An end to boring grands prix — What if F1 races had different classes?


The different classes on track at last weekend's Daytona 24 Hours brought more entertainment for the fans and more challenges for the drivers. How might that look in F1? considers Chris Medland

Fernando Alonso leads a line of cars at the 2021 Qatar Grand Prix

Class battles could liven up some F1 races


I might be being all misty-eyed after a visit to the Rolex 24 at Daytona, but the trip to Florida did get me thinking about some of the things Formula 1 could learn from the biggest sportscar races.

After all, racing is still racing. There are different skills required in different categories but whatever the challenges thrown at you, the main target for anyone in any race is to get to the finish in the quickest possible time.

And watching Colton Herta overtake Louis Deletraz for the LMP2 victory in the final 15 minutes, or the two Porsches go at it hammer and tongs for so long, ultimately banging wheels at the Le Mans chicane on the very final lap of the race was no less thrilling just because there was a class above. It was brilliant racing, and all on track that at 3.5 miles long is certainly comparable to an F1 venue, but hosted three times as many cars last weekend as a grand prix weekend does.

That just led to perhaps my most random daydream yet, but what if F1 races had more happening in them than just an F1 race?

I started at the blue flags argument, as I’m someone who would love to see them removed from F1 at some stage so that drivers have to fight lapped cars as much as anyone else. It would create added drama in both boring and exciting races, and it’s not artificial either as it’s simply another skillset that is required by a driver. But it might not be the right time for that just yet.

An F1/IndyCar race at COTA would be a hell of a spectacle

F1 is trying to address perhaps its biggest issue this year with the new regulations: following has been so difficult that track position plays a massive role in the chances of one driver beating another. When the performance advantage required to try and overtake is over a second per lap, fights are harder to have and the influence of backmarkers even more critical.

Just look at what Sergio Perez managed to do against Lewis Hamilton in Abu Dhabi, backing him up massively with some brilliant defensive driving. That would also be possible for cars being lapped if they had any skin in the game, so we ideally need to see the improvement in being able to follow that is being targeted this year before it’s realistic to think about getting rid of blue flags.

But when there’s a significant difference in performance, such as between DPi, LMP2 and GT classes at Daytona, so much of the race features drivers having to deal with traffic – either overtaking it or being overtaken – as well as racing those around them, and it keeps you on the edge of your seat because it takes some extremely impressive driving to do well.

GT Class battle at 2022 Daytona 24 Hours

There’s rarely a dull moment at Daytona

Now, I’ve probably already lost your respect by now and many readers might not even have got this far into the column, but I will state I’m not quite crazy enough to suggest this is something we could see at every grand prix.

For starters, Monaco would be a disaster, as would basically any street circuit. There are venues that really aren’t suited to multi-class racing, either because of how impossible it is to overtake or how dangerous it would be.

And in an ideal world, it’s a concept that would never need to be even imagined because the 2022 regulations will be the first step to a more open field where it’s hard to keep up with what’s happening just between 20 F1 cars.

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But we’re in an era when the sport is open to trying different formats and improving its offering while still remaining the ultimate single-seater test for teams and drivers, and I don’t actually see why adding other categories would be detrimental to that at select events.

I’d go as far as to argue that one of F1’s weaknesses is the strive for perfection all the time, with smooth circuits, kerbs that won’t damage cars (damaging drivers is another matter entirely and should never happen), and basically whatever the engineers want in order to be able to run cars and races at their optimal performance.

The inability to do that, and the need to adapt, is what makes the best stand out from a sporting perspective. It provides areas of differentiation, and more tests where a driver or team can get it right or wrong.

The last time Formula 1 and Formula 2 entries were permitted at the same race was in 1969, and it is important to remember that as ridiculous as the idea sounds, it’s actually a part of F1’s history.

Jacky Ickx runs ahead of Johnny Servoz-Gavin at the Nurburgring in 1969

Jacky Ickx in an F1 Brabham BT26 runs ahead of Johnny Servoz-Gavin’s F2 Matra at the 1969 German GP

Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Junior category teams could certainly do with the added exposure that racing during an F1 race would bring, and it might even provide an increased likelihood of F2 teams having aspirations of evolving into F1 outfits, something that has been sorely missing on the single-seater ladder for some time.

And while F2 is the obvious candidate, let’s go really off-piste for a second and think what about IndyCar? A race at COTA with both categories competing would be a hell of a spectacle, and would certainly add variety from an F1 perspective.

It’s obviously not a remotely realistic proposition as things stand when you factor in the differences in pit stop requirements or race start procedures, plus the fact that IndyCar would need to accept seeing the performance deficit completely exposed by a direct comparison in the same race, but it would be wild.

None of that takes into account the potential for a great race within the other category, too. There have been some thrillers in F2 in recent years, but so few people see them compared to the grand prix audience. And it would be a welcome addition to races where one team or driver is dominant and there’s little to get excited about from an F1 perspective.

I never want F1 to become a spec series, and so varied car performance is always going to play a huge role, but with an ever-expanding calendar that even the drivers themselves have sometimes stated can become monotonous, a different sporting challenge within the same race framework – as attempted with the Sprint – is not a bad thing in my book.

Just me? OK, never mind then.