Thursday, 24 September 2009

If I ruled the FIA…

The FIA presidential elections are next month and at last we get to see the end of Max Mosley’s reign over the world of motorsport. In his place we will either see Jean Todt or Ari Vatanen and myself, along with a lot of my good friends over at, would like to see the latter take the victory, despite the odds being against him.

This has just got me thinking – if I were FIA president, what rule changes would I want to implement in order for F1 to become better and more competitive, as well as easily accessible to the fans? These are only ideas off the top of my head, but of course you’re free to have your own say as to what you would do to change F1 if you had the chance.

1. Bring back pre-qualifying
For those of you who remember the late 80s and early 90s in F1, you will no doubt have heard of this. If not, let me explain. With so many small teams coming into the fray in this period of time, there simply wasn’t enough space on track for up to 39 odd cars from 20 teams all at once. Hence where pre-qualifying comes in. How it works is simple – at the time 30 cars were allowed to attempt to qualifying. But with only 26 spaces on the grid available for Sunday, this meant that 4 extra qualfying slots were available. A pre-qualifying session determined who got those 4 slots and were then permitted to attempt to qualifying for the race.

By the end of 1990, all these small teams were dying out and because of this it was no longer needed. But with so many entries for those 3 new team spaces for next year’s F1 World Championship, it would be a shame to see them all go to waste. Lola is a great example – they already have a scale model of what would have been their 2010 car on display at the factory, had they been selected by the FIA. Essentially, it’s a car that will never be built and therefore we will never find out just how competitive it would have been out on track.

Bringing back pre-qualifying would allow these teams to build their cars and take them to race weekends so that they could try and prove their worth. No matter how many cars that turn up, the pre-qualifying could take place and those who either don’t pre-qualify or those that do but don’t qualify can take part in a kind of support race alongside the GP2 and Porsche Supercup championships. This way their journey is not wasted – either way they would still be able to race and develop their cars and at the same time be able to test them against the other competition.

This would also require a reduction in the entry fees for the F1 world championship and of course the ability to allow teams to appear at GPs mid-season, like it used to be. It means more of a show for the fans and teams that want to make the leap into F1 can do so, just much more easily than before.

2. R&D budgets
There was a proposed £40m budget cap that for a short period of time was implemented for 2010. But thanks to FOTA, this has been increased and spending has now been agreed to be reduced to levels that were seen during the early 90s.

This is all well and good but I think they should go a bit further. Each team is given a set budget (let’s say £20m for example, can be more) for research and development on their car. They are only allowed to use that £20m and nothing else on developing the car to make it perform better. Once they’ve spent it, that’s it – they cannot enhance the car any more.

This would prevent teams like Toyota or McLaren spending millions upon millions trying to make their car work that little bit better. By restricting how much they can play with, it would force them to be intuitive and wise in terms of how they go about irking out that bit more extra speed. It’s amazing how teams such as Force India have a very small budget compared to the bigger teams, yet have already taken 2 front row starts, a 2nd place and a 4th place in the last two races. It’s not how much money you have, it’s how you use it, and that’s how it should be with all teams.

Plus it would mean they had a choice – use all their money early on in the season, produce a quick car and hope no-one else catches up, or spend it wisely, gradually continue development over the season and then use what’s left for one last push at the end of the season, or if the car’s performing well enough, they have to option to save it for next year’s budget. But also, a rule could be enforced saying they have to have spent at least 75% or so of that budget by season end, so teams can’t choose to save most of it for the following year.

There was an e-mail I sent to Christine at Sidepodcast way back at the end of 2007 expressing opinions on the 10 year engine freeze. I suggested a budget for engine R&D there, and said that if there were customer teams, then they had their own budget as well as everyone else to develop their engine themselves. Also, their supplier was not allowed to copy or share information with their customers and their engine development. This would give those teams more of a feeling of individuality as they are the ones putting the work into THEIR engine, not waiting on their supplier to come out with an update which could take some time and hinder the teams near the middle or back of the grid from making progress. Also, it could allow smaller teams to come up with ingenious and unique upgrades which can help them move up the grid.

3. Reduction in ticket prices
Now who here that’s an F1 fan wouldn’t want to pay less to go to a GP? Something needs to be done in this sector to help pack the grandstands again. At races like Turkey and Valencia this year, the fans were few and far between with mostly empty grandstands. What does this suggest to anyone from the outside looking in? That F1’s a boring sport? It’s too expensive? Uninteresting?

Cheaper tickets mean more of them are sold, more people get through the gate and the grandstands are packed to the rafters. This makes F1 seem more attractive and exciting if the circuits are heaving with fans. One series they need to look at for an example of fan satisfaction and value for money is the World Series by Renault. They have events all across Europe (in this instance, I still don’t know why it’s called a World Series when it never leaves Europe!) and they provide F1 demos, a full day’s racing and plenty of off-track entertainment. The cost for all this? Nothing. Nil. Nadda. Zilch. Zip. Zero. Tickets are absolutely free. This is why it’s so popular. I’ve been twice to the British rounds at Donington and Silverstone respectively (would have gone this year too had it not been for a last minute change of plans), and I’ve loved it. Some of the best days out I’ve ever had.

Maybe F1 needs to try this. Tickets at rock bottom prices and full access to the grandstands and circuit facilities. Sure, it could mean a loss for the circuit but think of the satisfaction it gives the fans. F1 wants to boost its popularity and draw in more interest and new fans. Doing something like this would help out no end. If not, maybe some official F1 promotional events which see a few of the teams get together and put on a show for those interested. Let them get close to the cars and drivers and enjoy the whole experience.

I was very fortunate to win the Puma Motorsport competition earlier this year and go to Silverstone for the British GP weekend access all areas in the paddock (well, almost). Now most fans will never in their life get a chance like that ever in their life. But something should be done so they can get a bit more intimate with the sport and let them take away memories and experiences they will never forget. That is how you create new fans and keep the existing ones.

Your opinions: These are the only 3 I can think of at the moment. If you had the power to implement new rules to help make F1 better, what would you do? Bigger engines? Changes to the race weekend? Restrictions on what teams can do with their cars? Leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments!