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29 Apr 2015

Formula One can't solve it's own problems because the people who bought their way into the decision making process all have their own agendas.  That's right if you weren't aware of why and how the strategy group came about, it was during the signing of the last bi-lateral agreements that tie all parties to the sport until 2020.  The strategy group is made up of 18 votes from the FIA, FOM and the top six teams which means some go without a say.  The FIA whom are the "governing" body have essentially neutered themselves in exchange for a yearly payout.  The strategy groups main role is to shape the way in which the sport moves forward but also has influence on rule making decisions, which invariably means that some things can never be resolved.  Put together the teams couldn't organise a McDonalds children's party less agree on the direction of the sport, with each representatives views skewed by their own teams business / self interest.

So what is wrong with the sport that so many of us love?

For me it's having an identity crisis, struggling to retain the exclusivity it had in the past, whilst trying to cross viewer boundaries that see it as a truly global sport, embraced by all.  What's wrong seems to broadly fall into just two categories but both have many sub categories: Cost and "the show".

Let's start with costs as they seem to be a hot topic for debate again at the moment as in some circles it's believed if you talk about something enough you can affect change.  That change for those not enjoying the spoils of the new powerunits at the moment is the cost of them.  Formula One is expensive, that is part of its DNA and the allure to be involved in the sport.  The cost of the new powerunits is manufacturer specific, as each has factored in their recovery of costs toward R&D, production and ongoing development against the quantity of teams they supply and planned expiration of the current powerunit framework (2020).  The most expensive powerunit is estimated to cost around £18 million per season which is quite the jump, but this isn't the first downsizing that has sparked an outcry though.  Ecclestone didn't really like the switch from V10's either, suggesting cost would be an issue...

If the cost of the powerunits is too extravagant spend a moment considering the implication for Ferrari, Mercedes, Renault and now Honda who'd find themselves in a financial hole IF changes to the format were made.  Conversely Ecclestone is talking about the need for more noise and more power as we steadily tip toe into the realm of "the show".  He (and other fossils like him) perpetuate the statement that we're losing fans because Formula One isn't what they want to see or hear.  I'd argue that's not wholly accurate and that his public condemnation of the powerunits and the lack of education offered on how the powerunits work is a turn off for most fans.  I'd also suggest that much more can be done with the current technology if the shackles are loosened, lest we forget that the engine manufacturers are hamstrung by various fuel and electrical limitations.

As I've discussed on several occasions the 15,000rpm upper rev limit is actually a faux target that can never be achieved, owing to the fuel flow formula set at 10,500rpm, making just above 12,000rpm the manufacturers target.  The ICE is manufactured with this in mind so simply removing the formula may not allow the teams to rev out to the full 15,000rpm but it might have some impact.  Dialogue would need to be opened up with the engine manufacturer to see what can be equitably achieved without massively hamstringing one over the other.  Furthermore, changing the fuel flow parameters also means changing the fuel weight limit during a race, as some races are currently marginal with the given fuel flow formula.  This then has further implications in terms of car design with the 100kg fuel tank and powerunit occupying roughly the same space that the roughly 150kg and V8 did.  Increasing the tank size to increase power will raise the weight of the car once more and increase its size.

Whilst balancing this fuel flow / weight conundrum it may also be worth looking at what more can be achieved with ERS, as currently the maximum release from the MGU-K is 120kw (roughly 160bhp).  As this is scalable and mapped to throttle application (ie not always releasing 160bhp) it is conceivable with more power being generated by the ICE/Turbo that ceiling could be raised further too, whilst also looking at the energy formula (ie 2mj release from the energy store etc).

Ok, so what happens when they've all sat down and can't achieve the kind of targets that they think they want from the current powerunit (1000bhp).  By the way that figure makes me laugh out loud as quite frankly it reminds me of a pub conversation where BHP figures are used to compare manliness.  Why do we need to reach a 1000bhp target?  Anyway if that is the case so be it but please don't let it be to the detriment of ERS, let's continue to embrace it and downsizing so that people can marvel at what can be achieved with so little.  If we must have a new powerunit lets have a twin turbo V6 with dual MGU-H's making recovering and using energy easier than a singular turbo, again increasing how much can be output via the MGU-K.  Furthermore, can we look into direct hub motors? perhaps recovering and using energy at the front wheels too, ie torque vectoring anyone...
Ok, so now we have talked about and perhaps even re-designed the powerunit regulations lets discuss other areas of F1's car design.  Provocatively Ferrari released the image above recently, giving us an indication of the type of aesthetic that they believe Formula One should be looking to achieve, which on the face of it is great.  Framing the regulations in way that that could be achieved is a completely different prospect and we'd probably get nothing like that render, owing to aerodynamics triumphing over aesthetics (amen to that).  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder as they say and although I prefer the cleaner lines generated by the post 2009 regulations I know many still prefer the busy pre 2009 cars with flicks and winglets all over the place.
Andries van Overbeeke got in touch a little while back with some renders he'd also completed (see above), taking inspiration from both the pre and post 2009 regulation changes, whilst widening the cars track and increasing the rear tyre size.
Having had a great response to the Martini liveried car he also set about looking at some ideas that couldn't live within the current regulation construct such as endplate-less front wings, with the Red Bull concept above.

Like the Ferrari concepts they evoke emotions, both good and bad but ask the question "Are we doing things right, right now?"  Aesthetics are important to the sport but for me they cannot compromise performance and this is where F1 should be focused and so not rather than but as part of the Strategy Group I feel the Technical Working Group (TWG) as used to shape the 2009 regulations should be used to study and implement regulatory changes that improve how the cars behave.  By all means listen to the suggestions tabled by the Strategy Group but the TWG should be funded by the sport to actually investigate how to solve problems such as how to improve overtaking.  I'm not only talking about ideas here I'm talking about a group of engineers that work like a team, with CFD, a wind tunnel, simulation software and even full scale production to prove what does work.

The last TWG were instrumental in the rules introduced by the FIA in 2009, which were partly in response to a survey conducted by the sport into what fans wanted from it.  More overtaking was the general consensus and so the rules were changed in order to facilitate this, gone were the wake inducing flicks and appendages that the pre 2009 cars had plastered all over them, whilst the front wing was increased in width, in an attempt to make it easier to follow another car.  Furthermore, the front wings angle could be changed by 6 degrees twice a lap to further enforce a drivers ability to follow in another cars wake.  The DDD (double deck diffuser) invalidated the moveable front wing as the teams were already creating more wake than originally intended, it was consigned to history and abandoned after just a years use in 2010. I ask why hasn't F1 re adopted this method now the wake impact has been reduced by the 2014 regulations?

McLaren started the next scramble to improve overtaking with the F-duct (RW80) in 2010 which really paved the way for the Drag Reduction System (DRS).  This leads me to the current problem as far as I see it and why overtaking always seems artificial.  When DRS was introduced the zones were scalable by race control during the event, whilst it could be used at anytime during Free Practice and Qualifying.  This often led to teams having to think strategically, either compromising qualifying or its usefulness whilst overtaking.  The rules still allow different flap sizing so the performance delta can be changed but the teams now have the DRS zone information in advance, allowing them to optimize their choices ahead of the event.  This will reduce costs but also lead to a predictable pass 'n' go scenario come race day.

Mercedes came the closest to emulating the use of both systems with their DDRS in 2012, stalling the underside of the front wing with pipework that channelled airflow through the car when their DRS was activated.  Imagine what could be achieved in terms of overtaking aids and general aero efficiency if both front wing and rear wing DRS's were employed by the teams.  Furthermore, imagine the strides that could be made by the teams if active bodywork were allowed in other areas of the car too, such as the leading edge of sidepods etc.

DRS is a purists nightmare as it's essentially a push to pass system that offers little in terms of a defence mechanism especially when we have the one move braking rule.  For me DRS has become more about keeping the equilibrium, with the car that has the least wear on their tyres able to affect a pass on their counterpart without hindering their strategy too much.  Remember the catalyst for DRS was Alonso getting stuck behind Petrov in Abu Dhabi in 2010....

At this intersection I'd like to talk about tyres (or tires for my American buddies) as they truly are a control element in F1.  When Bridgestone exited in 2010 they were replaced by Italian manufacturer Pirelli. Their brief from the FIA was to create 3 stop races, since then they've cited Canada 2011 as the blueprint for an entertaining race and asked that Pirelli provide tyres capable of creating strategy scenarios that could bring that level of drama.  F1 teams don't like the unquantifiable, they want to weigh and measure everything, so Pirelli offer a conundrum.  2012 continues to irk me in this respect, as Pirelli became the fall guy for the teams as they pushed the rubber supplied to them beyond its design limitations.  That's right everyone would have you believe that Pirelli were at fault, their product shoddy but it wasn't.  It just wasn't compliant in the way the teams wanted it to be.  An unforgiving sidewall and a directional tyre owing to the metal band inserted within created an aerodynamic issue for the teams that they desperately tried to overcome.  This led to the teams swapping the tyres from the designated direction, running adverse pressures and cambers to improve performance.  Pirelli carried the can for the teams on that one and since then have retained a more robust design philosophy, all to our detriment as fans.  IF the FIA had the balls to call out the teams over the Silverstone controversy they'd have shown the teams for what they are, the problem is the teams hadn't technically done anything wrong.  Up until that point tyre swapping, adverse camber and pressures were fine as Pirelli could only recommend how they be mounted and used, something the FIA should have changed as far back as Spa 2011.

One of the debates that does come up when looking at the future direction of F1 is wheel size, something that Pirelli briefly looked at in 2014 -  I'm not a fan of 18" wheels (see everyone gets hung up on aesthetics), it just looks wrong to me for a single seater to have so little sidewall on display but I can admit there must be a happy medium between that and the current 13" wheels being used.  The problem of introducing such a change is the way in which it will change the handling characteristics of the cars, with the sidewall currently providing quite a reasonable assistance to the suspension.  Perhaps then whilst introducing a new wheel and tyre model we can take a look at a return to active suspension? Banned by the FIA at the end of 1993 I'm sure with a 22 year absence the system could make a successful return and prove that Formula One is at the cutting edge again.

Whilst fixing the racing by introducing better quality overtaking is one thing, there isn't much point if there isn't an audience left to engage.  Numbers viewing F1 have been declining in recent years and it's not difficult to understand why when there seems to be just as much action off the track as there is on it.  Politics drives the F1 world away from the racetrack, in a way no other sport seems to be able to achieve and this can be difficult to swallow for many fans.  Ecclestones pay up or shut up model to the circuits has driven the sport further afield, where fans often regard the tracks as 'car parks'.  They aren't quite as bad as the Caesars Palace GP, which actually was in a car park but the Hermann Tilke designed tracks don't come with the heritage associated with a European circuit.  That's not to say Tilke is a bad designer, the problem most don't understand is he couldn't actually build many of the classic circuits, even if he wanted to, that's because of the regulations pertaining to elevations, corner radii, etc.  That's right he could build you a poor mans Eau Rouge or 130R but replicating them exactly is out of his jurisdiction.  That's not to say he hasn't created some of his own great sequences with the likes of Turn 8 in Istanbul (so gutted when Istanbul got culled from the calendar) and turn 1 at Circuit of the America's etc.

The problem for the European circuits is they're being priced out of existence, as Ecclestone continues to search for countries that will pay the ever escalating fees.  Meanwhile, as F1 has moved from free-to-air channels (like the BBC in the UK) to pay models (like Sky in the UK) the decline in numbers continues.  The cost to watch every race live in the UK now stands at around £100 watching via the BBC and the NowTV PAYG method.  I'm not put off by the use of that model but many are, especially when they were so used to watching races for free.  You can't only blame the subscription based model for the decline in viewership though, with the sport doing little to entice a new following to the sport.  FOM have at least started to engage their brain over the last 6 months focusing their efforts on the likes of Twitter and YouTube, but they are well behind the curve in that respect.  I understand that Ecclestone has deals with the broadcasters in each region when it comes to live streaming, but considering they make the content I can't see why they have so little ambition to sell their own exclusive package too.  They have far more content at their disposal than the broadcasters seem able to use, I can't understand why there isn't a full blown "hub" available, where viewers can choose which streams, commentary and data is available to them.  I'd certainly pay for the right content to maximise and immerse myself further in the experience of a race weekend.

The race weekend may well be one the largest problems of engaging new fans too, in an age where your whole day can hinge on the deployment of 140 characters, time is of the essence (in fact if you've read this far I'm impressed).  People want things condensed and so perhaps the Strategy Group should consider how to frame both qualifying and the race into one day, shortening the weekend.  The other thing is race length, I understand that 305km is the magic figure from which the number of race laps is extrapolated but for some this is too many.  Rather than mess with the fuel weight limit I previously discussed, how about if the race were 15 laps shorter?  That would give the scope to race from lights out to chequered flag and go some way to enticing a newer, younger audience.

So what's wrong with Formula One I ask again, plenty is the answer, we have formulated here, quite quickly without really scratching the surface.....


  1. Nice analysis covering a lot of different issues and approaches. The only suggestions I'm really opposed to are shortening the races and/or the weekends. I go to Montreal every year, and can't imagine not spending 3 days enjoying the full F1 schedule and the practice, quail, and races of the support series. Keep up the good work. @jramseychicago

  2. I noticed an error.
    The tire rules are inspired by Canada 2010, not 2011 which was the 4h rain filled epic.

    1. I actually thought it was 2010 too but it wasn't it was 2011. I checked as I was writing the article...

  3. "I can't understand why there isn't a full blown "hub" available where viewers can choose which streams, commentary and data is available to them."


    1. I agree as well. I love MotoGP's hub. The WEC also has streaming of their races for a fee.

    2. FOM should produce a hub that their broadcasters could then reskin add value and make available to their subscribers. The same FOM stuff would be on sky , bbc etc but each broadcaster would have their own extras like the interviews, pit walks or in depth analysis & documentaries.

  4. F1 needs to promote much closer racing, and allow car to car contact. Look how good the MOTOGP races are!

    Allow close contact rough racing below 240kph by bodywork preventing direct tire to tire contact
    Require tough flexible outer body pieces to allow contact without damage
    They should be tested by the FIA with a hammer for toughness
    MOTOGP has closer racing with so much less protection
    Protect the driver with a canopy!

    4WD! Allow front wheels to recover and store energy, and unlimited MJ energy store to go beyond 1000 HP. Less kg of polluting fuel!
    18" wheels are slower due to greater un-sprung mass and rotational inertia, unless in-wheel motors are allowed to recover much more energy than now.

    Reduce costs for small teams that bring in the new talent! Expensive parts should be made available to small teams at reduced costs from big teams. The small teams should only pay for the manufacturing, not the development.

    Low drag and more under body ground effects to allow following cars to pass without DRS.
    Bring back "twin-chassis"
    The twin chassis can solve a number of problems in F1 and WEC racing.
    The twin-chassis was never fully developed and its potential to improve safety was never demonstrated. Dynamic stability analysis can prove this.
    Twin-chassis advantages:
    Isolate driver spine from damaging shocks.
    Better dynamic stability so no more flipping LMP1 cars.
    Keep aero chassis position within a tight tolerance to prevent flip events
    High down-force and stiff aero chassis springs
    Soft springs isolating majority of mass, independently of speed
    Safely allow under-body ground effects to efficiently produce down-force with less wake than small wings. Less wake allows easier passing.

    1. I'm not sure I agree with F1 becoming a contact sport, imagine Maldonado with that in his mind ;)

      I'd certainly listen to an expansion of the parts that can be purchased 'customer parts list' from the top tier teams but that does essentially make the rich, richer....

      In terms of downforce levels and drag I think it is important that research is conducted rather than sticking plasters applied. However, as you say a move back to increased under body performance is certainly one way of reducing the wake impact, IF you take away other influencing factors.

  5. Man, I wish FOM, FIA and the teams would read this article... advice from an objective 3rd party like this is what's needed.

  6. Split the race in 2, with reverse start order for the second race. This means that the faster cars will have to overtake the slower cars.

    1. I think reverse grids might be another gimmick that alienates the core F1 following only to entice a new younger audience. We have to at least look to defend the core of what F1 is, surely?...

    2. Perhaps, but it forces drivers to overtake, so it's the end of a driver in the best car just staying out front all race. Double races also reduces the impact of bad luck.

      But of course the overtake problems still have to be solved separately as well (that is even more important actually, with reverse order races).

  7. I think that there are a few issues that need to change. I like that the new engine formula has seen a refocus on other technology again in F1 rather than purely about pushing the aerodynamics, but the flow limit is a problem, why not just remove this but stick with the 100kg limit, then its down to the engine manufacturers to extract as much HP per kg of fuel as they can, also to back this up, why not remove the limits on the energy recovery usage, this would drive the technology in this area more. Active suspension? why not, they should be looking to the future to what new technologies and areas need to be developed and the TWG should push some of the focus down these routes.

    Yes the show needs improvement, but this is down to accessability, with the drift to pay TV the audiences will get smaller, so why will advertisers continue to invest? Its needs to embrace internet technlogies and other breakthroughs, (why not have its own dedicated YouTube channel that it broadcasts on for a small fee?) F1 also needs to modernise in its approach to audiences, in a sport where men and women can actually compete on an equal basis more needs to be done to include them, lets not forget that they make up more than 50% of the earth population and so thats a whole other market that is being missed, womens fashion and cosmetics are some of the largest companies in the world, far larger than a great number of the current F1 sponsers; my girlfriend loves F1 but hates the fact that she has to be subjected to mysoginistic attitudes every race she watches and so am I; its time to move on, sorry guys but its time for the grid girls to go, they are from a time past, why not have mix of men and women, or better yet, why not have a prize draw based on ticket numbers and invite actual fans to do these roles? or for the walk up to the podium why not have the kids at the track line the walkway? Its time to be more inclusive to all people.

    The approach Bernie takes to the tracks is not sustainable either, before long the only tracks left will be those few back by governments and oil rich states; this needs to change to make affordable to the masses to attend.

    But more fundamentally, it seems that F1 has forgotten that its success is dependant on its customers, by which we mean the fans that make up the viewing public, rather than the few billionaires who turn up occasionally to have Bernie kiss their behind. F1 is floundering and if it doesn't change and it is risking becoming overtaken like Microsoft currently has to Apple, suffering from an ill concieved operating system (Win8) that it tried to impose on its customers, rather than asking what does the customer want (like Apple), and then having to try and rush a fix in (Win10). Its a basic rule of business, give the customer what they want, if you don't then they will go elsewhere.

    1. The problem with adjusting the fuel flow limits is speed differentials, if you retain the 100kg tank size but remove the flow limit you'll have extremely adverse strategies available where drivers can go absolutely flat out for several laps but then be dog slow, saving fuel for several more. Remember the closing speed accident with Heikki and Webber, that's the sort of incident you'd have to get used to in order to facilitate a carte blanche fuel flow...

      I've actually made the same statement about switching out grid girls for a lotterized grid fan before, as you say it aids in the interaction of the sport. However, can't be seen to have the common people on the grid with the so called celebs can we?.. ;)

    2. Matt,

      Thanks, i didn't think about the speed differential in that way, i assumed that the teams would push for a maximum performance average flow range across the race duration, but then i stupidly forgot that they don't do that now; I've always wondered why would a race stategy not work that focused on maintaining the highest average lap speed (ignoring extreme outliers)? but i assume that this would only be possible if you didn't have to factor in tyre wear and compound usage and other cars!

      While i sympathise with the need for teams to give potential sponsors the red carpet treatment, I agree, we need to be more inclusive but F1 will struggle all the while we pander too much to the needs of people only intereseted in being there to promote their own self image.

      Watching fans try to make it to the podium ceremony just after the race had finished made me aware that there are a couple of factors we are stuck with when it comes to making it more inclusive. We often mention other motorsports such as NASCAR that seem more inclusive, but they operate on Ovals for most of their racing which are smaller than F1 tracks, so it is easier for the fans to get closer in to the action post race, plus the demands of the televised media mean that they would not tolerate a 20-30min break for fans to try and get round to the podium ceremony. The cost of attending races as a result of Bernies excessive hosting fee's can't continue, or before long all the tracks will be as empty as Korea or in receivership. (it was nice to see an announcement from Silverstone that they are going to reduce ticket prices to try to increase attendance to try and reduce the trend). I think its also a shame that Sky and the BBC couldn't work together on their coverage rather than competing, I have always thought the BBC's coverage was slicker than Sky, but its a shame (as you have said elsewhere) that more technical content can't be covered by Sky, a 1 hour show per week on Sky with Ted and Gary anderson would produce a reasonable piece maybe with a few features from yourself :-) Its iritating that Sky have got this fantastic platform for Motorsport and they just don't seem to know what to do with it other than to try and promote Football and Golf, perhaps it is because of these focuses they don't know what to do as their content and marketing methods for these don't work with motorsport.

  8. Something that I didn't put in the main article but I think needs mentioning is the fact that the Strategy Group have earmarked a rise in BHP with a rise in downforce, yet they want cars that are more difficult to drive?!?!.. A rise in BHP should also come with a loss in downforce, increasing the amount of downforce won't make the cars more difficult to drive...

    1. I think the call for more difficult to drive cars is getting old. The idea that difficult cars are going to improve the show because of mistakes has been proven wrong. It didn't work with smaller tires, TCS bans and the current high torque engines.

      The problem is that the cars have become easier to control. Better response in the gas pedal, flappy pedal gearbox and better power steering are the things that make it easier and you can't change these back.

      An other problem is the maturity of the sport. Because of the popularity of F1 and the increased access to karting and other racing series there are more drivers. This means that F1 drivers are now not the 20 best and bravest of a 1000 race car drivers but the 20 best of 10000 drivers and they don't have to be that brave(off course these numbers are not correct). The teams find the drivers which are capable of driving the cars without mistakes within less than half a second of their teammates.

      The strategy also demand the divers to be managing the car rather than going qualifying pace through the whole race. Teams now have sensors that measure everything so they know the exact pace the car should run at to complete the race in minimal time.

      I agree that adding downforce is a bad idea but not because of the difficulty to drive but because it makes it harder to follow cars.

  9. On the subject of Tilke, he's also hamstrung by the circuit owners (i.e. his customer) wanting to be able to thrash their own exotica to the limit, which in practice means a 1.2km straight so the Sheikh can hit VMax in his Koenigsegg...

  10. Hello Matt, Turbof1 from F1technical here.

    Concerning the show: I always felt DRS was adressing the right problem with the right concept but with the wrong solution. The car wake decreasing downforce of the following car is something that really needs to be adressed, however trying to loosely compensate that by decreasing drag on the straights never made sense, since at that very same point there is no real issue.

    The Front Wing Flap adjuster was an idea in the right direction, but underestimated how serious the car wake really is. I don't think that bringing it back will help since front wings just become more and more sensitive year after year. Moreover, it does not help that the one in front can do the same, despite not being in someone else's wake.

    My idea is to take the DRS concept, reverse it to adding downforce instead of reduction drag (DIS: Downforce Increasing System), apply it in the corners (detection point at the speed trap and activation point in the braking zone?) and deactivate it on the straights. That would solve the issue directly. It will take more detection and activation points, but the tech is already there for that. The driver should still make the conscious choice to activate it since he needs to be aware the extra downforce is applied. That would effectively solve the issue in a very direct way.

    Leaves the question: where to apply the extra downforce and how? As I explained, the front wing is a poor choice. I was thinking about the power of ground effect; why not put collapsable&retractable rubber skirts at the edges of the floor? it would seal the floor's edges, increasing ground effect and increase downforce right at the center of the car.

    I think this would satisfy a lot of purists, since they as said the issue is directly tackled instead of loosely compensated. It would also very much benefit wheel to wheel action, since even if the chasing car has more cornering speed, overtaking in corners is very challenging (and a delight to watch when it happens!) and while the chasing car would exit the corners much closer to the car in front, he will not blast-by that easily anymore, having only the slip stream to crawl closer.

    1. This is a brilliant idea!


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