There are not many top sports that need fixing to that same extent as F1. Football might need better governance, American Football could use safer on-field laws and cycling’s omnium might make more sense with less complicated rules, but F1 is alone in quite how much improvement it needs.
There is agreement that much in F1 needs to be altered, but this weekend at the Australian Grand Prix something that didn’t need fixing was fixed. Qualifying was a part of the sport that worked but it was replaced with an ill-thought through system that pleased no one and managed to drain the spectacle of excitement.
Recent rule changes have taken away the purity of F1 racing. DRS allows a driver to artificially overtake the car in front in certain circumstances. The tyres are deliberately designed to degrade, meaning that drivers are unable to push for the whole race. Now, in a bizarre twist of English, cars are able to run out of tyres. Car performance now depends so much on aerodynamics and clean air that it is hard for drivers to follow another car, let alone overtake – hence the artificiality of DRS.
Regarding safety there is always more that can be done, but it usually depends on hindsight. The cars are intrinsically stronger and much safer than before – proved by Fernando Alonso’s no-injury mega-crash in the first race of this season. But the drivers’ heads are still at risk and a new halo device is being mooted to protect them – with no clear sign that it would be an improvement.
The way the sport is run and governed does not lead to the best allocation of resources and investment for the future. Top teams get a large payment before the prize money is divided. Ferrari have a veto on changes to the sport. The sport’s owners are venture capitalists and therefore by definition only interested in short term financial gain. This is shown by the move to Pay TV and the too-high rates charged to circuits – meaning that traditional privately funded circuits in the sport’s heartlands cannot pay, and F1 heads to dictatorships where the money is governmental.
What can be done? On track cars need to rely less on aerodynamics and more on mechanical grip. This would allow the racing to become closer and negate the problems of dirty air. Artificiality needs to be removed. Tyres need to last much longer. Gripes about lack of noise are a red herring, but the views of fans do need to be listened to. Then it would have been realised that qualifying didn’t need to be changed.
For safety introduce a canopy that will protect the driver completely. LMP1 WEC sports cars are covered and that does not distract from the racing.
The governance and ownership of the sport need to be sorted. Rules mustn’t be changed in last minute decisions. Regulations must be stable. The owners need to recognise that sport is not something to Chasing dollars has to end.
Will this happen? Hopefully. To instigate change the teams have to be willing to start a new series. This might leverage change, but it should not be an empty threat. A new more open competition, welcoming new teams with sensible regulations would be exciting. It could race at the historic circuits currently ignored by F1. And the threat of it might be what’s needed to get change in F1.