Peter Wind­sor on tweak­ing F1



Time for some box-check­ing based on some of the sug­ges­tions you’ve read in this col­umn on how to im­prove For­mula 1 – sug­ges­tions, to be sure, that don’t cost a for­tune but would be mas­sively ben­e­fi­cial, par­tic­u­larly if ac­ti­vated as a whole.

Let’s start with the good news:

F1 driv­ers now show re­spect for the lo­cal na­tional an­them on the start­ing grid. Ink it. Driv­ers’ brief­ings are now be­ing con­sid­ered for reg­u­lar TV con­sump­tion fol­low­ing a video test at Monaco. Pen­cil in a tick, pend­ing the go-ahead. Some F1 cars now have the abil­ity to self-start (thanks to the re­cov­ery sys­tems used on to­day’s en­gines). It’s not yet manda­tory, so use that pen­cil again. Lewis Hamilton raised a gloved hand to thank Lance Stroll for mov­ing over when he lapped him in Canada. Tick – but let’s see all the other driv­ers be­hav­ing the same. There is now eas­ier ac­cess for the fans to the GP3 and F2 pad­docks. Ink it.

The good news, of course, re­flects not only the ex­cel­lent read­ing habits of the new Lib­erty Me­dia power­bro­kers but also a de­sire to move things along at a rel­a­tively brisk pace. That said, the list of out­stand­ing mat­ters is still long:

There is no plan in place yet for the top three driv­ers in the cham­pi­onship to visit the less suc­cess­ful venue coun­tries over the win­ter in or­der to light fires and build en­thu­si­asm for the next races in those coun­tries. There’s no sign of the F1 driv­ers giv­ing cir­cuit rides to fans over any given race week­end. I haven’t yet seen any GoPro footage of team de­briefs or driv­ers com­mut­ing to the cir­cuit. Teams guard their tech­nol­ogy, mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble to touch and feel, but still sug­gest tech is the sport’s lifeblood. Open the doors! The teams still spend for­tunes build­ing 60 per cent mod­els for wind­tun­nels when Wind­s­hear and a cou­ple of full-scale tun­nels like it in Europe would have been much more ac­cu­rate and much more cost-ef­fec­tive in the medium term – never mind the long term. I’m yet to hear of any of F1’s great driv­ers from the past be­ing asked to take honorary roles at key races. Why no Mario? Where are Emer­son and Nel­son? Dan Gur­ney and Tony Brooks?

The next level of sug­ges­tion is more com­pli­cated, em­brac­ing as it does the huge prob­lem of how to make F1 less ex­pen­sive. It’s un­likely to hap­pen, but here goes. The key thing, I be­lieve, is to adopt the phi­los­o­phy Alan Gow has used in the Bri­tish Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship, of first estab­lish­ing where you want your se­ries to be. F1 has al­ways taken the op­po­site ap­proach, pick­ing up an ex­ist­ing car, cir­cuit or event and toy­ing with it ac­cord­ing to the fash­ion­able or po­lit­i­cal whims of the mo­ment.

Ul­ti­mately, as Lib­erty Me­dia will con­firm, the healthy fu­ture of F1 is about two things only: a mas­sive, ever-ex­pand­ing global au­di­ence, and the sport’s im­age. ‘Im­age’ is an all-em­brac­ing con­cept, of course, be­cause it in­cludes the mys­tique of such words as ‘Fer­rari’ and ‘For­mula’ but, in my view, it is not re­stricted to such lim­i­ta­tions as ‘tech­nol­ogy’ and ‘pro­to­types’.

Take a step back for a mo­ment and con­sider this great god ‘tech­nol­ogy’. F1 peo­ple swear by it, but is it ac­tu­ally good for busi­ness? What we’re re­ally talk­ing about is the lit­tle clause in the rule book that obliges any team rac­ing in F1 to de­sign and build their own car. That jewel goes back to the early 1980s, when the F1 team own­ers of the time – blood­ied by bat­tles with the FIA – erected ring-fences to pro­tect their bur­geon­ing em­pire – or their in­ter­est in the bur­geon­ing em­pire, to be pre­cise.

Fer­rari, McLaren, Brab­ham, Lo­tus and Tyrrell were al­ways go­ing to build their own cars and be a part of F1, but the rest needed pro­tec­tion and Bernie was happy to give it be­cause he needed a united F1 that could be sold to race pro­mot­ers as a guar­an­teed com­mod­ity. So they came up with the rule that made it vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble for any­one new to come along. In 1977, re­mem­ber, Frank Wil­liams re­booted his ca­reer by buy­ing an


off-the-shelf March and run­ning it as a sin­gle-car en­try in se­lected races. Four years on, that was im­pos­si­ble: you had to be a con­struc­tor, you had to en­ter ev­ery race, and you had to do so with two cars. Exit the next Frank Wil­liams.

This rule, then, is not about tech­nol­ogy. It’s about pro­tec­tion­ism. You could ar­gue that it has worked (in the sense that F1 has, over the past 35 years, had a slower rate of new-team turnover than most other sports out there, and that many F1 team own­ers have be­come rich at the ex­pense of their peers in other mo­tor­sport cat­e­gories), but now, in 2017, this rule has run its course. For­get the usual an­nual con­ces­sions – the mods to what we’ve al­ready got. The only thing that will bring down the costs of F1 is a much health­ier mid­field: a mid­field that can win races from time to time. That will spread the monies more evenly – and, by def­i­ni­tion, will re­duce costs as a whole. To put it sim­ply, a mid­field team that can run near or at the front on a bud­get of, say, $150m is, by the nat­u­ral or­der of things, go­ing to cramp the style of a $500m team who are strug­gling to fin­ish races.

The im­age of F1 will al­ways be ‘tech­nol­ogy’, just as it was in the 1970s, when Fer­rari, Lo­tus and McLaren were sweat­ing to beat the likes of Hes­keth and March. Fer­rari and teams such as Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren and Wil­liams will al­ways be around, do­ing unique things at what­ever cost and level they choose. Fur­ther down the grid, the pub­lic doesn’t care if Mar­cus Eric­s­son is driv­ing a Sauber or a Dal­lara painted blue and gold – and nor, ev­i­dently, do the po­ten­tial spon­sors. If ‘tech­nol­ogy’ is the holy grail, why is it that the smaller F1 teams are find­ing it so hard to raise bud­gets? The pub­lic is go­ing to care a lot more about Mar­cus Eric­s­son if he is right up there in a Dal­lara-Fer­rari man­aged and en­tered by Sauber, and the eye­balls watch­ing that race will en­gen­der more com­mer­cial part­ners.

If Dal­lara be­came of­fi­cial sup­pli­ers of F1 chas­sis to teams that wanted to buy them – with Fer­rari the pro­pri­etary engine – per­for­mance in the mid­field would rise as quickly as costs would fall. Haas have shown what one such team can do in 18 short months. Let’s learn and move for­wards: five Dal­lara teams would pro­duce only a faster base car – and the op­por­tu­ni­ties for new teams to come into F1 and to ap­ply pres­sure on the in­cum­bents would rise ex­po­nen­tially.

I can think of a few peo­ple who won’t like it. For F1, though, this is the way for­ward. Im­age and au­di­ence.

@F1Rac­ing_­mag face­ f1rac­ing­mag

Lib­erty Me­dia have moved things on con­sid­er­ably since their takeover, but there’s more to be done

Mar­cus Eric­s­son in a Sauber leads Max Ver­stap­pen in a Red Bull – but the mid-grid­ders very rarely get a chance to show what they’re made of

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