The foolishness of crowds

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Mark Webber is frustrated that Formula 1’s flawed safety car rules still haven’t been fixed – and he blames the team bosses for it:

As far as I know, a solution is being worked on. But there needs to be unanimity and I have heard that some teams want to keep the current rules. I don’t know who it is, but I hope they will change their minds.

For all the flak the sports’ governing body gets about F1’s sometimes baffling regulations, the fact is the teams are responsible for some of F1’s dumbest rules, and the delays in getting them fixed. This is just one example.

It’s clear to anyone with eyes to see that the safety car rules are badly flawed. At the moment a poorly-timed safety car can ruin a drivers’ race in an instant. If they have to pit for fuel under safety car conditions while the pit lane is closed, they receive a drive-through penalty.

So far this season Nick Heidfeld and Heikki Kovalainen have been among the victims of the rule (at Spain and Australia respectively) and Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg were at Canada last year. It’s only a matter of time until it happens again.

It would look very terrible for F1 if it changed the course of a race at a vital part of the championship. Alonso may even consider that, without his misfortune at Montreal last year, he would have been champion.

This is one of those situations where the teams don’t want the rule changed because they imagine they might somehow be disadvantaged by it.

Exactly the same flawed reasoning is what has prevented all the teams’ radio broadcasts from being opened up for people to listen to. In other forms of motor racing all the teams have to broadcast on public frequencies which the fans at the track can listen to and television companies can use.

F1 has no such requirement, despite the obvious improvements it would bring to the show, because the teams cannot agree on it.

Some are happy to and we often hear conversations from Williams, Renault and BMW during F1 coverage. But Ferrari and McLaren refuse to open up their airwaves, only ever allowing us to listen in to post-race celebrations, if at all.

Max Mosley has admitted the only stumbling block to freeing up radio broadcasts in F1 is opposition from the teams. Some think they have more to lose than others from letting people listen to their broadcasts, but if everyone’s communications are free, then what have they got to lose?

‘The wisdom of crowds’ isn’t working for F1…

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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25 comments on “The foolishness of crowds”

  1. Although I thoroughly enjoyed hearing Alosno throughout the race at Monaco, I can’t help but think Renault were a little foolish to be opening it to the world.

    Does a F1 team really want the world to know what tire-choices theyre thinking of making? – If I knew that the softs were awful at a circuit, and knew that someone was going to use them in stint 2, wouldn’t that give me an advantage strategy wise? especially if I wouldnt otherwise have had time to make a decision based on what the team actually puts on at the stop

    Or what if I knew that the competitor was given a “keep off the kerbs at Turn X” instruction, couldnt I tell that to my drivers to maximise their chances of monstering the corner and picking up a tow?

    …and thats before we get to talk of technical problems that could probably be exploited, or what I expect the biggest reason of all is: “ease up and hold station” orders.

  2. surely that isn’t what’s meant by “the wisdom of crowds” is it?

    is this case the “crowd” is formula one’s audience, and the teams are the few who without wisdom.

    assuming the four main “wisdom” elements to be:

    – diversity
    – independence
    – decentralisation
    – aggregation

    none of those really apply to an f1 team do they?

  3. Kris – I think if the F1 teams believe their competitors aren’t capable of figuring out that kind of thing without listening to their radios, they’re deluding themselves.

    Sidey – sorry I don’t understand?

  4. you said “The wisdom of crowds isn’t working for F1…”

    but that’s because that approach has never been acted out in f1, has it?

    the fia once gave the fans a questionnaire, which i guess was an attempt to leverage “crowd” thinking, but the results were ignored regardless.

    you can’t call the disagreement of 10 team bosses the “foolishness of crowds” because ten people don’t make a crowd (unless you’re fitting them into a mini, but that misses the point of disorganised decisions that your title alludes to).

  5. OK, I see your point, but I didn’t mean it quite that literally! As I think you guessed I was referring to the F1 team principals as the ‘crowd’. Sorry for the confusion.

    Would F1 work better if the ‘crowd’ of fans determined the rules? That a whole other discussion, but judging by some of the polls we’ve had here it would mean:

    Tyre warmers would be allowed
    Push-to-pass would not be allowed
    Customer teams would be allowed (but only just!)

  6. “OK, I see your point, but I didn’t mean it quite that literally!”

    ahh, well i kind of assumed given the article’s title, plus the final line (in quotation marks) you were referring to the concept / book of the same name.

    there’s a lot to be said for crowd wisdom, but the idea goes against bernie’s ethics.

  7. There we are then – I thought it was just a cliche!

  8. The note about team radio frequencies is an excellent point. As many of you know, i’m not much of a NASCAR fan, so don’t quote me on this. But I believe that most, if not all, team radio frequencies in NASCAR are open for the public to hear. Touches like that would be a great plus for F1. Indeed, they may not provide us with much vital info during a GP, but they do offer some insights into the personalities and bahavior of drivers and team bosses- I do find the snippets of radio between Jarno Trulli and whoever is on the radio at Toyota to be very amusing during races!

    The safety car issues dose indeed need some work. Indeed, how many cases can we find of a great drive being ruined “by the safety car?” It would be messy to impliment the change in-season, but makng and announcing a decision on it and then waiting until the next season opener to actually impliment the new rules would be a good move for the sport.

    On a final note, It’s Memorial Day here in the US. My thanks and best wishes to any military veterans around the world on here or to any of your family who may fall into that catagory :)

  9. bernification
    27th May 2008, 1:45

    Nice last note there Gman.

    Agree totally re. Safety car- its a big issue, whatever they do should wait till next year and the implications thought thoroughly through (that was hard to type).
    Not sure about rf though- they won’t agree with that for all the arguments previously listed.
    But Trulli’s broadcasts do make me laugh too!
    The reality is probably about team orders though.

  10. “There we are then – I thought it was just a cliche!”

    it’s worth a read if you have the time.

    but it’s pointless hoping for something similar in f1. bernie’s mr. divide and conquer, and that’s a tough thing to do with a crowd… 10 men though, is much easier.

  11. OK, comparing NASCAR and F1 rules – I am watching in the UK so never see the whole US race, so please correct any assumptions I am making!
    In F1 the Pit Lane stays closed under Safety Car until someone (presumably Old Charlie) decides that he can let the cars in, and penalises all and sundry for running out of fuel or hitting a wall. In NASCAR, even though the Pit Lane is officially ‘Shut’ until the refueling windows, any car can go in for repairs at any time, and most will take the opportunity for fuel under the Safety Car – they have a harder decision choosing how many tyres to change, apparently.
    Radio – NASCAR have a broadcast of all the drivers all the time, and most of them are either unintelligable or speaking rubbish, although the Pit Crews and Spotters are just as bad. F1 needs to open up more, and is hampered by the rivalry between Ferrari and Mclaren. So there is a lot of nonsense spoken over the air – it cannot be any worse than the nonsense spoken by James Allen!
    I think the way round this – and all the fans grievences – is for us to start complaining to the media all over the world very very loudly about how bad it is getting, and forcing them to start asking the right questions to Bernie, Max, Charlie etc on our behalf. I think some of the contributers to this blog also work for magazines – get onto it!!

  12. The team bosses simply don’t understand or are not willing to understand the fans. The best possible examples of that in my opinion are the current post-qualifying parc fermé and refuelling during the race. These rules simply kill close racing, but the team bosses seem the only people to enjoy it.

  13. I disagree with Webber on the safety car issue relating to the closed pitlane – the rule applies to all the teams/drivers , and if they do not want to be caught out by it , they must not run their tanks to almost empty , and if they elect to do so , then it is a risk they take. Adds to some viewer excitement anyway. About the radio , I don’t believe teams should be forced to let the world and other teams here what their strategy is. Once the race is run , all becomes clear at that point and in the post race interviews.

  14. I disagree with you very strongly about the radio Jean. It’s far more interesting to know what is going on when it’s happening. The conversations between drivers in their engineers are absolutely fascinating and add immensely to out ability to understand a race.

    For example, hearing Alonso discuss tyre choice at the start of the Monaco Grand Prix made it far easier to appreciate what the drivers thought of the conditions and what state the race track is in.

    If you watch something like Indy Car or NASCAR the use of team radio is near-constant because of the wealth of useful first-hand information it gives about the race.

    Personally, I want as accurate a picture of what’s going on in an F1 race as possible, and allowing the TV broadcasters to dip into whichever radios they choose at will can only enhance that.

  15. Jean, making the teams not to run with nearly empty fuel tanks is like making them not to race each other. The current safety car rules are just another example of the current anti-autosport regulations.

  16. Hearing Alonso and Sutil talk about they’re tyres gave them humanity.

    Ferrari employ robots.

  17. I would love this aspect of modern motor racing to be applied more openly in F1. Sadly, for some teams, it would seem there is no appetite for this at all, which is a big shame.
    Getting the fans closer to the teams they support, and the drivers they idiolise cannot be a bad thing, and as for keeping secrets well, some of these teams are pretty crap at keeping secrets anyway. And that has nothing to do with radio conversations.
    Taking top secret information to get developed at some high street printers has be the dumbest move in history.

  18. William Wilgus
    27th May 2008, 14:36

    Radio communications of no value to competing teams? I distinctly remember hearing `Stay out one more lap.’, etc., during the race. Of no value to a competitor? Hardly.

  19. On the subject of fuel behind the safety car –
    Would it not be possible for cars to be fitted with a ‘reserve tank’.
    It might need to be controlled remotely, and if sensors can be used to monitor lap times, there should be a way to turn on the reserve tanks when the safety car is deployed.
    To avoid giving a car an advantage of staying out longer, the reserve tank would need to be ‘refilled’ from the main tank. The cars on reserve must refuel as soon as the pit lane is open.
    I am sure there are snags to this, but more on the ‘cheating’ side than the technical.
    Feel free to flame me if I am just a mad scientist !

  20. Michael Counsell
    27th May 2008, 18:17

    That a good idea but its up to the teams to decide when to pit and how much fuel to leave in the car. McLaren have often made a point of doing this when leading.

    Safety cars always bring in a bit of uncertainty and that can only be a good thing. The same rules apply to everyone and the risk of ruining a race can be minimised. I do agree with the title of the post in that for probably 7 out of the 10 teams they are more likely to gain from a front runner being given a penalty for refuelling when the pit lane is closed, than they are to lose out.

    When the racings done, all there is to talk about is controversy. Thank God for controversy!!!

  21. Its a sad state of affairs when the *governing body* can’t enforce such a simple thing as opening up all radio transmissions. No one team would gain or lose out, and it would not cost the teams more than they spend already.

    I agree team order transmissions might be a factor, but I think Ferrari’s refusal is more a case of maximising their opportunities – why risk giving away crucial information when there is no rule enforcing you to?

    Its a shame, but thats Ferrari.

    I can’t say I agree about waiting to fix the safety car problem. We don’t want a rushed fix, but at the same time, leaving it until next season and allowing more drivers (and there will be more) to lose out through a flawed regulation will only damage F1’s reputation further.

    What bothers me most about the latest safety car rules is that we were managing just fine before them. I realise we don’t want drivers racing through a yellow section to reach the pits, but with a sufficient threat of a punishment for blatant disregard of waved yellows, the drivers would respect them.

    I can’t help but think that this regulation found its way through because it would help mix up results occasionally, for the ‘benefit’ of the sport.

    Cynicism overload this afternoon. Sorry!

  22. Bernification, I had not considered the team orders issue- that most likley is a driving force behind those teams being opposed to opening up the airwaves.

    I do agree with those of you who think hearing the radio traffic will make for more interesting and entertaining viewing. As an example on a much smaller scale, I offer the US television broadcasts of the Arena Football League(AFL), a form of American football played on smaller fields at indoor sporting arenas. The AFL has teams in most major American cities and it’s feeder league, the AF2, has teams in many smaller cities, including one here in my area where I work on the gameday crew.

    AFL games that are broadcast on American TV have the quarterbacks of both teams with mics in their helmets, allowing the TV audience to hear every play call before it happens. Microphones are also present in the sideline boxes, allowing fans to hear conversations between players and/or coaches after big plays and scoring drives. It’s obviously a much different sport than F1, but the insights this practice brings are amazing, and I can just imagine what it would be like if we were able to hear all the teams and drivers on a race weekend.

  23. On the subject of radio – when going to watch rugby at murrayfield you can buy a small radio that gives you the chance to hear the referee’s comments on why penalties or other decisions are given and you can select a commentary as well – never seen snooker? and th same thing for the crowd makes it more enjoable and the fans feel more included with the action – was their not something with video for F1? for hire
    openess not secrecy is good for sport to broaden the knowledge of fans and help explain what and why things are happening especially when you can only see part of a circuit

  24. Yep it’s called Kangaroo – more information about it here. But you can’t hear much more of the team’s radio than you can by watching the television broadcasts.

  25. On the subject of getting the teams closer to the fans, they would do well to follow the ways of the BTCC, who have a real Pit Walk period during the day of three races where the fans can meet, talk to, get autographs from and be photographed with all the drivers, and if you are lucky you get short visit inside the garage of those more towards the back of the grid.
    Also, shouldn’t it be possible for the teams to sell dedicated ‘Kangaroo’ type devices to their fans, and let them hear the team talk during practice and races?
    Another aspect that could be borrowed from NASCAR is the non-racing events that happen every so often, usually a Pit Stop Challenge for the Pit Crews. These could be staged in places like the Goodwood Festival, the NEC and Docklands Arena in the UK and similar locations around the world. (Also fulfilling Bernies need to bring F1 into the cities).
    There are also the football matches, kayak racing etc that go on between the teams over a race weekend – couldn’t more be done to allow the fans to watch those?

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