[F1 2018 NEWS FEATURE] MAURICE HAMILTON: GRAND PRIX FORMAT

Formula 1 news story about [F1 2018 NEWS FEATURE] MAURICE HAMILTON: GRAND PRIX FORMAT

Hardly a day goes by without a satisfaction survey of some sort landing in the Inbox. Most end up in the Trash, but I recently took time over answering questions posed by F1 on the format of Grand Prix weekends.

If nothing else, it caused pause for thought on something accepted as part of the daily F1 routine; much as you do when getting dressed and making the same journey to work each morning. The current F1 schedule has its irritations, but no more than that. So, when presented with the offer of making radical changes, what exactly might you suggest?

How about cutting FP1 and FP2 to one hour each? Fans who don’t get to attend many races would disagree and I sympathise with that, having made trips across the Irish Sea to Silverstone in the days when me and my mates wanted to savour every second of our annual pilgrimage.

But for those watching the current succession of tweaks and simulations on TV, 90-minutes is tedious, so much so that many viewers record each session and fast forward to the good bits, as highlighted by the summaries on your favourite website. Sometimes there’s no reason to switch on, never mind employ the remote.

In fact, given the choice, I would scrap Friday’s track action altogether and allow 90 minutes on Saturday morning for practice, followed by a 2-hour gap and then into qualifying. The teams would complain like crazy, of course. But these are the same people who would test all week if you let them. 

The limited running would affect everyone in the same way. The usual names, barring the occasional mishap, would be in the same places regardless of the time allowed, as has been proved in the past by Saturday practice and qualifying programmes, curtailed by weather, being shoehorned into Sunday morning (Japan 2004). 

The survey asked questions about qualifying. If there had been a suitable place for comment rather than box ticking, I would have written ‘DON’T TOUCH IT!’ The current format is slick, easily understood and provides drama most of the way through. At the end of it, the fastest man is on pole with the slowest (penalties excepted) at the back. 

These days, however, numbers are not enough. Audiences, flicking from platform to platform and sport to sport, crave relentless action. Would it be feasible to scrap FP3, hold qualifying on Saturday morning and then a sprint race, lasting 45 minutes in the afternoon, the finishing order of which decides grid positions for the Grand Prix? Sunday’s race would continue to be the climax of the weekend. (And, no, don’t shorten it; a Grand Prix should include endurance as a challenge). 

The settling of grid positions through a race on Saturday could be seen as devaluing the serious business of the championship. Judging by the tone of the survey’s questions, a way round that could be to have the Grand Prix grid positions continue to be decided by qualifying, but with Saturday’s sprint scoring reduced points, either for the world title or a separate championship. (The latter would have little credibility in the shadow of the former – much as Ken Tyrrell and Jonathan Palmer were two of the very few interested in the Colin Chapman and Jim Clark Trophies, run in conjunction within the 1987 world championship for the benefit of non-turbo cars.)

As the rules stand, a Saturday sprint would exacerbate difficulties making power units last. But these regulations should be changed in any case; three units per season is a ridiculous restriction that will ruin the racing later this year, bears no relevance to anything and has gone way beyond the original cost saving concept.

Whatever the alternatives, Liberty Media appear willing to consider change and should be commended for at least asking the paying public. The questions could have gone further, however. How about: ‘Should we ask Team Principals for their opinion?’ That would be a ‘NO’. In capital letters.