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... http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/49650
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...
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.
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....
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.....