Almost all Formula One fans have ideas about how the sport should be improved. From less prescriptive technical regulations to more prescriptive technical regulations, more durable tyres, less durable tyres, bringing back refuelling, fewer teams, more teams, a budget cap, stopping racing on the newer and less romantic Tilke-designed circuits, there’s myriad ideas, some more worthy than others.
This week, the newly established “Strategy Working Group,” which comprises six team principals and six representatives from both the FOM and the FIA, had their first meeting and agreed on some changes which they believe will improve Formula One.
Firstly they decided to bring in, with immediate effect, permanent numbers for all the drivers. Sebastian Vettel will get the first choice, including the option to use the #1 earned by winning the drivers’ championship, with the others getting their choice in championship order.
This is a pure marketing tool and has been very well received among the fans and drivers alike. Formula One bosses will be hoping that sometime in the future they will be able to match the image and income of Valentino Rossi’s iconic #46 in MotoGP.
However, it’s unclear how the system will be implemented. If a driver retires only to return a couple of years later such as Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher, will their number be kept “on ice” for a couple of years or will they have to pick a new one?
Also, how will the numbers be visible? At the moment the numbers on the cars are too small to even be seen in slow motion close ups, and the teams are unwilling to increase this size for fear of reducing space for paying sponsors.
A number which is therefore only really visible on the driver’s caps and t-shirts before and after races is hardly going to have the same impact as the clear numbers used in MotoGP.
Secondly, a tentative plan to have a workable budget cap for 2015 was announced. Due to Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes’ current blasé and selfish attitudes to the ridiculous current financial situation in Formula One, it’s very unclear how this system will be properly enforced.
It’s certainly very unlikely to be set as low as the $40 million cap pushed by Max Mosley in 2009. The lack of information in the press release itself shows just how early into negotiations this decision is.
A more immediate change to the rules, and the one which has gained the most headlines, is the decision to award double points in next season’s final race.
This means the winner of next year’s Abu Dhabi grand prix, a race seen as one of the least challenging on the calendar, will receive 50 points.
As of now, Vettel is the only man to share his opinion on the issue, calling the whole idea “absurd and unfair,” and he is completely right. Never in the history of Formula One has one race been worth more than others.
This is a purely business-driven move, just like the permanent numbers, as it almost guarantees a final race championship decider, yet this is different as it affects the racing itself.
In football, the goalposts aren’t widened in stoppage time and in a 19-race championship, one race should not outweigh any of the others.
It’s also a sign of Formula One taking a worrying direction towards gimmickry and entertainment and away from sport. What’s to stop a circuit organiser deciding to pay double the hosting fees to get their race billed as a “50 points super-race?” Or giving points for overtaking in the final few laps?
This sort of gimmickry is not what Formula One needs to be entertaining and it’s concerning that the very owners of the sport think it is. They need to have more confidence in their product and remember that when Mika Hakkinen overtook Schumacher at Spa in 2000, or when Raikkonen overtook Giancarlo Fisichella on the last lap of the 2005 Japanese grand prix, there were no gimmicks, no double points and no overtaking aids.
Pure racing, rivalries and personalities is what makes Formula One the second most watched sport in the world. There’s no need to dilute that.