So we have heard a little more today about what the F1 Commission has been discussing. It is the first time this new body has met and as a result it is a bit new for everyone. January 1 2021 marked the start of the new commercial agreements and with them came a new regulatory structure, which seems a little fairer. I have already been into some detail on this in previous posts so we will just plough on rather than trying to further explain the impenetrable voting system, but as it is all supposed to be more secret than Donald Trump’s tax returns, I am not sure it matters so much.
However, for now that is not an issue because the big thing in the meeting was agreed unanimously – on the basis, I presume, that the deal included a little something for everyone. There were various topics of discussion, so they say, and two are of particular immediate interest: the 2022 engine freeze, and the race formats that are under discussion.
I think others will develop into interesting topics in time (not least the salary cap, the new engine rules and the aim to have another Portuguese GP) but we will gloss over these to some extent and concentrate on the important stuff. The engine freeze, which was asked for by Red Bull, is agreed. And the FIA will not block it. This is very sensible because it means that Red Bull will now be willing to go ahead with its project to take over the Honda engine project and call it whatever they want, depending on what terms Honda was willing to accept.
Back in 2009, when the Japanese manufacturer last walked out, the Honda F1 team became Brawn for a year and then transformed into Mercedes. If one has something similar in 2022 then it could be that in 2023 Red Bull might be using Honda-derived engines badged by a different manufacturer. (Step up to the plate anyone wanting a cheap deal…)
And who is to say that the same package could not be sold more than once? Anyway, we will see how it all pans out, but what we know is that early in 2022 the engine manufacturers will have to deliver a specification of engine that will stay basically the same in 2022, 2023 and 2024, the big difference being that the sport wants to introduce sustainable fuels during this period, which will mean that manufacturers who work closely with their fuel partners might be able to get (or lose) an advantage. We will all start discussing such things as direct air capture, which is quite fascinating…
The quid pro quo for everyone agreeing to this freeze is that they will get new engines in 2025, rather than 2026. And, if all goes to plan, these engines will be cheaper, sexier (noise-wise) and more sustainable. If these goals can be achieved, people think, we will see more manufacturers rushing in as the aim is to create more hybridisation, which people increasingly seem to want, as electric cars still have drawbacks, despite what some of the green mountebanks would have us believe. And just remember before you invest in a fully electric car that snake oil is not always green… even if the snakes are.
However, what I think is the most interesting part of the discussion today is that of the race formats. The plan I hear is for three races in 2021 to have something a bit different. And, Canadians, buy your tickets now if you want to be the first to see it… It’s a risk, of course, because COVID-19 is still swirling around, but F1 says it is going to do everything possible (and perhaps a few things that seem impossible) to have a full season as announced and running the new concept in Montreal is the plan. Having said that there is a clear message about the calendar as well, with the reference to a need to be flexible, which translates into a very clear message: “Things may change”.
So what are these race format proposals? Well, that is still a little bit under discussion but I am told that the idea is to have a Sprint race instead of the qualifying session. This will dictate the grid and it will not feature any kind of grid position reversals (Thank God). It is suggested that the first eight finishers will score points, but the scale of the points will be reduced.
This already happens in Formula 2 where the main race scores 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1 and the Sprint race scores 15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1. Thus, winning both races and scoring two fastest laps might, for example, be worth 42 points a weekend. That will make things a little more interesting in the World Championship. However, if one has a bad weekend, it will likely be a very bad one as a no-score in the Sprint Race and a lowly grid position in the main race will mean that a good driver could end up with very little. I spent some of yesterday listening to Formula 2 drivers talking about how important it is to be consistent and so this is what F1 drivers will need to be. Whether than is a good thing for producing better racing is a question worth debating.
What you can say is that the idea being put forward is not philosophically poisonous, as was the reversed grid mumbo-jumbo. The essence of the sport must remain the same, if a little compromised. We don’t yet know about tyre allocations or pit stops but a Sprint race will inevitably be shorter and allow teams to run softer rubber (at least, in theory) and there will be little gain from pit stops.
So what is good about it? Well, assuming it creates more action, there will be that for a start. It will also be good news for fans who find Fridays and Saturdays to be rather dull, adding spice to the current mix. You have to be REALLY passionate about the sport to pay any attention to the Free Practice sessions and some folks even find it hard to get excited about qualifying (although I am not one of them). If there is a Q session in place of FP2 which creates a race to determine the grid, then that’s not such a bad idea. More fans will watch on TV (and other devices), more will go to the tracks. The numbers will go up and, if all goes to plan, the revenues will follow. That’s the plan. I don’t see this being good news for young drivers who want to do FP1 sessions to get experience, but at the same time, I’m not really bothered because an awful lot of the people doing this at the moment are there because of the money they bring, not the talent they have. So, it will mean that when they get to F1 proper (if their money allows them do it) they will have to learn to swim or sink quite quickly. So, is that a bad thing?
I am sure that lot of people have opinions on such matters, so please feel free to make comments (polite ones please…)