As a life long time fan growing up watching Senna, Prost, Mansell, Berger, Piquet et al it is disappoint to see the current state of Formula 1.
Of course it is easy to be nostalgic and look back with rose tinted glasses. However, there are many things broken with Formula 1 today including DRS, money distribution between teams, costs charged to circuits to stage a race, lack of free to view television coverage, ban on in season testing, fuel saving, grid penalties, engine limits, ban on refueling, tire saving, cost saving, virtual safety cars, lack of noise, engine downsizing, KERS, single tire supplier, team orders, Halo, track limits, the Hermann Tilke designed tracks…
Over the last decade the FIA have tinkered with the regulations almost every year in an attempt to try and make the racing more exciting. Unfortunately, it could be argued that they the changes that have been implemented have achieved exactly the opposite of the desired result.
Former Formula 1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone made several radical proposals including adding water sprinklers to each circuit and introducing short cuts to spice up the racing, but none of these were implemented.
In July 2019 Jeremy Clarkson also shared some thoughts on how to fix F1:
I don’t want to go as radical as the suggestions put forward by Bernie Ecclestone. However, I do want to put forward four revolutionary proposals to make Formula 1 more exciting to watch for the fans.
Proposal 1: Reduced Down Force with Standard Front and Rear Wings
As cars have evolved to generate a higher proportion of their overall grip from aerodynamic down force rather than mechanical contact of rubber on the road, it has become increasingly hard for cars to follow each other closely through high speed turns, which in turn has been detrimental to enabling close racing.
Recognizing the need for increased mechanical grip to improve racing, for the 2017 season the FIA introduced wider tires. Rear tire width increased from 325mm to 405mm, and front tire width increasing from 245mm to 305mm.
This increase in tire width did indeed increase mechanical grip. However, at the same time the FIA also changed the regulations to permit larger wings and changes to the underfloor. The end result being that the overall balance of grip moved further from mechanical to aerodynamic, making close racing even more difficult.
I’m not proposing that Formula 1 returns to the wingless cars of the 1960s. Rather that we shift the balance significantly from aerodynamic down force to mechanical grip. Therefore, my first proposal is to introduce standard, simple and lower down force front and rear wings with limited adjustment. Something along the lines of the wings on this Ferrari 641 that raced in the 1990 Formula 1 championship drive by Prost and Mansell, which in my opinion is one of the best looking F1 cars ever designed:
So how would I propose this working in practice? I would also go a step further and mandate that that these standard wings are manufactured by a third party and supplied to all teams. Similarly the technical regulations could be updated to remove barge boards and other devices to simplify the aerodynamic complexity and overall look of the car.
One unique aspect of Formula one is the requirement for teams to build their own cars. Although, the Haas team buying their engines, gearboxes and many other components from Ferrari does rather stretch the interpretation of this rule. Similarly, McLaren provide the Electronic Control Units (ECUs) for all Formula 1 teams, Pirelli supply the tires to all teams, and engine manufacturers provide power units to several teams. Therefore, there is precedent for having a standard component provided to all teams.
Proposal 2: Success Ballast
At the start of the 2019 season the performance difference between fastest cars (Mercedes & Ferrari) and the slowest cars (Williams) across the first four races of the season was on average 4.5 seconds per lap in qualifying.
In 1993 according to the then Lotus F1 team principal Eric Boullier, every additional 10kg of weight on an F1 car is worth on average 3/10ths of a second per lap. A heavier car results in slower lap times because it impacts acceleration, braking and cornering. Of course this varies slightly depending on the individual circuit.
Therefore, if the Mercedes and Ferrari cars carried an additional 135kg of weight their average lap times would drop by around 4.5 seconds, making their lap times equal with the Williams (135kg / 10kg x 3/10th seconds = 4.5 seconds).
The most high profile championship that I am aware of that uses success ballast is the Super GT championship in Japan. I actually attended a round of this championship at the legendary Suzuka circuit in 2015 and saw some great multi-class racing between cars with different engine configurations and positions. On the topic of using weight handicaps to create close racing Super GT state in their 2018 Super GT Fun Book that:
“One-car dominance over the course of the season spoils the fun of the sport. To avoid this, SUPER GT introduced the success ballast system … where weight penalties are assigned in the next race to cars depending on their performance during the race weekend.”
In Super GT the success ballast is assigned as follows over the championship season with each point scored resulting in 2kg of success ballast being applied at the next race. Interestingly the success basalt is reduced for the penultimate race and removed entirely for the final race:
The cars display colored stickers (100kg, 50kg, 30kg, 10kg and 5kg) so that fans can clearly identify how much success ballast each car is carrying.
So how would I propose this working in practice? Add one 1kg per point scored by each driver throughout the season. Possibly with a maximum cap of 100kg of success ballast.
What do I think about success ballast in F1? As Formula 1 is supposed to be the pinnacle of motor sports I am not really in favor of artificially handicapping the faster cars to create close racing. However, it would be simple for the FIA to implement and for the fans to understand.
Proposal 3: Reverse Grids
If through a process of qualifying each race starts with the fastest cars at the front you are unlikely to get close racing or much overtaking. However, if the fastest cars started at the back and the slowest cars started at the front, then you could reasonably expect to see lots of close racing and more overtaking.
In the FIA World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) qualifying takes place as usual before the two races. For one race the drivers start in the order that they qualified, in the second race the top 10 qualifiers (not the whole grid) are reversed. Therefore, the driver who qualified 10th starts from pole position and the driver who qualifies 1st starts the race from 10th on the grid.
In the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) the grid for the third race of the weekend is based on the finishing order of the second race. The exact process is explained clearly on Wikipedia:
For race three, a draw takes place to decide at which place the grid is ‘reversed’. This means that drivers finishing race two in positions 6th through 12th could take pole position for race 3 depending on the outcome of the draw. For example, if ball number 7 is drawn, the driver finishing in 7th position in race two starts on pole, 6th place starts in second place, 5th place starts in third etc. Drivers finishing in 8th place and beyond would start race three in their finishing order for race two.
Interestingly both the WTCR and BTCC use Balance of Performance (BoP) to equalize the performance of the different cars and also apply success ballast for drivers based on the number of points scored, although the actual implementation is different for each championship.
So how would Reverse Grids work in Formula 1? I propose a random draw for the first race of the season (or reverse championship order from the previous season), then grids based on reverse finishing order from there on throughout the season. I would reverse the entire field rather than the top 10 or a number of positions picked at random.
The downside of reverse grids are that they may create more accidents as faster drivers starting at the back try to force their way to the front. On circuits like Monaco where it is almost impossible to pass this would create an even larger issue for drivers finishing towards the front of the proceeding race in the championship.
The use of reverse grids would also lose the spectacle of qualifying, seeing drivers push their cars to the limits on low fuel. Therefore, I feel that the other proposals that I put forward are preferable, even if reverse grids would be straight forward to implement as there are no technical changes required to the cars.
Proposal 4: Random Car Assignment
Historically the driver could make a larger difference to the race result. However, as racing has progressed it is the car rather than the driver that is the dominant factor in performance. The slowest driver on the F1 grid would probably get a podium most weekends if they were driving a Mercedes. But how would Lewis Hamilton perform if he was driving a Williams?
Achieving success as a Formula 1 driver is more than driving talent on the track. Being in the right car at the right time is key to a driver winning races and championships. Many times the fastest drivers end up in the fastest cars. However, this is not always the case as Fernando Alonso has demonstrated over the latter part of his F1 career.
And so we come to what is my most revolutionary proposal, that of randomly assigning drivers to cars rather than having drivers in the same car for the whole season. This is my most revolutionary proposal, but I feel that it has real merit as a way to create exciting racing.
To date I have only found one championship that randomly allocates drivers to cars. That is the new for 2019 Ford Focus Cup in the United Kingdom. All cars are built and prepared by the team running the championship ensuring consistency. At the start of each race weekend there is a public draw to determine which car each driver will use for the race weekend.
So how would this work in F1? In race one Lewis might drive a Haas, in race two he might drive a Ferrari, in race three he might drive a Williams and so on through throughout the race calendar. If we have a 20 race season and 10 teams each driver would drive for each team twice during the season. This would give every driver an equal opportunity. Everything else from qualifying would remain as it is today, no changes to the technical regulations, no success basalt and no reverse grids.
For this option to work drivers would need to be employed by the FIA and not the teams. This would be a huge contractual change in itself and probably the major barrier to implementing this option. However, I do feel that this proposal would provide the most exciting and interesting racing. Even if it is the largest departure from how Formula 1 championship has operated since the formation of the World Championship of Drivers in 1950.
The FIA is due to make the next set of major regulation changes for the 2021 season which we already know will include a change from in wheel diameter from 13" to 18" to make Formula 1 more relevant to road cars.
Other regulation changes for the 2021 season are still to be confirmed, but I would predict that they will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. As a result, they are unlikely to result in the more exciting racing that many Formula 1 fans would like to see.
Therefore, in my opinion more revolutionary proposals should be considered and adopted. Simplified and standard wings (Proposal 1) is probably the least controversial to implement. However, I would prefer to see the FIA adopt random car allocations (Proposal 4) as this would create true teams and drivers championships.
Which of my four revolutionary proposals do you prefer? What other creative proposal would you make to the FIA?