Voice of the #F1 Fans: Meaningful Changes beginning to surface in Formula 1

Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Heidi Wolff

At last week’s Wednesday Strategy Group meeting in Biggin Hill, ahead of the British GP, the members discussed several items that could be fast tracked into place in order to make the current on-track ‘product’ more appealing. There is no doubt that Formula 1 is losing popularity with motor sport fans around the world and the proposals made at the gathering of F1’s elite could go some way to improving the on track action, making it more interesting and exciting.

One of the items on the agenda, was a revision of the engine penalty system that is currently in use. At the Austrian GP, F1 received a tirade of criticism from all and sundry when drivers were penalised by more grid slot drops than were available in two whole GP’s.

Under the current stringent penalties for using more engines the the allotted four per driver, teams whose engine suppliers are having a difficult year could spend the majority of the second half of the season starting at the back of the grid. This isn’t great for their fans or sponsors alike.

The most likely change will be that should a driver exceed his engine allocation for the season, they will just start from the back of the grid rather than face the in this fate plus a range of incremental time penalties during the race.

There is more than one suggestion on offer because a fax vote will take place on the final regulation change at the meeting of the World Motorsport Council in Mexico next week.

Starting at the back of the grid is a tough penalty for anyone, except maybe the Mercedes cars. The reason being that the 2015 aerodynamics regulations appear to be creating huge turbulence behind the cars preventing overtaking. However, there is still hope without the additional time penalties a driver may make it into the points.

Although Formula One is a team sport, it doesn’t seem quite right the drivers suffer for this kind of rules infringement in the same manner the engine supplier should.

Another related matter was agreed in Biggin Hill. New engine manufacturers like Honda will now be allowed an additional engine during their first season. Given the complexity of the hybrid technology that Formula 1 has insisted upon, this is a sensible decision because clearly new power unit manufacturers face challenges that the others have already had time to rectify.

There has been a lot of debate within the sport over the past year on improving the ‘independence’ of the driver from what sounds at times like nannying from the pit wall during races.

Clearly driving a modern Formula One car is a complex issue for the drivers and Max Verstappen suggested it was 80% technical activity and 20% driving.

Further, it has to be better if the F1 cars are more manually operated – particularly at the start of a race. Fans want to see the skill – and mistakes – of the drivers at this critical moment in the battle. Manual starts return the focus to the skill of a driver and a reduced emphasis on automated technologies.

There is one potential risk with this reversion to the manual starts of yesteryear. Will we see the kind of horrific crashes when a driver completely fails to get his car going and others starting 50-60 metres behind blindly run into the back of a stalled car on the grid?

Turning to the radio communications we hear at present. At times it feels as though a driver is getting way too much information from the pit wall during a race.  Surely we shouldn’t be hearing engineers telling their pilots to turn this knob or flip that switch several times a race. The drivers need to improve their knowledge of the controls on the car and then figure out solutions to their problems themselves.

In an era when technology is so fundamental part of the cars, as the radio traffic assistance from the pit wall decreases, then the best all round drivers of the current F1 cars will rise to the top.

In times of crisis, then radio assistance should be allowed to resolve an issue that requires the car to be returned to the garage –  or should the car breaking down become a hazard to the other drivers.

It seems these agreed changes by the F1 strategy group are a step in the right direction for Formula 1. We should see increased unpredictability and improved on track action – which may contribute to attracting more fans to the sport once more.

Without the fans, there is no Formula 1.  All that would remain would be a technical R&D exercise with technologically advanced cars, driven by dummies, circulating again an again while the engineers and strategists collect data.

19 responses to “Voice of the #F1 Fans: Meaningful Changes beginning to surface in Formula 1

  1. There could be a cost cutting measure added here along the lines of the driver having to control the cars functions more. Simply limit the amount of options allowed on a steering wheel (or cockpit in general for clever clogs engineers). Will be less for the driver to adjust making the driving more important. Also less adjustments must surely save money?

  2. Great to hear that our voices are being heard,nice piece Hiedi,thank-you.
    I did read earlier that Max has very little time for such groups and has snubbed the drivers union fan questionnaire and members. Maybe it’s a cultural thing and his thoughts are being misread as arrogant but it’s clear from the team owners/drivers/staff and fans that there is a problem with the current formula so these polls are an important marker and it looks like for once they are getting something done about it. I for one would like to see all radio help totally banned and replaced with a transponder that can down load info once it passes a set point and only send and not receive, bring back a pit board the same as motogp,this will bring drivers back into the sport

  3. I really do not get why people don’t like driver aids or coaching or what have you. Isn’t this supposed to be the pinnacle of motorsport technology? Shouldn’t the cars be so complicated that the driver can’t possibly control them (like fighter jets that are so high performance that they can’t be flown without computer control?)?? It takes a series of computers and a team of engineers in the pits and back home at the factory to make each race possible, as if it’s a space mission … the driver is lapping so fast that the limitation is his ability to actually see and react at those kind of g-forces … where if he’s not adjusting the engine mode up on the straights his rivals will pass him but if he’s not turning it down for the corners his engine will explode because it’s being pushed to it’s limit … etc.

    Idk, must just be me though …

    • The simple answer is that too much technology takes away the variability.

      Remember in the past when a Leyton House nearly won the French GP? Ditto Damon in the Arrows in Hungary.

      Those things are only possible if the only way to set up and manage a car is driver and engineer skill. Once you get more people in a team pouring over data looking to optimise performance to the nth degree then you will always get cars performing within a few percent of their maximum.

      I think it all depends what you want F1 to be. It you want a technically superior formula then you will never get exciting racing all the time.

      If you want exciting racing you need to take away the gadgets and reduce the technology that can go in to the car design.

      There is probably more effort put in to designing an F1 car than goes in to your average road car but very little of that effort can be transferred to anything actually useful.

      • I think that there will be a few drivers struggling in Spa once the ban on driver aids goes into effect. I wonder how Nico will do.

  4. It was this precise reason that the 2012 season was so good at the first part. The teams just could not understand the tyres and hence it was left to the drivers to guess when they will fall off the cliff and that in turn provided great racing through the field. From the second half where the team got to grips with the tyres, it became a bit mundane.

    • I believe they reverted to the older spec tyres which were already well understood. The first 8 races were run with Kevlar sidewalls, which would deform and ruin the aero under lateral loads and heavy torque, making car behavior unpredictable and pissing RedBull off tremendously. Then, because the teams were all running tyres outside spec in an effort to make them more predictable, they all exploded during British GP and they went back to previous design. At the time I quipped Michelin man had been seen late at night at the back of the kerbs with an angle grinder, but the truth is FiA allowed teams to run tyres in unsafe manner and when it went sideways Pirelli got the blame.

      • Actually this is good question: Was Pirelli responsible for imposing tyre usage constraints, or the FIA? At the time Autosport ran a piece dropping it all onto Pirelli’s laps, as Pirelli was the one watching teams use tyres outside specs and keeping mum…

        • My ultimate understanding was that Pirelli were telling the teams not to do it but that they did it anyway. I don’t know if Pirelli formally went to the FIA and asked for them to intercede but I have a hard time thinking that they didn’t broach the subject as I recall in particular RB having some issues running tyres outside camber recommendations prior to Silverstone. What i do know is that subsequently FIA did issue a TD I believe telling teams tyres had to be run according to Pirelli specs, indicating that they indeed had the regulatory power to compel them, but had not exercised it prior to Silverstone. As far as I’m concerned that puts it very much in the lap of FIA and CW.

  5. Anything about banning radio communications between team and driver *during* the race completely ? The only way we can see drivers start to think again about the way they are racing live instead of being coached all the way through like Max Verstappen is to just let them slug it out on the track on their own. And that would also help raise the contribution of the racers as people in the race, the performance from the cars will remain of course but that’s one way of bringing the human element back in race (especially if like in the last GP, we get changeable weather conditions).

    • Outright coaching over the radio should be banned. But I don’t think it would be a sensible idea to ban radio communications during a race completely. As there are some situations where radio communications are vital for safety or indeed for a driver deciding to change tyres in changeable weather conditions. You have to give the pit crews enough time to get ready for a pitstop, so everyone is in the right place to avoid getting hurt. Race control also needs to hear driver views on the conditions and for penalties to be passed on. But in that instance I’d merely have the team say what the penalty is and leave it up to the driver to come in as per regulations.

    • Agreed. Give the drivers a one way link so they can tell the pit when they’re coming in for tyres, or ask for certain info on their pit board etc. Then the “show” will still include the drivers voices. Secondly give Charlie a multicast link to all the drivers so they can be told about specific hazards. E.g. “Car no. 44, you have front wing damage” and let the drivers decide if they want to pit.
      They can have all the info they need to drive the car from the steering wheel, and any strategy changes relayed to them via the pit board. Otherwise the teams will just find a way round it.
      It could be argued cycle racing has suffered in the same way with the riders constantly being told over the radio what’s happening in the race around them.
      It’s meant to be a sport not a space mission.

      • Fair call about the coming in the pits for a pit-stop, but you can just have a button or something on the steering wheel for the driver to let his team know when he is coming in for new tyres. The multicast link from Charlie to the drivers is actually an excellent idea, especially if there were accidents or pending investigations, let the drivers know directly. I would argue that you can still do away with having to tell your crew *verbally* that you are coming in.

        The kind of messages that bug me is the “Lift and coast”, “Cool down your brakes”, “Keep an eye on the front left”, coaching as taperoo2k said should be outright banned. What do you think the drivers are doing, having a nap in the car ? If the race engineer is so brilliant he can replace the driver in the car and go do a better job on the track. Drivers (at least the best ones) are paid millions to drive these machines, let them figure out how to get the car to the finish line in one piece and as quickly as they can. That has to be completely phased out and I do think that it is possible to completely remove verbal communication between teams and drivers during the race without compromising the racing itself.

          • There would end up looking like slot cars and all of the unpredictability of human error would be gone too. I’m not sure how exciting that would be to watch for racing fans.

  6. Something else that concerns me are the changes that Toto mentioned Formula1.com. Is the strategy group looking to have a Frankensteined classic Formula 1 type car? Are the aerodynamic changes going to cause some 8f the “dirty air” type problems that Formula 1 saw pre 2009? I see smoke and mirrors that may backfire badly. What needs to be done is allow the creativity back in Formula 1. Have only the basic safety regulations and things like the same cockpit for driver safety but let the engineers, etc have their freedom. The manufacturers can justify the spend this way and, with Renault likely buying Lotus, the have nots are going to shrink in number. If the smaller teams’ executive and operational staff are desperate enough to stay in the game that is Formula 1, they’ll hook up with a manufacturer when things get dire enough. I would love it if Formula 1 took on the creative mindset of the robot building competitions then you’d see interesting cars and the competition would get interesting too. Toto and the other team principals need to have a serious conversation with their technical staff to get their ideas on how to improve the cars and on track product because they probably have a better idea about what the fans want to see than the principals do.

    I also wonder if Formula 1 wants Michelin to enter the sport to give Pirelli some competition and keep them on their toes.

    These items brought forth from the strategy group’s meeting last week are short term seemingly knee jerk reactions. Toto and the rest of the strategy group need to think about the long term vision for Formula 1 and how that vision can be more fancentric. The British GP had all of the elements of what a GP should be and Formula 1 valley is always a huge part of that but not all of the GPs have those elements so the crisis in Formula 1 is not over and there are definite issues that still need to be addressed and short term band aids could make it look unattractive and frustrating as hearing the drivers constantly saying that they have to look after their tires instead of pushing hard and racing.

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