Want more overtaking in Formula 1? Don’t send a committee to do a man’s job*
Yesterday I suggested that we ought to wait a few races – gather more data, if you like – before we start rushing to apply a ‘fix’ to Formula 1. It’s a touchy subject, and one that polarises opinion. I was struck by Mr C’s comment:
i think the issue is, the circumstances that unfolded in bahrain were entirely predictable by anyone with half a brain, 2 years ago, when the FIA said “we’re banning refuelling, but we aren’t changing nothing else”. or words to that effect.
The former president of the FIA often spoke about how difficult it is to effect change in F1, chiefly because of the intransigence of the stakeholders. It’s the same in many sports and industries; the more people involved in making a decision, the more diluted, compromised, ineffectual and utterly loathed the result.
In recent years the FIA formed the Overtaking Working Group with the aim of putting technical experts from various teams together to find ways of ‘improving the show’. They had some good ideas, but the package of new regulations they arrived at was fundamentally flawed, for it permitted the widely despised double diffuser – a concept used to great effect in 2009 by Brawn GP, whose team principal sat on the OWG.
I’m reminded of a wry joke told by the former Labour MP, Tony Benn, to satirise the British Broadcasting Corporation’s obsession with steering committees and working groups:
The BBC had a rowing competition with the Japanese and lost. So John Birt [former BBC Director General] set up a working party to try and find out why. They found that while the Japanese had eight people rowing and one steering, the BBC had one rowing and eight steering. The working party decided to employ consultants to devise a solution. They decided that what the BBC really needed was three steering managers, three deputy steering managers and a director of steering services. The rower, meanwhile, should be made to row harder. When they faced the Japanese and lost again, the director of steering services decided to sack the rower, sell the boat and give himself a pay rise.
If we’re to acknowledge that F1 has an overtaking problem, then the solutions we apply cannot be piecemeal, for that in itself is continuing the tradition of the ugly compromise. We must reject short-term fixes. ‘Edgier’ tyres? Sorry: no can do. Under no circumstances would Bridgestone willingly submit to a solution that guarantees bad PR for them; and in any case, it’s merely a sticking plaster. Reverse grids? Over my festering corpse, and those of everyone else who believes in the purity of motor racing.
A couple of years ago I interviewed some senior technical personnel from various teams for a ‘science of overtaking’ piece in F1 Racing magazine. The feedback on how to improve overtaking was very clear: it should be 50 per cent geared to changing the cars and 50 per cent towards changing the circuits. The cars should be rebalanced so that the majority of downforce is created by the underbody rather than the wings; and circuit designers should aim to create more than one ideal racing ‘groove’ through corners. The former is obviously more attainable than the latter, but it still requires an effort of will to push through.
This is usually the point at which otherwise intelligent people take leave of good sense and suggest that Hitler, while out of order on many points, at least got the trains running on time. I’ve never been able to understand why being a genocidal maniac was a prerequisite for adherence to a timetable. In F1 I’d settle for a disinterested (in the proper definition of the word, ie ‘unbiased by personal interest’) party with the technical expertise to envision a long-term regulatory framework and the clout to push it through against the sport’s torrent of vested interests. Any volunteers?
*Apologies for the gender-specific title. Of course a woman would be equally capable of performing the task – but ‘person’ makes for a weedy headline, don’t you think?