Whither Formula One?

Many are less than thrilled with the current state of Formula One racing, myself included. Part of that is the fact that I’m old, and most old people will tell anyone who will listen that certain things were better in the old days, be it sports, politics, hamburgers, or pizza.

My biggest complaint with the current state of Formula One is the ban on in-season testing. What this has wrought for the last several years is that the team/car that is the fastest in preseason testing dominates the entire year, since the other teams have no reasonable way to catch up. This ban was put in place to try to defray costs, which seems preposterous to me, as teams have always spent every dollar/euro/pound they could lay their hands on to try to win.

In the “old days” of the 70’s, unless you were Ferrari, you bought some Cosworth DFV’s, Hewland transaxles, connected them to an aluminium tub, put your aero guy to work on a body design, told Goodyear you needed tires, and off you went. Between races you tested new aero packages, suspension parts, and other bits and pieces, since the engine and transmission were givens. One of the nice things back then was that Goodyear usually brought 3 dry compounds to each race, and you could use whatever tires worked best on your car that weekend, based on track type and conditions.

Carlos Sainz, Brendon Hartley, Stoffel Vandoorne
Photo: Renault F1 Team

One of the worst current rules is the stipulation that you must use two of the compounds Pirelli brings to each race, and only in matched groups of four, regardless of how your car performs on them. This is especially pointless and draconian and steals a potential key strategy advantage from every chief engineer. Now the only strategy is when to use the tires that perform worst on your car, and how quickly can you get them off the car.

Pointless and draconian rule #2 is that after qualifying, all cars are in “Parc Ferme” condition, preventing mechanics from making adjustments based on what they learned in qualifying. So, if the car is handling poorly in qualifying and you’re at the back of the grid, there you will stay throughout the race, since the mechanics are not allowed to fix anything. So far this has not led to any major injuries or crashes as far as we know, but there is a potential safety issue as well as a competitive issue, and this rule should be changed immediately.

DRS is a questionable addition to the “competition” aspects of the racing as well, giving trailing cars an unfair advantage as they attempt a pass. This has led to some blocking tactics and accidents that would not have occurred without it.

Sebastian Vettel
Photo: Scuderia Ferrari

Another engine supplier, as independent as Cosworth used to be, would be a welcome addition to the current suppliers. Does anyone believe that the engines Mercedes and Ferrari are supplying to their customers are as powerful or as reliable as the ones they are using in their own cars? Just look at the standings and results and you know the answer to that question.

Limiting the number of engines and transmissions teams are allowed in a season is about as stupid a rule as exists in any major sport, resulting in grid penalties so severe that there is no reason for some drivers to even participate in qualifying in the latter stages of a season. Could you imagine your country’s soccer federation penalizing teams for using too many balls in a season, or a baseball player penalized for breaking bats?

Many of the rule changes in the last 20 years have been aimed at slowing the cars in the name of safety. And yet, the cars keep going faster, because engineers have always been smarter than rules makers, whether it’s Smokey Yunick in NASCAR, or Colin Chapman and others in F1.

Lewis Hamilton
Photo: Mercedes Motorsport

It’s time to let the engineers write the rules. Get someone from Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull, and the other teams to sit down and work out a rules package that will be fair for all the teams.

Let Charlie Whiting put his name on the document to soothe his ego, but let the engineers write the actual rules. And let the teams use whatever tires work best on their car, without the contrivance of making them use tires that don’t work well. And, most important of all, bring back in-season testing and development.

Did you know that in 1979, finding themselves on the back foot in terms of ground effect development, McLaren raced 5 different cars that season? The M28A, M28B, M28C, M28D, and M29? Williams raced two, the FW06 and FW07, Lotus struggled with the 80, and other teams went through many developments of their cars. That probably would not happen again, regardless of how much testing is allowed, but it’s an example of how open things used to be, and some of that would be very refreshing indeed.

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