Opinion | How To Fix Formula One?

Formula One Grand Prix racing has been around for a heck of a long time, celebrating a 70th anniversary this year no less, but some fans feel it is broken in its current form.. this is how I propose fixing it...

I've spoken about this before at RaceDepartment (actually, many, many times), but I want to get back on the virtual high horse and have another go at sharing my words of wisdom (cough) to the wider world of the sim racing community here at RD...

I firmly think the sport we love is broken, very, very broken. Grand Prix racing has taken a dramatic turn for the worse in the last few years, and I believe the product we have now vastly distracts from everything that makes motorsport great.

For me, motorsport should be about the art of the best drivers fighting against each other for every inch of tarmac on the track. It should be a sport that is hard, where only the most physical, brave, dedicated and talented rise to the top. It should be a sport about risk and reward, it should be something normal people watch and think "I can't do that". It should be a feast for the eyes and the ears and the senses. Motor racing should be awe-inspiring, scary, fascinating and above all else - an environment where drivers can race hard against each other, overtake and pay the price if they push over the edge too often (without a reasonable fear of death, of course).

For me at least, the bleeding edge of technology is an absolute irrelevance in Grand Prix racing. I'm not a Luddite, nor am I adverse to change - far from it in fact. However, for me, high technology isn't the point of motor racing. The point is in the bloody name - RACING!

Mega engines with high fuel efficiency, cutting edge aerodynamics, energy recovery... all these things add nothing to what matters the most; the spectacle of the actual race on circuit. Look at karting - nothing trick or tech heavy in those things, and they almost always provide exceptional racing.

Don't get me wrong here, technology developments have a part in motorsport, that's pretty much the whole reason endurance racing was designed for - so keep the innovations in that series. Create new classes to accelerate new technology development, it's all good (in fact it's fascinating) to see different technological directions competing against each other in 6, 12 and 24 hour prototype racing, but it 'aint for Formula One folks. I believe Formula One should be the pinnacle of racing, the absolute top level where people go to watch brilliant drivers fight against each other on brilliant circuits, and race each other close, hard and fair throughout the field.

So Paul, you've done plenty of complaining but offered no solutions so far. How do you propose encouraging this utopia of technology light, racing thrills heavy motorsport? Give me a moment of your time dear reader, and I will attempt to explain:

Simplicity. That is the key.

Drop aerodynamic dependence by a considerable margin - let's say around an 85% reduction should do the trick. But aerodynamics help the cars go quickly around corners I hear you cry? My countenance to that would be... since when does overall speed and laptime matter? If you were a fan of Grand Prix racing back in the 1990's, where sometimes the laptime differential between first and last could be north of 6 or 7 seconds, could you really tell the difference between the speed of the pole sitting Williams and the last place EuroBrun? Not really. Actually, because said EuroBrun was such an awful car (insert any relevant team name into the mix here, I'm not specifically picking on EuroBrun), it was far more dramatic to watch that team driving and sliding around the track than the planted Williams / McLaren / Ferrari of the day...

Speaking of sliding...

As well as a massive reduction on the aero, which kills the opportunity for cars to run close together due to the dirty air of the lead vehicle disrupting the balance of the car behind, I would like a much bigger element of mechanical grip reliance applied to the equation, with standardised front and rear wings that are designed alongside the regulations to ensure drifting the car around the corner is far quicker overall than the point and squirt nature of the current formula.

Couple this with rock hard tyres that are good for a full race weekend, and brake materials that considerably extend the braking distance required to slow down the cars, and for me at least, you are already well on the way towards making close racing considerably easier to achieve (and thus, more overtaking), as well as ensuring the actual spectacle of the cars lapping out on circuit is far higher than is the case now. The idea behind all proposed changes is to make the cars slower, easier to race closely together and substantially increase the possibility to get alongside a rival inside the braking zone. Let's face it, the braking distances today are so short it is almost impossible to position yourself for a pass before the whole deceleration zone is done and you are out the corner and back on the power...

Regarding the sliding is faster than precision side of things, I'm a firm believer the spectacle of racing is far more important than breaking overall lap records and achieving ridiculous speeds in the corners. Yes, watching a modern Grand Prix car turn on a dime at 180mph+ through Copse Corner is an impressive sight, but I'd argue watching Ronnie Peterson drifting a Lotus through the same corner at 140mph is far more stimulating to the senses...

Peterson Lotus.jpg


Next up I'd throw out the paddle shifters and replace them with a good H-Pattern box. Yes, this is a hark back to years gone by, but the skill required to shift a car while sideways at speed is a lost art form in open wheel racing. With manual gearboxes, this skill set really goes some way towards elevating the super talented drivers who can do just that, from the mere ordinary that avoid it by leaving it in a non optimal gear until it is an easier proposition to shift presents itself. As an added bonus, having to manually shift a h-pattern gearstick is also another potential variable in the driving experience, which could lead to mistakes, and encourage overtaking opportunities for the car(s) behind. No bad thing, even if in this proposed formula overtaking is a far more likely prospect than is the case today. Increased skill, added variability into the racing, gives potential advantage to the really talented drivers - what's not to like :)

So we've covered off the aero, mechanical grip, tyres, brakes, gears and the overall visual experience of watching one of these cars lap the circuit. What's next?

Engines.

I am absolutely no fan of the current hybrid formula from a sporting perspective. They sound garbage, too expensive, far too complicated and not enough manufacturers involved, with too high of an entry barrier for new brands to enter and be successful enough to stay around. Also, as is always the case with these things, current Formula One is way over reliant on manufacturer support... and we all know about that, inevitably manufacturers leave (anyone remember Toyota and BMW..?).

From a technology point of view, and road relevance pushing boundaries of what is possible, these engines are fantastic and should be applauded, but like I said earlier, Formula One should be a great sporting spectacle, not a technology showcase. What I propose is to move these sorts of engines over to WEC / IMSA / Le Mans, and let's have a nice selection of V6, V8, V10 and V12 normally aspirated monsters that scream and growl and grab you by the scruff of the neck to demand your undivided attention!

F1 Engine.jpg


With the engines I would go back to the very basics, governing the motors through a simple set of regulations that encourage the return of bespoke engine manufacturers into the sport. Of course, manufacturers might like a piece of the pie and come back too, but I'd love to see old and new manufacturers joined by the likes of Cosworth, Hart, Judd and the likes, with potentially 7, 8, 9, 10 different manufacturers of various size and prestige producing engines for the field to use. Variety is the spice of life!

With multiple engine designers now lining up to join our formula, I would like to see a set of regulations developed that ensure no one specific style of engine is the choice design to run - potentially this could be achieved by some kind of fuel usage restriction (so a V12 for example car run very fast, but has to throttle back to make the end, whereas a V8 and run flat chat for the full race). To give you an idea of what I mean, look up Mika Salo in Tyrrell Cosworth at the 1997 Monaco Grand Prix as an example.

Furthermore, I would implement a rule where only x number of each engine type are allowed in the field, so the manufacturers would each build their engines to whatever size they choose, and the teams would for instance have to select a first choice, second choice and third choice engine type. This would be randomly selected for each team, and if our example team x get choice x, they could then negotiate with the manufacturing brands of that style for a supply deal. This could be success weighted of course, so you don't get Mercedes stuck with a crappy Yamaha V6 !

This doesn't sound plausible does it? Because surely the manufacturers would only want engines good for their brand? So Mercedes would want just a Mercedes V10 etc etc? Well don't forget, this new formula is designed for the racing side of the sport, not business, so with reduced costs, some part standardisation and accessible engines, I would expect to see a considerable increase in high quality teams that are not associated with a big bucks car manufacturer getting involved. Gone will be the days of he who spends most wins under the corporate banner, and back into the fold would be Ferrari versus the Garagistas... which will probably mean over subscribed grids, and a return to pre-qualifying again (although this time, with the world having moved on, the level of these Garagistas should be far, far higher than some of the joke outfits of the early years...).

So here we now have cars that can race each other closely, overtake, look absolutely fantastic when lapping on track, manual gearboxes that sort the good from the great and encourage mistakes, massively reduced costs to allow a whole variety of new teams into the sport (and with it come more drivers), engines that sound varied and exciting, new engine brands on the grid, and variety throughout the field. Sounding good to you yet?

What's next?

The calendar, that's what!

F1 2020 Schedule.jpg


22 races, much as I love watching racing, is far too many. No longer do the races really hold a special sort of atmosphere for either the teams, or the fans watching. If you are a football fan, imagine holding the World Cup every 6 months. It would be fun for a while, but after a bit it starts to lose its edge and special appeal. It becomes just another tournament. That's what is happening to Formula One right now. Back in years past, a Formula One Grand Prix was an event. Something to get excited about. Get the Sunday dinner out the way quick, settle down on the sofa with friends and family, and really soak up the special feeling of watching something major. Now, we have that many races that missing one or catching it on highlights really isn't that big of a deal. Same for the drivers and teams, so many events, they all kind of merge into one. Make a mistake at round 2, no worries, you have 20 more races to catch back up again. Not great.

I would drop the calendar down to 14 rounds, selecting only the best of the best circuits and locations, and plan the schedule accordingly so teams are less in need of shipping stuff via air freight, and can go the more environmentally friendly and cost effect sea freight route from race - to - race. I'd also ensure at least a two or three week gap between each Grand Prix, to try and keep them distanced enough to make them feel special again.

An added bonus of the reduced race quantity and frequency would be to encourage the drivers to find rides outside of the sport during the downtime (no testing in this brave new world). It used to be great to see the stars of the day in different series trying their luck. The legendary Jim Clark drove rally, BTCC, F2, IndyCar and pretty much anything he could lay his hand on. Once, Stirling Moss claimed to have raced something different every weekend for a full year! Just image getting the opportunity to watch Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen race a saloon car at your local event one weekend, just for the fun of it!

Jim Clark Indy 500.jpg


Because our new cars a slower than before, this also opens up the opportunity to return to more racing friendly venues in our new 14 round schedule. No longer are we chasing corporate dollars here, going to places with Tilke built borefest tracks and no crowds. We can get back to proper circuits, with gravel traps (to penalise those who screw up), and bring back such brilliant venues as Imola, Estoril, Adelaide, Kyalami and so forth. In fact, due to the regulation change (and hopefully this type of racing style would be adopted by junior formulae too), new tracks could be built in a far more dramatic fashion that the safe and sterile syndrome that seems to characterise modern circuit design (oh, and I'd ban Tilke too). Now you would have racing where the fans are, on tracks that showcase the cars and let the drivers race, with a penalty of gravel trap beaching for those who get too far over the edge - mega! Added change, I'd keep the schedule fluid, and increase the possibility of switching up some tracks each year, rather than locking in a venue for 5, 10, 15 consecutive seasons. Certain tracks, such as Monza, Silverstone, Spa, Monaco would have protected status.

As for the weekend format itself, that too would come under the big heavy banner of change that I'm proposing here. One of the key issue with modern racing for me is that the teams are all so professional, so sorted and in command of their environment now. The cars are practically perfectly setup at optimal configuration right from the get go. So I'd ban simulation tools and technical telemetry, and give the teams a single 60 minute practice session to setup their cars for qualifying and the race. Oh, and I'd run it on Saturday morning, with qualifying lasting for 60 minutes in the afternoon. For the race itself, I think the current distance is perfectly fine.

With this change, I would hope the skill of setting up the car is firmly back in the hands of the driver and his / her engineer, again, allowing the more skilled pilots to have a greater input into success. Added bonus, this condensed schedule and lack of telemetry ramps up the pressure for people to get it wrong, and brings into play the potential curve ball of faster drivers making errors in setup or crashing in practice, starting lower down the order than they would normally. These are ingredients for an exciting race weekend.

F1 Telemetry.jpg


While we are at it, I'd throw together a special event on the Friday where the F1 drivers race against the local hero's and special guests in one of the national series cars (something single make to ensure fairness). Added entertainment for the fans, and a great showcase for local drivers and up and coming stars to compete in equal machinery with the big boys (thinking about Senna blitzing the field in the Mercedes one make cup event back in the early 80's here).

Also, while we are at it, let's put together a legends race like the short lived Grand Prix Masters series tried to achieve back in 2005. It could be a series where retired drivers over 45 years of age get together in a single make car for a short 10 lap race on Friday afternoon. Probably something rear wheel drive, tin top, that allows a bit of rubbing and bumping... that would be fun, and the subject of another article all of its own further down the line...

GP Masters.jpg


A compact schedule, plenty to entertain the TV and trackside audience, showcase for youngsters, added jeopardy for the starting grid order but not through artificial means (those doing the best job still come out on top), tracks that bring good racing and cater to dedicated fan bases, increased importance towards each Grand Prix... all makes up a pretty decent bash at how the series is presented I reckon...

Another interesting new idea I'd like to see thrown into the mix, and I admit this one is dangerously close to being a gimmick, but should be ok I hope, is to have an extra car on the F1 grid run by an independent outfit (like Paul Stoddart does with the F1 experience car). The team will attend each race weekend and field a special guest driver who isn't eligible for points. I suspect this driver would get a couple of hours running on Friday as extra track time to get them up to speed, and of course they would have to be suitably qualified for the role, but this could be an exceptional way to add another really interesting point of discussion for the fans, and could even give opportunities to drivers that otherwise might not have the exposure without it.

Here I'm thinking the drive could go to a local star of that country (imagine Mick Schumacher at the German Grand Prix for example), or maybe an IndyCar or Nascar star for the US round, Jamie Chadwick for the UK race - the possibilities are endless here. Would be a nice fun element to add into the race weekend, and could even uncover some surprise talents.

So in the age old tradition of a good bullet point list (for those that can't be bothered to read the article), these are the key features (for me at least) that would make Formula One great again:

  • 85% reduction in aerodynamics.
  • Remove electronics (dash readout / energy recovery / other modern trickery)
  • Standardised front and rear wings (and whatever other bits are needed) that ensure sliding is quicker than neat driving.
  • Heavier reliance on mechanical grid.
  • Considerably extended braking distances.
  • Hard tyres that last full race weekend without drop off in pace.
  • Open regulations on engine size (V6/V8/V10/V12) with no turbos - restricted by fuel usage to ensure no one specific type of engine is dominant.
  • Massive engine complexity reduction to encourage boutique engine builders to join the grid.
  • Return to manual h-pattern gearboxes.
  • Calendar of races on tracks that support good racing.
  • Reduce championship length to 14 races.
  • Abolish pit-to-car radio except for safety reasons.
  • Remove telemetry.
  • Change race weekend format to 60min Free Practice, 60min Qualifying and current race length as is now.
  • Guest driver per race event in the FIA run car.
  • Reintroduce gravel traps.


Just to finish off this here massive rant of text, I want any of you who don't particularly agree with my sentiments to think about this for a minute. I got hooked on Formula One early in my life, as I'm sure many of you did too, and I clearly remember being awed by the sight of Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell banging wheels. engines screaming, sparks flying. sliding the cars out of corners and then getting out of their vehicles covered in sweat, looking like two real titans and gladiators of men. Hero's if you will. That day (ok, it wasn't my first race but I'm trying to make a point here...) I was blown away by the whole sight, sound, drama, danger, noise, excitement of the whole thing... it was intoxicating.

Senna vs Mansell.jpg


Does that happen in modern day racing? Do those senses get stimulated watching an inch perfect display of class that modern Formula One cars inevitably produce? Saving tyres, passing under DRS, performing undercuts in the pits? Hmmm.

Going trackside, my first real life Formula One race was the 1996 British Grand Prix at Silverstone. I remember pulling up at the car park (a good way away from the track, but don't get me started on my opinion of the spectator experience at Silverstone), and walking the near endless distance to get trackside. I could hear the cars an age before we got anywhere near the viewing spot, and it sent the hairs on the back of my neck standing on edge! Not to mention the feeling of velocity as the cars whipped past me into the (now sadly lost) Bridge corner toward the end of the old Silverstone lap layout... pure, unadulterated excitement. Senses blown.

Those feelings, ladies and gentlemen, are what I firmly believe hook people into our sport for life.

When you can watch a driver doing things that look near superhuman to the everyday person, going sideways at 150+ mph while taking a hand off the wheel to shift gears, that is the stuff of lifelong passion, even if that person is out front and dominating the race (as always happens in the racing world, come what may with the regulations). That is the stuff of legend, that, that is motorsport.


To illustrate my point in a way that words just cannot do justice, I invite you to check this video of Ricardo Patrese in the 1989 Williams Renault FW12C at the legendary Jacarepaguá circuit in Brazil:



Or heading a bit further down the grid, how about some Michele Alboreto action onboard the awful 1990 Footwork Arrows at the Mexican Grand Prix:



Now compare it to Lewis Hamilton setting Pole Position at the 2018 Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos :



Or Charles Leclerc setting the pace in his Ferrari at Mexico last season:



That, ladies and gentlemen, is my proposal to fix a broken Formula One.


What are your thoughts on current Formula One? Is it great as it is, could be better? What would you change given the chance (if anything?).
Let us know in the comments section below!

F1 1991 Car.jpg
Modern F1 Cars.jpg
 
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RaceDepartment Editor-in-Chief, occasional YouTuber, commentator and broadcaster, with a passion for motorsport on both the real and virtual racetrack.

Gopher04

1000RPM
Sep 27, 2009
1,317
657
It's needs to go back to old school, let the drivers drive show their real talent, get rid of the electronic shite, manul gear boxe's, let them be men not puppets, bring back refueling, and make the cars identical like that A1 series, you can only adjust areo and so on..
 

Jim Layee

100RPM
Jun 11, 2016
168
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Never ever including the phrase "Go back to " is always the number on2 rule when improving F1 else it stops being F1 and becomes just another back in my day it were all trees exercise.

F1 is about moving forward .
 

Amanda

250RPM
Apr 19, 2017
363
380
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* Make engines simpler to build;
* Less aero (seriously, who cares about going a bagillion miles through corners);
* Manual H-Shifter gearboxes;
* Smaller and thinner cars, perhaps we'd see overtakes on Monaco with only one hand again.
* No power steering

(EDITED: Just noticed my views are almost fully in-line with Pauls).
 
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BillGuy

100RPM
Jun 1, 2017
231
190
The most significant thing the sport has done to paint itself into a corner like it has is allowing the teams to accumulate the amount of power or “say so” they currently have in how the sport is run. That just takes away an overwhelming degree of flexibility to make changes. It’s next to impossible to say “X isn’t working, let’s do Y instead.” when the inmates are running the asylum.
 

Amanda

250RPM
Apr 19, 2017
363
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28
Never ever including the phrase "Go back to " is always the number on2 rule when improving F1 else it stops being F1 and becomes just another back in my day it were all trees exercise.

F1 is about moving forward .
If newer is bad, then going back is an improvement. Windows users know this very well when they went from XP to Vista: going back to XP was an improvement :p
 
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Marg

100RPM
Jun 20, 2016
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1) Some Grand Prix are not in traditional countries. Abu Dhabi, Azerbaijan, Vietnam... nice people live there, but somehow I do not view those GP as traditional. Not all those countries are " strange" - Malaysia would seem to me very much OK.
2) Unnaturally high speed is a problem, downforce should be reduced. Cars are like glued to tarmac. And - all these awful colored tracks, it detracts from cars, off-run areas all with tarmac. 80-ies - 90ies circuits were OK, curbs there and there, but grass and gravel mostly in other areas...
3) I agree about these historic teams " EuroBrun", "Osella" - I never understood this "fight" against them. I liked a lot of those backmarkers. I myself was a fan of "Tyrrell".
 
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manu68

500RPM
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Sep 29, 2011
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All these proposals are great, but I think that we also need to live with our time.
Some High end technology have to be involved in the design to allow some differences.

I am not especially for the come back of manual gearbox.

But I am of course for a lot less assistance. (no DRS, set up of the car during the race except basic things like brake balance, some motor profiles, ..)
Telemetry , but not available during the race Week end , but just at the plant after the race.

A lot less aerodynamic, but at least as much as some modern GT3 or supercar on the road.

Suspension (includind some kind of active suspension) may be computerized in order to set up the car (different electronic profiles) , but not during the race.

cars a LOT smaller, to help the overtake.

Balance of performance system instead of standard aero etc... (a little like in GT3)
 

Ben Lee

500RPM
Jan 17, 2011
642
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You can’t put the genie back in the bottle.

The sport is too far gone now. I look back to the races from the mid 90s and think everything was better, ok the reliability of the cars was terrible and there were some truly awful drivers and teams, but overall there was so much more going for it. Circuits not ruined by tarmac run off, great sounding engines, good looking cars etc.
 

RCHeliguy

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Jan 19, 2019
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It doesn't sound like any of that fixes F1 but rather makes it into something completely different.

I know F1 has some issues, but at the end of the day part of F1 is a technology war so some of the issues are inherent in that.

There are already lots of different series with different levels of lower cost cars. Watch one of them.
 

StevieSX

10RPM
Jul 8, 2017
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3) I agree about these historic teams " EuroBrun", "Osella" - I never understood this "fight" against them. I liked a lot of those backmarkers. I myself was a fan of "Tyrrell".
They weren't always a back marker either.
 

Jim Layee

100RPM
Jun 11, 2016
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You can’t put the genie back in the bottle.

The sport is too far gone now. I look back to the races from the mid 90s and think everything was better, ok the reliability of the cars was terrible and there were some truly awful drivers and teams, but overall there was so much more going for it. Circuits not ruined by tarmac run off, great sounding engines, good looking cars etc.
I've been watching since the 70's and in the 90's people were saying exactly the same then and in every other decade before or since .