A blueprint for a new Formula 1
With Liberty Media recently buying into the Formula One Group, and Chase Carey now installed as chairman, there has never been a more opportune moment to adapt grand prix racing to better suit a 21st-century audience. F1 Racing spoke to everyone, from fans to team bosses, to find out how we could make the world’s greatest sport even greater
When Liberty Media looked at Formula 1 ahead of taking their recent $8bn stake, what did they see? Certainly a proud, historic, endlessly enticing sport that has captivated millions since its inception in 1950. But they would also have seen a property in need of a little attention. One with some serious internal political divisions and an on-track offering perhaps not best attuned to the needs of a digitally minded world.
Happily, millions of fans across the planet still thrill to see 22 heroes pilot fast, technologically advanced machines in exotic locations around the globe. And at the sport’s still-robust heart, its three main principals remain unchanged: that an F1 car should be the fastest racing car on any given circuit; that F1 should have the best drivers in the world; and that it should blend technical excellence with sporting competition.
But how might it be made better? We’ve distilled the thoughts of fans, drivers, team bosses and paddock sages to assemble this ‘top ten’ list.
If you’re reading, Mr Carey, we’d love to know what you think…
F1 needs to be unpredictable
Is F1 sport or entertainment? Or is it a blend of both? Which of these aspects is the more important?
Sport is at its most compelling when it’s unpredictable. Giant-killing Leicester City in the English Premier League; Japan beating South Africa in the 2015 Rugby World Cup; and Max Verstappen winning the Spanish Grand Prix on his Red Bull debut.
In recent decades, with the domination of Red Bull, Mercedes, and Ferrari, F1 has suffered from a lack of unpredictability – although intra-team rivalry between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg has at least offered a spice absent in Schumacher’s all-conquering era between 2000 and 2004.
“If you ask me whether F1 is a sport or an entertainment,” muses Williams’ chief technical officer Pat Symonds, “I’d say it’s actually both, and the key to improving it is how you blend the two.”
“I contend that F1 would be a much better sport if you didn’t turn up on a Thursday and ask: ‘I wonder how much Mercedes are going to win by?’ To achieve that goal you have to take away the ability to buy success. One way is a budget cap, but the controversial idea that works for me is handicapping.”
Handicapping is used in sports such as horse racing and other motorsports, such as Touring Cars, as a way to reduce the advantage of the front-runners with a measure of equalisation – usually a weight penalty. The greater the success, the more weight is applied.
“There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with it, we just don’t do it,” says Symonds. “And in GT3 racing, the equalisation is incredibly successful. You get a Bentley fighting a Ford GT or an Audi R8. A handicapping system would mix up the competition, giving us far greater unpredictability.”