Jul 2, 2010

Did fans really get their say?

With loads of back patting and self congratulations happening in the wake of the Formula One Teams Association's fan forum this week in London, I’d like to take a moment to toss some cold water on the proceedings.

Maybe I am a complete cynic, but I wouldn’t suggest that F1 fans get their hopes up that it will have much of an effect on the way the sport does business.

Only 150 fans were given the chance to attend the forum, on a first come first served basis. Those registering for the event also had to submit their question in advance. So much for an impromptu and open discussion.

In addition, having it in London meant that the forum only addressed one type of fan from one country with particular interests. My guess is a fan forum in the U.S. — provided that F1 could actually find any fans there — would have a markedly different set of concerns about the sport's accessibility, considering their experience with other forms of racing.

But the bigger problem is that listening to FOTA representatives talk shows that they seem to be finding reasons to show why the fans are mistaken with their impressions of the sport rather than listening carefully and taking notes. This has been the case with the sport’s fan survey since it began.

Does anyone know what the No. 1 want of fans has been since the survey began? Well, it is and has always been overtaking on track. And that problem has not been addressed at all by the sport.

And yes, before we start ragging on me about all the passing this season, let’s remember that the weather conditions induced most of the overtaking, not the sport’s efforts.

Look at the dry races and you’ll see: Bahrain was boring. Only backmarkers getting in Fernando Alonso’s way made things interesting in Montreal. And Valencia was a yawner, save for the FIA’s penalty lunacy and Kamui Kobayashi on brand new soft tires at the end of the race against those on old hard ones.

And having some of the sport’s key players saying they’d rather see a heated battle between two drivers without a pass than drivers whizzing by each other at will simply insults the fans who have asked for it. It’s not a question of one or the other. Maybe we can find a happy middle ground where we don’t have a choice between no overtaking and 25 passes a lap for the lead?

Fans simply want to see battles where a driver CAN actually pass another. It’s not very difficult to understand. Anyone who has ever watch MotoGP understands this idea.

Like I said earlier, Kobayashi got by two cars in Valencia only because he had a gigantic advantage. Not unlike a McLaren trying to get by a Lotus. But put two cars together that are a second apart in laps times and the chance of a pass are zero to none, unless the guy in front runs into a wall.

Now, actually making it happen it starts with a governing body that makes proper rules.

So far, the FIA has failed on that respect, but it cannot be blamed solely. There is after all a technical working group made up of the teams, which is supposed to be the expert second sober thought on all the rules. And it let the loophole for the double diffuser through last year.

Remember the double diffuser that negated all the recommendations of the overtaking working group?

It seems the solution is pretty simple. Get rid of all the aerodynamic components that aren’t wings. Then add bigger, more grippy tires that don’t last 60 laps. Next is a mandate that calls for smaller wings with a maximum of two surfaces. Write it up in clear rules that do not allow for “interpretation.”

Essentially, an F1 car should be a giant go-kart with an adequate amount of downforce and a hugely powerful engine.

The final step is to combine this with tracks that actually penalize a driver for mistakes — which they will make driving these cars — rather than let them off the hook on smoothly paved runoff areas that mean they hardly lose time when they make an error.