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F1 - How it should be // Changing regulations keep the sport on its toes, but here's the ideal

Published by Steven Roy

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Credit: Glenn Dunbar/LAT Photographic

Due to the ban on re-fuelling there has been a great deal of discussion on the rules of F1 and what constitutes an F1 race. I had never intended to write such a long piece on the subject but I have found myself writing many long comments and still not getting my point across well enough. There are so many aspects that are inter-related that it is impossible to cover them in any comment however long. So I decided I had to write this to explain my thoughts and to encourage people to think more about what they want from the sport. Don't just decide if you agree or disagree with individual aspects of the sport but make sure you know what you want the whole package to be. It's easy to say I like one bit and don't like another bit but the whole thing has to work as a package. In all the surveys people say they want more overtaking and they think F1 should be a high tech formula. Well you can't have both. History shows the higher tech the car the more difficult overtaking is.

My over-riding principle is that the sport does not exist as like a film, a play or a TV program put on purely for our entertainment. It exists as a sporting contest between drivers and teams and the most important thing for me is that the rules should be framed to make the result of the contest representative of the performance of the participants and should not include fake components to spice up the show to the detriment of the sporting contest.

The other important point to start with is that F1 didn't not arrive at its current form as a result of divine pre-destination or logical or evolutionary path. F1 is as it is today as the result of numerous decisions made over countless years by people who had no idea where it would end up and none of them would ever have anticipated it being as it is. The status quo therefore is not some sacred cow that should not be interfered with. People have a natural dislike of change and the normal response to any major change is that if such a change is made F1 will not be F1 any more. If you ban wings F1 will not be F1 any more. Of course had some long forgotten scrutineer at the end of the 60s declared wings to be illegal and had banned them the same people who instantly react against the idea of their removal today would be equally outraged if someone threatened to introduce them or worse still to mandate them. The same applies to every other aspect of the sport.

F1 isn't F1 any more and has not been for a very long time

If F1 had remained F1 and nothing had been restricted since the world championship started in 1950 the sport would look very different today. Firstly we would not have 2.4 litre V8 engines. We would have the choice of 4.5 litre normally aspirated or 1.5 litre supercharged / turbocharged in any layout you like. When turbo-charged engines reached their peak they were producing 1500 bhp in qualifying so now they could have 2000bhp(?) in the race and 2500bhp(?) in qualifying. Of course they could have turbochargers, superchargers or both. The cars would not be fed the current fuel but a vastly developed version of the 1980s jungle juice fuel that caused the eyes of following drivers to water such was its composition.

That power would not go through a gearbox that is anything like we have today. It would go through a constantly variable transmission (CVT). When David Coulthard was the Williams test driver he spent days pounding round Silverstone in a car with CVT but before they could race it the FIA decided to ban it.

The power would be delivered to 4 or more wheels, as cars having more than 4 wheels were not banned until the 1980s. March had a car with 4 driven rear wheels while Tyrrell won a race in a car with 4 front wheels so for F1 still to be F1 the cars could have up to 8 wheels (even more) with power delivered to all of them..

The cars would be twin chassis and have fan assisted full ground effect with sliding skirts and active suspension and ride height control. That could produce 8 or 9G of downforce and coupled with the engine specification cars would be lapping tens of seconds faster than they are now.

So when you examine how far removed we are from where we would have been you can see that F1 has been massively restricted in the past so adding further restrictions is not in anyway against the spirit or the history of the sport.

Imagine the OWG ran their tests and decided that they had to remove the front wing.

One of the big problems with the love of the status quo is that when the people in power make changes to F1 they start from where we are now and modify the regulations rather than writing a specification for what they want to achieve and design a formula to meet those requirements. Recently we had the Overtaking Working Group (OWG) including the technical directors of some of the top teams draw up a set of technical regulations to improve overtaking. As everyone knows they failed and one of the reasons they failed was they were trying to modify what we have now while trying to satisfy the brief of the OWG and their team bosses. It has long been known that the biggest contributor to the lack of overtaking is the front wing of the cars. Imagine the OWG ran their tests and decided that they had to remove the front wing. Now imagine Paddy Lowe telling Martin Whitmarsh that they had decided to remove one of the prime sponsor sites from the car. As a result of their multiple responsibilities the OWG was guaranteed to fail from the day it was first suggested. The FIA has to write the rules and if there is no-one there capable of doing it they should hire someone like Gary Anderson to do it.

Specification

So what do I want my formula to do? To me F1 is about drivers first and foremost. I want races that are decided on the track and not in the pits or by teams of statisticians on a different continent from the race. The very essence of motor racing is two drivers competing for the same piece of tarmac not two tacticians trying to find the piece of tarmac that is going to be unoccupied long enough for their driver to make up time against a driver on another piece of tarmac.

I want the skill of the driver to be the over-riding factor that decides who wins and who loses. The car and the team that runs it will always have a major influence but we have to have a situation where it can be clearly seen that driving ability is the most important factor.

Description

I think the easiest way for me to frame this is to describe my formula taking the major components one at a time and explain my thinking. All the components have to be considered together to make sense.

If the drivers are going to be the deciding factor and races are to be decided on the track, routine planned pit stops are not acceptable. So a grand prix will be 26 drivers leaving the start line and racing to the chequered flag with no-one else touching the car. The opportunity to make pit stops for repairs has to be included in the rules so as to prevent them being misused. Only one mechanic will be allowed to handle wheels or wheel guns in the pit lane and in the event someone has to stop for a minor repair that would allow a new set of tyres, only one wheel may be changed in a pit stop. Should it prove that it is a feasible strategy to make such a pit stop for a new tyre, a time penalty will be added to the regulations from the next race to stop this becoming common practice. This would take the form of a minimum time for a driver to be stopped in the pits. If a driver stops in his pits he will not be allowed to move for at least 60 seconds.

This illustrates something that will be different about the regulations for the formula although I will not do it for the rest of this article for reasons of brevity. Anywhere there is the obvious potential for a regulation to be abused a fix will be specified up front. This not only prevents any dispute after the event but should discourage teams from spending money trying to circumnavigate the rules when they know that the loophole would immediately be closed.

For a formula to allow races to be decided on the track there will need to be major changes to the circuits and the cars.

Circuits

It goes without saying that circuit design has been heading in the wrong direction for some time. For my formula there will be certain requirements for the circuits regardless of how much the circuit owner is prepared to pay. While some of the historic circuits will be retained there will be a clear specification for new circuits. Firstly circuits will be longer than has been the case. The best of the current circuits are Spa and Suzuka both of which are amongst the longest of the current circuits and don't have any more corners than the shorter circuits. So no circuit under 4.5 miles long will be added to the calendar.

Any track on flat land will have to be very special to get a race. It is no coincidence that the best circuits have a lot of elevation change. Imagine if Spa was on flat land. Eau Rouge would be nothing. Circuits like Silverstone and Monza have shown that flat tracks can work and the thing they have in common is that they have very few genuine corners. Valencia has 23 corners. Monza pre-chicanes, when the overtaking was of epic proportions, had Curva Grande, two Lesmos, Ascari and Parabolica. 5 corners in 3 miles and it produced some of the best and closest races in history. So, flat tracks with 3 or more corners per mile will not be accepted.

Unfortunately Monaco is a necessity but other than that there will be no street tracks or races in city centres. I look forward to 10 new tracks winding their way for 5 or 6 miles up and down through open hilly country.

Cars

The cars need to to be able to race because that is the whole point of this formula. It is generally acknowledged that the thing that stops cars passing each other is that the following car loses downforce from its front wing and therefore can't get close to the preceding car in a corner and therefore cannot overtake on the following straight. This has been a problem for many years and Gilles Villeneuve who is my yardstick for racing purity complained about this same problem. Needless to say the problem has become a lot worse since his time as these overtaking statistics show. By pure coincidence they start the year after Gilles died.

The design philosophy of the cars is simple. They will have minimum downforce. They will have more mechanical grip than aerodynamic grip and they will have more power than grip.

Wings will be banned. Of course the teams will protest on the grounds sponsors like to see their names on wings so should a team choose to do so they can add a March 711 tea tray wing which is nice and flat so the sponsors will like it more as their logo will be easier to see. Any change to the status quo is guaranteed to result in claims that the new version is not as safe. When commercial aeroplanes changed from propellers to jet engines many people said they felt unsafe because they couldn't see the propeller but anyone used to jets getting into a plane with propellers will think it is not as safe because the propellers are exposed and vulnerable. So when I introduce my new rules I expect people to tell me it is less safe. They will be wrong.

There is no reason for racing cars to generate 4G of downforce

There will need to be some downforce generated by the car but that can be done by shaping the underbody. This will be done in a way that limits the downforce that can be achieved. Should the teams come up with some clever way to generate more than 1 G of downforce a standard underbody will be introduced. There is no reason for racing cars to generate 4G of downforce. My regulations will result in higher straight line speeds, slower cornering speeds and longer braking distances which should increase the chances for overtaking when considered along with the ability of cars to follow each other through corners. This will also mean the drivers will not need to live like monks and train like Olympic athletes in order to be able to sustain the loads of these forces on their bodies. Race driving should be about finesse not fitness.

The overall width of the cars will stay the same but significantly wider rear wheels and tyres will be mandated. This will not only serve to increase mechanical grip but it will also increase drag and screw up the aerodynamics of the car without creating a wake that will affect a following car. 54% of the drag of current F1 cars comes from the wheels so making wheels wider will add significant drag. Tyres will not be restricted as is currently the case. The object is to allow drivers to race on track so the tyre supplier - there is only going to be one - will supply 4 dry compounds to all races and the drivers may use these however they like. If they want to mix compounds that is their choice. There will be no restriction on the number of tyres they can run in practise as that is an artificial restriction and not in keeping with the spirit of the formula.

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Credit: Bridgestone Motorsport

Cost is always an issue so I intend to take a lot of the cost out of entering my formula. Cars look the way they do now for one reason. Carbon composites can be shaped in ways that metals never could so designers can make far more complicated shapes than could their predecessors. Of course every variation in shape needs to be tested in a wind tunnel and/or CFD and the more complicated the possible shapes the more expensive the testing. So I am going to help the teams save money. No part of the car other than the monocoque and safety structures can be made from carbon materials. All bodywork etc will be made from a specified aluminium alloy. That will eliminate a lot of pointless research on new materials that gives no real benefit to the sporting contest but massively increases costs. It will also mean that tracks being covered in carbon shrapnel if there is a minor bump will be a thing of the past.

A lot of money is spent researching the aerodynamics of suspension. This is an utterly futile activity that serves no purpose so all suspension components will be made from a specified aluminium alloy and must be round in section. That not only eliminates a lot of research but adds a little more drag that will help overtaking. It will also allow the teams to change suspension geometry more easily. They will only have to worry about how the suspension is behaving as a suspension and not be concerned about what it is doing to the aerodynamics.

In order to stop anyone doing anything clever in the area of the car, the area where a diffuser would normally be situated a vertical plate will cover the full width of that part of the car - running from the top edge of the bodywork to not more than 2 inches from the ground at rest. That will create a nice big low pressure area behind it which will cause drag and increase the slipstream effect for a following car.

Naturally safety is an important consideration. I want drivers to be able to race wheel to wheel safely so to prevent wheels interlocking sidepods will run the full length of the gap between the rear of the front wheels and the front of the rear wheels. Aside from the safety implications this will mean the sidepods are fed turbulent air from behind the front wheel rather than some smoothed out air that has been sorted by any number of barge boards, flicks and flow conditioners. Nothing will be allowed on the car to make minor improvements to the aerodynamics.

I see no value in a drivers' championship when software is doing some of the driving.

Another guiding principle for my formula is that the driver will drive the car. There are certain factors that constitute the art of driving such as steering, accelerating, braking and changing gear that have to be done by the driver. I see no value in a drivers' championship when software is doing some of the driving. So these cars will have three pedals and a gearbox that does nothing unless the driver makes it do it. Equally there will be no clever software that prevents the engine stalling. That is the driver's job. If he is not capable of keeping the engine running after he has spun he deserves to lose places and not have his butt saved by electronics. One advantage of a three pedal car is a wider pedal box which increases the frontal area and therefore the drag. While we are in that area of the car I see nothing being gained by the current seating position where the driver's feet are significantly higher than his seat. It is a most unnatural and uncomfortable position so in my formula the drivers heels will be at floor level so that it is more comfortable and natural and helps increase aerodynamic drag.

For me drivers spend way too much time making minor adjustments to car set up to the point that they are changing the car every corner. None of this adds anything to the contest and it beats me how drivers are supposed to make overtaking moves while they are changing their throttle map and differential setting every corner so most of the adjustments will be eliminated. There is something fundamentally wrong about a driver having to take a steering wheel home with him so that he can learn to find and adjust any control without looking at it or a reigning world champion driver needing a race engineer on his radio telling him to press the blue button. For drivers to be a bigger factor, the cars have to be lower tech.

A lot of people will say F1 is about technology and if you remove any technology it is not F1 any more. I wrote a piece called "The Dumbing Down of F1" for a site that no longer exists. This was written about the first race after traction control was banned. I had spent years arguing that technology was ruining F1 and was constantly shot down for it so I wrote a sarcastic piece about how dumbing down was good and how shocked I had been that the race had been universally acclaimed as a success despite F1 not being F1 any more.

That sums up exactly how many people will react to this and also what their reaction would be if my formula ever happened. Nothing has as much inertia as the status quo. I am surprised Einstein didn't say that. We have all heard the saying that if it ain't broke don't fix it. Well, the F1 version is that it is badly broken but whatever you do don't change it or it is not F1 any more.

Max Mosley became fond of saying that technology was what defined F1. He became fond of saying it part way through his presidency when he had repeatedly failed to make the racing better so he used technology as a diversionary tactic and unfortunately a lot of people bought it. Technology does not and never should define F1. F1 should be defined as the best teams and the best drivers in the world racing as hard as they can. If the technology was so important Leo Laporte would be doing This Week In F1 and he is not.

Engines

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Credit: DPPI/Renault F1

This is the one area where I don't have a crystal clear view of what I want. Part of me wants small turbo-charged engines with insane power output but another part of me wants to follow Gilles Villeneuve's choice and have big normally aspirated engines. Of course Gilles died before turbos reached their zenith, when we had 1.5 litre, 4 cylinder BMW engines producing 1500bhp in qualifying spec. I am sure he would have loved those.

Part of me wants to give the teams a fuel allocation for the race distance and let them do whatever they like with it. I certainly think that would be the kind of thing where F1 could improve road relevant technology even if I don't think that is its job.

At this stage I will leave the engine spec open and decide on it later. No doubt others will have clear opinions on the subject.

Sporting regulations

The whole point of F1 is the race result and that will no longer be affected by fake means. Cars will not have to start a race on the tyres they used in qualifying and teams will be allowed to change the basics of the car set up between qualifying and the race. This will give us back proper low fuel, ultimate set up qualifying and allow the cars to race uncompromised. Equally the artificial 3 round shoot out system will be dropped, which will return some tension to qualifying. Now there is so much happening so fast it is impossible to take in what is happening and there is never a build up of tension. That was the best part of the 12 lap qualifying system. Watching Senna stalking the McLaren garage trying to decide the best time to go out and watching him make the decision, get in the car, put his helmet on and then head out with a purpose... that no longer exists. He knew as we did that he had one lap to do a time and that he had to do it. Because the fast laps were more spread out, we saw more of them. The director knew when Senna or any other driver had completed his out lap he was going for it so the cameras were focused on him. Now we have slash cutting all over the place when someone looks like going faster or making the cut and even with a live timing screen you have no idea who you want the director to follow most of the time.

You have to ask what you want from qualifying before you decide what the format should be.

So we are going to have one hour 12 lap qualifying back and the teams will have sufficient tyres to go for it on every lap. I know people will complain nothing will happen for the first 15 minutes occasionally but remember my original principle. This is a sporting contest not an entertainment and the sporting aspect is more important than the entertainment. Besides in the current system there is a guaranteed dead time between each session and you get a lot fewer laps. Qualifying should be about one flat out fast lap, not two laps fast enough to get through to the important session then one kind of flat out but making sure that no damage is done to the the tyres as they have to be used to start the race. In my formula qualifying will be qualifying and the race will be the race and the only connection between them is that the finishing order of one will dictate the starting position of the other. You have to ask what you want from qualifying before you decide what the format should be. I want cars totally maxed out for ultimate lap time and drivers hanging it out as far as they can. I don't want someone doing a 95% lap to get through one stage and a 96% lap to get through the next then maybe 98% final lap while making sure they don't damage tyres as they have to start the race with them. Let them have soft race tyres for qualifying. There is no need with a single tyre supplier for qualifying tyres that only last a lap and if, at the end of the session, a few drivers feel like doing some donuts for the fans, let them. The tyres are unlikely to be used again and the teams will be allowed to work on the cars so when the competitive element is completed the fans should have a little additional entertainment.

In order for there to be consistency in decision making there will be one steward who will be at every race. He will have a deputy who will also be at every race and will take over should the steward be ill. Similarly there will be one scrutineer who will be responsible for all technical inspections and disputes.

There will be one set of rules that apply equally to everyone. There will never be a situation in my formula where different cars race to different rules. Why should a driver who qualifies tenth be at a disadvantage to a driver he out-qualified because that driver has a free tyre choice or fuel load choice or any other advantage?

There will be no restriction to entry other than it being compulsory to attend all events in a season. Anyone with a car and a driver can enter and the best will survive. No-one, for any reason will be guaranteed a grid spot in perpetuity. If there are enough cars there will be pre-qualifying and qualifying with the top 26 cars starting the race.

The ten-ish commandments of my formula

  • 1 - F1 is a sport not an entertainment
  • 2 - F1 exists for wheel to wheel motor racing
  • 3 - There will be no fake additions to spice up the show
  • 4 - The status quo only matters if they are playing after the race
  • 5 - There shall be overtaking
  • 6 - F1 circuits will be proper race tracks not Tilkedromes
  • 7 - There will be one set of rules
  • 8 - The driver will drive the car
  • 9 - The cars will be a lot less expensive so there is no reason for a testing ban
  • 10 - One steward will make decisions at all races
  • 11 - F1 will not be a closed shop
  • 12 - More mechanical than aero grip
  • 14 - More power than grip
  • 15 - Finesse not fitness

There is no 13 in F1.




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