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2015-05-15

Formula 1 Bosses Will Ask Fans What They Should Already Know.

Formula One bosses have apparently said they will set up a fan forum so the fans can tell them how to make the sport more exciting. It's a reasonable, sensible plan, but I suspect they will be told, probably in no uncertain terms, what they should already know. The bosses themselves are solely to blame, because of what they have done to Formula One over the last few years, in a disastrous and poorly thought out attempt to improve things.

Formula One should be the absolute pinnacle of motor racing, with flat out, full speed racing from start to finish. It used to be like that, but it no longer is.

In the good old days, teams built the best car they could within the regulations regarding engine size and so on. They were free to buy tyres from whichever maufacturer they chose, and those tyres were designed to work with that particular car. If softer tyres worked best with the chassis and aerodynamic features of the car, the manufacturer provided softer tyres. If harder tyres worked best, they provided harder tyres. If racing at a particular Grand Prix circuit meant different tyres were needed, different tyres were provided. The car was designed and built as a complete package, where everything worked perfectly together, and the car was as fast as it possibly could be at all times.

There was no restriction on testing or practising, so when the cars lined up on the grid, the drivers were confident that they knew the limits of the cars' handling in corners, and so on, and any technical problems had already been ironed out, so all they had to do was get out there and race. They knew which corners they could push their luck in, and which corners they needed to treat with respect. They raced confidently, because they had been practicing as much as they needed to, to become expert at their job.

There was no restriction on the amount of fuel the cars were allowed to burn, and no restriction on refuelling during the course of the race. A car that has full fuel tanks is heavy and sluggish, difficult to control in some corners, and the extra weight causes faster tyre wear. Because of this, teams only part filled the fuel tanks of their cars, with just enough fuel to get them to their next pit stops for tyres, and they were refueled while the tyres were being changed. As a result, the cars were fast and nippy from the start of the race to the very end, when they would have little more than fumes left in their tanks. In fact, some cars would run out of fuel within sight of the finish if the teams got the calculations wrong, and drivers have been know to have to push their cars over the line.

That was how it was in the past. Unfortunately, it appears that some television viewers, most of whom had probably never been to any motor racing circuit in their lives, found televised Formula One boring. The same driver always won, for goodness sake. That can't be right. Actually, it is right that the best driver, in the best car, should win the race. How else should it work? The best sprinter should always win the 100M race. The best Marathon runner should win the Marathon. The best chess player should always win a chess match. Why should Formula One be any exception?

Acting on reaction from such people, who in general didn't have a clue about how Formula One actually worked, and couldn't understand all the pit stops and other technical stuff, the Formula One bosses decided to make the sport 'more interesting for the viewers'.

They banned in race refuelling. That means the cars are 'fat' and sluggish at the start of the race, so apart from the mad rush to the first corner, nothing much happens in the first half of the race, until the fuel burns off and the cars can get up a decent speed.

They banned teams from buying tyres from their chosen tyre manufacturers, and made Pirelli the sole tyre supplier. They then instructed Pirelli to deliberately provide tyres that degrade, or wear out, much quicker than F1 tyres normally did. This would mean 'more excitement' because as the tyres wore out, drivers would skid around more, and be forced to make more pit stops for tyres. For a sport that prides itself on its efforts to make racing safer, that seems a monumentally stupid thing to do, but they did it anyway.

They also decreed that each driver had to use two different grades of tyre, with different hardness, in every race. Pirelli therefore provide two grades of tyres, chosen by Pirelli, at each venue. Neither grade of tyre is likely to suit every car, so it is theoretically possible, although I am not for one moment suggesting it has ever happened, for Pirelli to favour a particular team, by choosing tyre grades that work better for that team's cars than for other teams' cars. The end result of the very short lived tyres is that at the end of the race, every car is running on worn out tyres, so we don't get flat out racing at the end of the race either, when the cars, being light on fuel, should really be at their fastest.

The F1 bosses also introduced a maximum fuel load of 100kG for any race, presumably to placate the environmentalists. That means that as well as racing with a full load of fuel, and driving more sedately to avoid wearing out the tyres too quickly, the drivers also have to drive more slowly to conserve fuel, because on some tracks fuel consumption means it's touch and go whether they can even reach the finish line if they actually race flat out. It's not real racing, it's an economy drive, which is probably why the true fans are losing interest. The people that all the changes were originally made for probably lost interest four or five years ago, just after the damage was done.

In 2009, a Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) was introduced, which recovered energy under braking, and provided an extra boost of 80bhp for a few seconds per lap. It made overtaking a bit easier if the driver still had KERS energy available at the crucial moment. KERS wasn't always reliable, but it seemed to be a reasonable idea. Then for the 2014 season they introduced turbo charged engines, and required teams to use a more complicated form of KERS, known as ERS, which appears to have caused major problems for some teams. It probably would be less of a problem if the teams could test the cars as much as they need to in order to iron out the snags, but the tight limits on testing mean the problems persist for several races before they can be corrected.

I certainly wouldn't be at all happy if I bought tickets for the Australian Grand Prix. That's usually the first race of the season, so you're watching a race between cars that might not even complete the full race distance because they haven't been fully tested. Who in their right mind would pay to watch what is effectively just a test?

So now the fans will be asked to tell the bosses how to make Formula One more interesting. The question is, will they take the slightest notice of what anyone says? Personally, I very much doubt it.


EDIT: Ye gods, that was quick work! Five minutes after posting this Rant, I had a look on the BBC Sports website and found that F1 bosses have agreed to bring back refuelling for the 2017 season.

They also plan to allow teams a free choice of tyres from the four Pirelli compounds currently available, with effect from 2016.

Full story here...