F1 – it's not so complicated

1st August 2014

Yesterday, yet another much-needed survey box appeared on my computer: “Tell us how you rated our services,” it read. Hmm, let me think. I saw a book I wanted to purchase, I purchased it, you mailed it. So, 10 out of 10, you were brilliant and may I add, the way you remembered the title I ordered and got it to my home address was outstanding.

In fact, tomorrow, I can’t help myself, I’m buying another book that I don’t even want, just so I can relive your cosmic service experience. Today I’m mailing them asking how they rated my feedback to their survey.

Everyone’s looking for feedback, even lorries and vans are signed to ask “Tell me how I’m driving?” Really! You’re in a four-mega-tonne 18-axle juggernaut on cruise control at 70mph and you mean you don’t know how you’re driving? Thanks for the warning. Just maybe you’re driving by pure luck? I wonder if this is going to evolve into “Tell me where I am” and “Tell me who I work for” soon.

Aren’t some answers in life just staring us straight in the face?

Imagine a Formula 1 A-level exam paper question – identify the key flaw within the following (fictitious of course) pitwall interview…

“We were disappointed with the turnout for the German Grand Prix. We need to investigate this fully. We are also concerned about falling TV viewing figures. We will also investigate this. We do not understand... Oh, excuse me a minute, I need to radio ‘yeah, I know Lewis has lit up the Hungarian Grand Prix but tell him to let Nico pass’ ... sorry, what was I saying?”

The answer is pretty obvious.

I am not in the popular camp that keeps knocking Formula 1. Personally, I think it’s fantastic. I was a racing driver for a long time and from that experience I revel in the brilliance of our current stars. We are regularly presented with everything we can wish for like wheel-to-wheel action. That’s it in a nutshell... tough, close, nail-biting, heart-stopping, wheel-to-wheel action!

Maybe some people who criticise F1 actually don’t realise what level of skill they are seeing. And maybe some people who are in Formula 1 shouldn’t worry about external surveys, analysis and investigations, but just concentrate on the clear and obvious. I’ll say it again: provide all that’s necessary for wheel-to-wheel action.

The technical DNA of our sport means guaranteeing this can be difficult, so I am in full agreement with Bernie, Charlie et al in continuing to look at any area within F1 itself. The recent relaxation of driver penalties is bang on (but just to make my thoughts clear, nail any driver who starts weaving).

I love DRS – it offers so many added moments of real tension. Can he get within a second? Yes! Can he make the pass? Can the passed driver possibly return the favour?  Also, the soon-to-be-adopted standing restart, after a safety period, will be amazing – that’s a terrific idea.

However, to restate a couple of points from my last article, I’m not on side with deliberately reintroducing under-floor sparks, but if I could press a retro button it would return the cars to steel brakes, reduce downforce and make ‘em at least as loud as my cat when it’s hungry.

Some people have stated that F1’s problem is that it’s over complicated. I don’t agree. From qualifying, the fast bloke starts from the front and the slow bloke starts from the back. On race day, Charlie decides when, and if, it’s safe to turn the red lights off and then the bloke who sees that black and white flag thing at the end – and before anyone else – wins.

Oh, I left out the really complex bit. In a dry race every driver must stop at least once to change tyres because they’re required to use both examples of two different compounds provided. Job done. However, maybe that’s a bit that could be simplified. I’m not massively interested in variations of soft, super-soft, hard or medium tyre examples. Whatever the actual compounds Pirelli make available at each track, perhaps we could just tell the outside world ‘hard and soft’.

So, my argument is F1 is not too complicated. That’s not a turn-off. Take a look at some other sports! Gymnastics – how is that scored? We see a 13 year old accelerate across a mat like an Exocet, hit a spring board, launch skywards spinning faster than a rotor blade, then two minutes later re-enter the earth’s atmosphere to land on a sixpence and someone with a Russian name holds up a board saying 8.7 as opposed the 8.4 they awarded the last projectile. “Oi Olga,” I hear you shout, “you’re having a laugh! That had 9.1 written all over it!”

Back to F1… Understanding nuances such as engine/gearbox life or use of energy systems within the powertrain is gift wrapped for us each race via superb commentary from Martin Brundle and many others. It’s fascinating. So why don’t we all just substitute the word ‘complicated’ with ‘interesting’. Let’s continue to enjoy thrilling battles and not talk it down. Let’s make Lewis Hamilton start from the back of the grid every race even if he’s set pole position.

There is one thing I don’t understand though: what the hell does Mercedes’ ‘magic’ button do? They keep radioing ‘go to magic default eight’ – something like that anyway. I’d love to know what that does.

This is where my Andrea Moda team and I were far ahead of our time; we had a ‘magic’ button way back then. It was amazing – I pressed it once towards the end of 1992 and the whole team disappeared.

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January 2020
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