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An engineer replies to Stefan Johansson's blueprint for reshaping F1 Part II

FEATURE BY MAX NOBLE
06/05/2019

Dear reader, in the first part of this engineer's response to the drivers' desires for rule and cost revisions to the sport we sat respectfully in the Pitpass office poking Mr Johansson's strawman with a knitting needle blessed upon us from our grandmother (who only had time for Fangio and Moss...). Now we follow the demon driving of Mr Johansson as he dives into the twisting back half of this circuit and considers the aspects of competition that we need to address to place 'awesomeness' back at front and centre for Formula One. Rest assured there will be more straw on the floor before we reach that final full stop...

Some of the issues Mr Johansson is seeking to address here have been hinted at via areas of cost reduction, so we will not rehash ideas already explored in the first section of our engineer's response.

Key is a suggested 70% reduction in aero-generated down force. The evils of aero being core to Mr Johansson's view of what afflicts Formula One. We lost Concorde, and with it supersonic travel for civilians, due to Boeing throwing a wobbly over not having designed and built it. We now all bounce through super-hub airports controlled by those that buy the planes... who have no interest in super-fast travel city-to-city ignoring their home base. Don't expect revolution here any time soon. My point?

Is going backwards going forward? Is returning a 'Technology Showcase' to a "Frozen in time and space because we like it that way" formula the path to a great future? Is that really going to attract the "Me First", "Internet", "Millennial" generation to our sport?

Especially if top-end McLaren, Bugatti, Ferrari and Porsche road cars can actually lap (pick your favourite circuit) faster than a current Formula One car... well it is going to look silly, and contrived.

Yet, as sport is warfare tamed by rules to reduce the killing to bruising, one can argue that all sport is artificially tamed, blunted, contrived, in the name of avoiding each rugby and football field becoming a killing field, and to yield an exciting, entertaining, spectacle. So is Formula One any more contrived than these staples of Western sporting culture?

Rather as one person's style icon is another's shaggy-haired dud, so it is with sporting spectacle. Off-side rules, video referees, lighter boots, wider goals, skin suits, no skin suits... At some stage many sports have had to deal with what technology adds to their DNA, their brand core values, and which detract.

Is aero a core Formula One value? Or top speed? Or peak lateral G...? Many years ago I had the delight of seeing the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird streak across the skies above Farnborough. Awesome? Yes indeed. Exciting, intoxicating, on the edge... Well no not really, as it made it all look so easy, and at a distance was simply a black swan gliding with minimal effort across cloudy English skies.

If it was battling total failure like a poorly maintained Sopwith Camel to remain in the air as the pilot struggled heroically with the simplistic controls avoiding an abrupt unscheduled landing and we could all gasp with our hearts in our mouths, transfixed by the titanic efforts of the pilot. Would that be any better...? Or simply different?

Is one more "Awesome" than the other? As Mr Johansson asks, what is it we are trying to make Formula One?

Next is the suggestion of making the cars look great. Well... As form follows function in Formula One I've found nearly every year that the cars look amazing and current. The high noses of a few years back were a serious misstep, followed swiftly by the equally daft low noses... but now both these issues have settled down we are back to wonderful looking purposeful cars. Again the classic cars of the 1950s, 1960s, and so on are all unique and beautiful within their own time frame references, and some are seminal designs of great beauty for all time.

Next Mr Johansson recommends more power, and a power equivalency formula. Both sound suggestions that Pitpass has agreed with in the past. Over to you FIA...

Next Mr Johansson recommends the cars are now being biased (under his proposed rules) to higher power driven top speeds, longer braking distances, and lower apex speeds. Again Pitpass agrees all these things would open larger windows for overtaking, and driver error, each lap and as a result generate more dramatic racing. Great fun for the driver, but given the (under this rule set) huge level of commonality between the cars, would fans have any interest in the teams at all, with the intrigue of great technology having been lost?

Weight reduction is the next recommendation, and while we feel it might not be possible to pull as much weight out the cars as suggested, we do believe such a move would make the cars more lively, and again as a result more of a challenge to drive on the limit.

Ah! Now tyres! We could dedicate an entire article to mutterings on this topic. Just as we all run on different rim styles, rim sizes, tyres and tyre pressures on the road... why mandate anything at all for racing other than safety (loading) requirements? Let the teams do whatever they want, and allow as many suppliers as wish to take part...? What's not to love?

Next Mr Johansson moves into a series of bullet-point improvements and recommendations. In the interests of this analysis article not exceeding the length of Harry Potter, I shall move to a more clipped style here on...

Reduce the importance of electronics: New power sources will require huge amounts of software to run. But where do we draw a line on driver aids? Ironic as road cars are now filled with software and driver aids, and are not that far from being successfully driverless. Any road relevance here is next to impossible. Agree a driver aid limit and don't worry, the current solution (as noted earlier) is working.

Governance: Eliminate the designers and engineers in the rule making process and simplify the rules: Refer previous comment on off-side rules, goal sizes etc. People will always argue over rules. Always... Stable rules that can be applied equally to all competitors is the best situation we can hope for.

Modify the race tracks to make them more difficult and more interesting to watch: Ummm.. This is at the heart of what is Awesome? Returning to the early 1980's with modern haircuts, or continuing to evolve? Society has become increasingly intolerant of injury and death (quite reasonably so in 99.9% of cases...) refer to "A Brief History of Cottonwool" article for a further discussion on this one. It has to remain safe, and forward looking.

Replace DRS with Push to Pass (P2P): Sorry a flat no here. Remove both. If your power source (such as a turbo engine) allows for something like a variable boost control, then have that for the driver to use. If you have a battery... well good luck.

Race format: Yup - agree with these observations. Get on with it FIA...

Longer pit stops / 1 person per wheel: Like increased braking zones, increased pit-stop times, via fewer people, increases the chances for error, and makes the cost of a stop far higher in terms of race time. I'm rather neutral on this one (and note that "one person per wheel" is a very prescriptive rule...).

Fewer investigations and penalties: A consistent approach is required, however as with other sports, if you relax rules people will push and push and take advantage until it is either dangerous, cheating, or both. On this planet probably not possible.

No penalties for engine and gearbox changes: Total agreement on this one. It is a pointless rule that any engineer would tell you would never drive cost down.

Entertainment:

Make the drivers more accessible: Indeed! Come on guys, get out of the motorhome!

Make the racing less precidcatble: Ummm... Just as one cannot force a big fight or football match to be more exciting, so too with racing. Unless the result is contrived, which, like professional wrestling means the outcome is (possibly) fixed and we can have movie like sequences of stunning drama without issue because it is fake and the players know their part. Looks like drama, but no. Fake. True excitement is in the lap of the Gods. Some races will be remarkable, others less so. That's real life.

Bring back the 'awesome' factor: Ok, other than needing to get the Lego Movie song out of my head, we have mixed messages here from Mr Johansson. One set of physics and engineering related parameters to describe awesome are poor, while another set (his) are awesome! Again this highlights the difference between the soul of a driver, and the soul of an engineer. Just how much each appeals to each fan is a very personal thing. I respect both. I am in awe of the driver's ability... and also in awe of the engineering genius and engineering capability of all the teams. Bringing back awesome does not need to mean "...by killing engineering factors in the sport".

Improve the broadcast and the graphics: Lord above... Pitpass might, might, just, have made comment on these areas before (anyone else have a particular favourite rant from our esteemed editor Balfe on the timing app...?). As we say in business "Here is a remarkable opportunity for improvement". Go get 'em Tiger... (hint, that would be you Liberty).

Create a huge prize money fund for each race that is transparent and official: Well dollars per point have already been addressed. I've no interest in this specific aspect, but given the size of sports betting on the planet it might appeal to some fans. Again if the fan base sees appeal why not? Is it core to Awesome Formula One? Probably not.

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by Canuck, 14/05/2019 16:14

"One other point on cost? How much does expanding the calendar to possibly 23 races next year, if Barcelona is renewed and adding Zandvoort, what is the cost to the teams? How will they be compensated for the extra races when some teams are having difficulty funding 20 races?
Other point of interest to me is the rear view aerodynamic appendages attached but useless now. Replace that with STANDARD rearview cameras. What about heads-up display for the drivers? That could incorporate the rear view."

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2. Posted by Canuck, 14/05/2019 16:00

"@nmw01223 - the problem with grass as a track limiter, is it it is very slippery, especially when wet. This could cause cars out of control causing an accident with following cars. The electronic wall would be safer."

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3. Posted by Max Noble, 11/05/2019 13:41

"@cricketpo - sweet simple days of sun tan lotion and vague rules. :-). Not like any racing team EVER placed an engine block in an acid bath, or added or detracted weight prior to going to the weight bridge. Nostalgia simply is not what it once was... :-). "

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4. Posted by cricketpo, 11/05/2019 10:18

"Most of anything I had to add here has already been said. However the introduction of Jody Scheckter as an example just goes to prove the point that if you relax the rules drivers WILL take liberties (no pun intended). In the TV show mentioned by @max noble the driver in question discovered a loop hole in the rules to one particular event and developed a technique that reduced the commentator to almost apopleptic rage (well it was on at teatime) such was it's audacity. I believe he was the only F1 driver to take part but I may be horribly wrong on that part.
"

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5. Posted by nmw01223, 11/05/2019 6:59

" "With limited resources, rule change is a nightmare".

It is, but only if there are others with more resources, as there are nowadays. Those with more resources and efficient organisations will always find a way of using them - rule change just provides a simple way. However, the underlying problem is not the rule change, it is the resource imbalance.

"make the track limit electronic walls".

Interesting idea, but it might be seen as unnecessarily artificial, like DRS. Admittedly all racing rules are artificial to some extent, but I like the old style approach of narrow curbs and something not very grippy (like grass) beyond them (eg Suzuka). If there is then a safety concern by all means put concrete runoff or similar beyond the grass, because if the car gets there, by then the time is already lost.
"

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6. Posted by Max Noble, 10/05/2019 11:47

"@Canuck - thanks for great feedback. All good points, but so agree on the track limit issue. The teams can get a zillion gigabytes of data a millisecond back to the team 15,000Km away, but we cannot police two wheels in the grass.. I mean really!? Totally agree.

@Sagosac - You’ve already won the perpetual trophy for most energetic posts... Auditing is a dark art you can meld reality however you want (refer Iron Man, JK Rowling, Amazon, Telsa etc...).

@imejl99 - So true... and the one blind side in the otherwise amazing Max Moseley. Sigh... etc.etc. (Queue Bonnie Tyler and “Where have all the heroes gone...?”). "

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7. Posted by sagosac, 09/05/2019 19:27

""If loop holes are discovered as the 2009 double diffuser, do not fix it - broadcast it so all team know and can adjust."
COOOL !"

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8. Posted by sagosac, 09/05/2019 19:25

"@ Canuck: please explain "all professional sports have cost cap": DO THEY ???
Is AUDITING so advanced that you believe that a global company who wants to hide something, cannot hide it ??? E.g. the production of a winglet ? Do you really believe in your words ?"

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9. Posted by Canuck, 09/05/2019 15:48

"I want to thank both Mr Johansson (driver view) and Mr Noble (engineering view) for well thought out articles.
I do not want to see F1 to be a standardized component car where only the paint scheme differentiates the teams. Yes changes need to be made, but F1 is not totally broken.
1st change that needs to be made is the roles of the FIA and the FOM be clearly defined. At the moment the FIA is MIA and FOM is driving both the business and the rules side.
2nd All professional sports have cost caps. True in other sports the costs are mostly player salaries, but it does not mean that some sort of cost cap cannot be implemented in F1. Auditing is far enough advanced to find exploited loop holes in hiding costs. But the cost cap must be on a sliding scale, not a draconian implementation as what was Max Mosley wanted to implement.
3rd stop revising the technical rules continually. When the 2021 rules are agreed to, leave them alone to allow all teams to be able over time to adjust. If loop holes are discovered as the 2009 double diffuser, do not fix it - broadcast it so all team know and can adjust.
4th Millennial have many attractive choice on what they select to see or spend their money on. In north Americas car ownership is becoming less attractive to them ( I don't know about other areas - probably not the same in growing markets such as China and other Asian countries). Racing video games seems to be a way to attract this generation. Therefore FOM need to make their software that they sell must work. This constant problems they sell detracts the Millenniums joining in.
5th One of my bugaboos is track limit. With all the available software and technology available these days. make the track limit electronic walls. Senors in the track could reduce PU output for 1 or 2 seconds and that would penalize the driver enough that they would learn to respect track limits. Much less penalizing than physical walls but would certainly ruin a lap time.
Again thanks to Max and Stefan for your excellent articles. I hope Stefan has a rebuttal to Max"

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10. Posted by sagosac, 09/05/2019 12:46

"F1 is excessively expensive by definition.
As I am not in biz-mode anymore, I will answer tomorrow..."

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11. Posted by imejl99, 09/05/2019 11:22

"Max Noble wrote
"...It’s just excessively expensive to improve one’s game in F1....!"

and, in my opinion, that should be the best reason not to change anything within the existing rules, no matter how appalling they are. The thing is, there are some quite smart people in F1 teams, they will get it eventually and we will have a fireworks. Field will fairly level if everything is stable for enough time.

Rule change benefits only those with deep pockets. With limited resources, rule change is a nightmare. All that invested money, knowledge, energy and work, just put it in the back shed and start over? I am afraid for Williams...

Rule change leave us just hoping someone will successfully explore some loophole, at best. Then, it will be banned, and we will go back to deepest pockets. So, rule change leave us hoping in vain - therefore, don`t change."

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12. Posted by sagosac, 09/05/2019 10:58

"I bow to you, Sir Max F1 ! Thank you very much !
Now I will listen to music and enjoy myself... Cheer s"

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13. Posted by sagosac, 09/05/2019 10:57

"...modest and brave people they love"

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14. Posted by Max Noble, 09/05/2019 10:53

"@Sagosac - my thanks for your considerable enthusiasm! I hope you continue to enjoy the site. Some fascinating feedback. Thank you. "

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15. Posted by sagosac, 09/05/2019 10:49

"By the way (BTW): given that my comment #6 is not too off or wrong: that Daimler did not quit the sport in the crisis and that FIAT allowed Ferrari to stay in this quite expensive sport, and that Renault supports it for so many years, and that Honda came back in most sportive fashion; all this is very encouraging.

This shows, that even stock-noted corporations may be headed by entrepreneurial types of managers;

types who understood that advertising is not the same like real-live-performance-demonstration -- where you can learn and improve at the same time, professionally...

And it does not matter whether you win or lose; it only matters whether you risk it or not.
Those who do not compete, cannot improve that much -- THAT's THE POINT ! ! !
Any brand competing in F1 will immediately sell more cars.
You have to show up, you have to be sportive and modest.
Sportspeople are modest.
The crowd, they love modest people. "

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