Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

iF1 - What if Formula 1 was run by its fans // A look at the tweaks that could make the pinnacle of motorsport even better

Published by Will Davies

So, what with everything going on around Bernie Ecclestone and his (alleged or otherwise) antics in Germany, his days as Formula 1 supremo are looking rather numbered. It’s looking more and more likely that control of F1 will pass to a board of contributors or handed to a group of interested parties; rather than installing another dictator.

This post is based on an idea from NFL-presenter Dave Dameshek, who creates videos re-imagining what might’ve been in the world of American Football, given a certain change in circumstances, then taking the lead from Adam Barton who created an iF1 of his own. Instead of wondering what might’ve happened, I’d like to imagine what F1 might look like if those who frequent the Sidepodcast comments were instead the ones to sit around the boardroom table to run the sport.

Location, location, location

Now this is a tricky one, races would ideally be positioned such that they are the easiest places to drive to and park at (even in the heaviest of traffic), thus minimising congestion and pain. They should also be located near to population centres (i.e. not placed somewhere that is then expected to have a city built around it, mentioning no race in particular) and the more culturally rich the surroundings the better.

Webber races around Parliament Square, London
Credit: Ker Robertson/Getty Images

Having a multitude of other travel links, be they by train, bus or whatever, is also ideal. Nobody needs to sit in hours of traffic or even be told not to attend, when it only requires some thought to avoid the situation altogether.

Covering all the bases

We are already accustomed to watching coverage via the internet, but this seems to be an afterthought, and the main product is all directed to our TV screens. We should turn things on its head and focus on what the possibilities web-based broadcasting could create, and then farm a small part of that out to the TVs of the world for those who still desire to ingest their F1 through those means.

There is only a limited bandwidth that TV broadcasters will afford each channel or package of channels, something to do with profits, so there is only a select amount of content that can be sent to our screens. Prioritising the internet should allow the viewer to become their own race director, choosing camera angles, when to go to replays, audio stream (which commentators to listen to, the viewers’ own blend of pit radio from whichever team they desire, or just pure car noise). Doing something like this should be entirely possible now, so why isn't F1 trying it?!

It would appeal to more viewers, reach more fans through not being tied to TV contracts (or similar), and allow those die-hard fans to immerse themselves deeper into the sport, and I’m sure sponsors would have no problem with either part of that!

Testing times

F1 is in somewhat of a money-saving mode, and testing has been one aspect that has been cut back on. Not only would more testing help the teams perfect their cars but I believe we could’ve also partially (or even wholly) avoided some of the tyre controversy that has manifested itself so far this season. More running time with the cars could’ve allowed Pirelli to have a better handle on the construction and durability of the compounds they were working with so that they could have perfected the tyre before the racing began.

Or if the situation arose where they had to change tyres during the season, in-season testing would allow them to do this without just dropping a whole new pile of tyres onto teams on the weekend that they are supposed to be racing them. But hopefully at this rate all the compounds and constructions should be perfected well in time for next season.

Another way in which Pirelli’s job could easily be improved would be if they had better access to decent and more recent kit – I’m not sure a 2010 Renault or a reject HRT are good enough to test current tyres properly. Or for that matter I’m not sure borrowing an ex-World Champion, his team-mate and their rather rubber-hungry car, and doing that seemingly behind every other teams’ backs, is a good way to prevent a circus turning into a farce.

More testing might actually mean more running in Free Practice sessions. A better developed car during testing could allow teams to spend more time on set-up at the races. Fans want to see cars circulating, rather than teams biding their time and putting in only a few runs. Throw in a couple more sets of tyres for use in the FP-sessions and teams will have no reason but to be out on track. For good measure fixing the weather will help things; dry in practice and chances of shower on Sundays, just to keep things guessing, please.

Making the team

There are a few things that could be tweaked with respect to configuration of the teams. To start with we need to somehow bridge the gap between the two remaining newer teams – a bigger midfield will only make things more interesting. It would go a long way to fixing qualifying; the usual suspects will no longer always get knocked out first as everyone would be more competitive.

One idea that Ferrari have been keen on in the past, and that I like the sound of, is to make a move to 3-car teams, with the restriction being that the 3rd driver has to be driving in one of his (or her) first 3 seasons. There would be nothing stopping a team from running with 2 or 3 fresher-faced drivers, but would provide a platform for youngsters to get some good experience in a slightly less pressured situation than they are faced with at the moment.

Kovalainen, back by popular demand
Credit: Caterham F1 / Creative Commons

One (probably unrealistic) desire is that there should be less reliance on pay drivers, so hopefully the standards of driving aren’t diluted just because the skilled don’t have enough friends in rich places. Additionally we’d be able to keep our favourite faces in the sport, rather than having their drives bought out from under them. One interesting suggestion along similar lines (all credit to Adam B for this) is that there could be a fan-vote if teams are struggling to choose a new driver (Kobayashi verses Gutiérrez or Bianchi verses Sutil, or just voting to keep Heikki around).

Qualifying

The ideal situation for Quali is for there to be a full hour of action, all culminating in a proper shootout for pole. The previous 12-lap format was good, it provided a definite crescendo, but could also leave large periods of time between sightings of cars on the track, particularly in marginal weather. In showery conditions cars would either end up waiting for the track to dry, or drizzle halfway through the session would consign any further laps to be driven using wets, therefore guaranteeing them to be rather much slower, or in other words pointless.

One minor alteration to the current system that could make things very interesting would be the reintroduction of a qualifying tyre, but only for use in Q3. A sacrificial Q3 tyre with extreme amounts of grip would definitely draw attention to the skills of the drivers at the top of the show, although I think you’d need to come up with a new handicap for the top ten – perhaps being forced to start on their final Q2 tyre. This might make for an interesting battle for the ‘fastest’ teams and drivers trying to make Q3 on the prime (for a better Sunday afternoon’s racing), versus some of the ‘slower’ teams who are going all out on the options to make the shootout for pole, for the headlines and exposure that it would bring them and their sponsors.

Another favourite idea of mine would be to fill the cars to the brim with fuel and again give them concrete tyres (allowing Pirelli to show their skills at tyre construction). Start all the cars circulating and then (based on their current fastest laps that they’ve posted) progressively knocking out the slowest cars as the hour ticks down, at the end of the session, leaving a handful of drivers on minimal fuel slugging it out for pole. The cars wouldn’t have to be posting fastest laps every time, but would be having to go progressively faster in order to avoid the drop. No one could argue that they’d not have seen their money’s worth after getting most of a race distance in qualifying.

Race days

I don’t think I have too many problems with race day at the moment, all the ingredients are there: handfuls of overtaking (DRS and otherwise), a liberal dose of strategy calls, a dollop of tyre degradation, and a good smattering of pit-stops to mix everything up, not to mention some outstanding drives from up and down the grid.

Either the tyres are 100% ‘ideal’, or failing that drivers and teams need to be told that they are not allowed to complain about the tyres as they are the same for everyone – only allowing them to refer to the fact that their cars couldn’t get the tyres to work, or that their chosen strategy didn’t suit the tyre in ‘today’s’ conditions would make things better. No more team principals doing the same moaning interview before and after each session during race weekends.

So long as there are lots of (appropriately challenging) overtakes and the best driver wins, then I’m happy. Oh, and maybe if the FIA would allow cars to make it back to the pits so they can rejoin the racing à la IndyCar, that would be nice too. One final question about Sunday afternoons, how do we feel about rain-machines for a chaos-bonus, that’s if a Grosjean/Pastor/Pérez-combo isn’t enough?

Possibly the last fix for a race weekend should be directed at the trophies – the Santander ones are maybe ok-looking as a one-off, but not for every race please! They are cooler when they are coloured to match the flag of the host country, but only one of those trophies per year maximum please! The best thing about trophies is their uniqueness and I would like to see the return of more huge pots, other large lumps of metal, or things of cultural significance to the location of the races.

And finally

In other news, timezones need fixing! That way we can all watch the session and the races at times that suit us – no more 4am alarm calls or for that matter missing out because we’ve forgotten that the clocks have gone forwards.

I’m sure there are other ways and probably better ways of changing Formula 1, but these are just a few ideas that the Sidepodcast comments have inspired me to pull together. Let’s just hope that whoever is going to take over the sport is reading this...