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.