The FIA (Formula One's governing body) is responsible for the regulations that the teams follow, whether it be from a sporting or technical perspective. However for some time now these rules have not only been influenced by the FIA requiring better safety measures but by FOM (Formula One Management) for whom most of you see as just Bernie Ecclestone and the teams. All of these groups have their own vested interest in the Sport and stand to benefit from it's exposure in different ways. The FIA are always looking to constrain the efforts made by the teams to increase downforce and top speed in order to maintain the safety of everyone involved. The problem with this however is that this can become a costly exercise, if for example we look at the last rule set which ran from 2009-2013 there are some stand out technical issues that were costly for all parties involved.
2009-2010 Double Decked Diffusers
BrawnGP, Toyota and Williams arrived at pre season testing with their respective challengers sporting what many deemed to be an illegal Diffuser configuration. Having stated they had consulted with the FIA and TWG (Technical Working Group) during the design process they believed their designs to be legal. In reality however nothing could really be done about this until the cars arrived in Melbourne unless the FIA clarified it's position by issuing a technical directive outlawing the design. When the FIA continued to give the DDD's the green light in Melbourne it meant the teams without them were forced to adopt them. For the teams needing to chase the development and integrate it into their packages the costs were extreme. However had the FIA banned DDD's we would have found BrawnGP dead in the water with very low financial backing and the cutting back of their infrastructure due to the loss of Honda. Whilst Toyota and Williams would have also been on the back foot. Were the FIA stuck between a rock and a hard place then? Most certainly but only because the rule makers unlike the teams seem to lack the ability to look laterally. As fans we however thrive on this type of innovation as its what causes the to and fro of power in the sport.
2012-2013 Coanda Exhaust Systems
Having altered the regulations to eliminate the type of EBD's we had seen proliferate the sport since 2010, however such was the performance advantage that EBD offered the teams were never likely to relinquish it's advantage easily. Dubbed the Coanda exhaust due to the way in which the exhaust was used to manipulate the airflow in the surrounding region, the teams once again set about targeting the exhaust plume at the gap between the floor and tyre sidewall. McLaren's Semi-Coanda exhaust was the adopted by most teams up and down the grid initially as it likely retained more power (longer exhaust tract) than the ramp style (downwash) exhausts used by Sauber and Red Bull. However as the latter's idea matured and introduced a cross under tunnel to isolate the airflow around the Sidepod it became apparent theirs could become a better solution. Not without work though, Red Bull's cross under tunnel went through many variations before the team finally had a base setup that worked.
As always the problem for most teams having to re integrate technology into their machine is that there is always compromise and so although a car is a rolling prototype, in order to maximise a technology like this the cars ethos must be designed around it. This led to many of the teams running halfway house solutions for 2012 with their full blown interpretations available for the start of 2013.
The FIA as the regulator has a choice to make when a new innovation rears its head, either clarify their position with a technical directive, outlawing the innovation. Or they allow it's development, the problem is often they can't predict the widesweeping ramifications of what each development will entail and how long the gestation/development period is until it reaches it's maximum potential.
Their decision will hurt one team whether they agree to something or not, as invariably a loophole in the regulations is initially pounced upon by one team. In terms of cost someone or all the teams will eventually lose out as the costs spiral to integrate the en vogue development of the season or have it's development squashed immediately. This is a most difficult task for the FIA as innovation is what drives the sport forward and allows the teams to systematically claw back the losses that are made under large rule changes. The other side of the coin however is cost:
Looking at how regulation has an impact on cost, it's obvious to see how development is intrinsically linked to the cost of running a team. A cost cap is a difficult proposal for Formula One as controlling how each teams spends money is a riddle wrapped inside an enigma. For teams like Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes and even McLaren to some extent they have parent companies that can 'hide' associated costs or indeed carry out work 'off the books'.
Max Mosley's initial concept of introducing a budget cap to the sport for me would have made the bigger teams think more wisely about their exorbitant costs as he proposed a 2 tier system. Anyone operating under the lower budget would be allowed more technical freedom gifting those that couldn't speed the money with tools that would help them keep up on track. Ferrari, Red Bull and then Renault all threatened to walk away from the sport and create their own series if it came to fruition and so it never saw the light of day.
This caused somewhat of a problem for the new entrants for 2010 who'd built their projections on that figure and have since either folded USF1 (before they really got off the ground) and HRT or operate on a totally different level now trying to attain the same backing as the other teams (Marussia & Caterham).
It appears that history could be about to repeat itself as although the framework for a budget cap has not been talked about (likely somewhat up from the £40m talked about last time around, to something more like £75-100m) the FIA were inviting prospective teams to tender for a 12th slot on the grid available for 2015 or 2016. Anyone serious about getting into Formula One as a team owner should not have considered the budget cap as viable when creating their business plan, instead they should have looked at what it would take to create a team from scratch under the current conditions. I'd suggest that anyone without £200m rattling around would steer well clear unless like the rumoured Gene Haas entry you have some facilities or experience in motorsport to call upon. Furthermore if you have that kind of money to spend you'd be much wiser to simply purchase one of the other struggling teams and invest in them. Lotus, Sauber, Force India, Marussia, Caterham and even Toro Rosso could be bought for the right money.
The question must be raised though with so many teams struggling financially is it the right time for the FIA to increase the grid numbers? Sponsorship is ever becoming more difficult to come by for the midfield teams and so adding another team will almost certainly decrease the opportunity for everyone to lure and keep sponsors.
It has been talked about before but perhaps a fresh approach to the topic of customer cars is one way in which to reduce the overall costs for those partaking in the sport. Yes it can be argued that teams like Force India, Toro Rosso etc that have spent considerable amounts of money establishing themselves as constructors in their own right would be cheesed off. However when we consider that many teams are close to financial ruin it must at least be considered. Many teams already share technology and so it has to be questioned why restrict the smaller teams to not buying chassis' off the shelf too. I've always been a firm believer that you can't offer up last years car as it's pretty much obsolete and would leave the team buying it chasing development/spending money at the same rate just to catch up. Besides it's not like Red Bull could sell Caterham a 2013 car to compete under the 2014 regulations is it? No this is something that would need serious consideration from the FIA and unanimous support from the teams. The most vocal figure to oppose customer cars in the past has been Sir Frank Williams citing the dilution of being a Constructor in it's own right.
I'd argue that there are negatives behind customer cars but it certainly isn't something Formula One hasn't had in it's past. It can also be argued that the 'Constructor' teams stand to make a substantial financial benefit for no more than selling their cars. I could also see it making it viable to increase the grid number with the cost to go racing cheaper than ever before. It would of course need to be managed in a similar way to the engine suppliers with a maximum amount of chassis' being able to be supplied by the constructor.
If we see Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes, McLaren, Lotus and Williams as full blown constructors, with some of the other teams obviously having the capability to be so but realising the costs to operate at that level outweigh the cost and performance benefits it means each of the above could supply 1 team (based on a full 12 team grid).
When the FIA did away with in season testing in 2009 the teams simply went off and spent the money they'd been spending at the track on, off track simulation techniques (CFD, Wind Tunnel and Simulation). The FIA have re-introduced an element of track testing for 2014 with teams staying on after GP's to develop their cars and processes, on the other hand for the first time they are actually limiting the amount of work that can be done via CFD leveraging it against time spent in the Wind Tunnel. This will of course mean that the teams will once again funnel their spending toward different facets of their design programme to maximise performance and won't spend any less than they had previously.
At the end of the day Formula One teams aren't in existence to make a profit, they're a mobile advertising vehicle and spend (usually more) than they make. The teams that are better funded tend to be the ones at the top of the grid and this will never change. Adding in a budget cap will simply alter the way in which the budget is spent to leverage performance and will still leave a divide amongst the teams.
At the end of 2010 Bridgestone left the sport opening the door for another supplier to which Pirelli answered the FIA prayers. The FIA along with FOM realised the potential for increasing 'the show' instructing Pirelli to throw caution to the wind and mix up the strategies furthermore being schooled by the teams in 2010 utilsing the F Duct the FIA introduced their Drag Reduction System (DRS). You'd have thought that the introduction of quickly degrading rubber by Pirelli would have led to the FIA making their recommendations for limitations on pressures, cambers etc a mandatory element of the race setup. This of course didn't happen and even when fair warning of the extreme settings caused blisters post qualifying in Spa (2011) for Red Bull still nothing was implemented.
No wonder then in 2013 when Pirelli revolutionized their tyres construction in order to give the drivers more mechanical grip we found the teams pushing the limits once again. The tyres being constructed with a metal banding inside not only made the tyres directional but in my opinion safer, in previous years when a tyre had failed the whole carcass of the tyre disintegrated more than often mortally wounding the rear of the car in spectacular fashion, forcing retirement. The 2013 construction did lead to several failures not only from debris but moreover from miss-use by the teams but instead of causing drivers to retire, they could in most cases either limp off to the side of the circuit without too much commotion or make it back to the pits for another set of tyres.
Silverstone 2013 will of course always be remembered for the many tyre explosions that dogged the race and ultimately ruined Lewis Hamilton's race who had qualified on pole the day before. The problem however is that because most of the 'mainstream' media simply didn't understand why the tyres were failing but it remained a focal point for their them to concentrate on. This led to the teams getting off almost scott free in terms of their abuse of tyre swapping, excessive camber and pressure settings. It did however lead to a situation whereby the FIA took note and regulated these settings prior to each GP rather than just having Pirelli recommend them.
The ensuing change back to 2012's tyre construction was an example of a sport that sometimes knee jerk reactions rather than analyzing the root cause. The change in construction hurt and improved the fortunes of teams up and down the grid based on how well their package was suited to the given tyre and effectively changed the landscape of the championship. Pirelli have never really veered much from the remit set by the FIA/FOM yet have taken a serious amount of flack in the process, meanwhile the teams flouting their recommendations have got off scott free..
Going back to the original introduction of the Pirelli tyre lineup alongside DRS, it can be argued that the sport didn't/doesn't need both to achieve it's goals. DRS for me is more or less a tool enabling the trailing driver who's tyres are not operating in the same window as the driver he's chasing an easy way past. For DRS to work in the way it is intended (give the chasing driver the opportunity to get alongside his opponent) it must either be scaled based on tyre wear or with a time component, which in reality isn't achievable. The former for obvious reasons but the latter because of safety, DRS already being restricted to zones for 2013 whereas during Free Practice/Qualifying in 11/12 it had been unlimited. Unlimited usage had led to some teams/drivers being extremely bold in it's use and so the FIA decided against it.
KERS will be encompassed by the larger ERS for 2014 and so will no longer be a push to pass style system for overtaking / defending like it was initially intended. The power due to the complexity of managing several systems at once will instead be controlled by the torque (accelerator) pedal effectively creating a 3D map. This will allow for a graduated release of the power based on throttle position rather than simply lumping an additional 80bhp (or whatever power output they had their rotary set to 0-80bhp) at the driver in one hit.
Another item of moveable aerodynamics that could be once again relevant was tried in 2009 but failed due to DDD's is the adjustable Front Wing flap. Being able to adjust the AoA (Angle of Attack) of the front wing was seen as a way of decreasing the distance between the following driver and the car he followed. The increased wake turbulence of the DDD cars meant the adjustable front wing was a flop but with exhaust energy at it's lowest for years (due to the attached Turbo/ERS) and a mandated centreline position it could be trialled again.
Formula One's approach has become systematic of the world we live in where information is available at a frantic pace but often taken out of context or misunderstood. Many people look back at years gone by through rose tinted glasses, if you actually take the time to watch back racing from decades ago all but a few close fought battles between arch rivals made up the sum total of overtaking manouvres.
This leads me to the new rule for 2014 offering double points for the season finale in Abu Dhabi, now I'm not sure who cooked up this idea or if it's another smokescreen for a bomb shell that's about to be dropped on the F1 world, however I know it's something the fans of the sport are not happy about. The idea is to keep the Championship alive toward the end of the season and smacks of involvement from the broadcasters. When a championship is concluded early the fringe viewers of the sport tend to get disenchanted, this leads to smaller viewing figures and in turn, less revenue. Double points for the last race in my opinion devalues the races that preceeded it and furthermore is diametrically opposed to the budget cap the sport wants to introduce. This will incentivise the last race, making it more important to continue development on the car right up until the end of the season. This comes at a time where a teams development curve is heading downhill as attention turns to the following season.
In terms of digital and social media the sport is a considerable step behind with fans reliant on their countries broadcasters, media and teams to provide meaningful content. The problem there however is they are hamstrung by the contracts signed with FOM in what they can use.
The expansion of Social Media over the last ten years has been mind blowing and opens doors for communicating information in a totally different way. I'll admit I'm not a fan of Facebook but admit that Twitter has provided a platform for my own rise as a blogger/writer within the sport. A visit to F1.com provides you with no obvious statement that the sport engages in Social Media at all with no links to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, YouTube etc visible on the front page.
It's staggering to think that a sport of this magnitude doesn't interact with the fans especially when you visit Nascar.com and the first thing you are presented with is a big spread about who to follow on Twitter. At the base of their page you find the usual buttons taking you to the official Nascar feeds on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+. The same can be said for btcc.net and so many of the other motorsport formula's that I could be here all day. F1 does have a twitter account but it's basically an RSS feed churning out links to content added on the website.
YouTube is another bone of contention when it comes to F1, as anything related to the sport posted on the site is generally taken down within seconds of it being uploaded. It's a platform that the sport should embrace and have it's own content on.
Formula One needs to stop hiding in the shadows as a faceless corporation and interact with it's fans, afterall they are the ones that fund the sport.
The sports move to the pay to view model was inevitable, Bernie attempted his own channel many years ago that faded rather fast but modern living has edged us all closer to the pay model since then. It's not a bad thing as paying for something normally weeds out the less serious amongst us but it certainly doesn't encourage a new audience. In the UK we are fortunate (at the moment) to have both a pay model (SKY) and terrestrial offering (BBC) and although the latter don't have all the races live, they do show a highlights package after every GP. I can't speak for other countries but it would appear that Formula Ones viewing figures in the UK have taken a tumble since the pay model was introduced but then viewing habits have also changed. Life is becoming a succession of sprint races where everything is done at a million miles per hour and so our viewing habits are changing. 3 hours in front of the TV to absorb some of the pre and post show and the race is too much for the casual viewer and so an extended highlights package is perhaps F1 could look at marketing via the internet. Of course there is also the other end of the scale with obsessives like me who don't feel they get enough access, an online pay model with extensive post race weekend footage would be a most welcome addition.
Formula One's growth over the last few years has been about developing into previously uncovered territories, perhaps now is the time for it to embrace the technology at hand that will develop growth in the regions it already has.
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