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F1, road relevance and getting the manufacturers back

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Another year, another period of melodrama and discussions about why F1 is or isn’t on the decline. This year, F1’s Strategy Group has come up with a bunch of silly ideas about how to make the cars look more spectacular (sparks, glowing brake discs etc), as if that would somehow be a silver bullet to F1’s problems.

Leaving aside the inherent issues with two other silver bullets dominating the 2014 season (which can’t be helped and will eventually be overturned; it’s always the way in F1), it all feels like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. You could make the cars all look and sound like the Ferrari 412T2, the most glorious creation ever to emerge from Maranello’s windtunnels, and yet it would make no difference.

F1’s biggest problem at the moment is money – or rather the lack of in some key areas. It’s funny that a sport that charges the spectator over £100 to attend one of its events can be struggling financially, but it’s because all of the revenue goes via the commercial rights holder, and not that much comes out the other end. It’s why Bernie Ecclestone has mounted an enormous personal fortune while a number of teams are on the brink of financial ruin, including a recent race-winner and former champion in the shape of the Enstone-based team currently known as Lotus.

Financial problems for F1 teams is by no means a new phenomenon; teams collapsing was a frequent occurrence in the 1990s. The problem is this time F1 does not have the strength in depth. In the 1990s, teams collapsed because there were too many of them to begin with; it was Darwinism in action. But there would always be enough left or arriving to keep the grid at a healthy size. This time, if two or three teams collapse, the sport will likely lose a significant chunk of the midfield – and for good.

If Sauber, for instance, disappear, there is little prospect of them being replaced by a similarly-competitive team, and their top-of-the-range facilities at Hinwil, Switzerland will be lost to the sport for good at a time when no one has the money to build a new one. Any loss of a medium-sized or large team now would probably permanently damage the sport.

While F1 will soon gain at least one, if not two new teams in the next couple of years, it is unlikely that they will be battling for podium finishes any time soon, as evidenced by Caterham and Marussia’s struggles since joining in 2010.

At the heart of the financial woes of the likes of Lotus and Sauber is the decline of F1 sponsorship. Prior to the global financial crisis, front-running and midfield F1 teams could find title sponsors who would provide a big chunk of the budget, and they could bank on a lot of smaller sponsors to make up any deficit. But it was noticeable as early as 2008 and 2009 that F1 teams were losing many sponsors, both large and small, and were unable to replace them.

I doubt many people would have predicted that five or six years later teams would still be struggling to find backers. Even McLaren, one of F1’s best-known and most successful teams, was unable to find a title sponsor for this season after Vodafone’s departure from the sport. Luckily for McLaren, though, they have the arrival of Honda to look forward to next year, which should ease any concerns they have.

This itself highlights arguably the lack of the most important title sponsors of all: car manufacturers.

Over the course of 2008 and 2009, F1 lost three of the biggest manufacturers in the world in the shape of Honda, Toyota and BMW, all of whom ploughed millions into the sport every year. F1 has since been left with just three large manufacturers: Mercedes, Fiat (as Ferrari), and Renault, who themselves have scaled back their involvement.

2009 marked the end of the era of manufacturer domination, which had lasted since the late 1990s and had seen budgets skyrocket to incomprehensible levels. It has proven very difficult to return to a different state: technology cannot be ‘uninvented’, and the hi-tech facilities inherently cost a lot to operate, so you cannot just reduce budgets back to the level they were twenty years ago, especially when Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes have continued to spend big regardless of the collapse of their rivals.

Attempts have been made to kerb spending but usually a way is found around them, or they are just blocked altogether, as demonstrated recently when the FIA dropped their plan for a cost cap in the face of opposition from F1’s biggest spenders. It is clear that they are never going to allow parity with the smaller teams; it would be like trying to force Roman Abramovich to only give Chelsea the same budget as Cheltenham Town.

The alternative solution, rather than reducing everyone’s budgets to the same level, is to find a way of boosting the budgets of the teams struggling financially, and in the current climate, the only way this is going to be possible is to attract the manufacturers back to the sport. With the exception of a uniquely generous corporation like Red Bull, the manufacturers are the only companies who can and, if encouraged, will invest heavily in F1.

F1 has taken steps to try and entice manufacturers back into the sport; the new smaller, more efficient turbocharged engines introduced this year are meant to mirror trends in road car engines, while energy recovery systems were also meant to be environmentally-friendly technology to be used in road cars. But the sport could and should go much further.

Many F1 fans object to this principle, arguing that what F1 cars should ultimately be is pure thoroughbred prototypes. But this ignores the reality of the current climate, where financial and environmental concerns are at the top of the agenda. You are never going to find companies who would back someone to make a car that is only meant to go fast around a circuit 20 times a year and is of no relevance to the outside world. Motor racing in the twenty-first century has to have the facade of road relevance at the very least.

This isn’t to say F1 should be about getting twenty Vauxhall Adams together and thrashing them around a track; if people wanted to see that, they would flock to their local racing circuit every time there’s a track day on. The public want to see fast cars that look and sound good and will create exciting in action when in the hands of the best drivers in the world. But there has to be a balance struck.

In any case, an entirely thoroughbred formula probably wouldn’t be very exciting to watch, as evidenced by period between 1992 and 1993 when F1 was dominated by Williams and many of the races were processions of unspectacular cars wired up to the brim with the latest electronic gadgets, including active ride suspension, anti-lock brakes and traction control. There has to be a limit on the lengths you can go to with an F1 car.

And then there’s the cost issue, and the attraction of the formula to manufacturers. When BMW announced their departure from F1 in 2009, they said they would be willing to return if F1 became more road relevant. And while F1 has made some concessions to this, it has not made a major visible push.

Ironically, the wishes those fans who want a more open formula and a more competitive, innovative development race between teams, harking back to the 1990s, may ultimately be satisfied by more road relevant technology in F1.

At its core, F1 was an engine formula but engine development remains incredibly restricted, even when designing new engines as was the case for this year. The engine freeze has led to an increased focus on the cars themselves, which has probably had a negative impact on the sport.

Instead, the solution may be to restrict development of the cars and move the focus back to the engines; after all, very few road cars benefit from front and rear wing development, but all of them have an engine. And the way to do this would be to have engines based on those found in road cars.

Of course, they would have to be heavily modified; we have already seen how controversial ‘disappointing’ engines can be this year. The only restrictions should be the size, that they would have to be based on a road car engine, and that they would have to have a turbocharger attached (even if not found on the road car version). But this would still probably be much cheaper than developing one from scratch, as well as being more relevant to road cars.

This would be an incredibly enticing package to road car manufacturers; the two main hurdles to their involvement would be removed. With restrictions on development also gone, F1 will once again be an engine formula, sacrificing very little for greater support. As an added bonus, fuel supply should also be opened up: why exclude diesel, hydrogen, LPG and other alternative fuels when they are becoming an increasingly important part of road car development? Sports cars and touring cars have embraced them; so should F1.

Ultimately, this is what F1’s Strategy Group should be discussing. Dressing up the cars in fancy clothing or adding double points for the final race will only ever be temporary, plastic solutions. If F1 wants to move forward as a sport, it has to fundamentally change. Otherwise it will look increasingly out of step and out of date in a world of very different concerns and priorities to the one in which it was established back in 1950.

The six most important manufacturers F1 needs to entice:

6. Hyundai

F1 has lacked Asian manufacturer involvement in recent years since Toyota and Honda pulled out, and even before that, it had been largely Japanese. Hyundai, now the fourth-biggest manufacturer in the world, have long been rumoured to make an assault on F1. Their motorsport involvement has largely been limited to rallying, but their influence is growing in Europe and North America, as well as being powerful in their home country, South Korea

5. BMW

The German company’s shock withdrawal in 2009 came after a successful second period in the support, firstly with Williams and then with Sauber. Their return would add enormous credibility due to their status as one of the world’s most popular car brands, particularly in the luxury sector. Their current focus is on the DTM, the German touring car series, which they returned to in 2012.

4. General Motors

F1 has long been fascinated with the American market, in part due to its reluctance to embrace F1. Though they are no longer the giants of the industry, GM are still the second-biggest car manufacturer in the world, and remain the owners of the Opel, Chevrolet, Vauxhall, Buick and Cadillac brands. GM has never been involved with F1, but has recently returned to making IndyCar engines and is also the dominant force in NASCAR. Until recently, it was also the leading manufacturer in the World Touring Car Championship.

3. Volkswagen AG

VW AG are another giant corporation who have so far steered clear of F1, despite enormous success in motorsport: VW marques have won 13 of the last 14 Le Mans 24 Hours, and Volkswagen is the current dominant force in the World Rally Championship. But the corporation, which owns Audi, Porsche, Lamborghini, Skoda, SEAT, Bentley and Bugatti, as well as the famous Auto Union name and the Ducati motorcycle company, has so far avoided entering F1, though some of its brands have been involved in the past.

2. Toyota

The world’s largest car manufacturer entered F1 in 2002 to much fanfare and with a gigantic budget, but in eight frustrating seasons, the team never won a race and withdrew at the end of 2009 despite a successful season. The former F1 base is now being used to prepare the company’s Le Mans prototypes. The Toyota brand is enormously valuable and well-respected around the world, and there is unfinished business in F1.

1. Ford

Having dropped to fifth in the manufacturing rankings, you could be forgiven that the Ford brand has taken something of a hit in recent years, but the famous Blue Oval is still an enormously powerful symbol. It is also intrinsic to F1: the Ford Cosworth DFV engine remains the most successful F1 engine of all time, winning races between 1967 and 1983, and the company remained a vital supporter of teams lower down the grid well into the 1990s.

But the Ford name has not been seen on the grid since 2004, when the company withdrew after a disastrous winless spell owning the Jaguar team. Only Ferrari have started more races as an engine supplier than Ford; Renault will almost certainly pass the American marque with their 524th start at the next grand prix to move into second. F1 just doesn’t feel right without Ford.

Images used with the spirit of fair use


Written by James Bennett

April 25, 2014 at 17:37

Posted in F1, F1 politics, F1 teams

An (updated) F1 manifesto

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I wrote this manifesto back in 2010 after a disappointing season of on-track action and continued financial pressure on the teams; many of the points were developed from an earlier blog post I wrote after the Bahrain Grand Prix, focusing on the quality and sustainability of F1. Little has changed since: the addition of DRS has increased overtaking but has failed to solve intrinsic problems with the cars themselves and has been branded “artificial”, and the financial situations of the teams has got worse, with Honda being the only manufacturer opting to join the sport in the years to come. The points largely still stand, and the references have been updated to make them more relevant. This is still my vision of what F1 should be.

Images published in the spirit of fair use

1) Introduction

a) Background
First and foremost, it is important to state that we are in a golden era of Formula 1 motor racing. The last few championships, since the end of the years of domination by Ferrari, have been stellar and will be remembered as some of the greatest in the history of the sport. Before I begin my criticism, it is important to acknowledge this – it is largely constructive criticism, not a long-winded rant about how awful it is.

However, this does not justify the status quo. Nothing is perfect, and there is always the need to keep improving the finished product for the fans. There is room for further expansion, and there are some significant flaws. While F1 is no longer in a particularly unhealthy state, this has little correlation to what we have seen on-track – the sequence of manufacturer withdrawals (Honda, BMW and Toyota, with Renault scaling back) came during, in my opinion, two of the best seasons in F1 history. F1 still lacks investment, with several teams struggling financially, and there are only three manufacturers supplying engines in the sport, with Honda returning in 2015. Thus, there is a need to attract more companies to invest in F1, particularly manufacturers and multinational corporations to make large-scale investments.

The most frequent complaint about F1 is the quality of the racing. Before I begin, I must make it clear that overtaking should be inherently difficult at the highest level and I would not want to make it “easy”, as has often been the case since the instruction of DRS and the degradable control tyres from Pirelli. Without those changes, it would be very difficult to pass the car in front, leading to uninteresting, processional races. Such occurrences are an inevitability in F1, but that is not to say efforts should not be made to try and limit the number of races that end up being boring. The changes made from 1998 to 2010 to try and facilitate more overtaking largely failed, though I will not to fall into a trap of comparing to the past.

I do not want to compare to the past because what is important is whether F1 is entertaining now or not, and whether it would improve if a particular change(s) is made. F1 has a long and proud history but how “good” it was in the past should be an irrelevance. There is a lot of rose-tinting among F1 fans, but we must accept that the sport has moved on, for better or worse – implementing ideas from the past solely because they supposedly made the racing better should be avoided unless there is good reason to do so. I am looking to create an F1 for the 21st century, not recreate the F1 of the 20th century.

Though I see a great need for stability in F1, as opposed to the constant annual rule changes at present, I believe changes are needed to improve the show, and I will set out what changes I believe are needed, though obviously I am just an armchair spectator, so I don’t think of my word as the gospel truth.

b) Aims
My proposals will be set around and all relate to a number of key aims that are central to my vision of what F1 should be:

– F1 should focus on the fans, as they are the most important thing in the whole of the sport, therefore the show should be the most important element of the sport

– F1 must be financially justifiable and sustainable in order to attract further investment

– A combination of both of these mean the ultimate aim is for F1 to be better value for money

– F1 must remain F1

2) Principles
It is absolutely vital that F1 shall remain F1. It must remain true to its original defining principles, those that make F1 unique and attractive to the massive audiences it attracts every year. If these principles are eroded, F1 will cease to be F1, so in that sense, it must remain pure.

However, there are also some misconceptions. F1 is often seen as the “pinnacle of motorsport”, which is a twisted view of motorsport hierarchy. F1 is indeed the pinnacle of single seater racing, especially since the decline of IndyCar. But not every driver begins their racing career with the ultimate aim of reaching F1. While not as large, sportscars, GTs and touring cars have their own pinnacle series with a separate pyramid to the single seater world, and on the other side of the Atlantic, NASCAR is a much greater influence than F1 and could probably justify being the pinnacle of North American motorsport as a whole.

But despite this, F1 must remain the pinnacle of global single seater racing. It must have the fastest, most challenging open wheel cars in the world in order to maintain its place and its popularity.

F1 must also remain a multi-chassis formula, as this is what sets it apart from the majority of other single seater series at present. While other series have had multiple chassis in the past, economic circumstances have dictated that it wasn’t viable, but F1, as the pinnacle, can justify this. However, that is far as it should go. Some may go further and suggest that every team must build a different car, and that all the cars must be significantly different. But this was never part of the foundations of F1 – the formula of Formula 1 was primarily an engine formula, and there were certainly no restrictions against customer cars until the 1980s, so I do not see it as necessary to keep this as it is, as I shall explain later.

F1 cars must also be aesthetically pleasing. Over the years, the development of the F1 car has changed what they look like greatly, but this has gradually stabilised with various rules restrictions, and thus an image of what an F1 car should look like has formed. F1 cars should thus still fit this basic template – a slicks and wings racer. You will not find any proposals from me suggesting wings should be banned, because I don’t believe it would fit what F1 is all about in the year 2014, nor do I believe it would make any difference to the racing. Aesthetics also includes how the cars look on-track – they must look spectacular and not effectively drive “on rails” – and sound. These must be taken into considerations when defining the technical rules, as they are as important as the quality of the racing itself – no one wants to watch ugly cars.

F1 races should also stay roughly the same length – about 305 km (apart from Monaco). This makes it considerably longer than its feeder series, and not too long that viewers become bored and without straying into endurance racing territory. F1 was initially an endurance racing formula, though a pure endurance format would not be attractive enough to the public or broadcasters.

3) Proposed technical regulation changes

a) Overview
In accordance with the initial aims, my primary objective is for a technical rules package that will create better racing, will appeal to the fans, and make F1 more cost-effective. The general overview of this is to improve racing by shifting the emphasis within F1 development from aerodynamics to engines, as it is aero development that stifles racing and engine differentiation will improve it, and a move to far less expensive, less complex internal components, in particular the electronics but also focusing on gearboxes and brakes.

My primary inspiration was the Grand Am Sports Car Series of North America (which becomes the United SportsCar Championship in 2014), and their Daytona Prototypes. The DP regulations have the a basic principle of severely limiting the external development of cars but leaving enough space to make the cars visibly unique, with the most significant focus being on the engines – in fact, with the names of their cars, they reverse the traditional format (traditionally it is Chassis-Engine, e.g. McLaren-Mercedes) in order to give precedence to the manufacturer (Engine-Chassis, e.g. BMW-Riley). The engines themselves are based on blocks from road car engines. As a result, it is a very competitive series with many close, exciting races.

I believe a system based on the Daytona Prototype system would work because it would be very cost-effective and allow close racing, but not stray from F1′s principles. It would mean greater restrictions in some areas than at present in order to reduce unnecessary cost and help encourage exciting racing. The reduction in cost from such restrictions would allow greater freedoms in other areas. This is similar to the direction taken by the IRL for IndyCar. The name of the plan which eventually led to the development of their DW12 chassis is ICONIC – “Innovative, Competitive, Open-Wheel, New, Industry-Relevant, Cost-Effective”. F1 would do well by adopting a similar line with future rules development.

The IndyCar rules themselves are similarly influential. While it is officially a single chassis formula, the chassis is just that – a basic chassis – with the intention of companies developing separate aero kits based around this chassis in the future. This is a very cost-effective approach while allowing competition to go ahead. Engines are also small (V6, 2.2L) and cheap, but they are also turbo-charged and will be nearing F1 engines in power. 3 engine manufacturers signed up for 2012, the first season utilising the new rules, though Lotus later withdrew.

b) Aerodynamics and Bodywork
As I have already said, I believe the emphasis in F1 development should move away from aerodynamics. It should be heavily restricted. There are three very good reasons for this:

– Liberal aero development is a considerable factor in the difficulty of overtaking in F1

– It is very expensive, requiring features such as CFD supercomputers and windtunnels to develop

– It is much less relevant to the road car industry than other areas of F1 development

I propose that this restriction of aero goes as far as some areas of standardisation. This will not be popular with some elements of the F1 fan base but I believe allowing some areas of the car to be developed continually is at odds with their demand for better racing.

In particular, what I propose to be standardised are the front and rear wings, and the area around the rear of the car, i.e. around the diffuser. Taking each individually, it is evident that considerable development has gone into front wings, with small, highly-detailed sections on the outside. This would be better restricted, or rather outlawed completely, in order to limit costs – front wing development is in no way relevant to the automotive industry as a whole.

The rear wing and rear end should also be standardised for this reason, but also, and primarily so, because they are the biggest producer of wake turbulence or “dirty air”, the whipping up of air from the rear of the car which makes following another car very difficult for the car behind, which is a major factor in restricting overtaking. Diffusers, one of the great problem areas for this and a constant source of loophole exploitation in the current rules package, should be banned completely. This will mean a lot less grip at the rear of the cars, which should not only make them easier to follow, but also more challenging to drive and more spectacular to watch.

However, it is only these key areas that should be standardised. Each car must be different and that must be noticeable. Most areas of the car should remain free for development as long as they do not have much of an impact on the racing, though as I am not an aerodynamicist, I will leave the exact details for the professionals – specifically to a committee of independent designers (i.e. not those employed by the teams) which would be created to manage these affairs.

In terms of the rough dimensions of the car, this will be dictated by aesthetics. I am not a fan of the current generation of cars’ wing sizes – I don’t find them particularly attractive, they didn’t fully achieve their aim of making it easier for the car behind to follow, and the wide front wings are potentially dangerous if two cars collide due to the tendency to launch one into the air. I recommend more traditional-looking wing proportions in order to appeal to the fans. Cars would be roughly the same size as they are now but would look simpler – in terms of this, and the scale of the cars’ features, I would personally like to see something similar to the original GP3 car, as shown below being tested by Mark Webber back in 2010, which was 329 mm/13 inches shorter than current F1 cars. Note the simpler wings and suspension layout:

c) Engines
With the emphasis moving away from aero, it will go back to engines. Engine development is far more relevant to the automotive industry than aero, and I believe a shift in emphasis would attract manufacturers back into F1 if made cost-effective enough. For one, this will mean the end of some of the restrictions on development, such as the freeze on development and the rev limit, the latter in particular being another factor limiting overtaking.

But totally free engine regulations would inevitably lead to highly developed and expensive prototype engines, which would not necessarily be very good for the sport as a whole. So, in order to maintain cost-effectiveness, and to attract vital manufacturer support into F1, I propose a shift to road car-based engines.

Initially, I follow the Daytona Prototype principle of having a road car engine block, with some parts allowed to be modified and approval of the engines required before being used in F1. However, the DP engines are highly restricted and equalised, and they are also very big – up to 5.0L. The former is not the direction I wish F1 to go in (though some form of homologation is likely) while the latter is not the direction manufacturers want would F1 to go in – the car industry today is moving towards smaller engines with turbos, as shown by the change of Super 2000 regulations from 2.0L to 1.6L engines in recent years, and indeed F1’s own change to smaller 1.6L turbocharged V6 engines in 2014.

Sticking with 1.6L turbos makes sense, as it is a common engine size for road cars manufacturers. However, the key difference is the road car engine base – the development of these instead of prototype engines would greatly reduce the costs, and you could probably still get a huge amount of power from them after development. The aim is to get as many manufacturers as possible producing engines for F1, from the giants of the industry such as Toyota, Ford, General Motors, BMW and VW, to smaller manufacturers such as Hyundai, Mitsubishi and Proton, in order to provide a range of different engines of different formats.

Similarly, unlike in the 2014 F1 engine rules, there would be no restriction engine layout – manufacturers will be use whatever configuration they want, as long as it’s from a road car. A further aspect of this is the use of alternative fuels, such as diesel, LPG and biofuels, all of which have been used in motorsport series outside F1. Innovation, variation and environmental justification – that is the core.

d) Gearboxes, brakes, electronics
The need for cost reduction and road relevance continues to other areas of the car. Gearboxes are a key area and a lot of development has gone into the seamless shift semi-automatic breed of ‘boxes in the last few seasons. However, they are very expensive – the FIA now have restrictions on how many can be used, with grid penalties in place for changing them. For a start, this will be abolished, as I hope the costs will come down enough for this to not be necessary.

This will come from reverting to “traditional”, more manual gearboxes, perhaps road car-based. And as well as costing less and having more road relevance for most of the manufacturers this new rules package is aimed at, there is another major positive – it is far more challenging to use. It would add an extra variable for the drivers, with up- or down-shifting mistakes leading to the vastly increased potential for overtaking.

The electronics of F1 cars as a whole should also be much simpler. There has again been a lot of development in this area recently, a lot of which serves little relevance in the “real” world. Simplification of the electronics, including the banning of features such as pits-to-car and car-to-pits telemetry, the adjustment of fuel mixes from the cockpit and many of the launch systems, would be far more cost-effective.

The indicator of the extent of this would be the steering wheel. Current F1 steering wheels are crammed with buttons and switches – the target would be wheels more like those of the late 1990s. To demonstrate, on the left is the wheel of a 1997 McLaren, while on the right is the 2010 wheel used by the same team – the target is a wheel like that on the left:

I should also not forget KERS, which has been a feature of F1 on and off since 2009. I am supportive of this from the perspective that it has perceived environmental benefits and is an innovation that will trickle down to road car users. This is again a positive as far as the manufacturers are concerned – indeed, BMW cited “sustainability and environmental compatibility” in their departure statement in July 2009. However, I am not a fan of it in its current power boost format, which is both gimmicky and restrictive. A new method of using KERS would have to be created, possibly as something constantly in use instead of at selected moments.

e) Tyres
As with other aspects, the aim for tyres is for them to be more cost-effective. In the past, Michelin has suggested the introduction of the lower profile tyres they produce for Le Mans Prototypes, but I am not convinced this would be the right move.

The key thing, though, is for competition between manufacturers, something cheaper tyres would allow. A tyre war between two or more manufacturers would provide another variable that could potentially lead to more exciting races. It is not as if there are no manufacturers interested in F1 –Michelin, Cooper Avon, Hankook and Continental were revealed by Bernie Ecclestone to have shown an interest in becoming the F1 tyre supplier back in 2010 before Pirelli won the tender. No doubt you could also add Goodyear, Dunlop, a returning Bridgestone, Yokohama, Kumho and others to a list of potential suppliers in a tyre war as well – just look at the number of manufacturers in sportscar racing, where there are fewer restrictions.

And although it is a sporting regulation, I am also not a huge fan of the requirement to use two sets of tyres during a race. I would prefer a system of a large gap between compounds, with each driver picking a particular compound at the start of a weekend, which would not be distinguishable from the other compound to the viewer at home. More variation in tyres, i.e. more than two compounds, would potentially be a positive move as well, perhaps with the reintroduction of special qualifying tyres, but this would depend on cost-effectiveness.

4) Proposed sporting changes

a) Format and calendar
The F1 World Championship format and calendar as it is now is fine and does not need to be changed. However, I have my own personal views about the ideal format the sport should take, and it does not include a championship as we know it. This is the idea I have christened the F1 Tour.

I believe that in its purest form, F1 should take a format similar to tennis and golf – no coherent championship but a series of many events over the course of the year linked by a rankings system, with the ultimate goal being, in the case of F1, to be number 1 driver or team. A championship is effectively an artificial construct that proves little – the champion is rarely the driver who has performed best throughout the year. Removing the championship would not be against F1′s principles because F1 is a formula – Formula 1 itself existed before the creation of the World Championship for Drivers in 1950, and non-championship F1 events took place as recently as 1983.

Therefore, the emphasis should shift towards individual events and winning races. The rankings would be a sideshow – if Rafael Nadal should try to win Wimbledon just for the sake of winning Wimbledon, then Fernando Alonso should try to win the Monaco Grand Prix for the sake of winning the event. This would remove pressures at the end of a season for protecting points leads, and would also limit the need for teams to use team orders. There would, however, be regional or continental mini-championships with bonus prize money on offer.

Prize money would be allocated publicly with an increased emphasis on individual event, as in NASCAR, rather than on the constructors’ championship at the end, while points for the rankings would vary according to the “grade” of the event, the most prestigious races being of a higher grade and thus worth more points, as is the case in tennis and golf.

Points would be given for all starters, and there would be points on offer for pole position, the fastest lap, leading a lap, leading the most laps and maybe others. It would be more representative of performance than at present, as it would be a ranking system rather than a championship. There would also be two rankings – a continuous ranking overlapping into the next season, and a start-to-finish ranking within a year, perhaps also with the addition of mini-rankings for events of a certain grade or continent.

The official 2014 F1 calendar will take place over 37 weeks, from 16th March to 23rd November, and so I think it would be possible to have as many as 40 events in a season over a similar period. The NASCAR Sprint Cup has 36 championship events and 2 non-championship races over a slightly longer time span within the year (it starts earlier than F1), so it shows it can be done as long as costs are kept down. The human cost should also be taken into account with less restrictions for entry lists (see below) and the option for rotating the driver line-up. One other way of doing it on a larger scale would be for each team to essentially have two race teams within their organisation, but then this would drive up the cost considerably.

The races themselves, in addition to the current venues, would ideally include many traditional F1 heartlands and classic venues, countries such as France, Argentina, Mexico and South Africa. But also there is a need to embrace new markets. The expansion of the calendar would hopefully mean less of a need for grand, expansive facilities, as the calendar would inevitably have to include circuits that don’t have such facilities. Safety is an issue and certain compromises would need to be made but not to the extent of jeopardising the lives of the drivers and spectators.

b) Entry lists and customer cars
As mentioned above, entry lists would have less restrictions with the F1 Tour. Entry would be on an event-by-event basis, rather than fixed at the start of the year, allowing the teams to enter as many races as they want and change the driver line-up as much as they want.

In order to prevent too much of a human cost and promote variety, drivers themselves would be restricted to about 20-25 races a year, meaning the top teams, who would be encouraged to enter more than that number of races to gain more prize money (the system would be geared towards this being the case, even with the “lesser” races), would have to use different drivers. Suddenly you have a lot more opportunities for young drivers, especially with competitive machinery.

Added to this, there would be no limit on the number of teams entering a race. With the vast decrease in the budget needed to be competitive in F1, this would hopefully mean a lot more teams will be able to enter F1 races, particularly encouraging one-off entries such as leading American teams in the North American events. This would be possible via a freeing up of the entry regulations, and in particular the introduction of customer cars.

Customer cars are not against F1’s defining principles, as they have been present from the beginning until the early 1980s, when they disappeared with F1’s drive for increased professionalism among the teams – likewise, the possibility of entering only 1 car into a race was removed in the early 1990s, something that would also be allowed once again.

Jo Siffert wins the 1968 British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch driving a Lotus-Ford entered by Rob Walker Racing Team. The team won nine championship races without ever building their own car.

With the decreased costs, it would be very affordable to “buy” an F1 car. What would be best is a system whereby the constructor loans the customer the car(s) for a period including a testing session and race weekend, allowing constructors to supply many teams without building too many chassis. A customer team would not be at much of an advantage as they still have to set the car up correctly, but the cars would also be more basic and thus easier to manage.

Issues surrounding prize money would have to be resolved in a different way. There would likely be a split of the money between the team and the constructor (whereas a constructor entrant would get the prize money for both, thus maintaining the benefit of being a constructor), without making it unprofitable for either party, and there would also be the introduction of a teams’ ranking alongside the constructors’ ranking.

c) Testing
There would be less restrictions on testing under the F1 Tour, but arrangements would be more complex, as the rules would be engineered to allow the irregular entrants more testing during the season so that they can get up to speed.

However, as a rule (and this should be in place in general, not just F1 Tour), testing at F1 venues (or at least on the layout used by F1) would be banned, as it is another hindrance to the quality of the racing due to the teams working out an ideal setup before arriving for the race weekend.

d) Weekend format
Aside from F1 Tour, the weekend format should still be tweaked, with a general principle of less practice time. The 2013 Brazilian Grand Prix showed the impact practice has – with all pre-race session disrupted by rain, the teams had not dialled the car into the circuit, creating more exciting racing. A perfect setup means the car is easier for the drivers to drive, less spectacular for the viewers, and hinders the racing – take away the time they have to set up the car and it becomes more challenging.

Therefore, I propose cutting practice itself to just 1 hour on a Saturday morning. However, this is not as considerable as it looks, as I propose a move back to a more relaxed qualifying format of a free-for-all hour on a Saturday afternoon – the reason for this is that I am not a fan of the current format, as while it is exciting, I find it too regimented and restrictive, and I’d rather see all cars get the maximum opportunity. The excuse for not having such a format – that teams never went out for most of the session – is removed by the fact that they’d have to be out there developing their car setup due to the lack of practice time.

The irregular entrants and smaller teams would also have the benefit of an extra hour of pre-qualifying on a Friday – this would remain in place even if there were 28 or less entrants. Pre-qualifying would now be more sustainable due to the decreased budgets, the removal of Friday practice, and the fact that F1 TV coverage has moved on since the previous days of pre-qualifying. 28 cars would advance to qualifying (including those that would not be present for pre-quali) with a further 2 dropping out after the end of Saturday qualifying, with no restriction on who those 2 cars would be.

A pre-qualifying race between the smaller teams could also be arranged for significant events with many entries, again giving extra publicity. This would be especially needed at Monaco, likely to have many entries but limited space in the paddock.

5) The fans
The fans are the centre of F1. Without them, there would be no point to F1 – investment from corporations comes because they want to sell their product or work to someone, and without that investment, F1 would be dead. So it is within F1’s own interest to please the fans. However, despite a few fan surveys, they’ve not always remembered this.

The main focus should be keeping them happy by maintaining and improving the show here and now. As I said, we should forget notions of trying to make it what it once was, because you cannot turn the clock back. While there are many types of F1 fan who find various aspects of the sport particularly interesting, they are all united by one common desire: for exciting racing and races. Therefore, that is the priority. This should overrule the desire of many fans for a “pure” F1 (albeit what many want isn’t actually that “pure” anyway), something that clashes with the desire for better racing – you cannot have free aero regulations and good racing in such a competitive, cut-throat sport today, because Pandora’s box has been opened. Precedence must be given to the show.

That is the primary justification for my proposals. I am aware that not everyone will agree, as some will think I’m removing too much from F1’s core. But as I’ve explained, I don’t believe I am doing that, as it stays true to the defining principles of F1 over the years – most of what I’ve suggested should be removed comes from later additions, and in some ways I am suggesting going back to a purer form of F1 with the emphasis on engines, and making the cars more challenging to drive and hopefully putting more back in his hands.

But beyond this, there are other things that can be done to improve the experience of the fans, concerned with the presentation of the sport to the public. In terms of race attendance, ticket prices are very expensive – they should be decreased, and hopefully cost decreases across the board will make this possible. In TV, Formula One Manangement and the broadcasters need to continue making innovations.

It is in the field of licensing and merchandise, though, that requires the greatest attention. FOM has quite a draconian reputation in this area for their requesting of YouTube videos containing classic F1 footage to be removed, and yet they provide no alternative other than the season reviews. Why not produce more online content around classic footage as the BBC and Sky Sports have successfully implemented? Why not sell DVDs of full classic races? These would be very popular.

Further to that, the F1 license for video games is an exclusive one, currently held by Codemasters. But this was never the case in the past – back in 2001, Europress released Grand Prix 4 as a parallel to EA Sports’ F1 2001, acting as a more advanced game for experienced gamers. So why not this? Why not offer the license out for an F1 team management game? Football is a great example of how this can work – while the Premier League do take down videos as frequently as FOM, they are a lot more flexible with their licensing in other areas. The management games like the Football Manager series paralleling the more official FIFA games is a good example of this.

Alongside social media, FOM don’t do enough in these areas and it would be great if they could make more of a push in this direction and generally be more fan-friendly. The fans would appreciate it and it could make them money, not just directly but indirectly by encouraging more new fans.

6) Overview
In conclusion, I believe I have created a model that, if initiated, would make F1 a much stronger series. With a great reduction in the cost of building cars, teams will have a much greater chance of making a profit. An emphasis on engines, in a cost-effective manner, will encourage investment from manufacturers, who are key to the growth and continued success of the sport. And with a much more fan-centric approach, prioritising racing, aesthetics and the quality of the show as a whole, I hope it would strengthen F1’s fan base.

In response to my aims:

F1 should focus on the fans, as they are the most important thing in the whole of the sport, therefore the show should be the most important element of the sport
New technical regulations in order to try and encourage more exciting racing, a greater number of races on the calendar, and improved accessibility and presentation of the sport are all part of my proposal. And importantly, I have not strayed too far from F1’s guiding principles, so I hope many fans would not feel betrayed by this.

F1 must be financially justifiable and sustainable in order to attract further investment
The important thing is not necessarily cost reduction but cost-effectiveness. I have proposed the removal of some expensive features of F1 cars that have little relevance to the automotive industry as a whole, and other changes consider road car technology, so that even if there is considerable investment in development of these elements, there will be a trickle-down effect to the normal road car user. The inclusion of KERS and the potential for alternative fuels also adds perceived environmental benefits. This makes F1 sustainable and justifiable to the manufacturers, and would hopefully encourage more to join or rejoin F1.

A combination of both of these mean the ultimate aim is for F1 to be better value for money
An improved sport and show with a decreased cost and increased cost-effectiveness and sustainability is certainly better value for money, and would secure its future long-term.

F1 must remain F1
While some may argue that I have taken away too much, I believe I have stayed within F1’s principles – the cars would still be very fast, spectacular, and aesthetically pleasing; it would remain a multi-chassis formula (even with the introduction of customer cars); and the races would still be the same. Indeed, the shift of emphasis from aero to engine would move F1 back towards its original core, as it was primarily an engine formula when it was first developed, and the simplification of the electronics would make it more of a drivers’ sport once again.

Is this taking F1 backwards? In a technological sense, yes, but I see that as for the progress of the sport as a whole – it is as “purist” as the current rules, with their multitude of restrictions on how many engines and gearboxes each driver is allowed. It is purist from a driving perspective – and the fans care more about the drivers and their driving than the teams and their development of technological advancements. But it still does allow for some innovation, particularly in the engine department.

What I am proposing is not something buried in the past. This is F1 for the future. While the manufacturers ended up with too great a role in the sport and left it for dead when they wanted out, their support is crucial – F1 cannot survive as a solely independent sport in the 21st century. It is a business as well as a sport, and thus it needs to be justifiable from a business perspective – of course, the fans do fit into this, as they are needed. But F1 has to be made more financially sustainable. There is so much waste in F1 – too much unnecessary spending on items of little relevance to the rest of the world has sent budgets through the roof. They are coming down, thanks to the Resource Restriction Agreement and proposed budget cap, but they could go further.

They could also go further to improve the racing – each time they make a change, they only look at part of the problem, instead of tackling it totally head on. To improve racing, F1 needs radical change instead bit-part solutions every year, skirting around the problem. A clean sheet of paper is needed and largely that is what I have proposed, while staying within the confines of what an F1 car should look like in the eyes of the majority of fans.

But the most important thing is stability. Every year, there are rule changes – this year saw the refuelling ban, last year saw a overhaul of aero rules (that didn’t go far enough), and next year sees the reintroduction of KERS. The goalposts are constantly moving; the teams and drivers constantly have to adapt to change. What needs to happen is a set of rules to be drawn up which cover all areas, like my proposals, and then need to be stuck to for a number of years without significant change. That way, you will keep the development costs down, and the racing will improve – and that should be F1′s holy grail.

Written by James Bennett

December 20, 2013 at 17:38

Posted in F1, F1 politics, F1 teams

More on that opportunity with Red Bull

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For future reference for those that may enter next year, this is the sort of thing Red Bull Reporter gives you the opportunity to do – this year’s winner has interviewed Red Bull’s chief designer Rob Marshall for The Sun. It’s an interesting interview, particularly the comments about the blown diffuser.

Elsewhere, my exams are nearly over so I should be able to get back to writing soon…

Written by James Bennett

June 16, 2011 at 17:05

Posted in F1, F1 teams

An opportunity for young journos…

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If anyone out there is also interested in a career in motorsport journalism then here’s a potential opportunity for you…

More info can be found here if you’re interested


Red Bull Reporter Launches for 2011 with Formula One Assignment

One budding journalist could be reporting from within the Red Bull Racing team for two months from Monaco to the British Grand Prix

Red Bull Reporter returns for 2011 with the most exciting and unique assignment to date. Providing up and coming journalists with the opportunity to kick start their careers in the media, Red Bull Reporter is offering one successful applicant the chance to report for 2010’s Formula One double world champions, Red Bull Racing. For two months the reporter will be working from within the team between Monaco and the British Grand Prix.

The successful journalist will be given exclusive access to the factory, team members and management as they join the team in Monaco and Silverstone as well as report from within the Milton Keynes base for the periods in between races. Writing as an autonomous journalist within the Red Bull Racing editorial team, the Red Bull Reporter will also get the opportunity to have their work published in a national publication.

The reporter’s exclusive access will include full team access at the Monaco GP, including media briefings, access to the drivers’ simulator at the factory, the chance to sit in on media sessions with the drivers, Christian Horner and Adrian Newey and Grandstand seats at Silverstone for the British GP.

This year Red Bull Reporter will be offering up and coming journalists the chance to take part in three unique and exclusive assignments across the year. In addition to the three official assignments, the reporter community will have the opportunity to apply for press passes for Red Bull events, sport fixtures and festivals across the year to boost their portfolios on the site.

Budding journalists can apply by visiting and creating a profile before submitting examples of work, profiles can be seen by all Red Bull Reporter users who are encouraged to rate and comment on each other’s submissions. Each profile acts as the reporter’s portfolio and will be considered when users apply for specific assignments.

Launched in 2009, Red Bull Reporter gives young talented writers, photographers, filmmakers and presenters the opportunity to report on unique elements of the world of Red Bull by providing unprecedented, behind the scenes access. Last year saw Peter Tweedie shooting some of the world’s best B Boys at Red Bull BC One in Tokyo, Persia Pirelli and Rex Kirby reporting from Red Bull Cliff Diving in Sisikon and Stefani Ernst and Kirsty McAvoy reporting on Red Bull X Fighters in London’s Battersea Power Station.


Written by James Bennett

March 17, 2011 at 17:22

Posted in F1, F1 teams

The Liuzzi affair…

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I rate all four of Force India’s contracted drivers quite highly. I’m a big Adrian Sutil fan and feel he has a lot more to give than he’s already shown, Paul di Resta I’ve rated since he beat Vettel in F3 and am delighted to see in F1, Nico Hulkenberg’s a rough diamond but a star in the making, and Vitantonio Liuzzi has been quite hard done by ever since he got into F1 – he compared quite well to Vettel initially at Toro Rosso, and didn’t do badly at Force India. But it seems it was not enough to stop him getting the chop a year early on his contract.

Team owner Vijay Mallya has had a tendency to change his mind quite a lot regarding drivers. Tonio is said to have had a race deal with the team for 2009 in his initial test driver contract, but it seems they couldn’t find a way of getting rid of Sutil and Fisichella – I think he might have got a bit of compensation out of that behind slightly-ajar doors but I’m not sure. And then as soon as he did get his chance, he was out of favour and looked like being dumped in favour of di Resta – I seem to remember the feeling was that it didn’t look that great for him before the season even began, before di Resta had even participated in an F1 weekend.

The problem may be something behind the scenes. Liuzzi was signed thanks to Colin Kolles, then the team boss, who rated him highly, only to promptly get the sack himself – hence why Tonio is being linked so strongly to HRT. And the shift from being in favour to not was quite sudden, which perhaps suggest something sudden behind the scenes.

The other thing with Liuzzi is that while he’s clearly good, he hasn’t really improved at all. The guy’s been in F1 for 5 years, and was doing testing for a while before that too with Williams and Sauber. There have been no flashes of brilliance. And thus you have to doubt his ultimate potential – has he peaked already? Yes, he could win races in a decent car, but so could most of the guys on the grid now. You have to question that F3000 title that, let’s face it, even as someone who thinks positively of him, I have to admit was against less-than-average opposition.

And here’s where he doesn’t compare well with Sutil. Even if you don’t rate him, Adrian has shown he is capable of the odd very good race – the only particularly good race I can think of from Tonio was China 2007, but even then he was comfortably beaten by his team mate. And when you’re a midfield team, particularly one owned by an airline and alcohol magnate who owns most of the companies whose logos are on the car, it’s often better to have the driver who, once a year, pulls a blinder and gets a freak podium, rather than the guy who’s plodding around getting 7ths and 8ths every week – the former is what will get you the headlines and exposure, even if it’s not representative.

This is roughly what happened in 2010 – Sutil just about had the edge anyway, but had a couple of stand-out drives where he finished quite high up, whereas Tonio’s best race was arguably the very first one of the year, and everyone had forgotten about him. Standing out from the crowd, especially in times like this with pay drivers knocking around with massive potential sponsorship deals in their pocket, is what you need to do as a driver.

Either way, there is a question of trust now hanging over Vijay Mallya’s head as a result of this. While I am very much an outsider to all of this, my perception is that I don’t think of Force India as any more or less trustworthy than anyone else in the paddock. Why is Hulkenberg joining them? Because Williams got rid of him despite taking that pole. They wanted to loan him to Hispania, the weakest team on the grid. Williams ethically have been one of the worst teams in recent F1 history, dumping decent drivers because of money several times – remember Wurz “retiring” ahead of the last race in 2007 in order to give Kazuki Nakajima a run? Plus there’s Kimi getting paid by Ferrari off a year after signing a contract extension, Alonso being forced out of McLaren 2 years early, and plenty of other cans of worms to open. I don’t see any teams that could take a moral high ground these days – even Virgin were at it this year not giving reserve driver Andy Soucek any running, and they’ve only been in it a season!

At the end of the day, in F1, and perhaps sport generally these days, contracts are only worth the paper they’re written on. That’s not just Force India – all of them do it if they can get away with it. They may be getting the most attention for other reasons…

Written by James Bennett

January 26, 2011 at 22:54

Posted in F1, F1 drivers, F1 teams

Thoughts on Cooper

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Today, Christmas Eve 2010, is the 10th anniversary of the death of the innovative designer and team boss John Cooper.

Cooper is very much one of the forgotten great teams in F1 history these days. They brought the rear-engined car into F1, quickly revolutionising car design, and went on to take back-to-back titles in 1959 and 1960, annoying Ferrari in the process. The new rules brought in in 1961 appeased the Scuderia but Cooper took a hit and never recovered, with only 3 wins after. The decline can partly be explained by outside events – John Cooper was injured in a road accident in 1963, his father and the company’s co-founder Charles died in 1964 and as a result John sold the team in 1965.

But despite this rapid decline, their stats are still pretty good – 16 wins and 58 podiums in 129 races, which, given that they didn’t win until their 58th race, is a pretty impressive strike rate. For a brief period, they were one of the big powerhouses in F1 and it is a shame that it petered out so quickly. The last win came at South Africa in 1967, with Pedro Rodriguez in a works car stealing victory from John Love in an old privately-run Cooper. The last podium came at Monaco in 1968 courtesy of Lucien Bianchi, while the last appearance of a Cooper was in Canada the following year, courtesy of a private entry from Vic Elford, the team having already pulled out at the end of the previous year.

The name lives on, though, with links to BMW – the Cooper name is perhaps best known to the public in connection with the Mini, and this association still survives with the new car, with the John Cooper Works providing kits for it. They also now make bicycles named after F1 circuits the team won at.

Written by James Bennett

December 24, 2010 at 12:00

Posted in F1, F1 history, F1 teams

F1 Test Drivers Archive moves to WGP

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My GF1 colleague Scott Russell has kept an archive of all known F1 test drivers at his site Chequered Flag Motorsport for the past few years. It is a comprehensive list which has taken many man hours to reach the level it is at, and I am sure there are more names to add. I have been helping build it up in recent years but it is important to acknowledge that he did the bulk of the early work

Unfortunately real life has got in the way for Scott and he has decided to close CFM, so with his permission, the F1 Test Drivers Archive will now be displayed and updated here instead. I will also be adding the articles I contributed to CFM here as well

Thanks to Scott for his hard work in maintaining his site and the archive, and allowing me to receive the baton. I don’t know of any test driver archive as big as this so I plan on continuing to update it for as long as possible

Written by James Bennett

December 23, 2010 at 22:41