To ensure any form of racing is more exciting, increasing the levels of unpredictability will deliver this to a greater or lesser degree. There has been almost a universal clamour from all quarters of the F1 paddock to ‘improve the show’, yet peel back the layers of superficiality and a truck load of self interest lies behind each new suggestion.
F1 is having an identity crisis at present and Williams’ Rob Smedley queries, “Formula 1 really has to decide what it is, like football has to decide what it is. Is it a sport or is it entertainment?”
As suggested, unpredictability will always up the entertainment value – but there is a fine line between a contrived set of rules for competition, and a level playing field.
Back in ‘the day’, Formula One had natural levels of unpredictability as prototype designs of engines, suspension and other components regularly failed – because boundaries were being pushed. This year, McHonda have demonstrated how frustrating it often was when your favourite team pushed the boundaries of technology, but repeatedly fail to make the finish – or even the start – line.
In the FIA’s push for cost reduction, reliability in F1 power units has been forced to improve. Yet the counter side of this mission is that predictability has also increased. Add to this the threat of a 75 place grid penalty drop, and the Q&A department of each F1 team have grown quickly in their importance. Further, F1 power unit manufacturers regularly restrict their possible power output to ensure longevity, though at the the cost of pace right now.
Statistical probability has permeated each and every department of each and every Formula One team, such that the notion of durability now reigns complete over those of risk and increased speed.
One way to improve unpredictability in Formula One has been via the tyres. Pirelli have a mandate to construct tyres that degrade to such a level, that the teams are forced into changing the wheels on each car two or three times each race. This mandate from year to year has been met with varying degrees of success and relatively, 2015 has been a failure.
That said, Pirelli’s opportunity to test is almost zero, unlike the teams who have several hours at each GP weekend. The Italian tyre manufacturer has had to fight tooth and nail to be given a post season tyre test, where the new extreme soft tyre for 2016 will be tested.
“To be honest, it’s not nearly enough,” says Paul Hembery. “It’s just one day, but at least we have top teams and a lot of the top drivers who will be testing to give us some feedback to the changes we’re making”. The Pirelli super-soft, soft, medium and hard compounds used will remain the same for 2016, though Pirelli intend to implement certain structural changes to the tyre, to ensure when its life is over – the teams cannot continue to run it for lap after lap.
In the pursuit of planned unpredictability, Pirelli should be lauded – because the last time they changed the structure of the tyres – they became the subject of a Red Bull witch-hunt that eventually saw the 2013 tyres altered mid-season.
However, even Pirelli are not prepared to allow ‘unfettered’ unpredictability. Earlier this year, Force India brought a suggestion to improve the entertainment in F1 by allowing the teams to choose the two tyre compounds they run for a given race weekend. However, Pirelli have made it clear, they do not wish this to be a free for all and are now recommending Pirelli identify the three best tyre compounds for any given F1 race weekend, and the teams can choose to run two of these.
Further, the new ‘extreme soft’ tyre has been introduced to offer more pace for fewer laps with the possible result of a smaller team gambling on selecting these tyres – though inappropriate for the race – but to nail pole positon in qualifying. This surely would bring new levels of excitement for the dwindling TV audiences on Saturday.
The softest compound available this year was used just for Monaco, Canada, Austria, Singapore, Russia and in Abu Dhabi. The result was that a number of these events saw low tyre degradation together with just 1 pit stop races. Yet Pirelli is now suggesting, the new extreme soft tyre may only be allowed for the three street races in 2016.
Should Pirelli just let the teams choose freely from their dry tyre range – or control th selection and therefore reduce the unpredictability as they propose.