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Patrick Crozier on how to make F1 racing more fun

If you wondered why Formula 1 motor racing sometimes has all the excitement and crowd-pleasing qualities of a German art-house movie without subtitles, then Patrick Crozier will explain it to you here and here. I recall him making these and related points in a talk at Brian Micklethwait’s place a few years ago. Very interesting it was.

Even if you are not a sports fan or motoring enthusiast, the broader lessons of how a sport can regulate itself into narcolepsy are worth reflecting on.

10 comments to Patrick Crozier on how to make F1 racing more fun

  • Kevin B

    Formula One has been ‘too boring’, ‘over-regulated’, ‘too expensive’ etc, etc for decades now, yet it is still the most popular motor racing formula with Joe Public.

    New circuits are added regularly, new teams come and go and TV companies still pay big bucks to show the sport.

    There are dozens – perhaps hundreds – of other formulae but F1 remains at the top. Most of the other formulae try their level best to make the racing as close as possible, many by specifying identical cars, but the big money remains in F1.

    I would agree with Patrick that the sport is over-regulated, but Bernie and Max talk to the team owners, TV companies, track owners and punters and they probably have a better idea of what they want than I do.

    The real petrol heads probably enjoy a day out at Thruxton or Oulton Park or Brands Hatch more than a Grand Prix, but secretly I suspect most of them would love to be associated with glitz and glamour of F1.

    Mankind has been testing his mastery over his animals and machines by racing them against each other since the year dot, and I reckon we will continue to do so into the future.

  • Novus

    There are a couple of problems with his analysis.

    First, while it may be true that there has never been a tremendous amount of overtaking in F1, there is certainly less now than there has been in the past. Second, the explanation he gives is true enough as far as it goes, but it does rather suggest that there is nothing that can be done. These two points are obviously related.

    The effect that the turbulent air has on a chasing car is exacerbated by the fact that the cars rely so heavily on aerodynamic grip as opposed to mechanical grip – that is to say, grip from downforce as opposed to grip from tyres and suspension. The efficiency of the front wings in generating downforce is significantly compromised by the turbulent air, as opposed to the laminar air in which they work very well. Consequently a chasing car will not have the level of front-end grip necessary to follow another car closely through a corner, which means that it will not be close enough on the straight to sit in the leading car’s slipstream and thus gain a speed advantage and overtake.

    Secondly, on the odd occasions when a driver is able to overcome this difficulty, it is significantly harder now than it was twenty years ago or more to outbrake the other driver, for the simple reason that the carbon brakes the cars now have are so monstrously efficient that braking distances are significantly foreshortened compared with those for steel brakes. With steel brakes, late braking could mean braking up to a second later than the other guy; now, the brakes are so good that late braking and normal braking are practically indistinguishable.

    So, they can’t follow closely through a corner and therefore they can’t slipstream on the straight, and on the off chance they do get alongside the car in front, they can’t hope to outbrake it because everyone brakes absurdly late anyway.

    Carbon brakes and sophisticated front wing design are both developments of the last twenty years, and it is in my view unarguable that there was more overtaking and generally better racing before these innovations. Unfortunately even the attempts this year to reduce the effectiveness of the front wings appear to have failed.

    I would say the solution was to ban carbon brakes, but they are rightly considered a safety feature. The question is, at what point does the racing become so safe it stops being racing?

  • James

    A couple of his points are contentious – not least his comments about overtaking. There is less overtaking now than 15, 20 or 30 years ago, largely for the reasons outlined by Novus.

    I’d also add that the introduction of refueling in 1994 increased the number of pit stops, meaning that in lots of instances, drivers don’t have to overtake to make up places. When he was Ferrari technical director, Ross Brawn actually admitted telling Michael Schumacher not to risk overtaking, and instead to use pit stops to make up places.

    But refueling has been banned as of next year, so it will be interesting to see how much difference it has made.

    I also think circuit design makes a difference. There aren’t enough fast circuits with good slip-streaming opportunities.

  • Brian, thanks for the name-check.

    And thanks to the commenters. Interesting.

  • lucklucky

    Since late 1970’s i was a F1 fan but not anymore, i am still a Ferrari fan .Right now it is not more than a Farse. FIA is a dictatorship without mandate for that and worse so incompetent like Kremlin managing anything – Rallies are destroyed, Le Mans survives only… well because it is Le Mans since there are no more Sport cars, Turism is a another farse . In F1 rules are changed every year for no reason, they are made full of loopholes that increases the descritionary power of FIA. This year championship is a clear case where badly made rules already made a winner in both Championships.

  • I have been to a few FI races recently and they are not what they were a couple years back. It is hard to understand the reasoning behind all the rule changes, everything is gearing towards the safer side nowadays.

    Thanks for the post!

  • Crake

    I think sports is one of the places that wouldn’t benefit from less regulation (rule-wise, anyway).

    This is a bit of a pet peeve for me, since I’m studying games (this comment is, in fact, pure procrastination from my final BA paper on game theory). I often hear socialists describe a social condition as “unfair”, arguing for more equality – but fairness is a feature of games, where an artificial equality is set up to expose the different qualities of the contestants – regulation makes it more fun!

    But talking about “leveling the playing field” in the real world would be an false and potentially dangerous comparison between to very different domains… and so would agitating for less regulation in sports, in my opinion.

  • Eric

    …but fairness is a feature of games, where an artificial equality is set up to expose the different qualities of the contestants – regulation makes it more fun!

    More fun for the participants, I suppose. But a big-time sport like F1 requires a whole lot of paying fans to survive.

  • Gilles Villeneuve did for my addiction to watching Formula what Franz Klammer did for my addiction to watching downhill. When he died it put me off of all motor sports for many years and only more recently have I been able to enjoy it again, although now I watch almost exclusively NASCAR (Sprint Cup and Nationwide) and occasionally some Indy Car.

    NASCAR experienced the danger factor on some of their super ovals where cars with a family sedan body profiles over a racing chassis were well into the 200’s MPH range. They introduced ‘restrictor plates’ at those tracks where the power restriction method is that all of the engine air must pass through a restrictor plate without boosting. It limits the oxygen supply input rather than the horsepower output. Enforcement is a simple matter of measuring the plate. In 2004 they tested a car at Talledega without a restrictor plate and the test driver Rusty Wallace had an average speed around the course of 221 MPH. In a sedan body profile! Even with the plates, the races are still exciting. Just a couple of weeks ago a driver traveling almost 200MPH went airborne, end-for-end, upside down, hit the spectator safety fence and crashed just short of the finish line. He climbed out and ran on foot across the finish line for a 24th place finish. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xcCWhltnS2E

    NASCAR has also seemed to balance the clean-air-control/dirty-air-fast so that drivers will deliberately ‘draft’ for speed and slip out of the draft for control or engine cooling. Formula has placed all of its eggs in the ‘clean air’ basket even though speeds and tracks would tend to favor cars that perform better in dirty air at lower speeds and draft for higher speeds. I suspect the reason for this is in the vehicle design rules.

    My recommendation for F1 would be to have a required weight for safety equipment, ie driver cockpit, fuel tank, etc, and then reduce the allowed amount of fuel for the race whenever technology advances the speeds beyond relative safety. Allow teams to decide whether they want to trade fuel for down-force in the corners or speed on the straights. This would work quite well, I think, for high budget F1 racing but not as well for much lower budget Indy League racing. For low budget racing, one-design rules for part or all of the cars’ components is probably the only way.

  • It’s worth remembering that the current risk-averse version of Formula One is a consequence of the shocking mortality rate amongst F1 drivers in the earlier series; Ronnie Peterson, Gilles Villeneuve and Aryton Senna amongst others. With the death of Senna, possibly the greatest racer of all time, the FIA seems to be trying to achieve a competition in which the best drivers can compete without the risk of death; an admirable aim. I still think that F1 is the acme of motor sports; it may be tamer than it was, but it still knocks NASCAR and IndyCar into a cocked hat. It’s still the place where the best motor car racers on the planet compete.