The Strategy Group has got it right. It’s taken the body a while, but the result of this week’s meeting in Biggin Hill is a workable set of suggestions which will benefit the sport and which should set it upon a positive future trajectory.
The measures that will be rushed in for this year will place the driver at greater control of the car, and remove the aids deemed to have taken some of the emphasis on skill away from the heroes in the cockpit. Radio chatter will be limited yet further and the onus placed back on drivers actually driving.
The overhauling of the ludicrous power unit penalty system was important so as to stop the entire concept appearing to be as farcical as it did in Austria, and the relaxation of engine allowances in the first season for a new manufacturer could make the sport a (slightly) more attractive proposition for any brands scared away by Honda’s struggles.
All of these proposals will be put to an F1 Commission fax vote in time for next week’s World Motor Sport Council for instant ratification. They should find no objection.
As for the future, Pirelli is finalising the method by which it will increase the freedom of tyre choice, and in all other areas things are still very much up for discussion.
The headline of cars which will be five to six seconds faster per lap remains, and I understand that increasing aerodynamic downforce by as much as 25% was discussed. Some of this would come from the floor and thus a tentative move towards utilising some sort of ground effect is on the cards. The cars themselves are intended to become wider, along with wider, stickier tyres from 2017 although, again, I understand that the 18 inch concept has been put on the backburner as they are considered too heavy. This will not go down well with Michelin, whose F1 pitch revolves around the 18 inch idea. Also removed from conversation has been the topic of the reintroduction of refuelling, despite the positive reaction its possible return mustered with those who filled out the GPDA survey.
In terms of engines, the biggest topic discussed was the removal of a fuel limit. This is not to be confused with fuel flow rates, but rather to allow teams to run as much fuel and as large a fuel tank as they wished, in order to remove the perception of fuel saving. The engine note will change, I believe predominantly through a change in regulations around the wastegate.
It is the final line of the press release however, that seems to have caused the most debate. “Several exciting and innovative changes to the qualifying and race weekend formats have also been discussed and are being evaluated by FIA and FOM for a 2016 introduction.”
These vary from an extra race on Saturday using third cars and reserve drivers, to a wholesale change of the weekend format.
As I understand it, the leading suggestion discussed was to keep Friday as a practice day, but on Saturday to replace FP3 with a morning qualifying session. Qualifying would be run precisely as it is today, with the popular Q1, Q2, Q3 knockout format which has worked so well for so long. The results of qualifying would set the grid for a Saturday afternoon race.
This Saturday race would take the form of a no pitstop sprint, the results of which would set the grid for the Grand Prix proper on Sunday.
Personally, I think it is a great idea. Everyone wants to see these great drivers and great cars racing more. This potential format does just that. It’s an idea which has always worked very well at the Macau F3 Grand Prix. There is great risk and potentially huge reward in a qualifying race. Take a chance that comes off, and you get an improved starting position for the main event. Take a chance and end up in the barrier, and you start from the back.
The importance of Friday’s practice sessions would be increased as the only occasions for the teams to hone set-ups and trial developments. This, in turn, should lead to more running during Friday FP1 and FP2.
For fans at the track, and at home, it increases the excitement and competition over the course of the weekend and puts way more value into a Saturday ticket.
The big knock-ons, however, would be to power unit usage and of course cost. The regulations over power units would have to be eased to allow such a format change to take place. But with these two exceptions I can see no real downside.
There is no falsity to the concept. We are not talking about reverse grids or qualifying races with grids decided by championship position. The competitive element is pure. It’s just a different way of deciding the Grand Prix grid, in a manner that adds value and excitement to a weekend. I’m a fan of the idea. I think it would be fabulous.
It must, of course, be remembered that these are at present merely suggestions and discussion points. There is no hard and fast decision as yet, and it is nowhere near the point of being put to the Commission or Council.
It could be that the format change has been mentioned in such vague terms to test the waters of fan reaction… but as we saw with the much maligned decision to award double points for the final race in 2014, the court of public opinion can hold little sway with the decision makers.
The one thing to take away from all of this is that the changes being pushed through for this season are positive. The suggested changes for 2016 are positive. And the targets for 2017 and beyond are all positive.
For once, the Strategy Group actually seems to have a strategy. And its a pretty good one.