Have you ever heard the saying "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" this is a lesson that many in the world of Formula One would do well to heed. There are several problems facing Formula One but most are that of their own making and when I say their I mean the FIA, Formula One Management and each of the teams. This is because they are all diametrically opposed, looking only at their own interests and not that of the landscape of the sport. I'll give you another saying that was made famous in our household as I grew up "They couldn't organise a McDonalds children's party' and it's true because at the end of the day anything that is regulated cannot be done efficiently under a democracy.
Most people/fans don't really understand the relationship / structure of how Formula One is run and nor should they, to them it is but a sport they watch. The problem with Formula One however is it's fluidity in terms of regulation and money impacts the sport as a whole. I want to cover several aspects of the sport in this article that not only interest me but are seemingly a bug bear for many fans.
Pirelli have come in for some heavy criticism since their arrival in the
Sport in 2011, however their brief from the FIA/FOM was to replicate
the kind of scenes seen at the 2010 race in Montreal. One of the
problems that poses an issue to Pirelli when designing their tyres is
that changes cannot be made during the season.
This means that we inevitably end up with a skewed performance differentiator at the start to the end of the season. Pirelli have to
target their design to be lop sided in what the teams can extract from
it. This means the teams struggle early in a season, which usually leads
to tyres becoming a hot topic of conversation. As the teams begin to
learn how to extract performance from the tyre over the course of the
opening races the challenge lessens. From here on in toward the end of
the season, Pirelli's only play is to make more aggressive compound
choices as the lead teams have invariably skewed their updates to
extract the most from the tyres.
The debacle faced by everyone at the start of the 2013 season might
never have led to the catastrophic failures seen at Silverstone had the
FIA heeded some of Pirelli's warnings.
After Silverstone the FIA sat up though and took notice, now before each
GP they issue criteria to the teams (limiting camber and tyre pressure
settings) and stopped the practice of tyre swapping.
The events post Silverstone decided the fate of the 2013 Championship
with Red Bull best placed to take advantage of the switch back to the
2012 tyre construction. The RB9 of course was the closest of the lead
cars to its predecessor and so lessons learnt aero wise in 2012 could be
refined for the tail end of the campaign. Meanwhile Mercedes, Ferrari
and Lotus were pressing the reset button as all were running much more
heavily revised cars for 2013 especially when we consider the exhaust. Months of time and money spent developing aerodynamic upgrades for the tyres used at the first 8 rounds would now be almost obsolete, of course you learn things from adapting to new criteria you can carry over but it's not quite the same.
A proposal will be put forward in the next F1 Strategy Group meeting
that Formula One adopts a rule that each car must stop twice in a race in 2014.
Furthermore that they can only use the prime tyre for a maximum of 50%
of the race distance and the option 30%.
Pirelli have of course raised concerns in regards to the 2014 tyre
supply. Without the ability to test with a representative car it's like
sticking one finger in the air to establish the wind speed.
So what can be done differently? Well firstly I'd suggest that Pirelli
have an unenviable task as I often see tweets like 'Well Bridgstone made
tyres that didn't explode' or 'Bridgstone from fans who's favourite team seem to be lagging behind at the time.
The problem however is that Bridgstones brief was simply to provide a
Prime and Option compound, both of which could easily make it beyond half
race distance. Bridgestones tyres were also used in the refueling era (2010 excluded) and so the vehicle dynamics and stint lengths the tyres needed to cope with were dictated by the prevailing regulations. The context of these differences are not explained by the broadcasters/written media and so the fans don their rose tinted glasses and think that racing of yesteryear far outstripped what we see today.
Don't let anyone kid you into believing that tyres aren't one of the single most important aspects of Formula One because they are. You can produce all the aerodynamic force you want but if it's not akin to the force the tyres are capable of taking it is worthless.
So what can be done to 'fix' the situation? Well I think you must first question the artificiality of creating overtaking by virtue of tyres that degrade more rapidly. This (which is the bug bear to many fans) creates a scenario whereby drivers do not drive to the limits of the car as they look after the tyres. This is not to say this is the only limiting factor behind a driver driving within his limits, we also have to think about the car being under fuelled for the race distance and engine/gearbox life. I'd therefore suggest that the tyres are the largest factor in the overtaking we see, this is due to drivers either losing time from tyres fading and dropping back into the claws of another driver or the chasing driver, driving beyond the delta of the tyre.
The question is though will the proposals laid down improve overtaking and/or stop drivers, driving to a delta?
The answer is no, as always the teams are simply looking for the quickest way in which to complete the GP distance and so we would likely end up with very symmetrical pit stop phases with races won or lost during the pit stops. Realistically without safety car interruptions you'd run Option 30%, Prime 50% and then Option (or a variation of that theme). The proposal seems to be in opposition to Pirelli's brief and moreover hangs a question mark over the safety aspect of the tyres given the extra loads the cars will produce next season.
It is and pretty much always will be difficult to follow another F1 car (especially as a regulation run matures) and so the tyres offer another way of closing the drivers together, managing the tyres is just like anything else in the sport a question of compromise, push now and go for the overtake forsaking tyre life later in the stint or conserve.
Things however do need to change in terms of tyres and that change needs to come with additional testing allocated to the Italian manufacturer. The reset button has been pressed for next year anyway and so using a 2013 challenger still wouldn't be representative, the first few races will be suck it and see whatever happens with them likely to air firmly on the side of caution. The problem then however is that the racing for the rest of the season will suffer, as you remember the comment I made earlier about skewing the performance of the tyre to cater for the development curve will be lost. I suspect next year we won't hear the media blathering on too much about Pirelli's poor product but purely because they won't be able to provide a performance product. Going forward I think it's essential that Pirelli are able to operate as many test days with the 2014 cars throughout the season to provide a better product for 2015. Whether the teams and the FIA can put aside their short sighted differences to achieve this is a different matter.
The sport has clearly been driven by aerodynamics since 2009 and although strides have been made in other departments such as interconnected suspension etc the largest on track gains are often those that come from CFD and the Wind Tunnel. I often see fans making comments like, "lets just ban wings that will solve the problem and create more overtaking" Wings aren't the problem per se people...
The front and rear wing of an F1 car help to produce downforce but moreover balance for cornering but this comes at the cost of drag on the straights. One of the biggest problems facing drivers looking to overtake is the wake generated by the car in front it's a problem that aircraft also encounter when landing at major airports in a stack. It's because the vehicle in front is using the airflow, energising it and displacing it, with the exception of DRS we have to remember that every other surface on an F1 car is fixed.
In 2009 the FIA moved (with consultation from the Technical Working Group TWG) to work on this issue, that season the driver was able to adjust the Front Wing's flap angle by 6 degrees, twice a lap. The idea being that by adding 6 degree's of flap in the braking phase the driver could re-balance the car and would enable him to follow more closely in the wake of the car ahead. It was a resounding failure, not because the idea was flawed but because BrawnGP, Williams and Toyota arrived with the double decked diffusers (DDD) that everyone then copied. The advantage of the adjustment of the front wing then became nullified as the wake generated by the DDD cars exceeded what the adjustment could achieve. 2010 saw McLaren open the door to the FIA's saviour: DRS with their RW80/F-Duct. Since 2011 we have seen teams utilse DRS which enables the driver to splay the top flap of the rear wing by 50cm, reducing drag and increasing top speed. A necessary evil? Well yes possibly but it would have been interesting to see a season utilising just the Pirelli tyres as a method of increasing overtaking rather than in conjunction with DRS.
2013's use of DRS seemed fairly meaningless to me, we went to seeing it's use completely restricted to the designated zones and these didn't alter in length throughout the weekend, like we had seen in the past. This led to teams simply refining their top speed to peak in those zones enabling cars to pass with consummate ease given they were in a similar phase of the race to whom they were passing.
The 2014 regulations will finally inhibit the use of the exhaust to blow the diffuser and so it's likely for some time at least the teams will lose a proportion of the downforce they have gained under the last regulations. Furthermore the 'Beam Wing' which has been utilised by the teams since then not only structurally aids the rear wing but is also used to generate downforce is omitted. This too should have an effect on the wake produced by the car as it's flow structure helped to adjoin that of the Diffuser with the Rear Wing's.
I'd therefore suggest F1 should have looked to revisit the front wing adjuster concept, perhaps revised in how much it could be used etc but it may have allowed the removal of what most fans see as an artificial overtaking aid: DRS.
MONEY - The FIA / FOM (Formula One Management) / Teams
The FIA if you didn't know are the sports regulators and own the sport, Formula One Management has lived under many guises but started life as FOCA (Formula One Constructors Association) back in the late 70's. The brain child of Bernie Ecclestone it was the intention that the group would negotiate the TV rights and distribute the money amongst the teams to fund their racing ambitions. When Bernie decided he didn't want to run a team in the late 80's (having owned and run Brabham) he negotiated a deal with the FIA that would see him lease the commercial rights to the sport in exchange for a yearly payment. Thus seen as the 'middle man' FOM management acted as the go between, from there on the 'Concorde Agreement' would be signed by the FIA, FOM and the teams as a way of establishing who received what from the money FOM wrangled from the broadcasting rights and any other advertising deals that the sport generated.
The sport is obviously now a huge global player that demands vast sums of money in exchange for the right to show it's content, bear the trademark or advertise as a partner. FOM provides a 'World Feed' from which all the broadcasters create their programming, this is why you can be in any country watching the sport and be guaranteed that only the commentary will differ (although SKY and BBC actually sell their commentary feeds to other broadcasters too).
Additional content has been made available to the broadcasters (Pitlane Channel, Onboard Camera, Driver Tracker etc) these options are only taken up by a few of the broadcasters. BBC and Sky took these options with the latter probably doing so due to company absorbing the BBC's original deal with FOM. The UK is incredibly lucky in the coverage it receives of F1 be it free to air via the BBC or paid content via SKY with only Germany and Italy currently receiving the same level of coverage but this comes at a price. *The ten largest TV deals account for 74.3% of F1's broadcasting revenue, which comes to a total of $488.9m (32.1% of F1's total revenues).
FOM command huge sums for the rights to broadcast their content, compared to their income, the payments to the FIA and teams had seemed rather paltry in the past. A new work up of the Concorde Agreement see's the spoils shared a little further around the table for the next few years although FOM still command the largest portion.
Also thought to be part of the new framework to this Concorde Agreement is that the teams themselves have a say in the way the sport is run. This is a dangerous move as the teams cannot or should not be seen to making the rules they are governed by, I wholeheartedly agree to the idea of a 'Working Group' which features team members from every team, that discusses ideas of the FIA's choosing. The problem I have is when the teams have powers to vote upon changes and even veto them for their own interest. Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren, Williams and the next highest placed constructor from the previous season have these rights which leaves the smaller teams at a further disadvantage to the one they have held in the past.
Outside of the money that's exchanged between FOM and the teams Formula One has been severely impacted by the global economic downturn. F1 teams up and down the paddock are suffering as their global sponsors cut back on their advertising and so we have become accustomed to what many call 'pay drivers'. In terms of the larger sponsorship deals sought by the teams to fund their racing they usually come from large corporations with global reach, advertising to these companies is not only about what exposure they gain but what corporate entertainment they can give potential clients of their own. Furthermore advertising is a great way of avoiding taxation whilst boosting revenue but obviously the company needs the revenue in the first place in order to avoid the tax, a symbiotic relationship that requires a good balance.
Formula One teams generally spend beyond their means in order to be competitive and for teams like Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull who have major long term investment from their respective owners this is acceptable. However all of the other teams are independent and rely on the funding generated from their own endeavors, although some obviously have other facets to their business model that symbiotically generate cash flow for the race team. In order to top up the lost revenue from the loss of sponsorship some of the teams have turned to 'pay driver's, these drivers have established their own sponsorship deals with the view to the money paying both their wages and encouraging a team to take them on board. This is not a new phenomenon but seems to have expanded since the economic downturn, ALL drivers have these type of deals but only the top drivers are able to demand payment from their teams and return most of the sponsorship payments too.
With so many teams struggling to stay liquid it begs the question as to which one will implode first? The teams that entered the sport in 2010 of which only Caterham and Marussia remain entered on the proviso that Formula One would become sustainable but this hasn't come to fruition. Large investment at both of these teams has been the only thing that has kept them afloat thus far and with costs rising even more for 2014 it's difficult to see how everyone will stay in business.
With the Concorde Agreement now in place I'm quite sure it's impossible but I firmly believe that the engine manufacturers (Ferrari, Mercedes & Renault) themselves should have been included as separate entities entitled to a share of the spoils. A financial bump from the rights for which they are a core element would have resulted in a smaller purchase power plant fee for the teams and yes you can argue your are robbing Peter to pay Paul but I think all would have made wriggle room financially for this (FIA, FOM, the teams).
Capping spending in Formula One is demonstrably difficult as the FIA doesn't want to govern the cap, an attempt by the teams themselves failed spectacularly as FOTA (Formula One Teams Association) capitulated under the strain of the teams agreeing on a RRA (Resource Restriction Agreement). Moreover I don't think there should be a budget cap, for Formula One to remain as the pinnacle of motorsport it should be about how fast can you afford to go.
As they say there isn't smoke without fire but the rumour currently doing the rounds is that Marussia is looking to merge with another team. Whether this is a direct assimilation of the team meaning Marussia would no longer exist or whether they are looking to tag team with someone in exchange for resources is yet to be seen. Williams have already rejected a proposal bought to them by Marussia by all accounts but it appears that the Russians involved at both Marussia and Sauber could make better bed fellows. Both teams will be purchasing the Ferrari power unit in totally from the Italian squad next season and so working together to share resources could save both causes. The problem however is that their chassis must be designed independently and brings me to my next point:
Do we still need the constructor to construct their own chassis or should we allow customer cars back into F1?
In it's current guise I personally don't see Formula One as sustainable, the costs are too prohibitive and I'd be surprised if we don't lose a team sooner rather than later. That's probably music to Bernie / CVC's ears as it's one less mouth to feed / fund, however is there another way?
Introducing customer cars would likely see many of the midfield teams complaining as they have invested to become manufacturers in their own right. The tail end teams would likely welcome the decision, as although they too have invested the chassis remains a key component that can make or break performance, lending heavily to the aerodynamic principles the car will utilise.
Williams have strongly opposed any move toward a customer car scenario for many years citing that customers would only purchase chassis' from the lead teams. This of course can be regulated defining just like the engine/power units how many chassis' manufacturers can supply teams leading to the midfield teams also generating income from this.
I firmly believe that a shift in this direction would also entice more teams to enter Formula One as, as the costs reduce the opportunities increase. It's certainly a delicate topic that would require careful regulation by the FIA but could even lead to Ferrari etc effectively running B teams. Meanwhile the 'pay drivers' would be able to fund their own racing by developing teams and purchasing the chassis and power units to go racing.
The last meeting of the strategy group led to the FIA proposing a pole trophy to the driver who accumulates the most pole positions in a season. Now although I have no opposition to this I don't see what it achieves in a sporting context with Sebastian Vettel taking all but 2012's award if we recount what was achieved since 2009. The team will receive nothing and so it means that no more effort would be placed on qualifying in pole position. If the last few seasons have taught us anything, it's that pole position is no longer a requirement for race victory. With this in mind I'd propose that the anti is upped in order to make it worthwhile placing the car on pole with 5 points awarded to the driver and team who do so, making it count toward the world titles makes it worthwhile. Of course with 9 pole positions in 2013 it could have added 45 points to Vettel's total but with an emphasis shift to points for pole it may make choosing a qualifying vs race setup more rewarding.
The question is, is F1 broken? Does it need fixing? and if so who should be charged with doing so?
*Source Christian Sylt - editor of Formula Money