What changes to F1 could be made?

I will be very surprised if the teams are not closer in Australia. However, there’s no point them being closer if they can’t overtake and this seems to be the main concern at the moment (note: we should still give it a few races though).  Qualifying and the start of the race were just fine in Bahrain, so let’s leave that alone.

Introducing Mandatory 2 Stops – NO

I’m unconvinced by this and it’s not going to happen as not all the teams will agree to it. It will likely discourage overtaking as drivers will hope to pass in the pits rather than risk damaging tyres trying to overtake on the track. Introducing this rule will disadvantage the teams who have successfully developed a car that is quick but doesn’t suffer from too much tyre degradation.


Aerodynamic Changes – YES

Nothing can be done for this season, but for future seasons changes can and should definitely be made. Over the years, the aerodynamics on F1 cars have got very sophisticated in that they cause such significant disturbances in the air behind them (“dirty air”) that other cars find it difficult to follow closely.

The FIA set up a working group to improve overtaking, but they clearly did not do anywhere near enough and the introduction of double diffusers actually made it more difficult to overtake. The double diffusers will be banned in 2011, but this is too little too late.

The teams need to agree, and that is the difficult bit, to simplify the aerodynamics on Formula 1 cars so that they disrupt the air as little as possible allowing a faster car to run close enough to have a go at overtaking.

There are lots of technologies on F1 cars that filter down into road cars, but aerodynamics, particularly the wings, are not something that road cars or anyone else really benefits from so there is no real harm in making this area of the car more simple.


Amend Tyre Regulations – Probably

This year, it is definitely possible for the tyre regulations or tyre supply to be ‘tweaked’ to help improve the racing. McLaren Team Principal, Martin Whitmarsh, soon after the Bahrain race was advocating that Bridgestone bring racier tyres that don’t last as long.

Many have commented that Bridgestone will be reluctant to do that as it will damage their reputation. However, they too are learning these new regulations and will use the data they have collected from the teams during significantly cooler pre-season testing (with many wet days) and the much hotter Bahrain Grand Prix.

The Super Soft tyres (the softest type of tyre Bridgestone supply to F1) were used by the front-runners at the start in Bahrain and Button reported that he could have easily done 25 laps in the race (as well as his qualifying laps). I think this durability will have surprised many and Bridgestone will adjust and bring tyres that are a little bit raceier.

Hirohide Hamashima, Bridgestone Director of Motorsport Tyre Development, said after the race, “This was only the first of 19 races this season. I think we all have a lot to learn about this season’s best tyre strategies and it will be fascinating unlocking the secrets for the best performance in the races ahead.

Changes that could be made include:

  • forcing Bridgestone to bring only the softer compound tyres, or just one soft compound which would force more pits stops
  • increasing the number of different tyre options available from the current two (known as the Prime and Option tyres)  that Bridgestone decide upon to three or the maximum four (Super Soft, Soft, Medium & Hard) and let the teams decide which two they want to use in the race- Unlikely to happen in 2010, but possible
  • re-introduction of more than one F1 tyre supplier. This won’t happen in 2010 of course, but interestingly, Bridgestone has not confirmed if it will be in F1 next year?
  • Use harder tyres only (see below)


Introduce harder tyres and manual gearbox (The Dernie Argument) – Maybe and YES

Frank Dernie, a very experienced F1 aerodynamicist wrote an interesting note to journalist James Allen suggesting that aerodynamics are not really the issue but that using harder tyres and a manual gearbox will solve the problem.

Unfortunately he ignores the issue about turbulence caused by a F1 cars wake, but does make a good point about hard tyres and braking distances. “Braking distances into slow corners are far too short, caused by sticky tyres (too much mechanical grip). … When there was overtaking in the past it was mainly due to the low grip of the tyres leaving a wide racing line and long braking distances combined with cars much more difficult to drive due to low grip”.

He suggests harder tyres are 50% of the solution and that re-introducing manual gearboxes are the other 50%. “Most overtakes took place in the past when a driver made a mistake due to poor grip or missed a gear.”

I’m not 100% convinced by the harder tyres argument, but would be interested to see it tried.

I was initially not keen at all on the idea of returning to manual gearboxes as it seems it would make F1 cars less technologically advanced and F1 is meant to be the pinnacle of motorsport. However, after mulling it over there is no real good reason that we have to have “flappy-paddle”style semi-automatic gearboxes.

We all (well, most of us) use a manual gearbox in our road cars and they are also used in the majority of lower racing formulas, so would it really be a big deal for F1 cars to have them again? It would add another dimension, with drivers possibly making a mistake when under pressure.


Reduce Braking Performances – NO

Braking distances in F1 have got smaller and smaller over the years due to brakes getting better and better. By reducing the performance of brakes, some have suggested using steel brakes, the braking distances would increase significantly and this would increase overtaking.

I’m not convinced by this as fundamentally drivers have to learn their braking points and whether it is 100m from the corner or 150m with worse brakes, they all find the last possible point to brake and so it makes no improvement. In fact, it could make it worse as longer braking distances mean a shorter amount of accelerating time beforehand and less chance to catch up and get alongside the car in front.

Shorter braking distances increase the chance of mistakes as if a driver brakes 2m late on a 100m braking  distance with top performing brakes, this will create a bigger problem for him than if he braked 2m late with a 150m braking distance.


Introduce Shortcuts (Bernie Ecclestone’s idea) – NO

No, no, no! It pains even to discuss it, but I hate any idea that encourages overtaking without ‘actually’ doing the overtaking. They can experiment it with other other racing formulas if they like, but this is not a proper solution for F1.

It makes it less of a sport and more of an entertainment event. F1 should be a careful balance between the two, but this is too far. What next? The F1 Factor, with the races decided by phone votes?!


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