasingly vacuous claim. On the one hand, the costs of the sport are untenable to make it a viable business in the longer term, and on the other, the increasingly convoluted technical regulations make the sport harder to understand for the average fan.

 

Yes, F1’s very reason for existence is to push technology forward, one may argue, but that push is only partly in the right direction. Smaller, turbocharged engines and bigger kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS) are indeed welcome changes, since they point in the right direction as far as automotive technology is concerned – by increasing energy efficiency. The same cannot be argued about the highly complex aerodynamic systems, augmented by artificial overtaking aids such as DRS. While DRS has indeed improved the spectacle to an extent, fans and drivers are well aware that it is not a realistic representation of motor racing to see one car fly past another on a straightway.  

 

Here are simple technical and sporting changes which could successfully make F1 better, by being more realistic as a sport and more fan-friendly.

1.       Standard aero:
while the very mention of this will send shivers down the spines of many technical bosses, the fact remains that most fans can only tell one F1 car apart from another by their colour schemes, not their bodywork. Also, the time and cost frittered on finding a slight advantage skews the sport even more. Finally, as we saw in 2013, particularly with Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel, just a single driver from a single team is able to exploit these technical shenanigans in a way that makes the sport dissonant for the fans. For the better part of the 2013 season, F1 races were a race for second place. Even a well-regarded, fast and highly-experienced racer like Mark Webber couldn’t win, although in the same car. And you think fans really understand the details or care about double diffusers, Coanda effect etc? If the fans switch off their television sets, or turn up at race venues in fewer numbers, that is going to hurt the sport.

 

2.       Shorter races:
it is no secret that human concentration levels are getting shorter and shorter. To keep pace with the times, F1 could look at shortening the races to 200 kilometres, or 90 minutes maximum. And yes, televised races should be without commercial breaks. If football and MotoGP broadcasts can be ad-free, why not F1?

 

3.       Bring back the tyre wars:
A control tyre takes away from the spirit of competition. There should be a minimum of at least 2 tyre manufacturers in the sport. The regulations could also be modified in a way that would allow any number of tyre manufacturers, provided they supply at least one team. However…

 

4.       Do away with pit stops:
F1 is a sprint, not a relay race or a marathon. Tyres should be expected to last an entire race distance. Since the races will be shorter (see pt 2 above), this should be possible. The same will hold true for refuelling. With KERS playing an increasing role, and F1 wanting to portray itself as ‘green’, it will be positive for F1 cars to complete a race distance on a single tank of gas. Tyre changes should be allowed only in case of a puncture, or rain. Again, a single wet tyre, instead of “intermediates” and “full wets” will keep costs down while also encouraging teams and drivers to think strategically. It will also bring back displays of supreme car control from gifted drivers.  

 

These are all changes that will be simple to formulate and easy to implement. It will make the sport more accessible to fans once again, surely bring down the costs, encourage greater participation, and perhaps allow truly gifted drivers a chance to shine, rather than hold seats for the Mr Moneybags variety.

 

As far as the financial considerations are concerned, the “Concorde Agreement” as it is known, is quite opaque. Since the rights to F1 are privately held, there is no legal requirement to make the contents public, which is ironic, since the entire revenue model is dependent on the sport being popular enough to attract big money. That popularity is waning and the quicker Bernie Ecclestone, CVC etc realise it, the better for everybody involved.