Thursday, October 27, 2005

Yet Another Formula One Rescue Plan

It seems that everybody these days is coming up with suggestions to make Formula 1 more interesting (despite the 2005 season being an enormous improvement). Now, I'm every bit as opinionated and vocal as the next guy, as I'm sure the regular AnTyx readers - both of you - are well aware. So there is no reason why I can't come up with my own fool-proof plant to save the Grand Prix circuit from boredom.

The ultimate reason why F1 is no fun to watch any more is because there is no overtaking. The little bit that is there, is under braking into a turn, which is certainly the most efficient way, but nowhere near the most scenic one. I haven't been driven to jump out of my chair and yell at the screen since Hakkinen, Schumacher and Zonta went three-wide into a reverse uphill hairpin two laps before the checkered flag, and that was years ago.

There are several factors why this is so, and there are a few things that can be done about it.

For example, the drivers today are pussies. I'm not questioning their talent, mind you; but racing has become extremely technical, with superiority provided by equipment, not by desire. Nigel Mansell was often said to be excellent when his car was behaving itself, but useless when it wasn't; and Michael Schumacher has proven time and time again that he is faster than anyone else on an open track, but nowhere near as hot when he has an actual battle for position on his hands. His little brother, Ralf, had refused to do the Indianapolis race after a crash in qualifying, because the doctors said that if he crashed in the race the same way he did the year before, he might die. If you're not willing to put your life on the line for glory, what the fuck are you doing in the supreme racing series in the first place?Compare this to David Coulthard, a man with balls of titanium, who survived an airplane crash and went on to win that weekend's Grand Prix!

Not that safety isn't important. I'm very impressed by the HANS device, for example. Unfortunately, the FIA has been going about this the wrong way. Their idea is that to make racing more safe, you reduce speed, and to reduce speed, you make the cars handle worse. So they banned active suspension, cut grooves into the tyres, and messed up the cars' aerodynamics. Technology does evolve, so the cars kept getting faster, but we've ended up with a situation where F1 has very safe new race tracks, but very unsafe cars!

Now they're limiting engine technology, cutting them back to eight cylinders and less capacity, etc. They're saying that as well as making things safer, it makes development cheaper for the little guys, the Jordans and the Minardis of the world.This is ridiculous. Formula One has never been about the Jordans and the Minardis; nobody comes to watch them race! They only get ad space because they get in everybody's way often enough to be picked up by the cameras. I say, if they can't cut it - let them die! There is currently an agreement that there cannot be less than 20 cars competing in a season; if the smaller teams die off, the front-runners are obligated to run third cars so the field is filled out. The powers that be are worried that if this starts happening, we will end up with a football match, 11 on 11, BMW vs Mercedes. There is, however, a solution that has worked before. The big F1 players used to have junior teams in Formula 3000, back when it mattered; and we all remember Sauber running last year's Ferrari. Now, Red Bull has apparently bought Minardi. So let every team have a driver farm on the grid, but only one! Allow team tactics (while leaving the radio channels open); farm cars helping out the varsity only makes the spectacle more exciting.

There are two fundamental reasons why overtaking is not popular in today's F1. The first is that, because of regulations on what you can do with the aerodynamics, a car running behind another car is very unstable. The airflow is completely messed up so you may be slipstreaming, but you have no downforce; and this isn't NASCAR, so you do need it for turning. The second is that it's much easier to use pitstop strategy to pass cars. If your opponent pits first, he's going to come out heavy with a full tank of gas, and these days he won't even have the benefit of new tyres. So if you can put in a few great laps, you'll make up enough time to pit and come out in front of him.

So here is my suggestion. Deregulate everything. Bring back full slicks (and for heaven's sakes, make the wheelrims bigger so you can use large brakes!). Bring back active suspension. Bring back traction control, stability control and fully automatic gearboxes. Let the designers do what they will with the aerodynamics. And bring back powerful engines. 3.0 liters naturally aspirated, or 1.5 liters turbocharged, as many cylinders as you want. As many swaps as necessary.

And then, ban pitstops.

These days cars can refuel, but not change the tires. Back in the 90s, they could change the tires but not refuel. Both are possible. The reason active suspension was so useful, was because it compensated for the way handling changed as the car got lighter. If tyre manufacturers are allowed to make slicks, it will be that much easier to get them to last a whole race.

If cars aren't allowed to go into the pits except to change to rain tyres, the drivers are forced to overtake. If you don't have a good starting position, you'll have to fight tooth and nail for each point. And to make sure that things stay interesting, do away with qualifying sessions. Simply use the finishing positions of the last race, and then reverse the grid. Award points for each position, so the losers still have the insentive to go after 19th place instead of 20th, but put the winner in the back. They'll have all the power and downforce they want - now let them show what they are made of!

Sounds radical? It is. But it would work. It would make the racing infinitely more exciting to watch. It would actually make the pack less diverse in their abilities, because if McLaren or Ferrari are off the pace in terms of engineering, they can always throw vast amounts of cash at the problem, which in this industry does actually work. Perhaps most importantly, it would bring unrestricted innovation back to F1, and make it a force to be reckoned with. As opposed to a farce.

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