For fifteen years I have faithfully followed Formula One. I have loved it and embraced it as a large part of my life, only once having felt let down by it, in 2005, by the farcical Grand Prix at Indianapolis. That incident wasn’t entirely the sport’s doing – Michelin had supplied tyres to the majority of teams which were unable to cope with the demands of the circuit. As a result, a measly six cars took place in the race and Formula One, embarrassed, sulked away from the U.S with its tail between its legs.
Thankfully, Formula One recovered, even making a successful return to North America, and my admiration for it barely wavered. Today, however, my feelings where tested. The (non) events of today were entirely Formula One’s doing and I’m not alone in feeling cheated, betrayed almost.
For too long I have found myself needing to defend F1 from naysayers, remaining positive and open-minded about the way the sport is run and the direction it seems to be heading. Slowly but surely the sport is embracing social media, engaging fans more and searching for the right balance between the ‘sport’ and the ‘show’ – for me, the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.
I can’t deny that Formula One has problems. Questions can be raised regarding the commercial and sporting aspects of the sport, the ownership and business model as a whole. If I can see that from my armchair then I have no doubt those with genuine influence – the FIA, teams, drivers, Bernie Ecclestone etc. – can see it too, yet they appear to not have a clue how to solve them.
One thing, in my opinion and that of many, many more, that was not a problem, that was not in need of changing, was qualifying. Someone disagreed, and today a new format, a fix to something that nobody thought was broken, made its debut. And it was awful. Too little cars running on track and too much confusion, pray it be dropped for the next event.
With that, I feel, its time to voice my idea. If nobody reads it, then so be it, but I am a man who has been cheated by the sport he loves, I’m hurting and I fear for the future of Formula One, to say nothing wouldn’t be right; one cannot simply criticise without offering a solution.
If the race weekend format needs changing, which clearly someone within F1’s inner circle thinks it does, then how about this…
A sixty-minute qualifying session, no gaps, the clock starts at 60 minutes and counts down to zero, barring any red flags. To ensure cars are seen on track and aren’t sitting in the garages for 50 minutes, each driver must post at least two flying laps within every ten minutes – unless technical issues that hinder running can be proved. At the end of the hour, you have the fastest driver to the slowest.
Simple? Yes. Dull? Perhaps, so here’s the twist: the fastest driver is awarded some points towards their championship campaign, a reward for proving to be the fastest over one lap, that’s what qualifying is all about after all. They then start Sunday’s Grand Prix last! The slowest qualifier starts first – a full reverse grid – you’ve proved to be the fastest qualifier now show how good a race driver you are! (The points awarded in qualifying stops drivers cruising around with the slowest time in order to start the Grand Prix first. They could still do that to aid their chances of scoring big on Sunday, but a retirement in the race would guarantee a point-less weekend.)
Is it a gimmick? Yes, but no more than the current, hopefully soon-to-be-dropped, qualifying format. And think about how thrilling a race would be as the fastest drivers in the fastest cars fight their way through the field. Give them tyres that can be punished, not nursed, front wings and aerodynamics that can cope with chasing down the car in front and you’ll have some of the most thrilling racing action Formula One will have ever seen.
For today, it hurts to admit, I would have rather stayed in bed. This was the 256th qualifying session of my viewing career, and it’s the first one that I didn’t enjoy – if that doesn’t highlight the situation Formula One finds itself in as the sun rises on this latest Grand Prix season, I don’t know what will.