The teams’ plans for the future of F1 revealed today are a mixture of sound ideas plus a couple of complete and utter howlers.
There was a lot to commend in the ideas they put forward today, but a few worrying omissions as well. Here’s my take on FOTA’s F1 proposal.
The most interesting part of FOTA’s announcement (which you can read in full here) is found at the end of the document: the market research they conducted into what people want and expect from F1. A few key lines from it include:
- “F1 isn’t broken, so beware ‘over-fixing’ it”
- “Formula One audiences appreciate the traditional gladiatorial, high-tech nature of the sport and would not respond favourably to a perceived ‘dumbing down’ of the current format.”
- “A major change to the [qualifying] format will not result in a significant increase in audience.”
- “Significant opportunities exist to build audience via other channels such as internet and mobile.”
- “Race strategies were not highly ranked as a determinant of interest in Formula One.”
All these observations agree with the impression I’ve gained of what most F1 fans think of the sport in the years I’ve been running this website.
If only FOTA had paid more attention to what it said before coming up with their proposals.
What they got wrong
Two parts of their recommendations leap from the page when you read it not only because they are startlingly bad and ill-conceived, but also because they contradict the sensible suggestions that have come from the market research:
Points for pit stops
This plainly undermines the fans’ wish for F1 not to be dumbed down. The prospect of a “radical” change to how points are distributed is very worrying.
There is an obvious advantage to only giving out points based on finishing positions. It means that race results decide championships, which is sensible and logical.
Once we start giving out points for pit stops, or pole positions, or fastest laps, championships will be decided during qualifying sessions, or halfway through races because a driver put on soft tyres and used a light fuel load instead of trying to win.
I can see why the idea appeals in theory, but from watching other series that use such rules, I know it works poorly in practice, and F1 is better off without it.
Reduced race length
This is being discussed in a poll here with, at present, over 90% of readers opposed to a cut in race distances. I cannot see why making races shorter is desirable for a sporting or economic point of view.
Read more: Should F1 races be shorter? (Poll)
What they got right
Much of the FOTA announcement covers points that are already public knowledge – the cut in engine prices for 2009, for example. The good news is that they are taking these cost cuts further in 2010, which, if accepted by the FIA, should help bring new teams into the sport and prevent current outfits from leaving.
Not least of which is the plan for a standardised Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS). Max Mosley will hate it, but F1 teams have spent as much on this technology for 2009 as they used to spend on engines, and F1’s green message has to take a back seat to cost-cutting given the economic conditions.
Luca di Montezemolo said in a press briefing that the teams are now prepared to sign a new Concorde Agreement agreeing the commercial terms for F1 until the 2012 season. He also played down the remarks made by Renault CEO Patrick Pelata earlier this week where he hinted the team could leave the sport.
If the changes promoted by FOTA are accepted and prevent further manufacturers from leaving F1 as Honda have done, that will be a major achievement.
Read more: The cost-cutting plans: engines
What they missed out
It’s clear from the comments left in response to the earlier article that many fans had vested a lot of hope in FOTA’s announcement and there are some worrying omissions in what they have presented.
The most pressing concern is the calendar. Two important rounds have dropped off the schedule this year including the popular Canadian Grand Prix at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Other historic events such as the British Grand Prix are under threat.
Yet there was not a word from FOTA on the future of the F1 calendar: not on the loss of traditional races, not on the continued absence of the American Grand Prix, and not on the increasing homogeneity of the F1 calendar which reduces the scale of the sporting challenge it represents.
Their demands for increased adoption of ‘new media’ by F1’s promoters was short on detail. Are they going to put pressure on Bernie Ecclestone to improve the international spread of F1 and ensure fans in countries like Sweden, where F1 is not broadcast on television, can watch it online instead? What about HD coverage and future broadcasting technologies such as 3D?
FOTA’s proposal was built on the solid foundations of a survey that appears to reflect very closely what the average F1 fan thinks of the sport. It is vitally important that they do not now make the mistake of pushing measures such as shorter races which would be hugely unpopular and alienate many fans.
With that caveat, FOTA deserve considerable credit for the work they have done on cost-cutting. It looks increasingly as though the new chord of unity between the teams can provide an effective bulwark against Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone’s rule by whim.
But I have one remaining concern. Montezemolo said in his briefing:
I think that every sport needs a strong political authority and regulator because we are not in a circus. We are in a sport with rules and credibility,so we need strong commercial activities and we need a strong unanimous commitment by the players. This is the triangle we have in mind.
What I want to know is this: where do the circuits fit into this ‘triangle’?
Who is standing up to make sure historic venues are being protected and new races are being established with solid long-term prospects for the sport rather than short-term economic gains? F1 simply cannot go on leaving behind capacity crowds at places like Montreal and hosting race in near-empty stands on the other side of the globe.
What do you think of the F1 teams’ plans?