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Lunacy

FEATURE BY MIKE LAWRENCE
10/12/2013

Motor racing is simple at heart, it is who can cover a set distance in the shortest time or, as in the case of Sebring or Le Mans, who can cover the most distance in a given time. As though the FIA has not done enough to complicate the sport, we have a raft of new rules.

We are to have double points for the final race, and next year that will be Abu Dhabi whose proud tradition of Formula One goes back as far as 2009. Already the organisers of the first and last races of the season are charged a premium. It is mainly the oil states who can run races at such times, so they have been ripe for fleecing. Even if Monza or Spa wanted to be the last race of the season, they couldn't be.

So Abu Dhabi will be more important than any other race and the idea seems to be to stage a down-to-the-wire Championship. It is blatant rigging and it is wrong, plain wrong. Every race should count equally.

No championship has been won or lost at the last race, there has always been that botched pit stop in Melbourne, the collision in Montreal, the blown engine at Silverstone, or the poor qualifying in Hungary. They have all been part of the season. Now every other race will be diminished.

We have gone beyond the time when only the best so many races in a season counted. That was to balance the inevitable retirements when mechanical reliability was not as it has become.

With double points on offer, I can see some teams building their late season strategies around that. Romain Grosjean's brilliant season came to premature end with a blown engine at Interlagos and that is the sort of thing that grabs the attention of teams hungry for points. It won't affect the main players, but ask the guys at Marussia and Caterham what tenth in the Constructors' Championship meant to them.

Towards the end of last season, we had commentators, desperate for something to say, telling us that Fernando Alonso had set a new record for the number of championship points scored. It is meaningless. It is blather. It is PR snap, crackle and pop. Fangio and Farina had to win half the races in the Championship, and set a fastest lap, to score 25 points.

Drivers are to be able to nominate their racing numbers. I see no harm in that, in principle. Sir Stirling favoured seven, Gilles Villeneuve was associated with #27 and there was also Our Nige. Williams happened to paint their numbers in red and Mansell had #5, then someone told him that, in 'Star Wars', Luke Skywalker's designation was Red Five. After that, there was no stopping him. He was 'Red Five'.

What is going to happen is that drivers are going to be quizzed on their chosen numbers and stories will be picked up by the tabloids, thus lowering the credibility of the sport still further. It's bad enough that the cheap press employs astrologers, want to bet that they won't consult numerologists?

Believe me, some drivers will decide that their numbers have become jinxed. In 1979, Brian Henton lost the European F2 Championship on the final lap at Donington when his brakes failed. Afterwards, he blamed the colour of his helmet (green) and I heard him say it.

What had actually happened was that a member of the Toleman team had died in a car crash and his funeral was held during the week of the race and Toleman had lost a day of preparation and had not conducted brake pad wear tests. It was Brian Henton himself who told me this, some years later, but he still changed the colour of his helmet.

Drivers in NASCAR have their own numbers, but they are displayed large on the cars. When was the last time you could read the numbers on an F1 car? Unless the FIA decrees that numbers shall stand out from all the sign writing around them, the exercise is pointless.

It has become usual for newspapers to set really difficult quizzes, crosswords and other puzzles for readers to solve over the Christmas holiday. Not to be outdone, the FIA has come up with a zinger. It has decided that a drive through penalty is too harsh for some minor infringements (ask Felipe Massa at Interlagos.) The FIA has proposed five second penalties, but has not yet worked out how to do it.

It is another winner from the people who gave you the exploding tyre.

The drive through was instituted to ensure that a penalty was imposed, it would drop a driver down the order, yet the spectators would still be able to follow the race.

At some stages in a race, it would be possible for a pit crew to be delayed five seconds before changing tyres. A driver leaves the pits after his final stop, crosses the white line, incurs a penalty, what then? You can always add five seconds to the race time, but how is that going to play with the audience at home? Hotshoe is trying to overtake Vermicelli, but Vermicelli is really 3.6 seconds behind Hotshoe and is actually behind Einbahnstrasse who is behind them both.

Here is your puzzle for Boxing Day. How do you enforce a five second penalty without viewers switching off in droves?

Here is your puzzle for the whole of the New Year, how do you impose a spending cap? Bear with me while I draw a parallel.

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1. Posted by 4-Wheel Drifter, 27/01/2014 22:04

"Mr. Lawrence:

Thank you for a very cogent and carefully considered review of the current status of F1 racing's rules and management. While racing is, as you correctly point out, an essentially simple matter in its purest form (on the motorway, say between a couple of points) it is only safe or legal on some sort of sanctioned circuit. Said circuits, of course are expensive to maintain and include, in addition to circuit maintenance, supplying medical teams and garage facilities and grandstands and parking, and on and on. So money enters into the picture from the very beginning. And, unlike racing, money is not essentially simple. It may be even more complex than religion; who knows? F1 racing in its current state began, as you know, back in the 1950's and, initially, followed the general scope and outlines of racing back in the twenties and thirties before the war. I remember growing up, as probably you did, with Fangio and Hill and Moss and the rest. In my case, via the American magazine called Road and Track, days, if not weeks, after the races. It was a golden era and a simpler time, but I doubt that it was untainted by money. Even at the little midget race track in Grants Pass, Oregon, where we watched the Offeys and the Ford V-8 60's tangle in trophy dashes and sprints leading to the "main event," it was clear to me that the best drivers and mechanics didn't always win and that the teams that had the most money, all other things being equal, were disproportionately rewarded. The lunacy you are describing cannot be refuted, but it came with Mr. E's ascendancy and, if we are lucky, will, in the end, cure itself --or else F1 will simply collapse of its own weight. As you pointed out earlier, regulations, not competition, sealed the fate of Cosworth in F1. And it is certainly true that, in a more competitive structure some of the current drivers and teams in F1 would simply drop out of sight. (I won't mention names!) But, on the positive side I think you'll agree that Red Bull's money and drive have changed the landscape generally for the good and, if we can get a few more sportsmen with cash into the game, we may well drive the Mercs back to Stuttgart and the Renaults back to wherever in France they live. As a long-time fan of Maranello, I have to say that I don't think Enzo sleeps quietly in his grave and I doubt that the red cars will ever regain their original splendor. I will not say what I think about McLaren because I understand its illustrious history & revered position in Britain. But my greatest pleasure in recent seasons has been the Red Bull run to glory (and we're talking BIG money here) and the return of the spirit of Lotus. Sometimes, as happened even at the midget track at the fairgrounds, the good guys win --and its all the sweeter for the odds against them. Thanks for reading this and keep on needling the supremo and his henchmen. "

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2. Posted by rocco, 22/12/2013 6:21

"No, but I'm just a crane operator. Or was.
Honestly, it all seems parallel the entire world situation. Logic has become perverted. A stand out moment that made me aware of perverted logic was in 10th grade. 1975 Chemistry class. A simple reaction measured in grams. The entire class except myself displayed answers that reflected a perfect reaction and adjusted there numbers to reflect this answer. And they received an "A". I merely performed an honest reaction which reflected many other variables and a honest answer. I received a "C" . Little did I know at the time that the real lesson learned would be that this was how life was going to be. Denial. It has integrated itself into everything. I have told you in the past how much I love reading your column. Because it is honest. To me a race of any kind is that same chemical reaction that deserves not the perfect answer. But, the honest one. Isn't that how we learn? The desire to win is greater than the desire to learn. If every team were to honestly work within a cap. Would we not learn more? "C" this excites me."

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3. Posted by yagijd, 21/12/2013 19:47

"The FIA was pretty useless in the sixties. I had my FIA/CAMS racing license pulled because I drove a go kart in a non sanctioned event "

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4. Posted by ragged_edge, 13/12/2013 17:56

"Excellent article, as usual ... spending caps will always have ways around them; perhaps it is a matter of limiting the aerodynamics of the cars - make them less reliant on aero and more dependent on mechanical grip and driver skill ... Simpler is always cheaper ... If it was up to me, I'd make the cars very difficult to handle as this would quickly return the driver to the fore ... I'd also bring back in-race refuelling as there has never been a greater source of chaos in a pit stop than this ... I understand these suggestions would add risk and an increase in crashes, but c'est la vie - it is racing after all, and real racing has crashes ...

I hate the double points ... sheer idiocy from unimaginative bureaucrats trying to please the powers-that-be with no recognition of the fan base; we are not as stupid as they think ... like others who have posted here I have been a stalwart fan of F1 for 4 decades, but I am pretty much fed up of watching parades; whether I watch the series next year will depend on whether there is any degree of excitement from reliability issues (and that's another criticism - the infallibility of the cars today ... F1 just doesn't live up to the promise anymore ..."

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5. Posted by GoodPublicity, 12/12/2013 14:42

"Clearly the FIA (with FOM pulling the strings) is changing F1 into a reality TV show. Eventually each episode will bring another orchestrated plot twist to keep the punters from becoming bored and confused during the 'racing segment'.

We long-suffering F1 fans can only wait patiently for the TV ratings to plummet as the novelty wears off. Then F1 can stop being 'entertainment', and become a sport once more."

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6. Posted by Spindoctor, 11/12/2013 15:12

"It's really, really sad. I've been a fan since the 1960's.
Formula 1 has had many downs, and fewer ups since then, but the last decade seems to have been mainly headlong decline.

The reasons for this are undoubtedly complex. It's not merely the commercialisation of the sport: numerous sports mange both commercial AND sporting success. The biggest part of that problem is the nature of that commercialisation: the unbridled and unprincipled pursuit of profit.
F1 is not unique in in this degree nor intensity of commercialisation, but is unique in the extent to which the profits are syphoned out of the sport and into the pockets of companies and individuals not participating directly in it.

Consequently there are perverse incentives at work. CVC's profits depend more on Bernie "selling" the idea to new countries of holding races than they do on the quality of the races we already have. Contrast this to the UK Premiership, where much larger sums of money are involved, but it is mainly invested in the spectacle. I'm accepting bets as to which of these two sports will be extant and thriving in 2020..."

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7. Posted by HappyHippyBiker, 11/12/2013 12:45

"Where can i watch the Le Mans Series, please? This is just too much"

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8. Posted by Simon in Adelaide, 11/12/2013 2:28

"Rather than a 5 second penalty just deduct driver or manufacturer championship points depending on who was the culprit. The same goes for grid penalties for engine or gearbox changes - not the driver's fault therefore deduct 10 manufacturer points.

Far better than artificially adjusting the racing."

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9. Posted by kiwi2wheels, 10/12/2013 22:02

"Another brilliant summation of the farce that F1 has degenerated into. Two thoughts immediately spring to mind...

The inmates are running the asylum.

Some people are alive only because it is illegal to kill them

( But a couple of bullets could eliminate this madness .............)"

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10. Posted by vins0n, 10/12/2013 17:00

"We should have drivers starting in their underwear. When the lights go out they have to get dressed and run to the cars. The driver that gets there first can pick his car and so on until all the cars have started. The last driver gets the worst car. Races should run under wet and dry conditions with a special "safety" tanker/track dryer machine (we'll work that out later). All team bosses should have a kill switch for an opposing team's car which he can use at any point in the race but will be aware that tit for tat actions will occur should he decide to do so.

Night races will look like they are being run inside a darkened a warehouse (no change) while TV pundits tell us how special they are and what a great atmosphere there is.

At the end of the race the drivers will pick their points from a bingo machine and the winner will wear a sombrero and dance the macarena.

SKY will charge viewers per lap with the last race costing double. BBC will show a random 3 laps (not necessarily in order) which will be chosen by SKY. All BBC presenters and pundits will look identical from the waist down (no change)."

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11. Posted by ACanuck, 10/12/2013 16:15

"Dr. Lawrence has hit the nail on the head again. I hope #27 isn't in the pool of available numbers, especially for some spotty teen driver with a big sponsorship package behind him or her. And now, my invective:

F1 is diminished and full of artifice and rarely worth watching due to the processional nature of almost every race in recent memory. I am admittedly old and grumpy but I'm not so impaired by either condition to remember when drivers could actually have an opinion, and when cars could pass each other without hitting little buttons in designated zones. Engines drank fuel at alarming rates and produced sounds that went right through you, as opposed to today's crop of hand mixers trying to get the urban/rural economy ratings right.

Rules have always been flexible depending on who read them but this latest batch of ideas goes even further down the wrong road, straight into a large and immovable concrete wall. It is a very sad thing. I continue to follow F1 not so much out of a passion for racing, but from a morbid sense of curiosity: How bad can it get before it ceases to exist at all? And will anyone care about the loss, given the current state and direction of things? How much hyperbole can we honestly accept, when the product never really delivers?

What was once a sport that engendered for many deep passion, excitement, and admiration is now a mile wide and a quarter inch deep. It is style without substance. It is expensive designer bling made of Chinese pot metal. F1 under the current business model, FIA administration, sponsors, bankers, and Mr. E. is just so completely buggered, it may have slipped past the point of no return. Teams will go along with things because that is the business environment in which they have to operate, until they decide there are better things to do. And there are, but please don't say it's e-racing because that is even more pathetic.

Gentlemen, start your hair dryers."

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12. Posted by Podge, 10/12/2013 14:30

"I really do think the FIA are on to something here. In fact, to increase motivation, they should award double points for ALL races! Why did noone think of that?! Dangle that carrot in front of drivers, and you're definitely going to improve the spectacle! I suggest we get completely transparent helmets so we can see drivers tighten their eyes so it's evident when they're actually trying. Give Whiting a pair of binoculars and it can be up to him to see if a driver is trying hard enough as he goes past the start line. "Oh yes, Fernando was REALLY creasing his forehead then". You could even award more points for how hard people are trying. Perhaps a mid-season performance review, where drivers sit in front of a board of FIA suits? "But I've tried so hard, sir." Point reductions and additions will be reviewed after the review as we are just too busy right now scratching our heads trying to think of a way of dragging this god-awful motorsporting stalemate into an exciting new light.

Speaking of not trying hard enough, the pitcrews spend most of the race sat down on their backsides! Track-side spectator numbers could be increased by having the pitcrews take part in an urban-style dance-off during the race. Points could be awarded for difficulty and synchronisation.

Spectacle!"

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13. Posted by Darvi, 10/12/2013 12:58

"Excellent analysis and conclusion. The FIA seems to have lost its way with F1 and, in a pathetic attempt to make it more of a show, is making it worse year on year. It invited applications from new teams, promising level playing fields, etc. and has increasingly, made life worse for them, the latest migration to turbos being another nail in the coffin for anyone without the massive budgets needed to start again from a clean sheet of paper, and all for what?

Meanwhile CVC is making a fortune for absolutely no investment while Ecclestone flies around the world squeezing even more money out of anyone that is willing to pay. Todt seems to be completely invisible which is playing into Eccelstones hands. In the end, the teams and long standing circuits are being disenfranchised by an organisation that has made no real investment in F1 and which is milking it."

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14. Posted by ratchet69, 10/12/2013 12:26

"Right, the drivers are going to pick their own numbers. OK then how about a catchy nicknames like Jenson, The Flyer from Frome, Button. Kimi, Ice Man, Raikkonen etc.
Then some really load intro music for each driver as he is introduced by a totally over the top MC. Loud rock music for every pit stop and, the piece de resitance, cheer leaders, in skimpy costumes with pompoms, during safety car periods.
Extra points to be awarded for pole position, fastest lap, most prolonged lock-up, best clean overtake, best dirty overtake, fastest pit stop, silliest facial hair, most tatoos and finally the most artistic and entertaining do-nut. Have I missed anything? Then let the show commence."

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15. Posted by Jolemo, 10/12/2013 12:24

"These latest changes are totally stupid. F1 is all about the top drivers and teams in the world competing against each other to see who legitimately is the best. Every part of every race should be equally as important as any other. After forced pit stops (re-fueling, now tyre changes) then the addition of time-based additional power (KERS) and aero advantages (DRS), F1 for me is becoming a bit too much like a computer game."

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