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

23/04/2019
FEATURE BY GUEST AUTHORS

In the final part of his blueprint for the future of the sport, Stefan Johansson looks at Entertainment and Relevance.

Entertainment

Make the drivers more accessible: The drivers are the stars and they will always be more important to the fans than the cars or the teams. Every series other than F1 has some form of planned fan engagement either the day before the race weekend starts or for an hour at some point during the race weekends. Make it compulsory for each driver to do a certain number of days as part of the super license. It's a pain for the drivers but in the long run it will benefit everybody. Make it mandatory for the promotors, broadcaster and drivers to provide X hours of promotional appearances prior to each race in each country. By forcing / helping each promotor to better promote the races, each driver will be helping themselves by building a better audience and a more valuable ecosystem. Cross promote the drivers in other forms of entertainment in order to gain a larger following and new demographics.

Make the racing less predictable: By implementing some of the rule changes I have already mentioned in the chapter on Competition, the racing will become less predictable without the use of any artificial devices such as DRS. The combination of less aero, more power, less forgiving tracks, less driver aids and longer pit stops will all contribute to more human errors and will not only make the racing a lot more interesting to watch but will also sort out the good from the average.

By definition, the better engineered a car is, the less chance of something unpredictable happening as it makes the life of the driver much easier. By eliminating some of the electronic aids and making the cars have significantly less downforce, this will automatically help make the races less predictable. By enforcing the track limits there will be more occasions for drivers to make a small mistake, which is often all a following driver needs in order to make a move that would otherwise be impossible. The reduction in downforce will help the car following to stay much closer to the car in front, and as such he will be able to get a run on the car in front on the exit of a corner without having to rely on DRS to pass on the following straight. It's no coincidence that some of the best races we've had in recent years have come when there have been changing conditions, usually unexpected weather, thus making it difficult for the engineers to model the race strategy to the nth degree in their race simulations. We won't be stuck with "he's now in the DRS zone" or "will he do an undercut or an overcut" which it is pretty much what it's reduced to at the moment.

Bring back the 'awesome' factor: F1 should be defined by one word, 'Awesome!' With these proposed rule changes, we will arrive at a point where we will once again have some beautiful and spectacular looking cars that will also sound great.

Make bravery one of the tools that count in a driver's arsenal, and allow the drivers who are willing to stick their neck out to gain a couple of extra tenths in a high-speed corner do so, and let the fans enjoy that show!

The massive reduction in downforce will visibly show the car control of the drivers as opposed to the current cars which are on 'rails' all the time. We will have talking points like "top speed around 400kph" and "1,300-1,400hp" power units, which to anyone is 'awesome' and it will get people's attention.

It's difficult to explain that F1 is the ultimate in motorsport when we have a number or regular road cars today with similar power and top speeds. How do you explain why F1 is the ultimate when you can buy a Jeep truck with 800hp for less than $100,000?

"Well, the F1 cars have a huge amount of downforce which means they are really fast in the slow and medium speed corners... and because they are so fast in these corners they have had to reduce the power in order to slow them down. And because the cars have so much downforce it's made it very difficult to follow another car which makes overtaking really difficult, so to fix that we came up with this idea called DRS. This is a really clever device that that the engineers who design these cars came up with, that the driver following another car can use when he wants to overtake the car in front. There is nothing the driver in front can do at that point to defend himself, but it's supposed to spice up the show." Not a great or easy explanation for someone who is trying to understand the sport. Anytime you have to explain why something is great you're already in trouble, and this is why we need to simplify everything so that anyone can immediately see and understand that this is really 'awesome!'

How simple would it instead be to use the formula of "less aero / lower cornering speeds / more horsepower / more acceleration / higher top-speeds / longer braking distance / more passing / more visible car control"?

No one understands or can appreciate downforce, you can tell them the cars produce 5,000kg of downforce or 50kg, but most people wouldn't know the difference between that and a bar of soap. However, everyone understands 1,400hp and 400kph top speeds, everyone is immediately impressed by that!

Improve the broadcast and the graphics: I find it very difficult to follow any race and fully understand the dynamics of what is happening especially once the pit stops have started.

The graphics and the information you get is very limited and quite poorly presented. It has gotten better this last year (at least in the U.S. now that we see the Sky broadcast) but there is still a massive amount more that could be done to keep the viewers better informed of what is going on. I don't think you can have too much info or data displayed, anything that will keep the viewer better informed is a plus.

The teams already look at a lot of interesting data so a lot of the information is there and just needs to be presented to the audience so they can better understand what's transpiring. With the emerging drone technology it would be possible to show a completely different view of the cars and how a battle between different cars transpire that will add a whole new element. I've seen some prototype footage of this already done at some minor events, and it's a completely different experience than with fixed cameras. This is one area that I believe could really be a game changer for the viewing experience.

Create a huge prize money fund for each race that is transparent and official: As I have already outlined, allocate a large portion (30-40%) of the total pool of funds from FOM as prizemoney rather than a guaranteed amount before the season starts. This a common management tool to align incentives with performance. Money talks and people are always curious when there's big money involved in anything.

If Mayweather was fighting for a few thousand dollars each bout no one but the most absolute die-hard boxing fans would bother tuning in, but because it's tens of millions at stake everyone is curious at the outcome, even people that don't like boxing.

This is human nature. As it is, not many even know what the prize money is in F1, only the diehard fans have some idea what each team gets before the season even gets underway, based on an incredibly complicated pay-out schedule. If we use the already mentioned formula of $200.000 per point, the prizemoney for each race would be:

Position Points Prize Money
Pos Points $200k per point
1st 25 $5,000,000
2nd 18 $3,600,000
3rd 15 $3,000,000
4th 12 $2,400,000
5th 10 $2,000,000
6th 8 $1,600,000
7th 6 $1,200,000
8th 4 $800,000
9th 2 $400,000
10th 1 $200,000
Total $20,200,000

Relevance

How important in the bigger picture is it that Formula One or motorsport in general is relevant? Does anyone know what F1 stands for today? This may be the most important question of all in order for F1 or motorsports in general to survive. In order to be relevant it is obviously important to understand in what context you want to be relevant. In the case of Formula One, does this mean you must be socially relevant or more relevant towards the fans, or can both be achieved in a realistic way?

If you focus on being socially relevant, it is critical to understand if you are following an objective and realistic path or just a narrative. Is it more important that we have an engine formula that is seen to embrace the environment than it is to have fast, loud and spectacular cars? Is it more important that we have engines that can last a third of a season than it is to have a hugely powerful engine that may break every now and then, but will either reward or punish the driver and team instantly if they win or the engine breaks? Is it more important that we have race tracks that are so sanitized and safe that it's become almost impossible to have a bad accident than it is to have tracks that will punish a driver if he goes over the limit?

Political correctness has now crept in to every aspect of life.

In some cases, it seems that companies are more interested in doing what is perceived to be the politically correct thing, than it is to make a profit or even do what makes good common sense. Everyone is paranoid about not upsetting anyone. Is motorsport about being correct in every way, does it have to satisfy all the various agendas that are currently being promoted through every possible platform by anyone who cares to voice their opinion. Is it even possible to keep everyone happy anymore? I think it's time to do some serious soul searching in order to work out what it is that really matters both for the competitors and the fans.

Formula 1 could become the global leader in innovative thinking and the implementation of new technologies: By creating a formula that will be based around a maximum amount of energy, wherever the source is coming from, it could be gasoline, electric, hydrogen fuel cells, kinetic, or anything else that may not even be invented yet. I believe this is the one area Formula One could really make a difference and lead the automotive world towards a truthful and honest direction in power unit technology. Instead of following one politically motivated directive it would be better to do the complete opposite and create your own directive, that will by default eventually become the correct and obvious path forward. It will very soon become apparent which is the most efficient alternative based on the principles of thermal efficiency, energy consumption, weight and power output. For the first time in a very long time, F1 could justify the spend of the manufacturers by inventing and creating things we may not even know exist at this point.

Unleash all the bright minds that are already working in F1 and let them get creative! Instead of pouring away money on silly aerodynamic tweaks, it could be spent on something that would truly make a difference. Imagine if someone realized some of Nikola Tesla's ideas for example, or a number of other incredibly brilliant concepts that are already out there.

Sport is the perfect arena for this as we are talking about competition before a concept is proven. Once it is proven and everyone can see how brilliant it is, it's hard to put the genie back in the bottle and the world will have to follow whether it's following the politically correct agenda or not. Whoever comes up with any of these new concepts will be known worldwide for doing something that really made a difference in human history and Formula One will again find its rightful place in the automotive world.

Eliminate the importance of aerodynamics: I'm repeating myself here, but it's important to understand that aerodynamics is the only item that falls under all four categories that are the key areas of Formula One. The fact that aerodynamics is affecting all four categories in a negative way should be a wake-up call more than anything. Aerodynamics have the least relevance of anything on a race car, except making the car go fast. Yet it's the highest spend by a massive margin for every team. It's the largest contributor to the lack of racing and the entertainment is suffering because of this, yet we just keep on piling on more and more of the same, year after year!

Eliminate the importance of aerodynamics and shift the focus to other areas to gain back the speed. I have already addressed the details on how to achieve this.

Summary: It's become quite evident that in order to get things back on the right track it will not be enough to continue with small 'band-aid' fixes here and there, in fact, it will only make it worse as history has shown over and over.

What I am proposing is based on what I believe is a realistic and objective analysis rather than following a narrative based on a number external factors and political motives - motives that will never add anything to help maintain the popularity or grow the sport into the future. In order for the sport to survive, it is imperative that we all understand that it's unsustainable in the long run to deviate from the core elements of what made Formula One such a huge sport to begin with.

There are a number of initiatives being proposed - adding to the show, bringing the costs down, making the racing less predictable, branding , digital media etc. None of this will make any difference unless we get to the core of the problem, which is the cars and how they are designed. If I may use the analogy of a restaurant, you can do all the slick and fancy stuff, new signs on the front, social media campaigns, celebrities, new menu's, etc. but if the food sucks no one will come back or show up in the first place.

If we don't fix the cars and make them exciting and interesting to watch again it won't matter what else we do. Once we fix the cars everything else will fall into place automatically. The tracks will become interesting and challenging again, the racing will be close and exciting to watch, the human component will become at least as important as the technical, and the drama will unfold accordingly.

Formula One has always been about brave young men driving these crazy fast cars on the limit, 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 drivers 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.

Formula One should and could write its own rules. It's a big enough sport to set the directive for anyone that wants to compete in it or follow the sport. If not, as we can clearly see at the moment, we will end up with a very confusing and complicated product that's neither here nor there, and no one can fully understand it. We want to see brave drivers on the race track, but we also need brave leaders in the boardroom to make this happen.

Stefan Johansson

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Published: 23/04/2019
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