Rule Changes In F1 That Would REALLY Shake Things Up
What happens when you get creative?
With Mercedes securing both the driver’s and constructors championship again this season, it’s fair to say that the 2020 Formula 1 season hasn’t been a classic, which has led to discussion among the fans and journalists about potential rules changes to spice up the action. Despite the Mercedes’ dominance however, this season has still had plenty of intrigue, and some highly dramatic moments. Pierre Gasly’s shock victory at the Italian Grand Prix has to go down as the highlight of the season, but this remarkable result only fuelled speculation about a change to the weekend format to incorporate reverse grid races. For those of you that have been following me, you’ll know that I covered this issue in my very first article, arguing that reverse grid races are a gimmick, and won’t fix the real issue of the lack of parity throughout the field.
Once the new regulations and budget cap come into effect, hopefully there won’t be any need for rule changes such as these to be considered. However, new ideas and concepts should be discussed for the sake of shaking up the order, even if some ideas are more tangible than others; some of which already exist in other championships. So let’s step into the shoes of the FIA and talk through some potential (totally hypothetical) rule changes, as well as how they would affect the action!
The Reigning Champion Rule...
This is inspired somewhat by the regulation implemented in Formula 2 and Formula 3, which states that the championship elect can no longer participate in the championship. It would be a shame to lose a driver worthy of winning an F1 title, and it may even lead to some bizarre tactics from drivers deliberately trying to finish 2nd in the championship in order to continue in the sport. This is why I would modify the rule, stating instead that any driver who wins the world championship must change teams for the subsequent season.
Imagine if, having won his record-equalling 7th world title, Lewis Hamilton suddenly needed to find a seat for 2021. He wouldn’t be allowed to re-join Mercedes until 2022. Would Leclerc or Verstappen be comfortable with Hamilton as their team-mate? Would Hamilton have to settle for a midfield team? Would he choose to retire? Who could Mercedes choose as his replacement? Would it be someone disposable so that Hamilton could re-join the team in 2022, or would they become Merc’s new favourite and shut Hamilton out?
In any case, this would make for an interesting silly season! As exceptional as Valtteri Bottas is, lots of the fans (myself included) think that it’s time to give another driver a shot in the best seat in the house. A rule like this would give drivers like George Russell that opportunity, potentially keep Bottas in F1 despite losing the Mercedes seat and fix the issue of having too much talent in a young driver programme.
One 'Guest Circuit' Per Season...
Given the positive reception that some of the tracks have had during this season this could well become a reality. If there is one positive to have come from this bizarre season, it’s that Formula 1 has had to think outside the box when it comes to circuits when forming the calendar. The introduction or re-visiting of Mugello, the Nurburgring, Portimao, Imola and Istanbul has pleased the majority of fans, media and drivers, and many have called for the return of some of these circuits full-time.
Portimao was one of the welcome additions to the 2020 F1 calendar
For financial reasons, Formula 1 are unlikely to bring all of them back, not to mention that they would be hard to fit in during 2021’s 23-race calendar! However, Sky Sports F1’s Rachel Brookes (among others) has talked about the possibility of having one ‘guest race’ during each season. This would certainly add some variety to the season, as the new circuits have created a question mark in terms of how the cars will behave in a new environment (as the weekend in Istanbul certainly demonstrated) and provided some interesting wheel-to-wheel action, as the drivers weren’t as familiar with the popular overtaking spots as they would be on a regular track.
In commentary during the weekend in Turkey, Martin Brundle spoke about F1’s return to Imola, and pointed out that F1 doesn’t always need to go to tracks with state-of-the-art facilities and instead can make do with older pit and race control buildings if this results in re-visiting classic circuits. As with most things, I am in agreement with Martin. If 2020 has proven one thing, it’s that Formula 1 can adapt when it is called for, and can race (to an extent) on a shoe-string budget.
Different Tyre Compounds For The Top Teams...
This rule is a bit less realistic, but it is one that has already been implemented in MotoGP. The idea of the factory teams having to run a harder compound of tyres has brought the satellite teams into contention for race victories. Bringing this rule into Formula 1 was actually a suggestion from Fernando Alonso a few years back. But for a few reasons, it would be difficult to know which teams would be eligible for which tyres.
For starters, the preferable compound isn’t always obvious until mid-way through the weekend, by which time it is too late to make an allocation to the teams. At high-degradation circuits it is often better to race on the harder tyre compound, and on some circuits the soft tyre has been avoided by the teams altogether, even during qualifying! If the idea is to give softer tyres to the midfield teams, it may not necessarily be an advantage.
Then comes the issue of how the tyre allocation is decided. It could be allocated to the factory teams, as it is in MotoGP. However this would mean giving hard tyres to a midfield team such as Renault, and softer tyres to a team like Red Bull. The second choice is to give the ‘big three’ the harder tyres, the big three being Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari, but Ferrari are hardly a front-running team, for this season at least. The third option is to base it on the current constructors’ championship order, as it’s the most accurate representation of each team’s performance. This being F1 however, will almost certainly lead to the teams taking a strategic hit in some races purely to gain a tyre advantage in others, which detracts from the action more than it adds to it.
This is largely inspired by the success ballast applied to the cars in races 1 and 2 of a British Touring Car Championship weekend. My tweak to the rule would be that the ballast is applied to the cars based on constructors’ championship order instead of drivers’ championship order.
On the face of it, this has the same issue as the rule concerning different tyre compounds for certain teams, the issue that if they were projected to be only 1 point ahead of another team, they would purposely back off and take the temporary hit in order to gain long term. The difference here however, is that while the tyre compound allocation only offers two options (hard or soft), the amount of ballast can be any one of ten different weights (one for each team) and with the decreasing fuel load during the race as well as the way that the tyres behave on each track surface, it would be very difficult to simulate exactly how the car would behave with the extra weight on board. This would add an extra variable into the mix and, hopefully, compress the field together.
As part of the regulations, the cars would not have to run the ballast during qualifying, and not permitted to run it during any of the practice sessions. It would only be applied for the race which would add yet more variability.
'Push To Pass' DRS...
In every IndyCar race, each driver can gain a 60bhp boost by pushing one of the buttons on the steering wheel. This is similar to the Drag Reduction System in place in Formula 1, the difference being that F1 drivers can use the DRS on any lap when within 1 second of the car ahead, whereas IndyCar drivers can use push to pass wherever and wherever they like, but they only have a limited amount over the course of the race.
'Push to pass' gets the drivers thinking strategically
It is up to the driver exactly when they decide to use up their push to pass, and indeed whether or not they have enough fuel to use it. This adds another strategic element into the races, and quite often leads to a late charge by some drivers who have saved their push to pass until the end and are on fresh tyres. While DRS has certainly led to an increase in overtaking since it’s introduction, many think that it is a gimmick that F1 doesn’t need, and hopefully that will be true in the near future. But I feel that DRS can be used to make the racing more interesting if it were implemented in the same way as push to pass.
Instead of having specific DRS zones, making obvious where drivers will do all of their overtaking, the drivers should be allowed to use the DRS wherever they please, but only for a limited amount of time during the race. This could lead to some of the late charges by drivers that we see in IndyCar and some more inventive overtakes, as drivers can use it in some unconventional places around the track!
Changing The Track Layout...
The general consensus is that the F1 community prefer old school circuits such as Spa, Monza and Silverstone over modern day tracks like those in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi. But these modern circuits have their benefits, the most significant being that most of them have multiple configurations to choose from.
2020’s improvised calendar includes a double-header in Bahrain, where the FIA have decided to use Bahrain’s ‘outer loop’ circuit for the second of the two races. This is something of a no brainer from the organisers, as two races on the exact same layout would almost certainly produce the same result, and it makes sense to use a different track configuration if you have it at your disposal. Many circuits on the regular calendar have multiple track layouts which can be used including Paul Ricard, which has over 160 potential layouts to choose from, and many have asked for a different circuit layout from year to year.
But if you wanted to shake things up, why not change the track layout over the course of the weekend? Of course, both circuit configurations would have to meet the safety standards of the FIA and changing the layout isn’t the work of a moment. I see no reason though that these changes couldn’t be made overnight, thereby holding practice and qualifying on one layout, and the race on another. It would certainly throw the cat amongst the pigeons, as the teams would have no data to give them an indication of how the tyres would behave on the different layout. It would also make sense to do this on circuits such as the Circuit De Catalunya, which produce an interesting qualifying session, but are hard to overtake on during the race. The changes wouldn’t need to be massive, but they would do enough to create a couple of new opportunities for the race while keeping the qualifying interesting.
With any luck, the changes coming to Formula 1 in 2022 will eliminate any need for these types of rule changes; nevertheless it is still fun to speculate. Ross Brawn has spoken before about the possibility of a non-championship Formula 1 round. If this does come to pass, in addition to slashing the ticket prices and making the F1 paddock accessible to the general public, maybe F1 could use this as an opportunity to give potential rule changes a trial run. Some things are best left to the imagination, but it would be interesting to see how these changes would shake up the order, even if it only becomes a guilty pleasure once a year!