Why driver aids are killing F1

  Driver aids are banned in F1 right?  Wrong!  In fact there are still alot of driver aids in F1 and they all work to spoil the racing by taking away the opportunity for the ture greats to really shine.  Let me explain…

Car data

Currently the teams have a massive amount of data logging and processing equipment.  From tyre temperatures and pressures, to suspension movement over bumps and cornering forces, it’s just mind boggling.  The teams crunch the data and work out the optimal setups.  When everyone knows the minutest detail about everything, is it a surprise they run at the same speed through the race and there’s not much action unless the rain throws a big variable into the picture?

The old days of the driver and his mechanic setting up the car from just the feeling the driver gets are long gone.  Although they still have the final say, their input is much diminished by the banks of computers and complex software, which in this age of cost saving can’t be cheap. 

If sensors on the car were banned except for the engine and gearbox (to prolong life) that would mean no more infra red temperature sensors for the tyres, no more gps tracking for telling the driver where he’s going wrong.   It would be up to the driver to talk to his team and feedback data from his seat-of-the-pants sensor.  This will separate the good from the great and improve the racing by having more change for a driver to get it wrong.  Wear out a set of tyres too quickly? Pit and get some more, but then you’re behind slower cars so you have to overtake them on the track.

Car radios

Although some drivers still make the pit stop calls, usually a team will look at the pace of other cars to optimise track position after pit stops.  They feed the current lap times into computer simulations and crunch the likely outcomes of the races.  Again this knowledge and over-analysis means that pretty much everyone does the same thing and it’s a stalemate.  

If the car radios were made one way only (driver to pitwall) the team could be made aware of the driver’s intentions, but the ball would firmly in the drivers court.  Again the good would be separated from the great and racing improved by introducing more variables into the equation.

The regulations

These days, nearly everything is tightly controlled by the rulebook.  From car design to strategy, there’s very little a driver (or team) can do to stand out from the crowd.  This is the easiest thing to alter because it’s just words in a rulebook.

Refuelling:
Again drivers doing different things is key to excitement.  Some would say that refuelling allowed this, but all it did was encourage drivers to overtake in the pits rather than on the track, and each track had an optimal strategy which nearly all drivers followed and was chosen by the simulations rather than the driver.  The refuelling ban is a step in the right direction moving the skill away from pre-prepared plans back to the driver deciding on the fly, but the tyre regulations have worked against it providing proper racing.

Tyres:
First the regulations regarding which tyres they can start the race on.  While starting on qualifying tyres isn’t a necessarily a bad rule, to only apply it to the first 10 cars is wrong.  It’s an artificial construct which penalises faster cars, the logical extension of this is ballasting and reverse grids, which make a mockery of other categories so should be avoided at all costs.

The other tyre regulation is the requirement to use both compounds of tyres.  Working in conjunction with the qualifying rule, it takes away driver choice.  Everyone will automatically choose to qualify on the optimal softer tyre to get the best grid slot (even when they have a straight line speed advantage for overtaking like the McLaren with their F-duct).

Once they’re on the soft tyre, they are forced to pit to the harder tyre as early as they can (once the computers have calculated that they can rejoin clear of traffic).  Now on the harder tyre, they can cruise to the end of the race and avoid losing track position, as was seen at Bahrain and from the Ferraris and Renault in Australia.

It’s time to free up the tyre regulations and allow any tyre to be used at any time (preferably all 4 compounds at the same race).  This would allow drivers to pick tyres suited to their driving style rather than having to adapt their driving style to the tyres and confirm to the standard strategy.  

Some will choose a Alesi tactic of using the hardest tyres, making few or no stops and being the tortoise (Button springs to mind for this role).  Some will choose to change tyres more often, probably onto ultra soft, ultra fast tyres in the last 10-20 laps of the race and do a LAST 10 LAPS MANSELL NEW TYRES CHARGE!!!™.

Tyre warmers:
Something that’s been proposed for a long time but never actually acted on is a tyre warmer ban.  Giving drivers good-to-go tyres significantly reduces a very valuable driver skill, namely managing tyre temperatures.  Drivers that have a deft touch for feeling the amount of grip on cold tyres thrive in Indy Cars where tyre warmers aren’t used.  Anyone seeing Montoya in his pre-F1 days can’t help but marvel at his speed on cold tyres.

Blue flags:
Blue flags used to mean there’s a faster car behind you, but there was no requirement to move over.  Getting through traffic was a driver skill not to be underestimated, of which Senna was a master of his time.  These days backmarkers have to jump out of the way, even if it disadvantages them and sometimes the penalties are applied far too harshly 

Aerodynamics:
Cars much conform to specific dimensional requirements and thanks to the double diffusers being allowed, there is still a massive amount of downforce on the cars despite the rule changes last year.  With the cars sliding less the drivers have less work to do. Eau Rouge is now described as an “easy flat” and not the challenge it used to be.  

Another downside is that the suspension is ultra-stiff to counteract the downforce, meaning use of lower profile tyres closer to road dimensions (something favoured by tyre companies such as Michelin) would be difficult to introduce because currently the tyres play the role previously fulfilled by suspension travel, but that’s another story… 

Perhaps the FIA should introduce standard or even neutral profile front and rear wings such as the Handford Wing.  That would have the effect of slowing down the cars, give them an easy outlet to control speeds and allow a tyre war without fear of escalating speeds.

Other beneficial side affects of reducing 

downforce is that the spectacle is much increased with more chance for cars to run close to each other and when fitted with skid blocks, sparks can really fly!

While I believe F1 should be the pinnacle of motorsport, it shouldn’t be at the expense of driver involvement.  Anything that can give more freedom for innovation and choice should be embraced as usually it improves the show at the same time when the inevitable human error creeps in.

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