Why F1 is making a mistake

The introduction of radical rule changes is simply avoiding the actual issue at hand.
Tuesday, June 24, 2014

24 June, 2014 (F1 Plus / Jacob Polychronis) Back in March, I wrote an article entitled What is wrong with Formula One: A stern letter to F1 cynics. Basically, the argument posed was that we shouldn’t be so negative about new technical regulations and we should learn to accept the new turbo era of F1. Response amongst readers across Twitter and Reddit was polarised; some emphatically agreed, while others roared with disapproval. At the risk of being called a hypocrite, I am going to vehemently refuse expressing similar sentiments about the sport’s latest rule changes. I speak of course about double points and standing restarts.

Here’s why.

Implementing a ‘greener’ pathway in F1 through greater emphasis on energy recovery and smaller engines was inevitable. Other racing categories, such as sports car endurance, were already setting the example by using hybrids with success. Furthermore, political pressures from an increasingly environmental-conscious society always meant a ‘greener’ switch would eventually be necessary. What is unnecessary however, is the degradation of F1 from the pinnacle of motorsport into a mere novelty. And no, this shouldn’t be seen as a dramatic overreaction – people are already laughing.

Weighing up the rule changes

The decision to award double points in the final race of the season and to have standing restarts after safety car periods are designed to improve “excitement.” There are however, dramatic pit-falls associated with both rule changes. Let’s start with double points.

As of this season, the final race will see drivers accumulate twice as many points as they will for any other race. The decision is designed to prolong championship battles until the last race of the season to maintain intrigue. This season however, is proving to be a see-sawing battle between two equal Mercedes. Therefore, it is plausible that whoever is lucky enough to win the final race will win it all. In this scenario, it is hard to determine who to feel sorrier for; the driver who loses, or the driver whose special moment inevitably becomes branded as illegitimate.

Meanwhile, abolishing rolling re-starts after safety car periods is designed to further exploit the most exciting part of a race; the start. By the time backmarkers un-lap themselves, cars re-form on the grid and racing resumes…well, the excitement of the re-start is merely making amends for the utter boredom that will precede it.         

Many F1 fans will reject these new rules with the old saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” We only have to look back as far as 2010 to find a season where four drivers had a chance to win the championship in the final race. We only have to look back to this year’s Canadian Grand Prix to find an arguable all-time classic race. So perhaps it ain’t broke indeed. Furthermore, championships under the newest scoring system (since 2010) are either so close that regular points scoring provides enough entertainment, or so one-sided that double points would have no effect. Therefore, why on earth have such radical rule changes come to fruition?

Spending and success

The answer to F1’s perceived problem of anti-competitiveness always has been and always will be, cost-reduction. The chequebooks of Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren dramatically outweigh those from lower teams such as Caterham, who are on the brink of leaving the sport.

The correlation between spending and success in the sport is undeniable. Should Mercedes continue their 2014 dominance, it will be the 14th Drivers’ Championship out of 17 seasons by either Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren or Mercedes. The only other teams to have claimed a championship in this time have been Renault F1 (2005-2006) and Brawn GP (2009). Therefore, in order to make F1 more competitive across field, spending must controlled – let’s say, through a salary cap. In fact, it appeared that this entirely logical solution was to be implemented for the 2015 season. That was until the F1 Strategy Group, which excludes Force India, Sauber, Marussia and Caterham, decided to shut it down. Decisions need to be made about removing hierarchy in F1 and the group that decides on it only represents those who benefit from the present imbalance of power. Something sounds horribly ill with this process. Changes need to be made.

Other sports across the globe exhibit the same level of anti-competition when there are limited measures against cost-reduction. Take the English Premier League for example. Every championship since 2005 has been won by the big spending Chelsea, Manchester United or Manchester City. It’s a similar situation in the Spanish football’s top division, La Liga, with Barcelona and Real Madrid winning all but one championship since 2005.  

Now, let’s compare this to the Australian Football League (AFL) which does utilise a salary cap. 11 different teams have won the AFL in the past 19 years. Furthermore, top draft picks are awarded to teams in the ladder’s ascending order, allowing the lowest ranked teams to have a greater chance in the succeeding year. We can even see a similar situation outside of sport. Many of the world’s democracies exercise a progressive tax system, where high income earners pay more tax than lower income earners. The desired outcome is the same; to give everyone a fairer go.

Dancing around the solution

Of course, the ideal solution to better competition is not as black and white as cost-reduction. There is still the politically dense issue of royalty distribution, in which these top teams also largely benefit from.

But, after much deliberation, what is F1’s “solution” to improve competition? Introduce absurd rule changes which won’t even change anything. Double points might be well and good - if you score any, which the likes of Caterham won’t. While a standing restart after a safety car might allow Marussia to jump from 16th to 17th in a race, but audiences won’t even get to see that anyway.

Sure, it may take a diplomatic genius to draft a rule where costs are reduced but the richest teams still sign off on it. Nonetheless, the solution is out there. It is likely to require progression and sacrifice, however, the reward is the sport’s longevity. All that is asked, by many F1 enthusiasts I’m sure, is to not have our sport turned into a laughing stock in the interim.      

The introduction of quieter engines may have affected F1’s image, but it was tolerable for the majority of F1 fans. The growing presence of novelty and artificiality however, may tip many over the edge.     

Tell us your opinion, will you lose interest in F1 with the introduction of double points and standing re-starts? Leave a comment below.        

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