How Would You Change the Public Perception of F1?

This post is part of Thursday Thoughts which this week is hosted by Gridwalk Talk. You can see the full set of responses in this Bit.ly bundle.

If you succeeded Bernie Ecclestone with controlling and owning Formula 1, how would you change the public perception of F1?

In many respects I think what poor perceptions F1 does have is down to the FIA as much as Bernie and FOM. The two go hand-in-hand. The poor stewards decisions of the last several years have had a bad effect on the perception of the series, particularly outside of what you might call the ‘heartlands’ here in Europe, I’ve noticed many IndyCar fans in particular have been quite negative towards it (though you may rightly argue those in glass houses shouldn’t be throwing stones).

Jean Todt’s FIA Presidency has taken large strides towards fixing one half of the image problem and I intend to write a post soon about the recent World Council decisions and not just those relating to F1. I really do think F1 is moving in the right direction in terms of the officialdom and stewardship by the FIA. Now it is time for the commercial arm to catch up.

One of the things which makes F1 different to other championships is that it is quite exclusive, in some ways I agree with it yet it doesn’t need to be taken to the extremes that have existed for a few years now. It isn’t necessary to have the whole paddock fenced off is it? Teams like Virgin and Lotus have done well to break down these barriers with paddock tours, while McLaren, Red Bull and others offer similar although I think maybe only to fan club members. I am sure there are areas which can be opened up a little.

The driver signing sessions at each GP have helped fan-access too and more of this sort of thing is to be encouraged.

I would also make sure the KangarooTV units were readily available at every race. I attended the Belgian GP and it was very useful indeed, I have no idea how I’d have kept track of the race otherwise because you can’t hear the circuit tannoy over the engines (and the circuit feed is available on it too, so the locals can stay informed too).

Online

Speaking both as a fan and as someone with a blog, the decision not to make better use of YouTube is frustrating. The ‘race edits’ and single-lap onboards at F1.com could easily be re-blogged by many a site with all the promotion that would bring, yet they’ve chosen to keep it locked to their own format complete with threatening copyright notice. There is the danger it could be used by every F1 fan site out there, but isn’t that better than denying the use of any F1 video at all? Many sites often resort to using ‘unofficial’ video, because there are times when you can’t get away with just not including what you are talking about. There should be a means of fans being able to locate and watch clips of moments in history, and for bloggers to be able to use them.

This is already happening elsewhere, all sorts of series, teams, drivers, and even race track owners are getting in on the action but their F1 equivalents have to navigate the minefield of what FOM will let them use. The same for TV companies who don’t have the rights to the coverage but wish to report on the latest happenings, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen reference to current F1 in some documentary or other – even reputable ones – yet they are using stock footage from 30 years ago, from before the restrictions came in. You have people making positive content showing F1 in a good light and they can’t use footage to showcase it. This is absolutely crazy.

The website itself is okay as a structure, could probably use a bit of work here and there. What it really needs is far more video. It should be possible to either watch the race live online or at least on a delayed basis, without commentary if that is a sticking point contractually (I am sure someone can provide it). If there is anything at all that is controversial a replay should be online within 24 hours for fans to review and form their own opinion, or even non-controversial things which are notable, at a director’s discretion. Get people talking about it – even more than they already do – without the need for those pesky unofficial YouTube videos. And upload them to YouTube officially.

Locations

Many complain about the ‘new’ venues in F1. While I am one of them I do like to give circuits more of a chance than some people do. It is worth trying to go to Korea because that is a big tech market, and while I’m sure it is little secret the race only exists because of a major sponsor of the series there is no reason why the Koreans can’t be big F1 fans in time. I have a gut feeling they’ll take to it better than the Chinese, who haven’t.

Ultimately every venue should be given the opportunity to grow and develop. If it doesn’t, it is time to move on.

The cost of race tickets needs urgent attention. F1 is seen as being far too expensive to follow in person. The sole cause of these costs are the fees charged to the circuits, who can only recoup that loss through ticket sales (trackside advertising revenue goes to the F1 Group). Lower the fees to a respectable level, allow the circuits to make a viable profit – even only a minor one – and the ticket prices will fall and the stands will fill once again. It doesn’t look good when even the most well-attended races have gaps in the stands.

I’d also have a word with the teams to get them to stop selling such extortionate merchandise. Who’s going to pay £75 for a fleece or £40 for a polo shirt? Particularly if you can’t wear the thing because it is plastered in bright logos? I’m not saying devalue the F1 association, just allow people to actually buy the stuff.

Other

‘Casual fans’ and non-fans complain F1 is too boring. This is potentially being addressed by almost-annual major rule changes. They didn’t necessarily work in 2010 when many races were pretty much just as unexciting as 2009 (interesting in their own way, just not exciting), although this year the championship battle was among the best there has ever been. Again, for 2011 there are some major rule changes – we all await the outcome of those. That’s mainly an FIA decision mind you.

I do think the new-for-2010 teams have done a lot to breathe fresh air into F1 in their approach to fans and this has helped F1’s perception as a whole. If the other teams take this lesson on board, and if FOM/FIA do too (which would be a minor miracle), I can see an even brighter future ahead.

It is amazing that F1 has enjoyed such phenomenal growth without such concessions to fans. Imagine what it could’ve done with more openness.

If you succeeded Bernie Ecclestone with controlling and owning Formula 1, how would you change the public perception of F1?
Advertisements

Are New Teams Welcome?

The three new teams made quite an impression on F1 this year. What do you think they brought to the sport? How would the year have been without them? Better or worse?
Thursday Thoughts question of the week

The three new teams have done a remarkable job over the last 16 months or so, starting entirely from scratch to run just 3 to 4 seconds off the frontrunning pace when many predicted they’d struggle to get within 7 seconds or so (which was their testing pace). What’s more they maintained the gap to the front despite the intense development of the championship teams, admittedly they could do so without the minute detail of the top teams.

In competitive terms they’ve really added an extra dimension to the season, they were each fighting and scrapping hard to not be the slowest of the slow and it got desparate at times! It was a race within a race, and it didn’t matter that they were 3 laps down in most races – I did think they jumped for blue flags a little badly quite frequently, coming to a complete stop seemed very dangerous to me and in my opinion caused the Webber crash in Valencia. That was my only real criticism of them.

Without them the back of the field would’ve seen Force India vs Toro Rosso vs Sauber until they improved themselves. Might have been good, these teams all have their fans which is all well and good but we’d be judging them on past form, so I reckon all three would’ve looked very lame indeed. I think we’d have seen line-up changes at more than just Sauber.

* Lotus have progressed amazingly from nothing last summer, to fielding a car within 9 months, to becoming the fastest and (largely) most reliable of the trio although they’ve suffered from hydraulic and other issues. The switch to Renault engines and Red Bull back end should propel them into the realm of the ‘existing’ teams, the added year of car development from people as good as Gascoyne and his team will surely do nothing but help too. The open-ness of Fernandes, Gascoyne, Kovalainen and various other team members as well, has been truly remarkable and particularly on Twitter. I hope they remain Lotus but if they don’t I’ll still be a fan.

* Virgin too are doing very well. They don’t have the experienced F1 unit of Gascoyne’s ex-Toyota crew although I’m sure they’d have recruited several experienced people by now. To design and manufacture an F1 car entirely digitally and have it some vaguely near the pace is a great achievement, especially when you consider the Virgin deal came fairly late in the gestation period. They are convinced they’ll make a jump forwards in the second year, I’m sceptical but then almost everybody was sceptical of them making a car at all, so I’m looking forward to what appears in February/March and I hope they are right. They’ve also got a great and pro-active Twitter presence. The flair of Richard Branson combined with the no-nonsense attitude of John Booth ought to be a match made in heaven. They’ve had far more than their fair share of hydraulic failure and this has cost them very dearly in terms of results. Reliability should remain a focus.

* Hispania have had a bumpy birth but they’ve proven everybody wrong and not only started the year… of sorts.. but also finished it, and finished it without being last (on quality of results). While they were the slowest team all year I really do think the Dallara chassis was better than it looked, sure it had a lot of problems as identified by Geoff Willis with fundamental design flaws, but it wasn’t inherently slow, it was just rushed. Production was stopped for a crucial month while Campos was ousted by Carabante. The car was not developed at all after relations with Dallara broke down during the year – they even ran the same wing design at every race, even at Monaco and Monza. You have to assume this car properly set-up and tuned and developed will have run Virgin close if not beaten them. Will we see them back next year? We will if Colin Kolles has anything to do with it. Of the three, this is the team I am most worried about for 2011 – they seem to have no car for next year other than the ones they already own. They could still end up being very embarrassing.

USF1 did actually fail, and spectacularly so. Stefan GP never really got going.

All three surviving new teams are very welcome and I hope Hispania survive even if they become the new Minardi. I loved Minardi’s spirit in the days before they became Paul Stoddart’s political plaything, they always kept going in the hope of future investment, no matter what troubles faced them they found a way through.

They’ve brought added competition, potential for the future, employment for paid drivers (and pay drivers who in reality aren’t all bad compared to standards of the past and of elsewhere), a vastly more open culture and attitude toward fans and sponsors alike, and very expensive merchandise. Get faster cars and affordable merch and I’m happy, long may they stay.

Thursday Thoughts – A Change of Track

Three cheers for the return of Thursday Thoughts! If you missed it last year, this is a series of questions posed over the off-season, a different ‘host blog’ asks each week and invites anyone to respond with an article on their own site. Any blog can take part and commenters without a blog are welcome to write guest posts for any of the blogs. That’s far too many uses of the word ‘blog’.

While the questions are usually F1-centric I do I try my best to expand them to relate to what else is happening in the racing world, perhaps things other championships are doing which they can teach F1 and vice versa, because that’s the remit of this.. site.

Here is the first question of the 2010/2011 off-season as posed by Christine at Sidepodcast:

Which are your worst three circuits, and what would you do to fix them?

My answer:

We all know several of the races on the F1 calendar are very boring and the circuits are largely at fault. We face two choices to fix them:  literally fix them by making changes, or drop them entirely.

It is interesting to note that IndyCar held races at a lot of boring venues in the last few years yet for 2011 several have been dropped in favour of circuits which will hopefully prove to more interesting – some are completely new and some are being revisited for the first time in years, which I think is a fascinating mix, I hope it is the right one. Touring car series are never afraid to mix up the circuit layouts at the venues they visit so that is another option, one already tried spectacularly badly by F1 in Bahrain this year, hopefully that doesn’t put them off trying elsewhere in future.

In March I wrote a post saying people complaining of boring racing need to broaden their minds a bit away from ‘overtake-per-minute changes-of-lead spectacle’, but there’s only so much anyone can take and there really is far too much follow my leader going on in the current era across many forms of racing, so IndyCar must be applauded for taking these steps.

Back to the issue at hand. The first thing to do is to pick the top three worst tracks in F1. This isn’t as easy as it might sound.

2010 featured 19 events and I automatically keep those in bold:  Sakhir, Melbourne, Sepang, Shanghai, Barcelona, Monaco, Istanbul, Montreal, Valencia, Silverstone, Hockenheim, Budapest, Spa-Franchorchamps, Monza, Singapore, Suzuka, Mokpo, Sao Paulo, Abu Dhabi.
Next year it’ll be Nurburgring’s turn in place of Hockenheim and we should see the first Indian GP in New Delhi if all goes to plan.

I’d like to give Korea another shot as I think they’ve learned a heck of a lot there, I expect some modifications and they ought to have a fair crack at the whip. We also must keep India because it hasn’t held a race yet and deserves the opportunity. As for Sepang and Istanbul – I happen like them, I know some don’t but I reckon they aren’t all that bad.

Germany isn’t stellar at either venue but is by no means the worst. I keep but give a a thorough ticking off to Silverstone for producing a bad GP this year on the new layout – the turns are too edgy and technical now, sort it out.

Now we move on to the questionable ones:

I just about keep Budapest because it has been modified extensively over the years. Time was when it was easily the worst GP of the year, it isn’t now and that’s not just because some worse ones have appeared since, they’ve worked hard to fix the problems and let’s give them credit. There’s still work to be done though, they shouldn’t rest easy.

I also just about keep Sakhir on the condition they use the original GP layout. I actually really like that fast section into the hairpin on to the back straight by the support pits and have done for a while now, that’s a great passing place. That said, I reserve the right to replace it later.

That leaves four: Valencia, Abu Dhabi, Shanghai and Barcelona. I’m going to cheat and bend the rules to suggest fixes for all of them. Here are my three and a bit worst tracks, in order:

3a. I’m actually going to surprise everyone and retain Abu Dhabi. It is a fantastic location, ‘day into night’ always looks great at any race track anywhere in the world and it works really well in this setting, and it is the best race ‘facility’ (cough, ugh, hate that term) in F1 if not the world. What needs changing is the track and looking at the map and thinking of the space available after watching on TV the other day, this can be done relatively easily with lots of small adjustments rather than one big fix.

– The tight chicane (turns 5 and 6) before the hairpin needs either to be removed completely or reprofiled to sit 100-200m earlier and be less tight. This will allow cars to get a decent level of speed into the hairpin and open up passing opportunities. They say they don’t want speed there because there’s no run-off, which is a severe lack of planning if ever there was some. So move the hairpin 20m down the track to create run-off.
– After the long straight there’s a tight left corner which immediately switches back into a turn to the right (turn 9), I can see they were trying to generate side-by-side racing here but the corners are far too tight, there is only one racing line and therefore no overtaking. The entire preceding “long straight into hairpin” concept is completely wasted by this little corner. Open it out to allow for two or three lines, if that means removing the switchback then so be it.
– Follow along and after another long straight is another little fiddly bit at turns 11-12-13. Turn 13 doesn’t need to exist, just link 12 to 14 directly. I’m not sure what can be done for the rest of the way because of the lack of room with the hotel buildings, but just continue along the same theme of opening up the racetrack and removing the technical corners which get in the way of overtaking opportunities.

3. Barcelona. I actually like the Spanish GP as an event, it looks to have a great atmosphere (occasional racists notwithstanding) near to what I’m assured is a fantastic city. The problem is again with the track. There’s one good passing place, the end of the back straight. I thought they’d ruined it when they changed that corner but it has worked really well, lots of overtaking attempts certainly in the GP2 races if not always the F1. What they have ruined is the final corner, needlessly mickey mouse and apparently to calm the MotoGP fraternity – I have to ask, the old circuit is still there, can the F1 cars not use that? I’ve also had a bit of a bugbear about turns 1 and 2, nearly every race starts with someone in the gravel there and I can see it could be turned into a better potential overtaking spot with some work. As of right now the corner is too fast and too narrow for passing by anyone other than the most committed. But there is a much wider problem because the races were boring here long before the chicane was put in. I don’t have any fixes other than to say “no testing at venues known to be holding a Grand Prix in the next calendar year”. The teams and drivers know this place intimately. I reluctantly drop this event, and perhaps replace it with a race at Motorland Aragon.

2. Shanghai. I don’t know what to suggest for the track itself. The one positive about it – it is really enjoyable to drive on sim racing games. As a race? Forget it. My recollections of Shanghai are that when this is a wet or damp race it is enjoyable, when it is dry it is really boring. We can’t guarantee wet races and anyway, what circuit isn’t enjoyable when it is wet or damp? The place is a hassle for everyone in F1 to get to, including visas and travel arrangements. If you’re trying to sell the place to the world you want to make it easy for everyone. I think after six years we’ve had enough now, let’s drop this one. In any case I’m not particularly comfortable holding an event like this in a country like this.

1. Valencia. The most boring circuit to emerge in years until the Bahrain extension came along, but there’s hope. Look at the map. This track is salvageable simply due to the little connection between turns 13 and 25. That long section looping around it doesn’t need to be there. Unfortunately that section is a bit more interesting than the long drag through the dockyard but there’s not much can be done about that. Connect up that link, use the short layout for a year or two, see if it helps the racing and if not.. goodbye. Perhaps this could free up some lap distance to be used to branch off at another point on the track, but only if the number of corners doesn’t exceed 18 in a 5km racetrack. If none of these fairly drastic changes works, bin the event. Sure the beach looks nice, sorry that’s not enough.

That’s my over-long answer, sorry about the number of words I got carried away. Do check out the other responses which are linked within the comments of the question post.

Thursday Thoughts: Blogging

The current run of Thursday Thoughts questions is brought to an end by Maverick from VivaF1.com, who asks at this Sidepodcast post:

“Which blog article or articles have you written that you were most pleased with writing and why?”

An interesting choice to move away from racing and to essentially ask why we are doing this, and I’ve enjoyed the other responses from people explaining why they blog and which posts they are proud of.

Two articles immediately spring to mind and they are both very recent ones.

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”false” link=”term=blog&iid=308841″ src=”0305/0000305564.jpg?adImageId=10974798&imageId=308841″ width=”380″ height=”289″ /]

The Importance of Social Media was a post I wrote about 3 weeks ago about the impact of Twitter on the racing world, from fans to media, to series, teams and drivers. The appearance of Claire Williams of the WilliamsF1 Team at the recent F1 tests armed with a mobile phone and Twitter/Twitpic accounts prompted a frenzy among F1 fans and blogs at the amazing level of access she was granting vicariously to the humble follower. Vision Racing had the same effect on the IndyCar community last season and I had been planning to write a Twitter article for a while on that basis. Claire’s appearance was the perfect excuse.

I liked writing that post because I see that as the purpose of the blog – to take a currently popular issue and look at it from a wider angle. I’m not trying to crow about knowing more about other series, it is just that is where my interest lies. Others prefer to specialise on one thing to the nth degree and that’s great too, I tend to take a broader view without knowing such detail. That post is notable as easily the most-viewed post I’ve ever written, and it got noticed by Vision Racing themselves.

In terms of the pure enjoyment of writing, the post I like the most is Managing Expectations from just a couple of weeks ago. It stemmed from an endless Twitter stream of negative comments over a few weeks, usually during NASCAR races – and because NASCAR runs Nationwide on Saturday and Cup on Sunday each to a good 3+ hours, that meant every weekend evening. It also occurred midweek in general conversation and was took in every series you can name. There were many blog posts too. I’m not singling anyone out, several people were at it.

People were complaining about races being boring before a track had held a race, or because of what had happened last year with no consideration for other years, or the changes made since, or because of what they thought the new IndyCar proposals would do, or boring purely and simply because they weren’t IRL on a 1.5 mile oval.

After a while I realised that people’s expectations had changed – rather than the old-style ‘best man wins’ format, they wanted to watch two hours of constant passing every week from March to November. Racing just isn’t like that for the majority of the time, and it never has been, so I decided to state that case. The next day I was pleasantly surprised to find some excellent comments in response, that it wasn’t just me feeling this way.

Why do I blog?

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”false” link=”term=blog&iid=302466″ src=”0299/cd0e3036-359e-4cec-a017-3150de58ef00.jpg?adImageId=10974775&imageId=302466″ width=”234″ height=”233″ /]

Most of the time I blog simply because I feel like writing about something. Sometimes I’m guilty of blogging because I feel I’m expected to. Occasionally I blog because something is eating away at me and I need to get it out, and Managing Expectations was such a post. I felt a wave of relief when it was posted, and it was very pleasing to see the response – it is the posts like this that I like the best. I just don’t feel capable of doing one or two of those every week.

I like compariing similarities and differences between series, to take one idea and expose it to another arena. I also liked it when Mike Conway joined IndyCar and nobody there knew who he was. I was able to say so. Not many people read it because my blog was much smaller at the time, but that’s not the point!

I’ve been looking at the archive to see if there are older posts worth mentioning. For a long time I wrote reports of every F1 race and most IRL races. Unlike other blog’s race notes I was able to provide quite a bit of detail, I think because I can type quickly and because I expanded a set of more basic live notes. I did enjoy those, and in a way I’m sad that I’m not continuing the same format this year, unfortunately they were just too time-consuming.

I used to write shorter blog posts like this one, I miss those and I’m going to bring them back.

Here’s a note on the name of the blog from October 2008 which the people of Sidepodcast may get a kick out of, and yes I was plugging ARFL even then. 🙂

A little over a year ago I wrote about my first impressions of the Daytona 500, having never sat down to watch it before.

I’m also pleased with my posts about visiting BTCC at Silverstone and the Goodwood Festival of Speed parts 1, 2 and 3. I never did finish the FoS reports, there were supposed to be five or six parts. These were as much about the pleasure in the post’s layout as much writing about my experiences, I learned I could lay out photos in what I think is a good design. I’m not sure the layout has transferred correctly to WordPress but it isn’t too bad.

And finally just for posterity, this was my first blog post. Technically it is only the first post on this blog (or rather the old incarnation), in 2005 I had a Live Journal blog when I lived in Scotland, I was supposed to keep it updated with what I was doing so the family could have something to refer to… it didn’t last long and I don’t even know if it still exists.

In closing I’d like to leave a note about Thursday Thoughts itself, and while I’ve not answered the last couple of questions because I’ve either had other things on or I simply didn’t have an answer, on the whole I’ve really enjoyed the series and it was a great idea to encourage people to blog over the off-season. Thanks to Jackie and RG for the idea and to the gang at Sidepodcast for pushing the idea along and hosting the first few questions to get it established. I really hope it returns next off-season!

Thursday Thoughts: Fan Attendance

Thursday Thoughts this this week comes from Adie at F1 Tailpipe:

What can F1 do to enhance the experience of fans in attendance at the circuit? Does the ‘exclusivity’ of the sport add to the mystique of F1 in general, or has F1 set itself too far apart from your Average Joe?

I can’t really answer the first question because I’ve never attended a Grand Prix in either a grandstand or general admission so I don’t know what is currently on offer – though I was lucky enough to watch the 2003 Monaco Grand Prix from a balcony over Ste. Devote! Perhaps the only thing I can suggest here is to lower the ticket prices. The cost of attending a race is just excessive. I’m going to the Belgian GP this year and it’s costing a lot of money, €340 for a 3-day ticket at Eau Rouge (which admittedly is one of the most expensive areas of the track). Imagine taking a family – well you just wouldn’t would you?

I suppose the subject of pricing leads into the other question, the reason for the high prices is the air of exclusivity. Bernie and FOM/FOA have deliberately spent the best part of the last 15-20 years turning F1 into an exclusive club of high-rolling teams, creating the Paddock Club for people to spend thousands to ‘be seen’ among the higher classes (and even that doesn’t grant access to the main paddock). I don’t have a problem with these – it was the right thing to do to move away from the the no-hopers filling the field – though I miss Minardi – and I hope we aren’t returning to the days of cars multiple seconds off the pace and threatening to fold.

What seems to have happened at the same time is a relentless rise in ticket prices for the general fan. While I appreciate that watching quality teams and drivers is worth paying a slight premium, we are past the point where this was a reasonable and understandable rise – and I mean a long way past, say ten years.

This has mainly come about because Bernie had the circuits sign up to high fees with an annual ‘escalator’ clause, and the only way they could get their money back was to raise prices. The problem is that while facilities for teams have improved, facilities for spectators in the main have not. At many race tracks you are still presented with a basic seat or an earth bank, a portable toilet, and a burger van. For facilities like that I wouldn’t expect to pay over £70 for a weekend and we’re being asked to part with much more.

I would say either the prices need to come down, or there needs to be ‘value added’ to make the money worth paying.

There are signs this is already happening. Many races offer concerts on the Saturday and/or the Sunday of the weekend which I think is a really good idea. For some of the names they bring in you’d normally pay £40 or £50 per ticket for a gig.

As I suggested in a previous Thoughts post, there needs to be more fan involvement in the GP weekend. Drivers should be made to hold a joint signing session in a public area of the grounds, or even more than one area, and preferably once or twice per day. There should also be a pitlane walkabout each day, whenever it can be scheduled in.

I am not sure what else could be done in terms of things that could be laid on as extras at no extra cost. More support races perhaps, but only the die-hards would care about those unless they were aimed at being ‘fun’ – let’s say we make the top F1 drivers race the top GP2 drivers in some production cars or perhaps in the Porsche Supercup cars. Do it at 10.30am Sunday, late enough for people to get to their seats but early enough that it doesn’t get in the way of GP prep-time for the drivers.

All of these are simple things that could be achieved with only a little effort and thought while retaining the cachet F1 should always have.

Thursday Thoughts: Your Ideal Team

Thursday Thoughts this week comes from Journeyer who asks:

If you were a team boss with 3 vacant seats (2 race seats and 1 test seat), who would you hire?

If I were a team boss in F1 with an unlimited amount of money, I’d want to pick a fast team of drivers but also ones who will get on well with each other. There is no point having animosity in the team leading to a split within the garage, we saw the damage that did to McLaren.

I would also want two potential race winners, perhaps one faster than the other, who would go for the title while the second can back him up should he falter. That’s not to be confused with a ‘team orders’ situation where the weight of the team is squarely behind one man. I actually think the line-up that would best fit this description exists already, at Red Bull. Vettel is marginally quicker than Webber, who is still under-rated for some reason. They would both be free to win races but I’d lean toward Vettel for the title run, just as the team did last year. If I were picking two guys to work together, I’d pick these two and it just so happens they are already teammates.

There are plenty of reasons why you would hire Hamilton, Alonso, Button or Raikkonen (or even Michael Schumacher). The only one that tempts me from that list is Button, the others just seem like too much hard work, too demanding in terms of preferential treatment. Yes, even Kimi.

My test driver would be an experienced hand who’s had a long career but is maybe looking to gradually find his way out rather than stop dead, and also knows how to set up a car. That’s why I choose Rubens Barrichello. He’d be my ‘third driver’. I’d also keep Anthony Davidson hanging around for testing and development purposes, I want to put him in a race seat and if when running him I find out why Mark is under-rated I can easily slot Ant into the seat.

Being a perfect world I’d move these drivers – and Adrian Newey – to Williams. I am a fan of Williams and it is time they were championship contenders again. Rubens can do his year of racing with them and then can move into testing. Of course, if Nico H turns out to be dynamite I reserve the right to change my mind about any of this.

So that’s who I would pick if my talent pool was restricted to current F1 drivers, but that’s not answering the question completely honestly. If I truly wanted my ideal team I’m going to do something radically different.

I’m going to hire Juan Pablo Montoya and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Again at Williams because JPM should never have left them, and because Ryan is a born Williams driver if ever I laid eyes on one. Montoya’s never-give-up attitude struck fear into Schumacher himself, and if Michael is back I want Juan back. I’ve always been a fan of Juan, right back to the CART days. I think what he’s achieved in racing is fantastic and is criminally overlooked. Plus his new-found experience of tyre-management in NASCAR, where you have to nurse them, will help massively in the new-look F1 this year.

In the second car, Hunter-Reay is arguably the best road-course racer in IndyCar right now and is American too, which is what F1 needs, and I don’t care if it screws up IZOD’s marketing plan. Have him learn F1 for a year or two and then he can take over the title challenge in the 3rd year after Juan gets bored and does something else. RHR would make a brilliant F1 driver.

Thursday Thoughts: New Tracks, Deleting Tracks

This week’s Thursday Thoughts question comes from Dylan of Triple League Racing, who asks:

What Track or Tracks not on the current F1 season calender do you want added?  Also, what current tracks need to go.  And finally, if this isn’t enough, how many Grand Prix’s should F1 have?

To answer the last question first, I like racing, I like lots of racing and the more the better yet despite this I’ve always felt F1 should feature no more than 19 races per year (too many is overload) and no fewer than 17 races (too few means an agonising wait between events), so the calendars we’ve seen for the last few years have had the right number of races for me. I also like having an odd number of races – I don’t know why – so that leaves either 17 or 19.

People lose interest quickly and with too few events I can see interest waning. Yet most of us like to have off-weekends in the summer months to enjoy that time of year properly, so we don’t want to bombard everyone with weekly races. I believe F1 works best with fortnightly events. Back-to-back weekends can work in some seried but I really don’t think they do in F1 more than once or twice per season, so I’d ensure most races were followed by an off-week, with the exception of some of the ‘flyaway’ races.

F1 seems to be different to other series in that it can take a week to dissect the events of a Grand Prix, and then you spend all of the next week building up the talking points for the next GP. It isn’t just ‘oh I’ll turn the TV on to watch the next one’, there’s a whole cycle and that’s why we love it.

So… which races would I drop, and what would I bring in?

Let’s list the 2010 season and mark in bold the races or venues I consider to be essential.

Sakhir, Bahrain
Melbourne, Australia
Sepang, Malaysia
Shanghai, China
Barcelona, Spain
Monaco
Istanbul, Turkey
Montreal, Canada
Valencia, Spain (European GP)
Silverstone, UK
Hockenheim, Germany
Hungaroring, Hungary
Spa-Franchorchamps, Belgium
Monza, Italy

Singapore
Suzuka, Japan
Korea
Interlagos, Brazil
Abu Dhabi

That’s 9 essential races out of a possible 19, call it 18 if we discount Korea because it hasn’t held a race yet, so that’s half. That’s much better than I thought before I started, but still not enough. If Formula 1 is to keep calling itself the world’s premiere racing series then *every event needs to be unmissable*.

Some on the list have the potential to be better if the car tech specs are changed, yet there are others that will never be good. What’s immediately for the chop with no reprieve?

Valencia – the circuit is too long, too boring and uninspiring and runs through a dockyard. I’d tell the organisers this:  change the layout to run past something interesting like the Arts & Sciences building, any kind of landmark at all. While you’re doing that you can think of a circuit that does not involve 25 corners in 3.5 miles, which is as guaranteed a creator of bad races if ever I heard one. Or drop it completely – if we’re to have a second Iberian race, how about the new Portimao circuit in Portugal? Okay it’s in the middle of nowhere, but so is Silverstone. If Valencia can’t be changed let’s go to the Algarve.

Shanghai – nobody in China cares, and the races are tedious. I can’t suggest an alternative in the region, so let’s use this slot to bring back the United States Grand Prix at Indy, run on the current MotoGP course rather than the previous F1 course.

Hungaroring – the circuit has invested in upgrades continually since it first held a GP in 1986 and the circuit today is FAR better than the one we saw back then… but really, I think we’ve had enough. Let’s go to Brno instead, that’s a fantastic course.

Nurburgring – given the choice of the two emasculated German venues, I’d choose Hockenheim. Nurburgring doesn’t generate good racing, and at least Hockinhalf is wide enough for passing. We need a German race and Hockenheim is it. Plus the atmosphere in the stadium section looks awesome – it has dropped off in recent years, expect the place to be packed again this year with Schumi back and in a German(-badged British) team.

Let’s be controversial – I think there is an argument for retaining Bahrain, some races have been boring but others have created great overtaking so let’s leave it in – ignoring the proposed new fiddly loop. I also think it is too soon to make a judgement call on Abu Dhabi despite the dire race there last year – I’d give it one more year before ejecting it.

I also retain Korea on the schedule because we have to give opportunities to new venues – though we’re all sceptical because of the maps, I’d like to wait until we’ve seen a race there before we completely slate it as I have no doubt we will. I’d keep it for 2010 and be ready to remove after a couple of years.

Also unchanged of the non-bold items:
I quite like Sepang and contrary to many Tilke circuits it has evolved a character and is reputedly developing bumps, so it isn’t ridiculously smooth any more. It has always been an interesting challenge in its own right anyway and it remains my favourite of the new-generation circuits.

Barcelona stays in because we need a Spanish race and I can’t think of anywhere else suitable. The racing is not great at all, I know that, but where else do you go? Jerez doesn’t seem suitable, the Ricardo Tormo Valencia circuit is a bit Mickey Mouse for my liking and I’ve already ditched the street track..

Singapore – Today they announced they were reviewing the circuit layout for the 2011 event to make the circuit faster. I like that kind of thinking and they’d already made good changes between 2008 and 2009, so they can stay. I’d probably tell the F1 personnel to stop being so silly in staying on European time when they run on Japanese time the following week.

I’d move the races around to be more like a journey around the world, mainly to aid personnel travel. Start in Australia, stop in Asia a few times on the way back to the summer in Europe, with a quick visit to North America, before flying back out to Singapore/Korea/Japan and ending in Brazil. I’d also separate the two night races, one early in the year and one at the end.

Rules:
Albert Park to start the year and Interlagos to end it.
Monza always follows Spa.

My schedule would look like this:

Melbourne, Australia
Sepang, Malaysia
Sakhir, Bahrain
Abu Dhabi*
Portimao, Portugal
Barcelona, Spain
Monaco
Istanbul, Turkey
Montreal, Canada
Indianapolis, United States
Silverstone, UK
Hockenheim, Germany
Brno, Czech Republic
Spa-Franchorchamps, Belgium
Monza, Italy
Singapore
Korea*
Suzuka, Japan
Interlagos, Brazil

* to be replaced in 2011/2012 should it prove to be boring