Monday, 4 April 2016

Round 2: Fixing Formula 1

I used to write a lot more about Formula 1. This is obviously not in a professional capacity at all, it's purely because I enjoy writing about a sport I've followed for over 25 years and if the occasional person enjoys a little read then all the better.

However, my output has steadily decreased over the last year. Not because I haven't been enjoying the racing (although admittedly 2015 was nowhere near being a classic... or good come to that), but because the constant political wrangling behind the scenes was beginning to just do my head in, to be ever so slightly flippant. I mean I like a bit of political intrigue in the F1 world, but this is now threatening the life of Formula 1. 

The governance of the sport has been sorely lacking for a while now, the teams, although often trying to appear to be on the side of the fans are often on the side of themselves, the drivers are often ignored.

So let's start with the present furore over qualifying. Last year and for the nine years previously we have been using a three session system where 5 or 6 cars get knocked out in each of the first two sessions leaving the final session with 10 cars going for pole position. It worked nicely, it was generally exciting, it caused the occasional upset. 

A few weeks before the 2016 season started the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone conjured up a new system with the aim of mixing up the grid to create better racing forgetting that this is not WWE and is in fact a sport. Nobody asked for a change in qualifying as there was nothing wrong with it but a change was eventually somehow voted through. The teams warned it wasn't likely to be good but common sense is something that long vanished from this sport.

At the first round in Australia it was rubbish, leaving the track empty by the end and any hope of a top runner messing up would have been just as likely with the old system. The teams all agreed to go back to the 2015 system but as there has to be unanimity for a change to be made in-season, this was blocked by the various structures that govern the sport. So despite everyone hating it, it stayed for the second race of the season. Guess what? Yep, wasn't great a second time round either.

The FIA and the Commercial Rights Holder offered an alternative of an aggregate system for the next race in China, again forgetting that everyone wants the old system and that an aggregate system in 2005 was dropped mid-season because it didn't allow for the spectacular foot to the floor on the edge laps that can grab pole position in the dying seconds which the likes of Lewis Hamilton excel at and makes for thrilling viewing.

This looks like it will run and run because it's not really about qualifying at all, as various journalists and broadcasters have said this is a battle ground for control of the sport which I won't get into right now. The qualifying saga is just a symptom of how poorly run this sport has become. 

There are many things that need to be sorted, the inequitable distribution of money to the teams (Sauber in particular are operating close to the line), the sums charged to the circuits which constantly means traditional tracks are up against it because they're not funded by some middle eastern royalty or a corrupt government somewhere (which I suppose could be anywhere). 

The messing around with the rules,the lack of a long term strategy, the sport being put on pay-tv thereby reducing overall viewing figures and sponsorship value and then wondering why viewing figures are falling and teams aren't getting enough money in, oh it must be the product, lets mess around with it.

Most importantly Commercial Rights Holders, the private equity firm CVC to sucking money out of the sport. Ideally somehow the European Commission (a complaint has been made to the European Competition Directorate by two teams) would tear up the current contracts governing the commercial rights but this could take years.

So here are a few thoughts which in an ideal world would be implemented.

  • The FIA to appoint someone experienced in the world of Formula 1 to have over all control of the rule making side of the sport, someone like Ross Brawn. He would head a group of Formula 1 engineers to produce a 10 year road map for the sport so there is stability within the rules. However his decision would be the final decision with no team (looking at you Ferrari) having the right of Veto. 
  • Technical regulations to remain partially road relevant but not to forget that these are meant to be exciting prototypes that should be raced to the edge. Rules to ensure close racing with more mechanical grip and less reliance on aerodynamics should be pushed through allowing us to get rid of gimmicks like DRS (although useful right now).
  • To remember that this is a sport. Yes it should be entertaining but not at the expense of sporting purity. There should be no reverse grids, or qualifying sprint races, there is simply no need to mess around with the sport. You're not always going to get a thriller, but mostly the races are fine,some good, some great and some spectacular. There are many football games which are boring, but the authorities there don't suddenly think, we need to spice this up, lets stick an extra ball on the pitch.
  • If CVC are still the commercial rights holder they would re-negotiate the current deals with the teams so that all teams receive the same amount of money, apart from any prize money resulting from their finishing positions in the constructors championship and sponsorship gained. Teams would agree for the good of the sport (yeah right).
  • To keep the teams as even as possible a budget cap of $100-150 million to be imposed.
  • A forward looking strategy for broadcasting the sport on TV and the internet. Some sports already broadcast on their own websites and on Youtube. This doesn't mean charging the earth though. The main objective should be to get the sport out to as many people as possible to create a new fan base.
  • Securing traditional race tracks such as Monza, Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps on the calendar. A fairer deal for these circuits to allow them to make a profit and stop the sport heading to places which have no motor sport tradition and takes away from the core audience. In an ideal world there would be a core group of around 10-12 races with another six rotating every year to allow new events. Most importantly, make the races more of an event and something to be looked forward to.

If these were implemented I think we could look forward to a sustainable and exciting future for Formula 1. However, until Bernie Ecclestone departs its unlikely anything will change, especially while his 'employer' CVC are the main shareholders of the Formula One Group. Bernie did a lot of great things for Formula 1, but it is increasingly obvious he has lost touch and only wants few more dollars. If he's not careful his legacy will be how he destroyed a once great sport.

It would also be nice if FIA president Jean Todt decided to care about the sport, but the one thing he's tried to do recently is push a qualifying system no one wants, so perhaps it's best he stays away. The likelihood of anything changing soon is sadly not going to happen, but with the teams beginning to publicly voice their exasperation, the drivers stating their desire in an open letter to see the sports current governance abolished we can see that this current situation may just come to a head sooner rather than later. Hopefully it'll be for the better.

The race and a lot of positives from the Bahrain Grand Prix

So after all that negativity lets get on with some nice things. The Bahrain Grand Prix was a pretty good race, there wasn't anything overly spectacular about it but there were plenty of positives to take from it regarding the championship and there was some brilliant action through the field which was entertaining.

Overall the race had plenty of passing a lot of good strategy difference which helped to spice up the action and some great attacking and defensive driving.  As I mentioned in my Australian review, the extra tyre compound is really adding to the races and mixing it up nicely. It's a nice extra element on the strategy side which is actually adding something good to the sport.

Romain Grosjean once again starred for new team Haas with fifth, while Stoffel Vandoorne finished 10th putting in an assured debut for McLaren in place of the injured Fernando Alonso. Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo took his second consecutive fourth place, his form looks promising and I can't wait for him to get the Renault power unit upgrade later in the season. Hopefully it'll really let him challenge.

Other notable performances came from Pascal Wehrlein in the Manor, he finished 13th but it was probably the first time in a normal dry race that Manor were really able to properly race with the other teams since they started competing in 2010, I think Wehrlein is a major part of that. 

A quick shout out to Marcus Ericsson finishing 12th for Sauber with some nice defensive driving while Kevin Magnussen came from the pit lane to finish 11th in the under developed Renault.

It was a disappointing day for Williams and Force India who despite having problems during the race just didn't seem to have the pace.

Meanwhile at the front Nico Rosberg made it two from two with a fairly easy drive to victory after a great start put him in the lead from second on the grid. For the second race in a row Lewis Hamilton's start wasn't the best, this time there was an attack from Valtteri Bottas that dropped Lewis  to seventh. He managed to climb back up to third despite damage. Bottas got a drive through penalty and could only manage ninth.

Kimi Raikkonen in the Ferrari finished second after making his own bad start and having to mount a come back with some great passing. Sebastian Vettel didn't even survive the formation lap, suffering an engine failure. It would have been good to see how much closer he could have got to Rosberg as he was a little quicker than Kimi all weekend. Reliability seems to be Ferrari's major problem so far this year. However, they are certainly closer and I think they'll be making Mercedes work increasingly hard as the season progresses.

With Rosberg's win giving him a 17 point gap to Hamilton, it's now time for Lewis to start coming back at him. Already we're looking like we're going to be getting a much more exciting title battle than we had in 2015.

all photographs taken from

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