Currently reading: How to fix Formula 1, according to Autocar
F1 has the fastest racing cars and the best drivers but, as a sporting spectacle, there’s something missing. Thankfully, our writers and readers are on hand to help
Autocar
News
10 mins read
29 September 2019

Formula 1 bosses are putting the finishing touches to a new technical rules package for the 2021 season on, with the aim to create betterlooking, faster cars that also produce better racing.

But the development of the rules has been a drawn-out process, with plenty of argument about what F1’s biggest problems are – and how to solve them. To help, our writers and readers set out how they’d fix the sport, while Autocar’s in-house designer Ben Summerell-Youde brings to life his vision for an F1 car for 2021.

F1 has become too predictable. In the past 132 grands prix, three teams have taken victories: Mercedes-AMG (87 wins), Red Bull (27) and Ferrari (18). Sure, F1 has usually been dominated by a handful of teams, but there was always that race where things went crazy and a midfielder won (hello, Olivier Panis). Now the cars are too reliable, so let’s restrict the use of expensive materials, pit-to-car telemetry and other bits so they break a bit more. We can also add unpredictability elsewhere.

Currently, every race weekend follows a pattern: three days, three practice sessions, qualifying, a race of 200 miles or two hours. Why not vary the length of some races? For example: because the Italian GP lasts around 1hr 15min due to Monza’s high-speed nature, we can add 100 miles to the length and still be done in two hours (bonus: more chance of reliability issues). And if we turned the Singapore GP into a one-hour sprint, would anyone really mind? Also, have you ever seen anyone in the grandstands for Bahrain GP practice? Me neither, so let’s try some two-day events: practice and qualify Saturday, race Sunday. Heck, let’s try a double-header – half-point sprint race, then a longer ‘feature’ race.

Some races (including the British GP) don’t need to be messed with, but a few mixed-up events per year would add variety for fans and force teams out of their comfort zones – making it more likely they get things wrong. That, in turn, would add a dose of unpredictability. - James Attwood

The world’s first motor race wasn’t won by the driver who finished first, because his car needed a stoker, leaving it ineligible. Motor racing was about proving the cars, not promoting the spectacle of driver skill. We’ve since come to think that parity, passing and thrills are what racing should be about. Some series embrace that by limiting car development to promote close racing: F1 isn’t among them.

F1, as the fastest, most technologically advanced race series there is, has broader rules, then, under which the richest teams go fastest by a margin. When F1 worries about cost dissuading entrants, it steps in to limit outrageous technology; enough to curb the excess, but not sufficient to routinely promote wheel-to-wheel battling and overtaking.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Find an Autocar review

Back to top

But how can it promote the racing spectacle without removing the design freedom, engineering innovation and purity? To routinely be a driver’s contest, it would need tighter technical regulations. To be the fastest show on earth, it needs barely any. F1 needs to decide what it is, and commit to it. - Matt Prior

What exactly is it that is seen as ‘broken’ about F1? The domination of Mercedes, the lack of shock results or the perceived shortage of overtaking, maybe?

Well, such domination has existed throughout motorsport history, and although a budget cap sounds like a good idea, racing is largely a marketing tool for large manufacturers, and without them there is no F1. The lack of midfielders taking podiums, meanwhile, is due to far better reliability, despite the massive leap in complexity.

There are also far fewer collisions and spins, most likely because the cars are much easier to drive. As for not being able to follow due to the complex aerodynamics, F1 cars have been creating huge air disturbance since the mid-1970s, and there’s more overtaking now than there has been in decades.

All that’s required is a move to create grip via ground effect, to reduce air disturbance, and the introduction of low-degradation tyres, meaning rubber management isn’t a key factor, allowing drivers to push properly for the whole race. - Kris Culmer

Everyone has an opinion when it comes to F1. But a ‘fix’? That suggests F1 is broken – and I don’t think it is. Sorry.

The races can be eye-gougingly dull, but can also leave you soaring. The drivers infuriate by saying and doing the most stupid things, then pout with the charm of a teaspoon. But somehow we can’t take our eyes off them because they do what we only dream of (and sometimes even make us laugh).

The tracks? Rubbish. Well, some of them (ahem, Paul Ricard). Actually, the newer ones – Austin, Singapore, Baku – are kinda cool. And despite itself, F1 still hasn’t abandoned Silverstone, Spa and Monza. Those calling the shots look out gormlessly from their bubble (how we’d all just love to take a pin to that). As for the teams, they’re opportunistic entities driven by gimlet-eyed self-interest and an unquenchable need for power. The bosses and engineers? Egoists, one and all – and they’ll do anything for a tenth. They’re mostly quite odd, too.

Back to top

So, F1 in need of a fix? What’s new? It always has been – and it’s so complex, so inbred, so riven with greed, it always will be. Which is kind of why I love it. And that makes me odd, too. - Damien Smith

Every weeknight, at around 10 past 10, when the lead news story on the News at Ten has ended and it moves onto some hypothetical Brexit scenario and a question on it being avoided by a politician, I go channel flicking. Usually I end up at channel 406: Sky F1. At that time of night, Classic F1 is on. A race at random from the past 20 years or so in its entirety, always a belter, always making me stay up far beyond my bedtime. The other night I realised what all the classics had in common: rain.

Show to fix F1? Make it rain. Every single race, preferably with a dry spell in the middle, and then more rain. Expect the recent wet-dry 2019 German Grand Prix to end up on that channel for nailing the brief. Clearly, every race can’t be held in the Lake District, so what has the next biggest impact on grip after rain? Tyres.

Generally, I find F1 far too inward looking, and not approachable enough for outsiders, as discussions needing to be had on tyres show. Yet to improve the racing, F1 has to do something to significantly improve the durability of tyres while reducing mechanical grip to allow drivers to race hard lap after lap without ever having to conserve them, and sliding around in the process.  - Mark Tisshaw

F1 has forgotten whom it is for. It’s not for the teams, the drivers, the circuit owners or the rights holders. It’s for the fans who pay for it. If F1 bothered to ask them, the response would be near enough unanimous: cut costs and downforce, increase mechanical grip, make the cars more difficult to drive, make mistakes have consequences. Bin the hybrids and turbos and, if the big money and manufacturers go with them, let ’em go. Make it a sport again. Make it about the drivers again: they are our heroes, not their cars.

There is nothing revolutionary in these thoughts – indeed, they’ve been parroted a million times by a thousand people over a period of time measurable in decades. F1 heard it all, and listened to none. No one, save car manufacturers, cares about F1 being a technology showcase. We care about real racing conducted on the track not in the pits, in cars that look and sound amazing, driven by drivers whosetalent is the most influential component of success.

Back to top

F1 presents its future as an issue of intergalactic dimensions, requiring years of head scratching and brow furrowing by the most learned of minds to determine. This is cobblers. The truth is that the way is there, it is known and has been so for decades. What’s missing is the will. Ultimately, that’s the only change that’s needed. - Andrew Frankel

F1 should worry less about making its cars the fastest and more about making them the hardest to drive – although better still if one follows the other. The recipe seems no more difficult than tyres that are as hard as rocks and massive, scarcely controllable power outputs. The end result should be like having a wet race without the rain – hero drivers wrestling on the limits of grip, slip-sliding, power-sliding, teetering on the brink, the works.

And when it rains? They can have decent tyres but still too much power. The deciding factor should always be the right foot. To hell with the fact that neither innovation has any obvious road relevance – nor do giant wings, and the sponsor-hungry teams seem keen to keep them. (Maybe they should be FIA supplied, so nobody gets an advantage from having a squillion-dollar wind tunnel.)

Anyway, this is racing, not the school run, and manufacturers will get far more love from race fans besotted by the sights and sounds of the drivers and cars than they will for meeting some unfathomable fuel-flow regulations or other contrived links back to what you and I potter about in. - Jim Holder

Your opinions

The cars

Make it possible to follow a car through a corner so you can then overtake on a straight. All wings should be a simple, single contiguous surface, with sizes reduced. To compensate, ground effect would be increased with the reintroduction of side skirts - Neil Turnbull

What maintained my interest is the innovation by teams: Colin Chapman’s ‘just add lightness’ mantra and how Ross Brawn turned hapless Honda into brilliant Brawn. Today’s rules have all but stifled innovation and we are paying the price - Stuart Underwood

Cars should be simpler and more analogue in operation like production cars. Impose a cost cap, require engines to run on 95 pump fuel, use steel brakes to increase braking distances and restrict the use of carbonfibre - Alastair Lyle

Back to top

In the ’70s and ’80s, I loved the anticipation created by the flex in more broadly drawn and lighter-touch regulations. What were the manufacturers going to unveil? Turbos, aero, six wheels etc. A broader perimeter in the regulations, combined with sensible limits on spend, should bring back creativity - Stephen Soper

Simple: increase the weight limit. Braking distances will increase, and it is under braking where overtaking takes place - Peter Waistell

The engines

Do something with the engines to make them sound like racing cars, not just glorified (but quicker) milk floats. When an F3 car sounds better than an F1 car, there is something seriously wrong - Kevin Moran

Throw those eco-friendly, fiendishly complex and hugely expensive hybrids in the bin! We need multi-cylinder engines that rev to the heavens and make a wonderful noise. F1 doesn’t generate as much CO2 as a coven of politicians spouting off - Derek Thornton

Consider replacing petrol with hydrogen as the fuel of the cars. This could be eco-friendly and help pioneer technologies - Nick Manzi

The racing

After this year’s German GP, the answer is obvious. The introduction of rain at indeterminate times during the grand prix produced the most exciting and unpredictable race in recent memory. Surely the vast resources available to this sport should be able to simulate unpredictable conditions? - Roger Thomas

Drivers should stick to the circuit at all times, or be penalised. Any driver taking all four wheels off track would receive a two-second time penalty on each occasion, added to a pit stop or to their time at the end of the race - Christopher Baker

Radical plan: two-hour qualifying, more than one lap fastest. Reverse grid. Third of points for qualifying, two-thirds for the race. Will make qualifying more meaningful and solve the overtaking problem - John Hart

There needs to be some fun. An element of qualifying could be a lap time set in an identical car, perhaps a road car such as a Bugatti Veyron. Or there could be a driver swap midway. Both drivers qualify, their average time determines their place on the grid and the slowest driver goes first - David Greenly

Back to top

The costs

Something must be done about the enormous financial barrier to entry. Think how many teams with amazing histories (Lotus, McLaren, Williams) would never have been able to enter under the present circumstances. I’m all for some sort of budget cap - David Dunbar

My main concern for F1 as in Premier League football: the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. A more equitable division of the prize/TV money is a must - Richard Thirkettle

The basic problem is the disparity between the three top F1 teams – Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull – and the rest due to the huge budget differences, so a cap on budgets is required - Brian Taylor

The circuits

There are too many races in nations that have zero motorsport pedigree. These are the same as Silverstone – corporate soirées for the rich who wouldn’t know Phil Hill from Harry Hill - Mark Gilbertson

The main problem is ‘Mickey Mouse’ circuits where there is only one possible line through corners. Many circuits, like Monza, were ruined by having chicanes inserted to slow cars down. Narrow single-line corners should be modified so it’s possible to choose between lines - Tony Short

All circuits should have overtaking opportunities as a non-negotiable requisite. Monaco is the supreme example: it’s hopeless as it is. Imagine a new loop where overtaking were possible, to contrast with theexisting street layout - Paul Morris

The coverage

F1 gurus aim to improve it to increase viewing figures. May I suggest getting it back in front of genuinely national audiences around the world? I watched F1 every year until it became impossible do so on free-to-view TV - James Ashton

READ MORE

Why times are changing in F1​

Formula 1 vs Le Mans: why GP racing is still the pinnacle​

How Lando Norris became Britain's youngest-ever F1 star​

Join the debate

Comments
21
Add a comment…
Random_Thoughts 30 September 2019

Two Championships

Got thinking about this a few years ago when LH and Merc started winning most weekends and I got bored. My suggestion:

10 teams, 20 races. 

Ten races form the drivers' championship where drivers race in cars manufactured to an identical spec - perhaps produced by an independent outfit funded collectively by all of the teams. 

Ten races form the constructors' championship where each team builds its own car to regulations, as they do now, and the drivers rotate through the teams each race so that at the end of the season each team has had each driver once.  

I reckon that's something I might watch...

Maybe the amount a team pays into the development of the DC cars determines its budget for its own CC cars. That might help to level the financial playing field a bit, especially if teams are then allowed to dip into the DC cars parts bin. 

bomb 30 September 2019

I've been a massive F1 fan

I've been a massive F1 fan for years, pictures on the wall and shelves full of books, but I don't watch it anymore. Why?

It's no longer on free-to-air.

The cars are massive, overweight, ugly and look near identical.

The cars are (appearing to a watching audience at least) too easy to drive.

The wheel-to-wheel action is limited and actual overtaking is 'fake'.

Many of the circuit venues do not excite.

The circuits, even the good ones, have been emasculated to the point where there is little risk or penalty for going off line.

Both the design and competition rules are both baffling and stifle racing.

Solutions?

Make coverage free to air.

The design rabbit hole we've been going down for years needs to end. We need a strict budget cap but a much more open rule book. Creativity, design freedom, variation, different engines, ban turbos, 3 pedals, gearchange OFF the wheel, drive the size and weight back down..and a 1993-spec front wing!

Get rid of the ridiculous budgets, if manufacturers don't like it? Bye. Plenty of other manufacturers will be attracted by realistic costs. Fans will like the bigger grids and fresh faces.

Sack Herman Tillke.

Thanks.

Peter Cavellini 30 September 2019

F1.....

 In F1 it's supposed to be a level playing field which it's not, never has been, it can't be a level playing field because as a sponsor you'd want your name on the top cars so, if your one of the bottom teams your not going to get top sponsors and as for the best drivers,we'll, they go to the best teams, as for watching, well currently it's moved on a bit, it isn't as one sided, no boring processional races as such, how to improve it?, well, you tell me, tell the powers that be to make it better, we don't want more races, there's to many as it is, reverse grids?, who'd want to start at the back all the time?.......

Find an Autocar car review