The World Motor Sport Council has today agreed changes to the Formula 1 Regulations for 2015. And they’re not likely to make many fans happy. Crucially, cost capping is not happening and cost saving initiatives are nominal at best.
But let’s start with the less controversial elements. Well, I say less controversial…
Only four Power Units will be allowed per driver next season, unless there are more than 20 races in which case there will be five. The penalty for changing an entire Power Unit will be starting from the back of the grid, rather than the pitlane.
Simple enough. Only it isn’t quite related in such simple terms, as under the header “Power Units” the FIA states that: “The number of engines permitted by each driver in a season will be four.”
The FIA, then, seems somewhat confused itself. Does it mean four Power Units, or does it mean four Internal Combustion Engines, themselves a component part of what we were informed by the FIA we should refer to as the Power Unit, from the start of 2014?
If the FIA could agree on what we are supposed to be calling what, and then refer to it as such in official communications, it might be slightly helpful.
Next… Aero testing. The number of wind tunnel runs permissable will be reduced from 80 hours per week to 65 hours per week. Wind-on hours are to be reduced from 30 hours per week to 25 hours. Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) usage is to be reduced from 30 Teraflops to 25 Teraflops. However, as a pay off, two periods of tunnel occupancy will be allowed in one day (rather than only one). However teams will only be able to nominate the use of one wind tunnel for one year.
There will be three pre-season track tests of four days each in Europe in 2015 (currently teams are able to test outside Europe). This will be reduced to two tests of four days in 2016. There will also be two in-season tests of two days each in Europe (instead of the current four). Two of these four days must be reserved for young drivers.
That should save some money, although the larger cost savings which had been discussed were vetoed by the larger teams in the last meeting of the Strategy Group. As such no meaningful cost saving has been agreed or put into place. One might argue a stronger FIA President might have simply laid down his own, draconian and unworkable terms and told the teams they a month to come up with something better on which they all agreed. It’s what Mosley did. And it worked.
Friday night race curfew will be extended from six to seven hours in 2015 and to eight hours in 2016.
However, and it is a big however… parc fermé will now apply from the start of FP3 instead of the start of qualifying.
There had been much chatter that moves were being put in place to reduce the amount of running over a race weekend to save costs. The thought was that Friday would see the brunt of that, becoming more of a media day. Of course the race promoters were not happy with eliminating Friday running because it would reduce the numbers through the gates. But with FP3 now meaning cars are in Parc Ferme, how much realistic running does the FIA believe we will see on a Saturday morning?
FP3 was the time when teams would perfect set-up. But by eliminating the possibility to make changes to the cars after Friday night, what possible reason is there to run in FP3? With the slight exception that perhaps it has rained all day Friday and so you just want to check you’re not a million miles out on your dry set-up, why have FP3 at all?
Essentially what we’ve got is a reduction in running time, but not one that will make fans, or one imagines teams, all that happy.
But hey, the ban on tyre blankets has been rescinded. So that’s OK.
Oh, and we’ve got sparks because titanium kick plates have been mandated.
We’ve also got standing starts after safety cars. With the exception of a safety car coming out within the first two laps or the final five laps of the race, this is what will happen. The safety car will control the field and lapped cars will unlap themselves. When the track is clear, the safety car will pull into the pits and the field will line up on the grid in current race order, just as they would at the end of the initial formation lap. Lights on, lights off, race restart.
Unless someone stalls. Then I guess we have another formation lap.
No mention has been made of what happens on a safety car start in the wet. Although I imagine that as the safety car would have been on track from before the second lap then we’ll just have a normal safety car start whereby everyone is released in a snake, as we are used to.
Safety car standing restarts are, much like double points, the answer to the question that nobody in the sport was asking. At least not seriously. If people were unhappy that the race leader still led on a restart, then perhaps they need re-education over the purpose of the safety car. It doesn’t pop out to close up the field and improve the chance of action and spectacle. This isn’t NASCAR. We don’t throw a full course yellow for a commercial break, we don’t go racing for three hours only to have the field neutralised and run to a Green, White, Chequer in the final minute and a half of competition in order to make good TV. We race. Start to finish, pausing only for an issue of safety. It’s called the safety car for a reason. Not the show car. Not the spectacular car. The safety car.
What happens to the driver who has had an amazing race, fought his way through the field but is struggling with his clutch? Safety car, standing restart, clutch goes, car stalls and he is rolled into the pitlane. All his hard work over. What about the driver who has led every lap of the race, and on the restart gets boonied out at the first corner by an overzealous move from the guy who knew that first corner was his one shot at the win?
It’s falsity. For the sake of it.
Like these kick plates. Utter falsity. Indycar’s James Hinchcliffe summed it up best on twitter last week. As he protested, sparks back in the day were cool because they were a by-product of the cars. They weren’t there to look cool. They were there because the plates were doing a job of protecting the gearbox. The sparks looked cool because they were cool.
And the worst part of it all is that these changes are being made in the name of the fans. This, apparently, is what the fans want. This will draw new fans to the sport and keep the existing fans entertained. Its all about the show. Its all about creating something big and spectacular. We’re in the entertainment business afterall. It’s all about how it looks.
But the FIA, the Strategy Group, the World Motor Sport Council, would do well to remember that Formula 1 has perhaps never been in better health. Bahrain and Canada were arguably two of the best races of the last decade. We are seeing contests decided by seconds. We are seeing minimal attrition in the earliest days of brand new ground-breaking technology.
People look back to the halcyon days of yore and protest it was so much better in the 60s or the 70s, the 80s or the 90s. It was decided that the folks at home wanted turbos and more power than grip. Well here it is and yet still people complain. Want it like the 60s? Fine. Then have races with 7 finishers and the winner lapping everyone. Twice. Want it like the early 2000s? Fine. Have it. And have the championship sewn up by mid-season.
We have got close, exciting racing. We have got brilliant new technology that the governing body has done precisely nothing to promote positively to get the fanbase excited about this new beginning for the sport. And so they panic, because they failed in their basic task to promote what they had. We have a governing body so weak that it cannot impose its will on the teams in the sport. A governing body which can see the financial ruin into which this sport is launching itself, but instead of pushing through meaningful change, concerns itself simply with how the cars look and sound. Papering over the cracks which grow ever wider.
I was accused in Austria, by Christian Horner, of being overly negative and pessimistic towards regulation changes that are yet to be put in place and could yet make the sport exciting. And you know what? Maybe I am. I hope I am. I hope these things work and make the sport even better. But when I asked Horner if this vision of the future, with double points, standing safety car restarts and fake sparks were why he got involved in racing in the first place, his immediate response belied the PR line that followed. “No, but…”
This week, he said he believed the teams should no longer have any say in the regulation of the sport and it should be down solely to the governing body. I applauded his view, as the teams cannot agree on anything as their vested interest in their competitive and financial positions makes it impossible for them to give ground. The Strategy Group is a prime example of the idiocy that can result from allowing a Select Committee of teams to propose rules.
But when one looks at what the WMSC has approved today, you have to question if allowing the FIA to run the sport unguarded and unchecked is really such a smart idea after all.
Formula 1 is allegedly listening to the fans. Its most public example of this is over the engine noise debate. It is trying to assuage their fears and concerns. At least that’s the public face. Will any of the attempts make a difference? No. But if they can look like they’re trying then they’ll keep the fans onside, right? Wrong.
Because every change they make takes the sport away from what makes it so special. It takes that simplicity, that purity, and it pours in something bitter that leaves a foul stench and a bad taste.
I get people tweeting me every day saying how much they enjoy watching GP2 because there are no gimmicks. There is no push to pass, no boost button, no special wing flap to open on the straight. Its raw, basic racing and people love it. They ask what Formula 1 is doing to itself. People tell me they’ve been a fan since the 1970s, never missed a race… and now they can’t bring themselves to watch anymore. “I want racing, not wrestling.”
But the gimmicks have taken over.
Sadly, in Formula 1, overtaking no longer means anything because, with very rare exceptions, the majority of moves are now done under DRS.
With double points, the chance of a shock and perhaps undeserving result in the championship now awaits, too. Not content with throwing open the championship to a last chance lottery, now with the race result a gimmick in the form of standing safety car restarts can also replace something earned with something blagged. Hey, don’t worry folks, it’ll be great for TV.
But who will be watching?
FIFA tried to mess with football a decade or so ago by introducing the Golden Goal and Silver Goal concepts. Both, now, have thankfully been consigned to history. The game was exciting enough as it was. You didn’t need gimmicks to make it better.
There is an old adage – Keep it simple, stupid. It is one the FIA would do well to remember.
The fans are not idiots. The more this sport treats them as though they are, the more of them the sport will lose.
As Barack Obama once famously said… “You can put lipstick on a pig. It’s still a pig.”