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A Blueprint for F1's future... rediscovering the 'awesome factor' Part I

FEATURE BY GUEST AUTHORS
22/04/2019

For as long as we can remember, we have been calling for the drivers to have more say in F1.

For it is the drivers who lay their lives on the line, even in these times where the heaviest of accidents thankfully usually means no more than a precautionary trip to the medical centre. It is the drivers that excite and frustrate, it is the drivers that we revere, that we remember.

Yet it is the drivers, the men at the coalface, who are given no real say in the sport, in terms of the cars they are to drive, the rules they are to abide by or the circuits they are to race upon.

The drivers' union, the Grand Prix Drivers' Association (GPDA) seemingly has no teeth, rarely speaking out for fear of upsetting the powers-that-be, while only those at the top, those secure in the knowledge that their seats are not at risk, the Hamiltons, Vettels, Verstappens and Alonsos who ever dare to speak out, to voice their concern at the direction in which the sport is heading.

Therefore, while Ross Brawn and his ever-increasing team of engineers work on a blueprint for the sport post-2020, imagine how delighted we were to receive an alternate version… from a driver.

Between 1980 and 1991, Stefan Johansson drove for a wide range of F1 teams, including Spirit, Tyrrell, Ligier and Onyx. However, it is for his two seasons with Ferrari and one with McLaren that most will remember him, not to mention a stint with Toleman where his teammate was an upcoming young Brazilian by the name of Senna.

Fifth in the overall standings with Ferrari in 1986, was followed by sixth with McLaren a year later, while in 1985 he scored successive seconds at the Canadian and Detroit Grands Prix for the Maranello outfit.

After F1 he headed to CART, winning 'Rookie of the Year' in 1992 and subsequently taking victory at the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1997 with former Ferrari (F1) teammate Michele Alboreto.

Subsequently moving into team ownership and driver management, Stefan is widely regarded as motor sport's 'Renaissance Man' enjoying success as an artist and watch designer.

Like most of us, Stefan was bitten by the F1 bug at an early age, unlike most of us he was able to forge a career in it. Despite moving on to other disciplines, he still loves the sport but fears for its future, concerned that unless there is a radical overhaul its days are numbered.

In his desire to see F1 rediscover the 'awesome factor' that first attracted all of us to the sport, Stefan's blueprint looks at every aspect of it, in terms of economics, competition, entertainment and relevance.

Whilst calling for an end to the madness that is the spending war on aerodynamics, he urges the introduction of more standard parts, less rules and more ingenuity, setting out his plans for a reduction in spending and a more open approach to prize money.

Seeking F1 to become road car relevant again, he outlines a sport that is less susceptible to the whims of the manufacturers, yet more attractive to newcomers.

It is time, he urges, to take the sport away from the engineers and give it back to the drivers.

"Formula One has always been about brave young men driving these crazy fast cars on the limit," he writes, "and if we lose that there is nothing that makes it unique in any way. It will be just as interesting to watch a bunch of gamers racing online.

"From a driver's perspective there is nothing that comes close to the experience when you're on the limit and you decide to step into that unknown territory by taking a high-speed corner flat for the first time in order to gain that extra tenth or two, not knowing for sure what the outcome will be, when you're literally staring at your own soul for that brief moment.

"Those are the things that every driver worth his salt is craving. They define who you are as a person and go much further than just that brief split second. Everyone who is present at that moment can see and appreciate it, and this is what makes, or at least used to make, our sport so incredibly different and special compared to most other sports."

Chris Balfe
Editor

Background: This document is an effort to offer my views on the current state of Motorsport, and Formula One in particular. For some time now, and for whatever reason, there seem to be a lot of negative comments and chatter from the people inside the business as well as from the fans all over the world.

Why is that? How did we arrive at this situation from a time not that long ago when things were seemingly mostly positive, viewership was huge, the cars were fast and spectacular to watch, we had some great personalities in the paddock, superstar drivers racing the cars and plenty of action and drama on the race track, both between the teams and the drivers. Money was flowing into the business and global corporate sponsors as well as manufacturers were all lining up to be part of the show. Teams were selling at a huge premium and everyone involved in the business was prospering.

Of course, there is not a simple answer to any of this. For sure, the majority of negative comments today are in part due to easy media accessibility for all, but it seems to me there are real elements of concern in the sport and they have arisen from a gradual process of poor decisions. In some cases on the technical side, knee-jerk decisions based on either a bad accident, complaints from the fans and media about the racing not being good enough; in other cases, based on pressure from certain teams or manufacturers in order to keep them in the championship; and finally, but very importantly, a level of political correctness has crept in that, at least in my opinion, has done nothing to make the racing any better at any level, but has instead only contributed to pushing the costs through the roof and created a greater division between the teams, and, as such, made the racing too predictable and less interesting to watch. As a result of all this, the technology has evolved to where we are today, and most importantly, was allowed to evolve to a point where the budgets suddenly went into the stratosphere.

At the same time, the business model for the commercial rights holders has changed dramatically since the introduction of pay-per-view instead of terrestrial TV, which means that there is (theoretically) more revenue, even if derived from significantly fewer viewers. The byproduct of this is that there is less interest for sponsors to spend big money as their metrics are primarily based on the number of eyeballs watching, and in particular, eyeballs in places where the demographics support purchase of the sponsors' products - not all eyeballs are created equally in the minds of the sponsor - Unilever and Heineken differentiate between reaching eyeballs in Azerbaijan versus Germany and the US. In addition, there are now a number of different viewing platforms besides TV, which is causing even more confusion and a hard to quantify environment for companies to select the best strategy to market their products. The challenge the series and the teams are now facing is how to grow or just maintain their eco system.

As a result of there currently being a less attractive return-on-investment proposition for the global sponsor, we now have a situation where every team is more or less wholly dependent on the money they receive from the series, i.e. from FOM (Formula One Management), as this represents the bulk of their income. This was never the case before, when major sponsors were the main contributors and the money the teams received from the series was almost the icing on the cake, especially if they did well. Hence, there are now several teams racing without a main sponsor, or if they do have one, it's for a fraction of what a title sponsor used to pay.

Through all these various rule changes that have occurred in recent years I have a feeling that Formula One has somehow lost its identity and I am not sure anyone, whether it's the FIA or Liberty (FOM), really know what Formula One stands for anymore.

I believe we are now at a point where another two or maybe three decisions in the wrong direction could spell the end of F1 as we know it.

People are already tuning out because they have either lost interest or it's too predictable or not exciting enough or whatever the reason may be. The younger generation doesn't seem to care, F1 and motorsport in general is struggling to catch their attention. I challenge anyone to define in three words what F1 stands for today.

In order to arrive at a situation that has the right balance between Economics, Competition, Entertainment and Relevance - it's important to first identify the individual areas that matter the most and focus on getting these right and at the same time eliminate the areas that matters the least.

I will first attempt to identify the areas that I feel are important and will then go into more detail on each individual item and come up with what I believe could be a solution, or at least open the door for a debate or dialogue in order to find the best way forward.

Economics

Background: There's been talk for some time now about various ways to bring the costs down but no decisions have been made on how to achieve this. In the meantime, the costs are gradually creeping up every year and it's now gotten to the point that even the world's largest automotive manufacturers and the largest corporate sponsors are reluctant to compete in Formula One. This being the case, the cost to compete is so high, so prohibitively expensive, that it serves as a barrier to those who would naturally be and traditionally have been involved in the sport. It's been clear to everyone for some time now that the costs are unsustainable under the current set of rules.

The major cost is in the constant development war, with the aerodynamics and the power units being the largest contributors of excessive expense for the teams and the engine manufacturers.

Despite efforts to curb the costs through various sets of rules, such as limitations on the number of engines and gearboxes used in a season, all it seems to have done is the exact opposite and in fact driven the costs of producing these units much higher. The cost of manufacturing an already developed engine or gearbox is not that expensive in the overall scheme of things, but the cost of developing and manufacturing an engine that must last one-third of a season is extremely expensive and seemingly far outweighs the cost of using several engines during the course of the season.

Adding the hybrid component to the powertrain has done more damage than all the other rule changes combined in my opinion. It seems that in order to meet the politically correct agenda that is now creeping in to every facet of life, it's somehow been decided that this is the future of automotive engineering and needs to be part of Formula One as well.

Pushed by the manufacturers (under the premise of wanting the formula to have relevance to the manufacturer's production line-up) who put pressure on the FIA, Formula One had to follow, along with the WEC. Interestingly, both series are now completely controlled and dominated by the OEM's and would not survive in their current formats without the money being poured in by the manufacturers competing. The privateer or independent teams are now just the clowns that make up the show in both series and have no realistic chance of ever winning a race.

This means we are stuck with three teams in F1 and currently only one team in the WEC that have any chance of winning. This seems an incredibly high trade off just to be doing the politically correct thing. By introducing this rule and subsequently allowing the manufacturers to effectively take control of both series, it will take some major undoing to get things back on the right track again.

What we have now is an engine formula that is turning manufacturers away rather than inviting them to join, which is a very dangerous path. As we all know from past experiences, it's only a matter of a board decision for any manufacturer, except Ferrari, to stop any racing program if it doesn't suit their purpose for whatever reason. None of them have any real emotional attachment to racing, which has been shown by Toyota, Honda and BMW who all pulled out of F1 within a few years of each other.

I strongly believe that the current concept of race car design needs a complete reset in almost every major category, but particularly in Formula One. There has been no real innovation since the discovery of aerodynamics. Every aspect of a current race car design always has the aero as the first priority, as this is what gives the most gain in lap-time by far. But as we all know, aside from making the car go faster, there are very few benefits from aerodynamics, if any. It's the #1 factor in driving the costs higher, it's the #1 factor in making the racing less interesting, it has no relevance aside from making the car go faster, yet it's been the primary focus in every single form of racing for the past 30 years or more. It's time for a major reset. The cost of the development war is escalating every year and will continue to do so as long as aero is the prime factor in making the cars go faster.

Another contributing factor to the high cost is the fact that each team must build most components themselves rather than buying 'off the shelf' components already manufactured and tested.

A loose interpretation of the old 'B-team' concept (using the parts and resources from another team that is legally allowed) has slowly crept in with teams like Haas, Sauber (Alfa Romeo), Toro Rosso and Racing Point to some degree. Under the current set of rules this is by far a much better approach than trying to design, manufacture, test and run every single component yourself. We can clearly see the result of this where Haas and Alfa Romeo are now consistently the 'best of the rest' teams.

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by sagosac, 03/05/2019 10:49

"Thank you so much, Sir Johansson !
Many right things you are stating !

Like I am trying to influence the powers in charge since about 15 years, too, about all these issues, please allow me to criticise everybody and everything, too :-)

Right, there was a time when everything was fine, no irony. This is important to acknowledge, because then we can relate to these decades – albeit the powers-in-charge will tend to deny – against all core fans’ opinion.

I think, fans do moan when you give them a reason, not just because they are able to.
I cannot see any correlation between political correctness (inevitable asset on our way of evolution) and sporting action / performance / budgets.
And those "different viewing platforms besides TV" allow for exact quantification of eye balls, hence should be more than welcome to sponsors.

Right, when sponsors do not line up, there is at least one major problem with a sport.

Right, those many unnecessary, random, arbitrary changes in sporting regulation (Qualifying, DRS “yes/no, line x, distance y” or tyre x & y) were intended to distract from / trigger-up poor on-track action, but served nothing but confusion and less fans (who hate complicated make-up-rules to disguise poor product).

Still I believe that the powers in charge know what F1 was / shall be about.
They just cannot afford full unbiasedness; full sportive behaviour.

Today F1 stands for “Efficiency, Predictability, Safety” and it was / shall be “Tailor-made, Peak-Performance, Efficiency”.
Sport is about the principle of MAXIMISATION (like R&D is), whereby investors in a billion-dollar biz will always strive for the principle of MINIMISATION (predominantly of risk). This is why sports-biz is a very complicated one.

ECONOMICS: no problem, no need to take action, other than fair distribution of the prize pot. The big teams are being funded by their shareholders, by sponsors, by merchandising-sales, by prize-pot and then again by their sponsors via boni for success and a highly remarkable amount of AVE (Advertising Value Equivalent, which may reach some 3 BILLION dollars per annum in the case of Mercedes) => no need for any further special treatment.
If the overarching aim was best possible sport, a perfectly even distribution model was the smartest solution. Force-India was best case to show that money is not everything.

Would be so interesting to see what the smaller teams may achieve when better funded. Instead, it is planned to install a budget cap at the same time – diluting the outcome of the aforementioned – at the cost of TOTAL COMPETITION, maximum meaningfulness of the sport :-(

Applying two means at the same time, both aiming to solve the same issue must leave the inventor with question marks above his head, which portion of the outcome is due to measure 1 and 2.

Any budget limit must be impossible to police, with the large organisations facing massive problems to organise perfect scrutiny – which can easily be challenged…then increasing any possible unfair advantage they already possess. Even if they try to follow this budget rule, they might fail, easily. And if one of them would decide to play unfair just for a little bit (because they feel others had an unfair advantage before), it was so easy for them to arrange it. Clearly a feel-good rule – which may, and quite likely will, harm the sport in a serious way. We saw privateers winning against Porsche, Ferrari, Renault, Ford; when it was possible back then, it is possible still; because the difference in size and power was about the same as it is today.

F1 is the HI-TEC series, this is why I do not share your view that we have to take the sport off from the engineers and give it back to the drivers."

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2. Posted by Flip, 26/04/2019 11:21

"Stefan is right, F1 is losing it's appeal and what it used to stand for, F1 and is getting boring, especially when watching on TV. I have been to a few races and it's definitely more interesting and exciting if you are able to watch each race trackside, but TV viewing is becoming so boring, I record each race these days, so I can fast forward the follow the leader laps. F1 could learn a thing or two from motorbike championships about close racing and excitement, especially British superbikes who have cut out a lot of electronics, so less money spent and close exciting racing with more emphasise on rider skill to win races. "

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3. Posted by Greg, 23/04/2019 13:18

"Stefan raises some interesting points. He also is nearly reverting to a one make series with the FIA supplying the chassis, standard wings, same brakes etc. It also would let the smaller teams compete better and possibly entice more players. The big $'s spent now push most likely newer teams away, unless they be like B teams to the 3 major players.
"

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4. Posted by imejl99, 23/04/2019 11:04

"@editor
English not my native language, errors happens
(to defeat soundly, blew their rivals away)"

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5. Posted by Editor, 23/04/2019 10:24

"@ imejl99

Erm... when you say "blowing the field"..."

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6. Posted by imejl99, 23/04/2019 9:06

"562 people went to space. 774 people drove F1 racing car. We can argue there is better chance to drive F1 car than to go to space, but for space all one needs is to go to military school, be good, try to become fighter pilot and then there is a chance. For F1, one needs to be financially backed far more beyond most of us are.

Eddie Jordan, son of an accountant, bought a kart. We came a long way for that kart to be purchased by Lawrence Stroll for Lance to go around. It became multimillion sport for multimillionaires. No more garagistes.
Fixing F1 also become elitist discussion. I can hardly see any point in that way.

It is not overtaking, or competition. Anyone ever playing any racing game knows it is about blowing the field and lapping everyone if possible :) Only, there was a time one could dream achieving it in real life. That time is not any more for most. And that is where interest drops, with young, and parents alike.

Investment in a ball and pair of cleats, and one can dream. Only few can dream and hope to become F1 racing driver. Even if there is money background. There is a better chance to become Messi. Or an astronaut."

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7. Posted by Lapps, 22/04/2019 21:09

"Well if people didn’t get the message from the first 10 positions on the Start at the last GP.
Five rows all in Team order! We need less engineering input and more Driver input.

Limiting money will never do it. There are too many ways to swindle that, it has to be by Regulation and simplification."

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8. Posted by Uffen, 22/04/2019 20:12

"Just YES.
I find all these suggestions spot on. It would also lead to fewer regulations. F1 now is almost a parody of racing. "

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9. Posted by English Tony, 22/04/2019 15:52

"Just NO

Less regulation = more innovation

Last season we had 6 cars capable of winning a GP & 5 drivers that did - this was not true in many, many other seasons

Lose Liberty Media, make the sport available of free to view, stop running it down as being boring / predictable / elitist / expensive & deregulate for more innovative solutions

Thank you"

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