2016 Formula 1 Preview

In some ways the 2016 F1 season is for me a sort of season-long referendum. You see, for the last couple of years, I’ve been bored. And I’m not alone.

Engines

Not because of the engines. Hybrids are essential for relevance, for technological development and yes, for PR. If anything the hybrid rules aren’t open enough – despite being more advanced than most championships, F1 is currently 2nd to the WEC on both hybrid technology and raceability.

Drivers

Not because of the drivers. The drivers are as good as any set of drivers in history. Not better, not worse. Would I change some? Yes. But ultimately this isn’t like the days of absolute no-hopers, running massively off the pace and/or crashing all the time. Given the opportunity, these drivers would be just as racy and just as exciting as those in any other era. They don’t have that opportunity and probably won’t this year either. Let’s hope they do in 2017. It would be nice if they could say what they think a bit more, but fans have been asking for that for a long time – and actually in the last few months the likes of Alonso, Button and Vettel have been more outspoken.

Teams

I’m a little bored of the teams but they are only playing to the rules of the game.

I’m not even bored by domination. It happens. And dammit I sat through the Ferrari years 2000-2004 so I’ll bloody well sit through this! What I learned in the Ferrari years was to watch the midfield because the midfield is fascinating. Plus any fan who watches sportscar racing should be adept at watching the entire field, the entire story, not just at who is going to win overall. Mercedes or Red Bull or Ferrari running away with it isn’t fun, we’d all like more competition, but ultimately they’ve done the better job and any frustrations should be directed at the other teams for not being as good.

Tyres

I’ve been bored by the tyres. F1 shouldn’t be about conserving tyres. Even 24-hour endurance racing isn’t about conserving tyres these days, they go hell-for-leather the whole way, so why is F1? It would be okay if they were designed to the limit and the drivers were pushing to the edge. But they aren’t. The current F1 tyres are designed to be artificially bad in the hope of improving ‘The Show’. But it doesn’t work. Teams always push the limit, so instead of burning through the tyres and pitting several times, the drivers now cruise to the next stop, well below their own performance and that of the car, to make the tyres last as long as possible and reduce the number of pit stops – this is faster over a race distance. The Bridgestones and Michelins of 10 years ago would run rings around them.

Leadership

I’ve also been bored by the appalling way F1 is being run. Grands Prix in authoritarian dictatorship states. A fundamental lack of marketing from Bernie & FOM, quite the opposite actually when the promoter actively talks the sport down. A terrible financial model which, despite making tens of millions, leaves some teams struggling and circuits making considerable losses even though they have to charge fans hundreds of pounds, euros or dollars just for basic seats.

Oh and DRS, just.. no.

If this carries on, I don’t know how much longer I can keep watching. It would be a tremendously hard wrench to stop watching entirely, but I’m already at the stage where F1 Grands Prix are no longer ‘must-see TV’. Right now I don’t mind whether I miss a race live and watch it later. There are races on the calendar I don’t care if I miss entirely. I never, ever thought I’d get to that stage, let alone contemplate giving up.

Upsides!

Think positively. What has kept me going has been the pure sport. It is still there, if you dig hard enough. The stories. The improvements team to team. The way drivers tackle the races. The new drivers coming through (and sadly the unfortunate talented drivers getting shafted by teams desperate for cash). The differences between teams and cars even if those are ever-shrinking. Despite all the problems, somewhere underneath it all a version of the sport still exists.

2016 is interesting. There’s the very real possibility Mercedes will be challenged by Ferrari. There’s disruption in the midfield among Red Bull, McLaren, Renault (ex-Lotus) which will really mix things up, if not in 1st and 2nd in the race result then certainly from 3rd to 18th.
There are new tyres rules, complicated ones, which should add a variable without affecting things too greatly.
There’s also this weird new qualifying system, I won’t dwell on it but let’s say firstly I’m not (yet) a fan, on paper not at all, but also let’s say we should see it before judging. I’m keeping an open mind.

There are signs things are changing. The sport is finally listening to the fans – for better or for worse. Changes to the cars are coming in 2017 or 2018, they may not be the right changes, it certainly doesn’t look like it, but we’ll find out in due course. At least by then F1 cars ought to be jaw-dropping fast again!

Even Pirelli seems to be getting the message – make better tyres.

TV Deal

The UK has an exciting new TV deal with Channel 4 taking over. I’ll miss the BBC coverage but most of that team has landed at C4 and the number of hours seems about the same as the recent BBC deal, and I’m used to that now. Let’s face it, even hardcore fans don’t need live coverage of 21 races worth of practice sessions. And the highlights give me a chance to do other things in the day before settling in to watch – just as long as I avoid social media (spoilers!). I’m really intrigued to see what C4 can bring to the experience.

Team By Team

My team-by-team preview follows in the next post.

Conclusion

Whilst I agree with the need to go for the hybrid formula, I think it has been done the wrong way, and with the wrong tyres. But the competitiveness side of things should even itself out if the rules remain fairly stable and others catch up, and I hope that’ll show signs of happening this year.

Will 2016 be ‘The Best Year Ever’? No, of course not. But it could be the best year of the 1.6 litre hybrid era, and that’ll be good enough for me.

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2 thoughts on “2016 Formula 1 Preview”

  1. Good points well made however, in my opinion, there’s more to the subject than tyres and hybrid engines.

    First off, a huge amount of expense is expended on aerodynamic downforce. There’s no such thing, it’s not possible to make ambient air pressure increase. The ‘effect’ of downforce is created by a partial vacuum created under the cars and wings, essentially sucking the cars onto the ground. OK, pedantic but it’s worth mentioning as there’s a lot of rubbish spouted about the subject.

    One of the reasons for the lack of overtaking without DRS (idiotic concept) is that cars can’t follow each others closely enough through corners. They can’t slipstream on the straight before using the extra speed gained to pass, or at worst, draw alongside before the next corner because they can’t get close through the corners.

    The answer is to ban all aerodynamic downforce altogether, make the cars run neutral aero which would have a number of benefits.

    The vast expense of aero would be eliminated at a stroke allowing smaller teams a far better chance of competing. Overtaking with no artificial aids would be realistic. At the same time ban in car radio’s altogether other than for marshalls safety purposes. That might also reduce the number of strategist’s sitting in remote HQ’s all bashing laptops to find the optimal, momentary solution. Whilst overt driver coaching is no longer allowed, it’s simply coded and disguised now.

    Those reasons alone are attractive but there’s more. The cars would be faster on the straights without all the aerodynamic resistance, but where do accidents happen? Rarely on the straights, they happen on corners so the reduced corner speed would make crashes slower. As an added benefit, the shingle beaches known as run off’s could also be smaller allowing closer spectating.

    Fuel consumption would also be reduced by eliminating artificial drag. Although the subject is utterly facile in the face of the fuel used in transporting an entire F1 circus globally by air, it might placate the green brigade somewhat.

    So we have a better, fairer, cheaper competition. And the single most recited objection to all this? Lap times would increase. “That would mean GP2 would be ‘faster”. So get rid of aero on GP2 as well!

    As for the event itself being promoted as entertainment, the fact is, whilst every other motorsport has almost re-invented itself in the last 30 or 40 years, F1 is stuck with a single concept. 20+ cars droning around a track in pursuit of an artificially manipulated lap time.

    There are other options, why can’t we have hill-climb’s, pursuit events, proper road races like the NW 2000 or time trials like the IOM TT. If bikes can lap the TT track at 130mph+, why can’t F1 cars? The nonsense that tracks like the Nurburgring are too dangerous and safety personnel can’t get to crashes quickly enough are reduced to pathetic excuses when the TT is marshalled so effectively. Why can’t we have two or three race weekends as in World and British Superbikes?

    The net effect of mixing the competition formats would be to allow teams to focus on their best events and perhaps give backmarkers the opportunity to at least get some points.

    And can we blame manufacturers for shunning the sport when the lions share of the publicity is focussed on, with the exception of Vettel and Button, characterless, overpaid drivers with nothing meaningful to mumble other than whinges.

    The sport began not as a driver’s, but a manufacturer’s championship with spectators little more than an inconvenience. So why do we only have 4 manufacturers supplying engines? Why do we only have 2 factory teams? Why have we lost Ford, Maserati, Jaguar, BMW etc. as competitors in a championship originally designed to prove who makes the best cars, not one to prove who’s the best driver.

    There is no motivation for other manufacturers to compete in a vastly expensive sport when they can’t play to their own strengths and innovate. Why are we stuck with a hugely expensive single engine format? Why aren’t diesel’s allowed, or normally aspirated engines be they rotary or V12’s? The original reason was cost reduction, but that feeble excuse has been exposed as nonsense by the threat of imposing a cheap, standardised, single manufacturer engine in the recent round of political posturing.

    We can be guaranteed of only one thing. Max Mosely’s vision of a glorified Formula Ford event, with standard chassis and engines, designed to prove who is the best driver, is closer than we think. That failed attempt by Bernie and Todt was only the first round in an unlimited round fight.

    Finally, Bernie has to go. And I say that with the greatest respect for him having publicised the sport more successfully than anyone ever has. He and Max supported driver safety initiatives and should be recognised for that. But the man is 85 (?) years old and now living in the past. He can’t see beyond the concept of cars droning monotonously round boring, billiard smooth, artificial tracks with few natural contours that represent the roads we drive on. And that my friend’s is where it all came from. The spectacle of cars racing on roads people recognised; the last true example of which is Monaco. And whilst we can’t shut a city every weekend, we have abandoned true circuits like Brands and Oulton with their unique characters and challenges for both car and driver.

    If ever there was an opportunity to unseat F1 with a novel, adventurous formula, it is right now.

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  2. Fantastic comment. I don’t agree with it all but I certainly agree with the need for change.

    My understanding was the wings don’t increase pressure above the car, but they decrease pressure under the car (the partial vacuum you talk about). This has the effect of speeding up the air that passes under the car.

    This is also why F1 cars – or all single-seaters – should have tunnels in the floor the way the CART/ChampCar cars of the mid-2000s did, because it allowed them to reduce the wing size yet race quickly and close together.

    I wouldn’t ban all aerodynamic devices but I would heavily restrict them and allow development in other ways. Like the tunnels, or S-ducts and F-ducts, or some other way that we might not know about yet. But ultimately aero tricks have no relevance to anything other than racing cars going quickly so I see no reason for teams to spend most of their time focussing on them.

    The other potential problem is what to do with all those unemployed aero engineers. Maybe some of the teams could start an aircraft business..

    I like the spectacle of cars cornering quickly but the disturbed air and the short braking zones are detrimental to racing.

    Fuel reduction may be tiny in comparison to the jets and multitudes of trucks (surely the next things to limit are the ridiculous “motorhomes” requiring 5 trucks to move around Europe) carrying the cars around. But if they help improve the technology of road cars – of which the jury is out because I sort of think the car companies are working on that independently anyway – then that benefit scaled across millions of cars globally over the coming years will have a positive effect on fuel use and emissions as a whole.

    I am not so sure about introducing other race formats. A Grand Prix is a Grand Prix and it has been neutered enough. Indy car racing has a storied history of including Pike’s Peak and dirt ovals and who knows what else, perhaps that is the series that should consider such things.

    The Nordschleife is definitely too dangerous for open wheelers. Have you seen the speeds GT3s are doing there now? Even a slowed F1 would require the bumps and creases to be ironed out. You can’t do that to the Norsdschleife.

    I believe opening the formula to multiple engine formats and multiple hybrid options (supercapacitor or battery or flywheel – or more than one?) would attract more manufacturers. The only problems are cost and regulatory equivalence, both of which LMP1 has solved – for now – though it too only has 3 manufacturers.

    Drivers are so asinine because they have PR bods following them everywhere at every race, dictaphone ever present. They can’t say what they think or they’d be fired.

    Bernie has to go. I’ve been saying it for 15 years. He did fantastic things and the series would be considerably worse if not for him, but his time ended at the end of the ’90s, or perhaps early ’00s.

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