Formula 1 news story about [F1 2018 NEWS FEATURE] MAURICE HAMILTON: RACE FORMATS

Lewis Hamilton has sparked yet another debate about the state of F1 by saying he would not be averse to a rethink in various areas of the Grand Prix format. He’s not using his status as World Champion to demand change; merely putting the idea out there.

Reaction has been predictably varied, ranging from ‘Don’t change a thing’, to suggestions remarkable in their complexity. One website correspondent took nearly 900 words (that’s the length of this column and half again) to explain a three-tier qualifying system so convoluted that readers – and, presumably, spectators – will have lost the will to live before the first car has turned a wheel. Although presented in meticulous detail, the idea is actually a perfect advert for keeping things straightforward. 

As discussed in this column in June, apart from the questionable business of the top-10 having to start the race on tyres used to set their fastest times in Q2, qualifying as we know it works on several counts, not least its relative simplicity. We have cars on track for the best part of an hour; an easily understood elimination process (and accompanying desperate laps for drivers in the drop zone), culminating in what is invariably a tense shoot-out for pole. 

But, please; no single lap qualifying. It’s been tried before and somehow failed to provide the expected drama. For some reason a car on its own – particularly if, with the greatest of respect, a candidate for the back of the grid – just doesn’t create the same pulse-raising dynamic as several cars out at once. The only plus is the threat of varying track conditions putting a spin on the predicted order.

As for the recent idea of splitting qualifying into four sections: this smacks of tinkering just for the sake of it. Qualifying is one of the few things that works well right now; don’t mess with it!

Lewis talks about some circuits not being exciting and mentions – Heaven forbid – reverse grids. Apart from devaluing laps of such brilliance when he took pole in Singapore, it misses the point.

Yes, the racing is indeed dull at times. But that has very little to do with the tracks or the grid order. The various sub committees would be better focused on reducing the effect of downforce, getting rid of complex front wings (beyond what is planned for next year), finding an alternative to grid penalties for drivers affected by power unit and gearbox changes, and specifying tyres that allow the drivers to constantly push to the limit rather than purely on the in-lap before a pit stop. In short; give us cars that can race. Is that too much to ask?

There also seems to be a belief that F1 should have more than two teams dominating. It would certainly be a very nice thought to have, say, Force India and Renault threating to push Ferrari and Mercedes off the front row next weekend in Austin. But F1 isn’t like that. 

Ever since Bernie Ecclestone was a boy, there has always been just one or two teams consistently getting their sums right each season. It’s the nature of the beast. The only thing that works against us in these days of remarkable reliability is the absence of mechanical failures to shake up the predicted results. 

The situation could be ameliorated by a reduction in cost to help the smaller teams, and a closing of the performance gap that always comes when the technical regulations remain untouched. But that shortcoming is part of the on-going contradiction where the existing engine manufacturers vote against getting rid of the expensive MGU-H because the subsequent revamp would bring unnecessary cost and then, this week, one not particularly successful supplier complains that Honda are hiking up the budgets and, well, it’s just not fair (or whatever the equivalent is in French).

F1 is broke in several places but it needs extensive surgery rather than a couple of sticking plasters. Nice try. Back to the day job, Lewis.