The rule changes announced today by the FIA, following meetings of the new F1 Strategy Group and the F1 commission, range from the pragmatic to pure Hollywood.
At the pragmatic end of the scale, the cost cap is long overdue and vital to maintain the medium sized and smaller teams, which are close to the brink financially.
At the Hollywood end, the idea of awarding double points for the last race is breathtaking at first glance, so odd does it seem and so out of keeping with F1’s history. It will add another 100 points to the mix, meaning another $500,000 in entry fees to the FIA, but it is also intended to mean that it’s mathematically more difficult for the title to be decided several races before the end of the season.
But after the introduction of fast degrading tyres and DRS wings, we should not be too surprised. After all it’s eight years since the equally wacky idea of making one set of tyres last for qualifying and race. That was an idea which lasted a season – the 2005 season – which followed a dull year dominated by one driver Michael Schumacher.
This has all the hallmarks of a knee jerk idea which is likely to cause more problems than it solves.
Here are some background notes on the decisions taken today:
F1 Strategy Group decisions
This was the first set of decisions to come from the controversial new F1 Strategy Group, comprising just the top teams plus FIA and Bernie Ecclestone. They have made some bold statements here and want to demonstrate that they can get things done and not get bogged down in petty fighting and dysfunctionality as so many times in the past. They want to show forward thinking and boldness, but at the same time, the promise of a cost cap is a sop to the teams excluded from the Strategy Group forum. It also covers up for the unfair way the prize money is doled out under the new Concorde Agreement, with the top teams creaming off the lion’s share.
One wonders what form this cost cap will take as it has been vehemently opposed up to now by Red Bull and Ferrari.
But the real story is the process of rule making on the hoof, as waved though by the F1 Commission and given free passage by the World Motor Sport Council. A note in the FIA statement proudly says,
“These changes are immediately applicable, given the mandate assigned to the FIA President at the last World Motor Sport Council meeting, held on 4 December in Paris.” Now that is power! Where has that been for the last 20 years?
It will be interesting to see how long this “can do” mentality lasts.
Cost Cap for 2015
Former FIA president Max Mosley attempted to introduce a cost cap in 2009 and it led to civil war with Ferrari rejecting it outright, Mosley saying that F1 could “survive without Ferrari” and the FOTA teams threatening to quit F1 in summer 2009.
Now as some teams face financial meltdown, some pragmatism seems to have returned, with a newly elected President Todt at the helm and even the major roadblock to cost control – Red Bull – has signed on to this latest development. But Turkeys never vote for Christmas, so the devil will be in the detail, when the working group tries to draw up a plan and set the ceiling level for spending. Auditing what goes on in Stuttgart to help Mercedes F1 team’s effort and comparing that to what Red Bull does in Milton Keynes is nigh on impossible, as Red Bull has consistently pointed out.
There is also the question of whether some of the more vulnerable teams will even make it to 2015..
Driver’s individual numbers
A very sensible idea that will get little argument from anyone. It works in football, Moto GP and has been in NFL and NBA for decades. There will be a scramble for number 7, number 5 and especially number 27 (Senna and Gilles Villeneuve’s number) no doubt. But all the drivers still want Number 1..
Five second penalties
It’s a nightmare trying to evaluate penalties during a Grand Prix, drive through penalties for “minor infringements” sometimes seem too harsh, as in Massa’s penalty for cutting a while line in Brazil. So adding five seconds to a driver’s race time -an easy thing for a timing computer to do – will simplify life for everyone.
Changing the sporting regulations to allow an urgent tyre test
Pirelli have been insistent on getting a meaningful test done before Christmas on their 2014 tyres, as they are concerned about the effects of the massive torque. They have been calling for a mandatory two stops for races next year, which has met with resistance.
The idea of the December test in Bahrain was originally floated with 2011 cars, but Pirelli insisted on 2013 cars as they will be more representative (although nothing like the torque). With memories still fresh of the Mercedes test debacle in May, all sides wanted to get the governance right on this one, so the rules have been changed, the test has been opened to all teams and the freight will be on its way shortly.
Double points for the last race of the season
This is pure Hollywood. But is it really entertaining or does it cause more problems than it solves?
If this rule had been in place in recent years, Lewis Hamilton would have lost the title to Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso would have won in 2012, so two of the most exciting races of recent times would have been killed as spectacles by the weight of numbers.
I’m not sure it would have made this year any more interesting.
F1 was right to explore things like DRS, as overtaking was nigh on impossible. It perhaps went too far, as the tyres certainly did, but there is a line which the sport shouldn’t cross otherwise it gets like WWF wrestling. And this final race points idea is dangerously close to crossing it. 50 points for a race win is absurd.
What it also does is open the door for some races to be “more equal than others”. There is a financial premium for the final race of the season already, but this adds to it, putting more attention on the showdown.
With diminishing returns from TV rights, the sport has been aggressively pursuing race hosting fees as a revenue growth area and playing around with points is another way to add some value to the promoter.
I think it will play badly with fans and – like that nutty tyre idea in 2005 – will be shortlived.