What are "gimmicks" in motor racing?

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    If there’s one word which has come up more and more in discussions about motor racing recently it’s this one:


    When you read the dictionary definition it’s not hard to understand why:

    n. a trick or device, esp. to attract publicity or trade

    From reading your thousands of comments, tweets and more it seems to me fans of motor racing in general and Formula One in particular are becoming increasingly unhappy with the introduction of gimmicks.

    So I thought a constructive place to start a discussion about this would be to ask: what are gimmicks in motor racing? Which of the changes in the sport in recent seasons qualify as “a trick or device to attract publicity or trade”? Can they ever be positive or are they always negative?

    Here’s a few examples of rules from different kinds of motor racing which I consider gimmicks – I’m curious to get your views on rules in F1 and other motor sports that you think qualify as the same.

    Do they have ‘less gimmicky’ implementations in some series? And is there a better word that captures the current trend for rules which sacrifice “the sport” in the name of “the show”?

    Standing restarts (F1 from 2015)
    Mandatory pit stops (F1, IndyCar, DTM, Formula Renault 3.5, GP2)
    Mandatory ‘option’ tyres (F1, IndyCar, DTM, GP2)
    Push-to-pass (IndyCar)
    Fanboost (Formula E)
    DRS (F1, DTM, Formula Renault 3.5)
    Success ballast (BTCC, WTCC)
    Performance balancing (BTCC, WTCC, WEC)
    Competition cautions (NASCAR)
    Double points (F1, IndyCar)
    Chase for the Cup (NASCAR)
    Qualifying handicaps (e.g. ‘top ten drivers start on tyres they qualified on’) (F1)

    Oli Peacock

    In some situations in Feeder series, the introduction of DRS, forced strategies and PTP is to prepare the driver for F1. Also note how there’s nothing for MotoGP in Keiths list…


    I think Chase for the Cup makes sense, unless you think there shouldn’t be a knockout stage in the World Cup but there should be a full championship instead….Still, I think stock cars going in circles look boring.

    Anyway, some possible gimmicks:
    -Top-11 races in terms of points earned rule
    -Do concerts after races count? (though if the setlist lists ’70s sidelong suites I probably wouldn’t mind)
    -Ability for >1 bike to be classified as 1 in a (rainy Moto GP) race. I’d rather have them change tyres (OK this might not be a gimmick but I still disagree with it)

    -Mid-season rule changes, especially if aimed at the (relative) domination of a particular contestant’s vehicle.
    -Qualy Championship
    -Pit-stop windows (just my opinion)
    -The day Bernie makes a call to Nakamichi about the sound of F1 cars.


    @olliekart Mainly a reflection on my limited knowledge of motorbike racing!


    Competition cautions (NASCAR)

    Actually, when it comes to NASCAR, ‘Competition Cautions’ are used for safety reasons rather than sporting reasons and tend to be mainly shown early in the races.

    If, for whatever reason, the teams have been unable to complete a lot of long runs in practice either due to red flag interruptions or sessions being rained out (NASCAR doesn’t race in the race), then NASCAR will designate a lap early on in the race for a ‘competition caution’, usually about 30-40 laps in, in order for all teams to bring their cars in, change tyres, and gauge how severe tyre wear is. Also, they use competition cautions in extreme instances (such as the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis in 2008) when tyre wear was excessive to dangerous levels and became a measure to ensure that no one would run the tyres long enough to dangerous levels to try and gain an advantage.

    The contentious thing with NASCAR cautions are the ones known as ‘invisibris cautions’. Normally, NASCAR will throw a yellow if there is any form of debris on the circuit and the majority of the time it’s quite obvious what the danger is. However, there have been many occasions, particularly near the end of races when one driver just happens to be far out in front, that NASCAR will suddenly throw a caution for ‘debris’ where it’s not entirely obvious where the ‘debris’ actually is and just happens to have the effect of closing the field back up again.

    NASCAR will never admit to it, but there have been too many examples of phantom debris cautions being shown near the end of races for it to be pure coincidence. That’s the point of contention between those fans who don’t mind races being tightened up in the final few laps and those who feel it’s a blatant ploy to artificially spice up races at the expense of ‘true’ racing.

    Oli Peacock

    @keithcollantine haha! Well you missing out on the lack of gimmicks then!

    Oli Peacock

    @magnigicent-geoffrey Uh oh! Plastic bag on the apron! Need a caution! Well there goes Jimmie Johnsons 10 sec lead, thats a shame


    I’m not sure that the equalisation formula in WEC would really count as a gimmick. It’s about ensuring that different technical paths are all viable ways of creating a competitive car, rather than something to ensure that teams without the ability to develop are still competitive. You don’t see them giving the likes of Strakka a boost to help them fight against the big manufacturers. It’s more about making sure that if you’ve got diesel, petrol, turbos, ERS systems, etc, whatever route you take there’s a competitive solution at the end of it as long as you have the resource and technical ability to reach it.



    RE: Chase for the cup.

    I suppose it depends whether you view motorsport as a “season” or a “cup”. In football, seasons are the best team over 38 games, whereas cups are more unpredictable (e.g. World Cup). Personally I think that the fairest and best way of ranking drivers is having a season, and chase for the cup removes that.


    @juan-pablo-heidfeld-1 Yes but I think it’s fairer than, say, double points or DRS, or (Vote to enable, for ceratin drivers,) push to pass.


    @olliekart I think the MotoGP has some kind of stuff where the drivers on worse bikes (Open and CRT? I’m not too sure) can have softer tires than the Factory teams for the race.


    Can they ever be positive or are they always negative?

    Oh boy, just what I like. An opportunity to risk death at the hands of an angry mob. :D

    I personally do not mind gimmicks in motorsport, mostly because they are needed. Just in case you forgot, no major motorsport series on this planet has budgets that have less than seven digits. Once that is the case, you cannot afford to ignore the casual viewers and their interest (or lack thereof) in motorsport anymore.

    All major sports on this planet (and beyond, not like swoop racing is somehow legit) have gimmicks: basketball (three-point shots, thousands of time limits), soccer (three points for a win, the back-pass rule, penalty shootouts) etc. etc. It’s the reality of life that if you sign huge TV deals, you have to provide an entertaining product.

    Motorsport just happens to require more of these gimmicks, since motorsport is by itself a rather sophisticated endeavour and is not easily accessable. This is bad for business, because with the internet and the likes, you need to hook people and you need to do it fast. The time for slowly building passion is unfortunately gone, replaced by a need for a quick rush.

    Now, with that said, I do agree with the opinion, that some gimmicks are not very good. Rules that make the competition unfair are unfortunate: DRS (until they change the rule to make it like Push-To-Pass, which has the same effect but is fair in that everyone has equal opportunity in using it) or success ballast are the obvious examples for that. As long as a gimmick gives everyone the same opportunity (or the same disadvantage), I really do not mind them at all and just accept that they are inevitable in modern ages unless we accept a major overhaul in racing world wide (because something tells me F1 as we know it is more likely to die than shrink to a size where we could reject gimmicks).

    Come to think of it, this paragraph is kind of missing the point of this thread. Alas…

    Craig Woollard

    You’re forgetting reverse grids (sort of) in GP2/3 and in BTCC too Keith, and in the latter case, the drawing-the-name-out-of-the-hat-gives-you-instant-pole thingy too. You’re also missing double points in WEC.

    I think there are some gimmicks that I have no problem with, such as push-to-pass or DRS in FR3.5 (or KERS if we’re going old-skool) because everybody gets exactly the same usage from it, and they do, improve the show as well.

    There are other gimmicks, however, that I cannot simply stand the thought of. I am, like many, a huge critic of the standing restart, nor do I agree with F1’s usage of double points. I do find it interesting though, that the only way you’re ever going to see any pure racing nowadays is by watching grassroots stuff.


    I would also throw in allowing lapped cars to unlap themselves under the safety car, which exists in F1, TUSC and, to a much lesser extent, NASCAR. It’s certainly one of my pet hates. There’s no sporting merit and it doesn’t really add anything to the show. I for one used to really enjoy watching faster cars weaving their way through lapped traffic after restarts. But now we’ve lost that and that’s compounded with the unnecessary extra time spent behind the safety car. Mind you, Formula 1’s system is nowhere near as frustrating as the one used in TUSC. You’ve not experienced true boredom until you have to sit through a half-hour caution because of a stalled car.

    I suppose in this day and age, you could argue that the safety car itself is a gimmick in Formula 1. F1 drivers have the benefit of delta times on their steering wheel, which is used to ensure they aren’t going too fast when catching up to the safety car. This leads me to question why they even need a safety car when the speed of every driver can easily be reduced to a safe pace without affecting the result. I’m pretty sure the WEC has introduced something like this for minor on-track incidents. Of course, Formula 1 is unlikely to ever pursue something like this because it doesn’t increase the chance of turning the race result into a lottery.


    Glad someone mentioned reverse grids. I don’t know whether the drivers and teams think the same way, but certain commentators (who rhyme with Bill Wuxton) always bang on about the race for Reverse Grid Pole for 8th place towards the end of the GP2 feature race.

    Knockout qualifying – is that a positive gimmick? It’s not for everyone but keeps me entertained on Saturday afternoons. And all the things they tried before to improve the show, like aggregate and single-lap qualifying (I remember reading a great F1F article on them all)

    I agree about the safety car – I never like to see large or hard-earned leads wiped out, even for real incidents or debris – that’s why I like the Slow Zone/Code 60 idea at Le Mans and the Dubai 24h which maintains the gaps – and wonder if, despite the drivers, it could be applied to F1.

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