Is This the Start of Meaningful Change in Formula 1?

At this week’s Strategy Group meeting in Biggin Hill on Wednesday ahead of the British GP, members discussed several items that could be fast tracked into place in order to make the current on-track product more appealing.  There is no doubt that Formula 1 is losing popularity with motor sport fans around the world and these items certainly could help make the racing on track more interesting and exciting.

One of the items that was looked at was a revision of the current engine penalty system that is currently in use.  The voices of dislike have been loud since its inception.  If a manufacturer is having a difficult year, as in the cases of Renault and Honda, under the current system teams like Red Bull, Toro Rosso, and McLaren could spend the majority of the season starting at the back of the grid which isn’t a pleasing thought to many fans.  One of the changes that could be instituted as a result of Wednesday’s meeting is if a driver exceeds his engine allocation that he would just from the back of the grid instead of starting at the back of the grid and getting either an additional time penalty during the race or a stop and go penalty.  I like this possible solution because added an additional time penalty or stop and go during is like pouring salt in a wound.  Having to start from the back of the grid is bad enough because there’s no guarantee that they are going to be able to make their way through the field into any points paying positions and with an added time or stop and go penalty; the driver is also assured of finishing the races at or near the back of the grid.  In my opinion, a driver should not be punished this harshly as a result of their manufacturer’s struggles.

In a related issue, it looks like new manufacturers in the sport like Honda will be allowed an additional engine during the season.  This is something that is very much needed given the hybrid technology that Formula 1 is using and the difficulties that some of the manufacturers have had with the engine formula.  Right now, the engine allocation puts so much pressure on the engine manufacturer to get things correct right out of the gate.  It shouldn’t be that way.  Give them a little leeway to develop the technology properly instead of in a hurry for fear of penalties.

The issue of a possible ban on driver aids is currently generating quite a bit of discussion.  There are some Formula 1 fans who feel that the drivers are getting too much assistance of the radio from the pitwall, their dashboards, etc.  and their are others who feel things should be left alone.  I would like to see Formula 1 cars go back to a more driver controlled start instead of being aided by the technology in the car.  I want to see the driver’s skill on display.  Can he get out in front going into the first corner? Does the car stall at the start/finish line because the driver has a history of not having the best starts without the use of the technology? Does the majority of the grid experience difficulty at the start because of the new manual start process and accidents occur as a result just after the start/finish line? A new manual start process will put the driver’s skill to the test.  As far as the radio communication, there are times when it seems that a driver is getting way too much information from the pitwall during a GP.  I believe that it’s okay for a driver to relay information back to the pitwall in regards to the car’s performance during a race but engineers really shouldn’t be telling drivers to turn this knob or flip that switch every five minutes.  Let the drivers figure it out themselves.  It will separate the men from the boys.  As the radio traffic and assistance from the pitwall decrease, it will tell everyone who can really drive a Formula 1 cars and who can drive it only with the help of the technology on the car and help from the pitwall.  The only time, in my opinion, that there should be lots of talk between the driver and the pitwall is when there is a problem with the car that necessitates it being brought back to the pits or it it looks like the car has a problem that would cause it to stop on track and become a hazard to the other drivers.
In my opinion, the solutions that are being looked at with regard to the engine penalties, an additional engine for manufacturers new to the sport, and restricting driver aids are all positive steps in the right direction for the Formula 1 as it addresses the issue of improving its on-track product.  Hopefully,  progress and changes continue to be made while keeping in mind that without the fans there wouldn’t be Formula 1.  It would just be men in technologically advanced cars going doing laps around a circuit as engineers and other team personnel collected data.

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