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Let Us Not Go Gently

FEATURE BY MAX NOBLE
18/06/2015

Chicken Little has plenty to answer for. Skies always stayed sleepy blue and overhead until he turned up and gave panic a human (well, chicken...) face.

Ever since that fateful barnyard sprint the 'panic d'jour' has combined effortlessly with the Emperor's new Armani to have otherwise sensible people running in circles, building fallout shelters for an Armageddon that never arrives.

And so to Formula One, the end of racing as we know it, and the appalling state of what, for want of a better name, are called the governing body and rules for our beloved sport.

Yes sport. I for one view it in the same spirit as both the World Cup (FIFA aside) and the Olympics (former Olympic committee issues aside). It is first and foremost a sport that grabs the heart, mind, and, well, dangling male bits, in equal measure and gives them a shake and a stir at the same time. As a result it becomes entertainment and spectacle because it is first and foremost a remarkable sport. Not the other way around. Not now. Not ever.

So having got that out the way let us use some strategic thinking to solve many problems with one mother of a rework. Our start premise? "Houston we have a problem..."

Sport stars not training as hard as a decade ago? Check.

Cars slower than the 'Golden Year' of 2004? Check.

Teams not happy, out of money, sulking, unable to find big note sponsors...? Check, check, check, oh, and... Check (actually the issue being, no cheque...).

Fans wondering what the Chicken Little is going on? Oh so very check.

Root cause. The bottom line problem? Money and power. Stay with me here.

For the London Olympics, Australia spent an average of $10 million Aussie dollars per medal (that's about fifty quid I think). The UK (based on figures they supplied to us antipodeans so I for one believe them totally...) apparently spent $7 million Aussie dollars per medal (about thirty quid I think). Not allowing for the zinbillion dollars spent on infrastructure and removing leaves from rail lines or whatever it is the British do to tidy up when expecting visitors. Anyway, my point is, what makes the Olympic playing field 'even' is not giving South Africans UK passports, it's the amount spent by the geo-politically motivated governing bodies on grass roots development of the sport, and then elite athlete programmes. One can nearly line the competing nations up in order of budget and predict the medal tables.

Yes, America, Russia, and China have more random genetic samples from which to base a team (that's humans...) but overall as long as you have a few million randomly generated humans in your nation, just spend the money on the good ones and the results will follow.

The good news for those of us who hope for at least some excitement in the finals of each sport is that all the top nations have enough money to spend and that at the end of the day it is (genetic engineering and drug cheats aside) a level playing field. For each discipline at least three or four countries have found the right people and invested in them to make it a real sporting contest.

Throw in nerves, blind good luck, and the remarkable strength of the human spirit and each Olympics delivers moments that leave us breathless, heart in mouth, tears in eyes, at a performance that will live in our minds and become legend for years untold...

Just like that race when Senna... Or Mansell... Or that day in the rain when Michael... Moments that transcend both sport and the human condition to deliver a spiritual moment of sheer achievement and performance so far beyond what we expected that we are breathless, in awe, and addicted all in the same moment in an intoxicating moment of sporting greatness. We just witnessed a human reach for the stars and touch the face of God (or the Universe, or Gaia or whatever you believe in). We cannot express it other than to scream in delight or hug the person next to us. That is sport at its true greatest. Transcending the human condition and delivering an experience we feel, not think.

Money and power rob us of those moments. Our souls are being sold cheap. And no one asked us the reserve price.

We need to make F1 more like the Olympics. We need the playing field to be level enough that a number of teams could win on the day. But just as a 'one make series' in the Olympics, where every athlete is an American, would bore us rigid and destroy interest, so we cannot, must not, have a one make F1. So what to do?

Naturally dear reader I would not have begged your indulgence without posing a possible answer for you to either embrace or reject. I don't mind which... Just please, whatever you do, do not be indifferent. As Martin Luther King so gloriously said "Evil happens when good men do nothing".

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by Max Noble, 24/06/2015 3:02

"@MKI - very good point. The circuit owners are getting a worse kick in the rear than fans at present. Agree that getting a full show that entertains the fans, at an affordable price, while making money for the circuits is a key part of keeping the entire machine turning. "

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2. Posted by MKI, 22/06/2015 11:37

"Plenty of good stuff here though I note that no one has considered F1's host circuit owners input at all. Possibly deserved for they invest huge sums in facilities that are not live spectator friendly. But they are certainly a big part of what's wrong, simply going along with whatever's served up without a murmur. Iconic corners have to go? No problem. As someone said History is bunk anyhow. At least Goodwood thought otherwise and the rest really is history.

Motor sport is inherrently a very difficult sport to administer. It needs enlightened, experienced, but above all independent minds forming its rules. F1's current model certainly won't survive as it stands, and of course it influences much of the rest of the sport. But circuits have to be properly involved in any future process, and equally important, become financially sensibly viable. "

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3. Posted by Max Noble, 21/06/2015 6:45

"That "FIA" in my last post should read "FIFA" about mid season rule changes, sorry for the typo...."

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4. Posted by Max Noble, 21/06/2015 6:44

"@cricketpo - As I suggested in the horseless carriage article, the environment around F1 is changing, so I generally agree with your observations. The issue is framing the rules such that it is a great race. Making the soccer ball lighter increased the pace of the game. The $$$ in soccer had (have....) a very bad effect on some members of FIFA. But FIA do not change the rules mid season, season after season. They have just enough sense to leave the game alone. The technology in F1 is so complex that the rules have to adapt... But how, that is the essence of the issue. And while those in positions of power are also those with vested interests in both the outcome of races, and the flow of dollars, they are going to find it very hard to define a major rule change. Otherwise as you allude we will need fully computer controlled cars simply to keep them on the track at 500kph...."

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5. Posted by cricketpo, 20/06/2015 18:19

"Oh What the hell!

Look I believe we have passed through an "event horizon" as far as F1 is concerned. It may have been 2004 when the cars were quicker but I think it was much earlier. Like around the FW14 era. Self levelling suspension launch control etc. etc. Moores law has probably applied to motor racing as much as computing. When I started watching F1 cars blew up more often, crashed more often, killed more often. but since the 1970's technology has improved exponentially and the money involved has grown to staggering proportions. So we are well beyond the point where technology can make us go faster. It has done that and if it continued would have probably made all circuits obsolete because the cars were just too damned quick.
So the upshot is that there now HAS to be random technology rules. With out them only robots would be able to drive a car.
I would ask what challenges does the automobile have in the future?
I would be thinking Electric drive (drop formula e), Better still why not hydrogen powered fuel cells? much more environmentally friendly than those batteries (sorry energy recovery systems).
My point is where does the envelope need to be pushed? If we want overtaking why not develop technology that encourages. DRS was a stab in the right direction. "

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6. Posted by cricketpo, 20/06/2015 17:57

"Looks Like I have entered the fray a little late here. Most of the items I wanted to bring up have been covered so I won't go over them again. For my twopennyworth I would add that if F1 displeases us we should not watch it. Despite what some of the comments below seem to believe, we have the ultimate power as consumers. One way or another WE pay for this. The advertising budgets from the various companies comes from the products and devices WE buy. If we stopped watching (and paying the ppv) the money would dry up and F1 would either HAVE to change or die. So be it. If those in control don't service the needs of the consumer they deserve it. There are plenty of forms of motor sport out there that appear to give many of you pleasure. So watch them instead!
It may be a tad arrogant of Pitpass.com to think that they can influence the sport of F1 in any meaningful way but the advantage is that WE as consumers can air our thoughts. Just by posting to this site I am sharing my concerns with potentially a huge number of people more so than if I had just say, shouted at the telly every time Bernie Ecclestone appeared. And maybe, just maybe we can create a groundswell of opinion. As the quote used says "Evil things happen....""

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7. Posted by Graham, 20/06/2015 4:46

"Jonno is right to an extent but there is one thing we can do and that is follow our dreams. Not some fairy land concept but I have almost got to the point where I can't be bothered sitting still for two hours to watch what they offer.

Empty stands and dwindling TV audiences indicate that I'm not alone. The Australian GP produces crowd numbers that no-one believes any more. I dont know what's happening in the rest of the world but the German GP is a warning to the rest.
We might have to watch F1 die before we get anything that looks like racing again.


I wonder if we petition out TV providers to switch to the big sports cars where racing is real they would notice?"

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8. Posted by Jonno, 20/06/2015 0:42

"Jeez, I lost the will to live and gave up halfway through page 2. Over the years I've read many similar articles on the lines of "my brainwave on how to change F1", there are hundreds of examples posted every month on the various F1 forums. I've given up wasting my time reading them.
No one outside of the small group who run F1 will make any changes to F1 and they certainly won't be following a 30 step plan by someone who's not put a few £million into F1. Bernie doesn't give a toss about the opinions of drivers and half the teams in F1.
There's only one way to change the fortunes of F1 - get rid of both CVC and Bernie. And none of the readers of this site are in a position to do that."

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9. Posted by Jimbo473, 19/06/2015 22:56

"If you want close racing take the aero of the pre 1992 cars. Flat bottom, no complex wings with winglets creating dirty air. Cars sucked to the track not pushed. Bigger softer tyres, mechanical grip, late braking, overtaking. They slowed the cars by putting that stupid plank on the floor, raising the ride high to reduce ground effect then added winglets galore to claw back the downforce thus creating so much aero grip but little mechanical grip, barmy grooved tyres. Bring back ground effect and basic wings, no multi-wing elements,no winglets. No driving aids either. Just look how clean the 1986-1992 cars were and they works. The FIA need to wake up from their dream world. F1 is heading down the pan unless they listen to the fans."

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10. Posted by Spindoctor, 19/06/2015 17:02

"Another thought-provoking piece. Thank you.

I rather agree with @oldbuzzard that you're overall package is a tad over-complicated, but like Mr Buzzard I think you've hit on the basis of some positive changes.
Unfortunately, and as most other respondents have highlighted, the problems currently dragging F1 down are well-known. Identification of these problems & potential remedies doesn't, sadly, move us towards a solution.

In general terms there needs to be a separation of the powers, akin to the checks & balances in the Legal & Political systems: between the policy-makers & the executive, or the Police & Judiciary.

At present the biggest problem is most certainly is the unholy trinity of Bernito Ecclestone, Jean Todt\FIA , and "The Teams"\Strategy Group \Money, and the greatest of these is undoubtedly "Money" and its multifaceted manifestations! Everything else follows-on from this set-up, and real, effective changes to F1 appear, from their distorted perspective to be unnecessary.
On the contrary they appear to think that Formula 1 (if not the Sport) is in rude good health. In that respect they closely resemble pre-enlightenment doctors claiming that by bleeding the patient dry, they're curing him....

So my prescription also starts with cleaning out the wounds using the kind of radical debridement you'd apply to gangrenous tissue: cutting away the dead, un-oxygenated, rotting and\or infected tissue. Yes in this context, that's you Bernie\FIA\Teams. I too would replace them with an autonomous and powerful "Sporting Body" akin to FIFA, but less corrupt.

Once such a surgery has been performed, and the new\cured body established to oversee things then we can move on to (re)creating F1 as the kind of Sport most fans, and old time racers like Frank Williams might like it to be. Then, and only then, can we start to look at revised rules & funding, because the current incumbents never, ever, will, take this seriously.

"

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11. Posted by GrahamG, 19/06/2015 16:57

"Some good sense .... but you are still endorsing the pointless and expensive idea of "must use both of two totally useless tyres"
Michelin's recent comments were brilliant and might improve racing and lots more besides .... one of several reasons they stand no chance of getting the contract.
Even more tongue in cheek- F1 becomes a single seater open wheeled version of LMP1 with identical rules - innovation, close racing, excitement, competitiveness, all the things that Bernie and the rest hate
"

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12. Posted by Graham, 19/06/2015 15:40

"Thanks for providing a place to discuss the rules of F!. Please make some plan to gather together the spirit of these suggestions rules into a document that is at least delivered to those who control the sport.

I believe we need to review what the participants of racing, drivers and spectators, want of the sport. I think that the drivers should be challenged to achieve the fastest possible lap speed for every lap of the race. The cars must be difficult to drive at this speed so great skill is required to get the best performance from each car and hopefully win the race. At present it appears that there are some talented drivers at the front and the rest are people who pay for the pleasure of driving. You can’t help wondering if somebody with lots of money or a wealthy sponsor can get on the second half of the grid then how good are the guys at the front? Is the pole position held by a current day Nuvolari or someone just a tad better than the average guy on the fourth row of the grid. How long will it be before someone says “hey how can a 16 year old be competitive in F1? Let’s stick him in a 1935 Mercedes and find out?” This perception is supported when we see that the grid positions closely follow the marques. 1&2 Mercedes, 3&4 Ferrari, 5&6 Williams etc It appears not to matter who is driving – the car accounts for 99% of the performance. As followers of the sport we want a race between racers and we are getting a race between cars
Tyres are a problem because they can be made too good. The current rules recognize this and counter it by bringing in some totally artificial specifications. This might be a good thing because we have now accepted that tyre regulations are just artificial so it creates a precedent that might allow different and perhaps more beneficial artificial regulations to be considered. For example the tyres could be limited to provide a maximum lateral force of 2G and at that maximum force the slip angle must be greater than 18 degrees. That would bring back some attitude to the cars which would allow the speed to be sensed by the spectator. The Max lateral force would slow the cars in the corners and increase passing opportunities under brakes and acceleration. For the same reason limit the tyre's longitudinal force to say 2G This might be done by limiting the tyre width but narrow tyres might not look good so the solution might lie in the tyre compound. This might be achieved by specifying that the tyre be a copy of some tyre from the past. Racing was pretty exciting in 1980 so we require that the tyre supplier makes a copy of the tyres of that era, without any “advances”. This is not a backward step. We have already decided that the tyres are fixed to an artificial specification. It’s just a matter of choosing a specification that promotes the spectacle and requires more driver skills. I think we only need one dry tyre, one wet tyre and one monsoon tyre. Then we can race in every weather.
Aerodynamics Of course limit the downforce from aerodynamics. How much does it add to the sport to have 20 little wings on the front of the car? It probably costs millions and expands the difference between the fast cars and the lower budget cars. A simple rule would be to restrict body work to a single element, small wing front and rear, no diffuser and a minimum ground clearance Every aerodynamic complication costs a heap of computational fluid dynamics time and hence money. Reduce the aero impact on a following car so cars can get close and pass without artificial handicap devices. It’s a nonsense to accept such a degree of inter car interference that the racing is spoiled, yet for years we have just shrugged and written off the racing spectacle in favour of lower lap times. We already ban wings on tall struts and powered vacuum devices so what’s the difficulty in slightly more restrictive aero rules that will improve the sport?
There might then be an argument that narrow tyres and aero limits might cause dangerous top speeds It is easy to build an electronic speed limiter and set it on whatever we want to call safe. I presume that would be about 350 kph which is currently acceptable but the limited acceleration would probably mean that max speed would not be an issue.
Of course get rid of rules that require the drivers to save fuel for 60% of the race. How strange to have a rule that is obviously going to result in the cars lapping 10 seconds slower than they are capable and still call it racing. Fuel economy would have the natural benefit that a low fuel load would make a light car which would be quicker hence the push toward fuel economy would be natural consequence of the search for speed.
Abandon all the attempts to have reverse grids whether by forming the grid backwards or by the sneaky route of applying grid position penalties for trivial things like engine swaps. That is just dumb and doesn’t belong in real racing.
Solve the problem of safety cars. It would be easy to introduce local speed restrictions such as a wireless remote control of the pit lane speed limiter. This would allow transmitters beside the track to switch on the speed control for just the section of track where there was an unacceptable increase in danger. Everything already exists except the remote control feature which is trivial. The benefit is that everyone holds their position through the yellow zone and the race continues on the remaining 90% of the track. This prevents incidents that occur while the pack is circulating behind the pace car, prevents tyre cooling, prevents cheating and eliminates drive through penalties that are just another spoiler of the racing spectacle. The advantage of using the pit lane limiter is that it is already calibrated and effectively tested every time the car enters the pits.
Shoot anyone who suggests running a whole race at pit lane speed because the weather isn’t very nice!
Pay starting money to the teams right back to 20th place, but make it conditional. I have no idea how much 20th place gets today but the following is the principle. If it takes $100 million to run a second level team for a season then make half that amount the starting money. For ten teams that sounds like a lot of money. BUT the team only gets starting money if the car qualifies within say 3% of pole speed. This means that there is a big disadvantage in hiring a gentleman driver, or little boy driver, just because he brings $20M with him. The teams will look for a brilliant F2/F3 driver with or without a sponsor. Obviously this is a first guess at how to pay starting money but it demonstrates the principle of making it better for teams to hire winners rather than rich but slow drivers. Remember most brilliant young drivers now have to pay to race so the gifted who are not rich will leap at the chance to race a half decent car for nothing.
Give the sport back to the skilled and brave. If we bow down to technology we really will have robot cars racing with drivers who can barely remain conscious because of the acceleration forces. We have already rejected a lot of artificial driver aids. Selectively reducing the advance of technology where it spoils racing is just a slight but sensible shift in our philosophy.



"

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13. Posted by Max Noble, 19/06/2015 2:49

"Great to read some interesting discussion on this one. My thanks to all who have taken to the keyboard. :-)

Some fascinating observations and suggestions.

@OldBuzzard I hear the world-wise view of the years in your words. I'm sure trying to get major corporates to sponsor at the series level would never work in 101 years, but at least trying to get people to think about it differently would possibly move the game forward... And petroleum spirit is stored chemical energy ;-) (sorry couldn't resist replying to that bit...). "

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14. Posted by Oldbuzzard, 19/06/2015 1:51

"Well thought out, but, sorry, way, way too effing complicated. Remember KISS? Keep It Simple Stupid?
Your idea for sponsorship is especially out in space somewhere. I spent nearly 40 years in sports sponsorships and your idea is a non-starter. I won't go into detail, just trust me, it stinks.
As for the points rules, may have some merit with some adjustments, but still a little to difficult for the average punter to understand.
As for the car rules....forget it. Three dimensional box - good. Storing up energy - why? Please someone give me one, just one, good reason for this insanity. Motor racing is a tactile sport - you can see it, smell it, feel it, and even taste it if your close enough to the exhaust pipes. Stored energy provides zero tactile gratification - none. Dump the idea and all the complicated, unreliable, ghastly expensive technology and hardware.
Down force? Easy - front wing is this big which is very, very small; and the rear wing is this big, also tiny, and none of it moves unless the car is in the pits.
Fuel - anything goes and all you want of it at any time. If you can run without refueling you'll most likely win, but if you can run like a scalded cat you'll have all the fans screaming for you to catch up with the turtle leader. It's show biz and don't let anybody tell you different. So is the World Cup, the Olympics, the Super Bowl and the World Series.
Tires - two. One full wet and one dry with a hard as last week's biscuits compound. Same tire all sessions at all races at all tracks. Saves a shitload of money and the racing will be thrilling to say the least.
Engines - anything goes that will fit in the box.
My points system - Winner gets the most, everyone else gets five less per position. Period. Done. A five- year-old can figure it out.
It'll work because it's been done before and it worked then. Read history and learn something.
Drivers will now have to actually drive and they had better be fit. Teams will have to do some fancy figuring to plan a strategy for fuel and tires."

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15. Posted by gdg, 19/06/2015 1:27

"Love this story. Read many story's just like it. However the biggest problem that has to be resolved first is that the teams (big teams) do not view F1 as a sport. It is an investment or rather part of their advertising budget. They do not want to give away their ability to control. ie- If they put loads of money in they want a return on their investment. If rules were put in place by a neutral overseer such as the FIA, then they could not guarantee a return on the investment.

So the real big issue is F1 needs to get over its desperation to keep manufacturers in the sport. If Ferrari quit, so be it. If Mercedes quit, so be it. F1 has to set the rules and if you want to come along and play, come along. if you do not then that's OK.

F1 will continue to have problems and may even dissapear if it continues to think of itself as anything but a sport."

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