Fat Hippo’s Not-A-Rant: Why FIA should rethink their approach
Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Danilo Schoeneberg
Formula One is a dictatorship that desperately tries to masquerade as a democracy. The government in the Republic Of Formula One is FIA, but the Maximo Lidér is the short one from Suffolk and the token parliament is the assembly of teams. Theoretically, the parliament could make laws, but since the constitution of the Republic Of F1 in most cases demands a unanimous decision, it’s basically useless as with eleven different interests (10 1/2 as Toro Rosso is basically the co-depended twin of RB) a unanimous vote is basically impossible for all but the most banal decisions. So in the end all laws come either from the government or as an Ukas from the resident tyrant.
There is nothing wrong with that in and of itself, if we get rid of Muhammar al-Midget and the FIA learns, how to achieve it’s goals by encouragement instead of decree. Let me give you an example from my native Germany:
Many people will know that several portions of the German Autobahn do not have a speed limit, so you can blast along at 300kph without having to fear for your license. That’s basically true, but only half the story. Those parts of the Autobahn truly have no speed limit, but they have a ‘suggested speed’ of 130 kph. What that means is, that the more you go over 130kph, the bigger the trade-off in case of something going wrong. If you happen to have an accident, you’ll be shouldering part of the blame, even if the accident was 100% someone else’s fault. The more you exceeded the 130kph suggestion, the bigger part of the blame you’ll have to accept. The message is clear. The state says ‘We want you to stick to a 130kph limit, but you’re free to go faster, but at a price.’
The same applies to drink-n-driving. Germany has a limit of 0.5‰. That means, up until 0.5‰ driving is not illegal. That’s a wee bit more than a pint of beer or a glass of wine. The ‘suggestion’ however is to keep it under 0.3‰, about a single 0.4l beer. Which means until 0.3‰ you are perfectly fine. If you have an accident with 0.4‰ – the accident will be declared your fault. You wont get a DUI – you still were legal – but your insurance will have to pay and your premium will go up.
Both methods are surprisingly effective. Less people drive the Autobahn as if their hair’s on fire than when there was just simply no speed limit and no suggested speed and more people never drink alcohol when driving as back then when there was just ‘under 0.5 ok, over 05. DUI’. Why does it work? Because people have a choice and more importantly, they have the option to react to situations. Most people plan their journey so that they can coast along at 140kph, which is frankly a very comfortable cruising speed – not too pedestrian and not hectic either. That’s over 130kph, but the trade-off is relatively minor and it is still significantly faster than what most other European countries have – a strict 120kph limit. If you get stuck in a jam and lose 20 minutes, you can decide: Do you accept being late and stick to 140, or do you accept the financial (and potential health) risk and go faster to make up some of the time. If you have a strict limit, you are stuffed in any case – you’re either late or risk your license, since with today’s speed camera technology, you are very likely to be caught.
That is where the FIA approach comes into play. The best case is for this is testing. Right now the FIA says – you have “x” testing days and that’s it. If you need to catch up on development, because you started on the back foot, you’re eff’ed. And you’re doubly punished too, as due to the lack of testing you’ll fall further and further behind, meaning, you’ll drop down in the constructors’ championship and will be slapped financially when the payout comes for the next season. The Red Bull dominance of 2011 and 2013 was down to one thing and one thing only – the testing ban. Should Ferrari have had the chance to test at Fiorano until the cows come home, they would have clawed back and would have had the chance to give RB a run for the money.
They wasted time and money on a big Barcelona update which turned out useless, because they couldn’t test it. That’s a ridiculous situation.
But wouldn’t that just be favouring the big teams over the midfield and the small teams? Of course it would, because unlimited testing is what German Autobahn was in the early 90s – no limit and no difference whether you went 130 or 230. What we need is a ‘suggested test limit’. Lets say FIA defines a suggested test limit of 5000km. For the teams at the back it won’t make no difference as they probably won’t have the money to finance 10-15 testing days. But that’s just mirroring real life on the Autobahn. If you struggle to make ends meet, you have a horrid 3-cylinder eco-box that hardly reaches 130 kph anyway.
So what then about the trade-off? Well, that’s so simple, it probably makes too much sense for FIA to even consider it. For every started 1.000km (roughly one testing day) you go over the testing limit, 2% of the FIA/Bernie money you’ll get after the season will be docked and goes into a ‘resource fund’. This means a team can rack up a mammoth 55,000 testing kilometres legally, but the trade-off is, they won’t get a single cent from FIA/Bernie and all the jolly millions go to the fund.
What to do with the fund then? Now, that’s again extremely simple. Whatever piles up in the fund is distributed among the teams that stayed below the suggested test limit. The less testing you did, the bigger your portion of the fund. Theoretically that might lead to the top teams pouring huge money into simulators and ending up with minimum testing, hence getting even more money back…
No it won’t… Why should this scheme be restricted to testing days? Have the team’s simulators scrutinized and sealed by FIA like cars are and make software modules mandatory that prevent a simulator being activated without a FIA activation code. Each activation code (ordered and delivered via network connection) gives 1,000 simulator km. Each team has a suggested limit of 5,000 sim kilometres. each activation code past the fifth one – another 2% disappear into the fund. Next step: engines. Suggested limit is 5 engines. Every extra engine – 2%. Have 25,000 testing km’s, 25,000 sim km’s and 5 extra engines and all your money goes to the fund.
See a pattern here? That’s what I would call effective resource restriction management and it’s easy to police, too. Every test has to be registered with FIA – easy to track. Simulators can only be activated with a FIA activation code – very easy to track. Number of engines used – very easy to track. Teams have to decide how to spend their resources and the system works by encouragement to use less instead of indiscriminate punishment for overspending. If Ferrari or Red Bull decide to charge ahead by outspending the others in terms of testing hours, engines used, simulator running – fine – but every euro they spend over the suggested limits, trickles down to those that compete with less resource use.
What then, if a team already has blown 100% of their FIA/Bernie money into the resource fund, but want to continue guzzling resources? Very simple, the system continues to count. Imagine Red Bull wins the WDC and WCC (like I suspect was done this year) by simply out-simulating all other teams? I have no exact numbers, but I would be surprised if RB has done less than 55,000km in the simulator in 2013. That’s an astronomical advantage over a team like Marussia, which doesn’t have a simulator at all. Add to that the fact that RB had to send both Webber and Seb out at Monza, knowing that their gearboxes were already wonky, but the allotment ran thin.
In the ‘Hippo Resource Management’ they simply would have changed them, the extra gearboxes would have cost them 2% each, bringing their ‘fund donation’ to 104%. RB would still have won the WCC, but probably with less gap on Merc and Ferrari, who would have ‘donated’, too and at huge costs. Let’s say their FIA/Bernie money for 2014 would amount to 76 million Euro. They’ve blown all of that into the fund and have to pay 4% of that (3,4 million) of resource fine, because they even overspent 100% of their prize-money. People at Marussia, Caterham, Sauber and Williams would help themselves to a brewery with the money coming in, or, if they’d be sensible they’d invest it into being more competitive next year.
There also needs to be a provision against teams deliberately trying to ‘harvest’ more money from the “fund”. For that a factor can be calculated that determines the success/resource rate. If Williams and Marussia both have used only 3 test days and no extra engines, but Williams is 8th and Marussia 11th, the crew from Grove will of course get more of the payout, but Marussia would still get a fair slice of dough.
Could such a system work? I think so. It especially opens options for midfield teams. Tense battles, like the Force India/Sauber/McLaren three-way fight could have been changed by Force India risking 4% of their payout for two testing days, but the payout would have risen, had they overhauled McLaren due to it. And it makes resource use and spending much easier to police. Listen FIA, feel free to implement it – the Hippo is a beer drinker. Deliver it in small bottles to the pond.