Formula One for All

Formula One for All

It’s a long held dream that sport can unite everyone on the planet. The FIFA World Cup breaks down barriers faster than men sitting at a negotiating table. The Olympics brings all the nations together with flag parades. Casual observers then become hooked on sports they usually have zero interest in. Unity makes these lesser reported events suddenly important.

And we have F1. A powerful advert for a connected world. The pinnacle of motorsport that travels the globe. A sport for everyone . . . everyone that fits into Bernie Ecclestone’s world view, that is.

The problem with universal sports is they will eventually cross party lines and some will attempt to use them as a tool for their own gain. It is at times like this sport should first be protected, then take a subtle step back. It is a permanent position that can’t be altered when it suits decision makers within that sport. When they voluntarily alter these rules they become as bad as the exterior forces trying to gain leverage by foul means.

In 2012 F1 came under severe scrutiny over the Bahrain Grand Prix. The previous year had seen it cancelled twice due to civil unrest and when it was announced the following season human rights activists called for it to be removed once again. It wasn’t. Bernie Ecclestone said at the time: “I don’t think sport should be involved in politics. When any sport goes into a country, they respect the laws of the country whatever they are.”

On the face of it this is a valid stance to take. Sport should only be used for good, not to thrust ideals on emerging nations. However, human rights should be free from political boundaries and ignoring them to facilitate a multi-million-dollar sport does feel inappropriate. F1 should take note how FIFA have struggled on this front (Qatar! What about Brazil?)

Bernie’s problem with Bahrain was quickly overlooked. This would have been fine if the man in charge of Formula One Management stuck to his own mandate. But Bernie’s biggest problem is his mouth and the ignorant brain it is connected to.

For a man that believes politics have no place in sport, it seems strange he thinks it is fine to make this comment about Vladimir Putin: “He’s the guy who should run Europe.” He added that he didn’t like democracy because not much got done.

The problem he has here isn’t with democracy, but the fact the teams are trying their best to prevent him continuing his reign as sport’s dictator. There’s no suggestion they want to oust him but they are standing firmer on new agreements. Jenson Button recently put the idea forward that Ross Brawn would be a great rule maker for the sport.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Red Bull boss Christian Horner and undoubtedly countless others would join the cause if Brawn showed an interest. Of course, a rule maker superseding the FIA’s view wouldn’t stop Bernie’s commercial arm entirely but it would make him slightly (more) impotent.

So the hypocrisy of Ecclestone’s claims that sport should be free from politics is multifaceted. On one hand we are told politics have no place while he parades with foreign leaders, claiming they should be ruling continents and the current political system in place in those opposing areas is fundamentally flawed.

Within the sport there is no such thing as negotiation or compromise. It is about how much power he can exert on the teams making him richer by the second. Sport is used as a symbol to join people together, to transcend class and gender. Yet he sees the rich and the poor on his own grid.

He makes outlandish comments that women are unable to compete with men. He says men will not take them seriously. This is only true if the men in question are chauvinistic or only interested in self-gain, things Ecclestone can relate to. He claims they are not physically able to drive a Formula One car.

In doing so he completely ignores the achievements of Susie Wolff, how she proved modern F1 cars are fine in the hands of a female. He is ignorant of women in American motorsport. Pippa Mann has completed four Indy 500s. Most famous of all is Danica Patrick. She has 115 Indy Car races to her name and is currently in NASCAR.

To say all women are incapable based on perceived body strength and stamina is ludicrous. There are women out there that easily exceed their male counterparts. It’s a sexist view that should have been buried decades ago.

It continues to be given life when ignorant little men with lots of money hold positions of power for too long.
Formula One is for everyone, like all good sport should be.

Bernie Ecclestone continues to prove he is out of touch with the world, the time we live in, and the sport he represents.


The Tyring Problem of F1

The Tyring Problem of F1

There is no doubt that Formula One is currently going through a difficult period in its long history. Smaller teams are struggling financially despite more money than ever being in the sport. Worldwide television audiences are in decline. And worst of all, the competition on track is far too predictable. In a desperate search for solutions even qualifying has seen a shake-up before reverting to its 2015 format. But there is an easier way to fix the problem on the track – and it’s a method we’ve seen before.

The reintroduction of multiple tyre manufacturers would be a game changer and an injection of sporting challenge that F1 needs. The negatives against are grossly outweighed now by the potential positives. The current drive to alter, or even deliberately randomise the grid, comes from a realisation that there is no way to reduce Mercedes’ vast advantage in a short space of time.

The recent regulation changes follow a long line of modifications that all had the intention to remove power from a dominant team’s design, only to fail in the long term as they make the corridor for experimentation smaller. Once a team like Mercedes, or Red Bull before them, crack the code, the other teams can only play catch-up. The problem is they are always two moves behind.

This is coupled with another downside to modern day F1 racing. Drivers are no longer flat out, lap-after-lap, trying to squeeze every last bit of life from the car. Instead, they have become micro-managers that worry about everything from tyre life, to gearbox wear and engine use.

A tyre war changes this.

No longer would drivers be nursing tyres through to pit stop windows. The suppliers would design tyres that encourage them to be driven hard while maintaining performance. Indeed, a tyre that fell off the cliff too soon, or was fractions of a second slower when being pushed hard compared to a rival brand, would be embarrassing for the company in question.

Those design corridors that have been getting smaller, suddenly open up to new interpretation. Certain tracks would suit one tyre manufacturer over another. Performance in one area heightened, thus, designers make sacrifices in certain downforce set-ups if over the season they see large gains elsewhere.

Suddenly the small strides Ferrari have made over the summer become leaps at one circuit, before the Williams has the fastest car for one weekend at a unique track, and so on. The desired grid shake-up would occur organically.

During a race, this unpredictability aside, we’d also see entirely different pit stop strategies. Rather than knowing all the cars that start on the same compound will pit roughly the same time, allowing for the undercut, we’d have cars on track racing with tyres in different stages of life and performance.

The main concern for a tyre war is cost. One supplier is seen as a way to ensure costs remain low. This is a false economy. F1 has finally embraced the idea of cost saving. It’s not like ten years ago (the last time there was multiple manufacturers) when the talk of budgeting was mere lip service.

The current in-season restriction on the number of test days prevents too many ancillary tyre costs. Also, at the moment teams are having to make their overall package work around Pirelli’s rubber. For some this will cost more than having the freedom to understand and maximise a tyre design to be pushed hard, in the knowledge the car can only have maximum effectivity on certain tracks.

It would be a good chance to reduce the penalties for gearbox and engine changes. Clearly this cost saving measure has merit but it doesn’t really work in its current form. Teams take the hit and still find themselves investing more than was expected. If a tyre war returns, all components would be pushed harder. The production should then be allowed to shift from finite life to maximum performance.

Remaining with the sole provider has been a commercial choice. It gives Bernie complete control over a company he can lean on and place under pressure. When Pirelli headed into a Monza GP with a Spa problem on their shoulder, the spectre of the 2005 US Grand Prix hung over the sport. They didn’t consider halting the race. Ecclestone won’t want people back around the negotiating table that could derail his spectacle – even if it means risking safety.

That’s the real money issue here. The danger to commercial interests. Despite the long term health of F1 looking bleak, decisions are continually made for the here-and-now. The rich teams continue to get richer, the small ones continue to have less. It seems only probable the rule makers would only allow a second tyre supplier if it gave away cheap, less effective rubber. This way they could claim to be offering a budgeted choice while ensuring favoured teams – like Ferrari – remain at the top of the pile.

Rather than admit defeat with the current car specifications in a few years’ time, the choice could be made now to terminate the Pirelli contract. This way the current design parameters can remain the same whilst their application gets a reboot.

In a technically complicated sport, sometimes the simplest choice is the most effective. Right now F1 is blessed with a promising generation of drivers and team’s dedicated to competing. It is being held back by monotony.

Breaking the new status quo doesn’t require cars with radical new shapes or ways to manipulate the starting grid.

Just change the boots and let the teams go racing. Drivers should be racers, not component fatigue life managers. Make the pinnacle of motorsport about flat-out driving once again. If they do, it will become less predictable.

It will become the product we pray for every race weekend.

Formula None

Formula None

Formula One is a sport that thrives in controversy. Thankfully, the element that could have undermined an entire Drivers’ Championship – Double Points – played no part in the end. That was a small rest bite during a time when F1 is under the microscope for different reasons.

With two teams in administration, and others close to the wall, its finances and wealth distribution require a review. Bernie and the large teams need to realise the product as a whole is only worth something if there is diversity across the grid. The current model almost ensures the big teams will remain near the top of the field but if this continues there’ll be no one else left to compete against. Three car teams would eventually become a three team championship.

Love or hate Bernie Ecclestone, the improvements made to the sport under his leadership can be clearly seen. It still is the pinnacle of motorsport and rather than keeping up with the times, it has defined them. New circuits, however bland some may be, come with state of the art facilities. The product generates more money than ever. Luxury companies pay a premium to be associated with each event. All this should bode well for the sport. But it somehow hasn’t helped abate the current situation.

It’s easy to see Bernie as a cantankerous old man. He’s holding all the cards, the ultimate power broker. He dismisses the pleas from the smaller teams out of hand. His remarks appear ill-informed and uneducated. With Caterham and Marussia heading to collapse he made numerous remarks, none of support, just disdain. Bernie doesn’t want to see begging jars in the paddock and claims the teams are mismanaged and haven’t ran their businesses correctly.

Berne F1

By doing this Bernie has quickly washed his hands of a problem he helped facilitate. These teams didn’t throw caution to the wind and spend big bucks to buy a title. They were scraping together the budget each season just to survive. When the now defunct HRT, Caterham and Marussia (badged as Virgin) came into the sport as the three fresh teams, they did so under the impression F1 would implement cost-cutting measures. Of course teams like Ferrari, with their seemingly bottomless pot of cash, felt uneasy levelling the playing field like this. A compromise of sorts was reached: the teams would slowly reduce running costs without a hard cap being installed. To this day it has never happened.

So the new teams haven’t been mismanaged as such, they’ve just been the victim of being told one thing then living another. To make matters worse the gulf in affluence is exacerbated by the distribution of wealth. Ferrari receives an extra cut of the cash, before any prize money is distributed, for just being in the sport. This is similar to the way Real Madrid and Barcelona negotiate their own TV deals in Spain. A fairer system is the English Premier League that splits its deal twenty ways. Obviously prize money will, and should, go to the most successful teams. But all teams need the same starting point. It’s ludicrous to give handouts to those that need them less.

It’s also clear that the teams can’t be trusted to introduce fair cost-cutting measures. The time has come for a fixed budget cap which excludes driver wages. When I have discussed Financial Fair Play in football, my tone has always been against the system. In that sport it handcuffs safe wealthy owners, maintaining a status quo for the elite teams across Europe. In any business a company should be able to make a loss in order to catch its competitors. However, the current system in F1 has created and facilitates a continuing status quo of its own. Smaller teams are losing money, but not to catch-up, just to stay in business.

USA F1 Empty Grid

The largest spenders, like Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari, may resist a cap because it removes their advantage. But long term they may be racing amongst themselves, at which point, they’d also be at the back of the grid . . . and the middle and the front. Fans need variety. Imagine a future where every F1 race resembled the grid from the infamous 2005 United States Grand Prix. That’s where we’re heading. And Bernie doesn’t mind because the cash cow still has plenty of milk. Some circuits are paying around $70M just to host an event, and all the race revenues combined only equate to 30% of F1’s income.

Another 30% is from the television deals. This would be the first victim of a decline in the sport. If the ratings fell so would the sale price. It’s this fear that gives us the ever changing rules to make the sport more competitive. Tighter regulations to create a narrower band of creative manoeuvre. The best designer in the modern era, Adrian Newey, decided he’d had enough of these restrictions so took on a different role within the Red Bull group. It’s a shame that the pinnacle of motorsport is hindered by its own self-inflicted parameters. Rules to increase excitement that will never work as long as a gulf in spending exists.

All the teams need to realise they need one another. An independent body needs to be set up to implement the cost-cutting measures and to clarify what goes on in the murky waters of F1 management. At the moment Bernie and the big teams feels more corrupt than a FIFA World Cup bidding process.

It’s ironic F1 spends so much time and energy tweaking itself to make racing closer without making the money in the sport fairer. A much better model would be one that has a hard budget cap, and at the same time has wider design windows. Cars would be cheaper to run, so the small teams wouldn’t be facing extinction, but a relaxation of the rules would add greater variety across the design process. The more creative or forward thinking would have the ability to flourish. They could even return to multiple tyre manufacturers with a set price for the season support. The entire onus would then be on those tyre providers to produce the best rubber at an affordable price. The difference in compounds would create exciting races as different teams on different rubber face unique race strategies. There’d be less tyre management and more non-stop pushing.

Whether you agree with the idea of a fixed budget or not, Bernie’s ignorance is something that is fact not opinion. He recently remarked he doesn’t care for social media or the younger generation of F1 fans. That his product is aimed at wealthy men in old age. That no young man on Twitter is going to buy a Rolex, a product his sport is paid to advertise. This is sheer arrogance and short-sightedness. Sponsorship accounts for 15% of F1 income, another 15% from merchandise and corporate hospitality, but that 30% from TV deals should have greater importance to Bernie.

To ignore the poorer young fans is to care little for the viewing figures that account for a third of his income. The same people whom the regulations are forever tweaked to create closer racing. The people that could be watching the sport for decades to come. But Bernie isn’t a man of the people. He isn’t even a man that cares for teams within his own sport. Unless you’re a big red Italian car company, or a 70 year old man wearing a Rolex sat in a corporate box, he won’t give you a second thought.