A look at Fota’s proposals

Fota today announced its plans for the future direction of Formula 1. Perhaps predictably, the announcement is a mixture of the sensible, the radical and the downright crazy.

Fota carried out a “global audience survey”, with participants from 17 countries and encompassing committed fans of Formula 1 as well as marginal fans and those who don’t watch F1 at all. So there is clearly an eye on trying to expand F1’s appeal without alienating the existing fanbase. The key findings of the survey are not too controversial and I expect most fans will be nodding sagely as they read the list:

  1. F1 isn’t broken, so beware ‘over-fixing’ it

    Quite right. Amid all the doom and gloom, we are all fans for a reason and that reason is because we love the sport. It is worth remembering that there isn’t much wrong with F1. Indeed, most of what is wrong with F1 stems from ill thought-out rule changes over the past decade or so.

  2. F1 needs to be more consumer-friendly

    There is little doubt about this. F1 fans are somewhat short-changed compared to other fans. Internet coverage is woeful while the fact that HD broadcasts are not yet available is nothing short of a scandal. You cannot escape the feeling that Bernie Ecclestone simply should be doing a better job catering to the fans.

  3. Major changes to qualifying format are not urgent

    For all the hand-wringing about the qualifying format, the reality is that it’s the race that matters. Attempts to make qualifying more entertaining over the past few years have only backfired, and the last thing qualifying needs is yet another strange new format. The grid would be more meritocratically formed by ditching the ridiculous “race fuel load” concept.

  4. Revisions to the points-scoring system

    There is a clear consensus that the current points system simply does not reward winners enough. The only thing that has prevented a change so far has been disagreement over what the new system should be.

  5. Evolution of pit stops and refuelling

    There is a hint that refuelling should be banned (which is will be from 2010 onwards anyway), which makes sense given the dramatic reduction in overtaking which has occurred since 1994. Pit stop strategy does add an interesting dimension though, and it would be wrong to do away with pit stops altogether.

As for Fota’s actual proposals, my reaction is more mixed.

In general, Fota are promising a more fan-friendly environment. The technical and sporting changes must be approved by the FIA first (so you can be sure they will end up being a mess anyway). But as far as I know there is nothing to stop the teams from deciding among themselves to create a more fan-friendly environment. So it is very promising to see that this is exactly what they are promising.

Fota’s suggestion of increased media access to data is a must, and I can’t wait to see what the teams will reveal to the fans this season. Nominating senior team spokesmen is also a good idea. In my view, teams are sometimes quite good at talking to the media during races. ITV certainly managed to get a lot of senior figures doing live interviews during races over the years. But to guarantee this sort of access is of course a good move.

By now, further technical restrictions (such as increasing the life of engines, gearboxes and so on) are expected and uncontroversial. The move to reduce the use of exotic materials will no doubt reduces costs considerably without spoiling the show. But beware any moves that will make F1 seem too much like a spec series. Originally kers was supposed to be a performance differentiator. Already, just one year on, all sides seem determined for there to be a standard unit. What a mess.

I am unsure about a further reduction in testing. Fota has proposed a 50% reduction. This will save money, but there are a host of disadvantages which I have already outlined in my previous post on the subject.

Fota’s proposed new points system is 12-9-7-5-4-3-2-1. Put simply, this is not enough. A two point difference between 1st and 2nd place is far too low. Three points is hardly any better. In my view, 1st place should be worth around double what 2nd place is worth.

I am sceptical of the move to share data about starting fuel loads. The real solution is to get rid of race fuel loads in qualifying. But to publish the starting fuel loads would spoil the surprise element of the strategy, which is the only decent aspect of refuelling. Tyre compounds are already public via the medium of strange green markings on the tyres, so I’m not sure what Fota are proposing that’s different.

The suggestion that one point should be awarded to the constructor that makes the fastest pitstop during the race is absolutely stark raving bonkers. Fast pitstops are rewarded anyway by on-track advantage, and should not count for anything else. I can already envisage Force Indias and Brawns that are well out of the points coming in for unnecessary pitstops, stopping for a quick half-second wipe of the visor or something, just in order to make the fastest pitstop. What a joke. I’m amazed this idea is even being taken half-seriously by Fota.

I am not so sure about the reduction in the duration of the race to 250km (from the current 305km). The key findings note that “the current race format is not viewed as fundamentally broken”, and that concepts such as sprint races would debase the F1 experience. As such, it is completely unclear on what basis Fota wants race lengths reduced. It is completely contradictory.

I wouldn’t rule out shorter races completely. It is true that often very little happens after the final pitstops have shaken out. But 90 minutes is a good length for a major sporting event and part of the essence of Formula 1 is that there is the element of endurance to it.

I think it would be a good idea for there to be a mixture of different race formats throughout a calendar. Nothing too radical. But there’s nothing wrong with having some races shorter than others. And why not have some races where refuelling is allowed, and others when it is banned? Different drivers could demonstrate their varying skills, and different cars could take advantage of their peculiar characteristics.

I suppose there could be a risk that teams will start constructing special cars (with different fuel tanks, weight distributions, etc) for different race formats. But how about having a limit on the number of chassis that each team can use in a season? After all, it worked for engines.

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