Autosport 70: F1’s age-old problems and how to fix them – F1

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F1’s problems and how best to fix them have been topics of debate for decades now. In the 24 August 1995 issue of Autosport magazine, a number of leading figures discussed the key issues – many of which seem incredibly familiar in 2020 In Hungary a fortnight ago, Grand Prix […]

F1’s problems and how best to fix them have been topics of debate for decades now. In the 24 August 1995 issue of Autosport magazine, a number of leading figures discussed the key issues – many of which seem incredibly familiar in 2020

In Hungary a fortnight ago, Grand Prix Editor Tony Dodgins assembled some of Formula 1’s most experienced figures – Williams technical director Patrick Head, Ligier’s Martin Brundle, Jordan commercial director Ian Phillips, and mercurial engine builder Brian Hart, along with journalists Nigel Roebuck and Alan Henry – to debate the current state of F1. What changes are needed? This is what they think…

Tony Dodgins: Has F1 become too predictable? Do we need to inject something extra to compete with other sports?

Ian Phillips: One driver and one car has often dominated. The problem is that F1 now goes to a huge audience, some of whom don’t understand it.

You see masters at work in any sport, whether it’s Geoff Boycott playing cricket or George Best playing football. A lot of people like to watch a master at work, an Ayrton Senna or a Michael Schumacher, whether there are 23 other cars on the grid or not.

Has there ever been actual racing in F1, other than at Monza or Hockenheim without chicanes?

Martin Brundle: If it’s so boring, why have I noticed that in the last two or three years, no matter what corner of the world you are in, people come up and want to talk about F1? They’ve always got a burning question.

Patrick Head: When I went along to watch Jimmy Clark or Graham Hill, you knew up at the front it was going to be those two, and that usually Graham couldn’t quite hang on in there. It’s just that in those days people really enjoyed their motor racing and the atmosphere. Now you’ve got this massive TV audience, the browsers, with another 20 satellite channels to try. Should it be changed to suit those people?

If one believes F1 should carry on down the commercial route and be essentially a big advertising tool for the cigarette and car companies, then yes, you have to make the browsers stop. Which means something has to be happening. And something quite obvious, not subtle.

“Refuelling has done its thing. It was an interesting exercise but I don’t honestly think it contributes to the racing” Patrick Head

Nigel Roebuck: I remember before they televised races regularly, one of the few races they did cover was the old Nurburgring. In 1973 it was a Tyrrell demonstration, Jackie Stewart from Francois Cevert, and they were miles ahead. The TV just stayed on those two but, because it was the Nurburgring and Stewart was driving so perfectly, you could have watched it all afternoon. But you can’t get the same buzz from watching somebody drive around a place like Hungaroring or Aida.

PH: No, and also, when a driver knows he is going to have to take a big risk to go past somebody, there is a tendency to wait for the refuelling stop now.

In my view, the refuelling has done its thing. It was an interesting exercise but I don’t honestly think it contributes to the racing. Flying umpteen tons of this refuelling clobber around the world, not to mention the cost of buying it in the first place, is one very good argument for having two starts.

TD: But surely that has already been ruled out?

MB: When was that proposed to the drivers?

PH: Bernie Ecclestone poo-pooed it very quickly, but if one is looking at trying to make motor racing interesting for people on TV continuously, then this two separate starts, where they are completely independent races with double the [total] number of world championship points on offer, does have something going for it.

If Martin gets pushed off into the sand at the first corner, he’s got another crack at it. But I think the drivers are naturally slightly against it, because they quite rightly consider that being fit for a 200-mile race, and having racecraft throughout, is a part of grand prix racing.

MB: I think the drivers would like to debate that. I think it would be an interesting conversation.

Brian Hart: Yes, but Bernie wants his TV slot, and you can’t guarantee the start of the second race.

PH: Surely it gives Bernie more flexibility. People will get two races and two starts. I think the starts are very exciting. But for sure they’re bloody stressful for the drivers, who might turn around and say they don’t want to go through the heartpounding twice in a weekend.

MB: I don’t think the drivers care about the start. It’s quite good fun – a good opportunity to make up some places. Do you see any drivers standing on the startline terrified? I don’t think so. It looks a lot more under control to us moving along in a pack than it does to someone in a stationary position watching it all hurtle by.

TD: In view of FIA race director John Corsmit’s directive on apportioning blame in overtaking incidents, does driver discipline need addressing?

MB: You’re allowed to move across the track once, to defend your line, like I did with Gerhard Berger in Canada. You have to be allowed to place your car to defend your position, but you should not then move back across once you’ve blocked them on one side.

The trouble is, the officials are inconsistent on these things. If it becomes an issue then they police it very closely, then suddenly it all goes off into the background and something else comes up.

PLUS: Why F1’s stewards can never be right

I remember having a word with two young drivers about weaving and telling them they were going to hurt themselves. One was Christian Fittipaldi at Hockenheim. I told him, “If you’d done to Jean Alesi what you did to me this afternoon, you’d be in the trees by now”. Then, hey presto, Christian’s the guy who came unstuck at Monza when his team-mate breathed in on him coming down the straight.

The other one was Ukyo Katayama. He did the same thing to me at Imola when I was trying to lap him, and he came up a couple of races later and said to me: “I’m very sorry, somebody did that to me – it’s terrible, isn’t it!”

But as for having a regulation that says you have to let them go as soon as they’ve got one part of their car level with any part of yours, that’s rubbish. You can’t even see them, for God’s sake.

PH: And next year, with the higher bodywork, you’ll be able to see even less.

“If you want to reduce downforce, then doing something with the wings is one way of going about it. But then you get a problem in the wet” Patrick Head

IP: Yeah. We got this thing saying the onus was on the teams to make sure the drivers could see behind. Well, car manufacturers since the 1890s have been trying to design a mirror with no blind spot, and they haven’t managed it yet.

TD: So how do we improve the racing? Everyone says reduce downforce…

BH: Make the tracks wider, with hairpins at the bottom of the straights.

PH: If you want to reduce downforce, then doing something with the wings is one way of going about it. But then you get a problem in the wet. Look at Japan last year.

PLUS: Remembering F1’s last aggregate grand prix

Up to a certain level, the tyres have a tread depth that is able to pump enough water away to maintain contact. But as soon as you have 0.1mm more than that, the tyre is floating.

The people who run the races don’t seem to recognise the difference – and when you get to that level of water, how is a driver who is looking at a shiny surface supposed to know that, because they got through a puddle last time, they will do so again? You’ve gone beyond the level of skill and judgement and you have to put flags out sometimes.

If you take the downforce away, the speed-to-water depth ratio at which you will get that zero control will be a lesser depth. Maybe you have super wet weather tyres.

MB: You should change the slicks as well. I said earlier this year that we would have 25% less downforce in theory, and everybody was getting ready for the powerslides. I remember saying the cars wouldn’t powerslide, because the tyre sidewalls are so stiff and the cars are so critical that you cannot slide them.

In the wet, even now, there is not enough downforce for the tyres we’ve got. We haven’t been in conditions like Japan 1994. The guy I ran over there has only just gone back to work…

PH: Argentina was pretty close. And I don’t think that you can say that if the driver doesn’t like it they should come in. Is a young driver having their sixth F1 race or whatever going to come in and tell Ken Tyrrell that he’s not going to run? Of course not.

MB: One thing we have to do if the regulations are changed yet again is make the cars more raceable. The Williams seems to be the best car on the track, it appears to develop less angles of yaw, while the Ferrari seems to recover from oversteer better than anything else. The rest of us are just on the ragged edge of flying off the road at every moment. These cars are really critical, and we need to make them driveable.

The penalties for charging up the inside of somebody – either locking a brake or flat-spotting a tyre, flying off the road or running into someone – are so much greater than they used to be. There’s nothing to lure you into having a stab at somebody. If you do, there’s a great chance it will end in tears.

TD: What about braking distances, and the experiments Williams has done with steel brakes?

PH: At Monaco, [then FIA president] Max Mosley came into the technical working group meeting and told us he needed to be able to say to circuits that he would be able to maintain the cars at more or less the same lap times as they are doing now. One of the suggestions was banning carbon brakes.

It was 10 years since we’d run cast iron brakes, and then we were using asbestos-based pads. I rang AP and we got some pads for their calipers and gave them a run at Silverstone. Damon Hill did his fastest lap of the day on them, and thought they were really great.

On the carbon brakes I think we were getting 4.2G longitudinal, but only for a short time, and we were getting 4.0G with the cast iron. They were coming in quickly and Damon said there was a nice proportionality between load on the pedal and stopping power. He thought he could control the car better going into the corner.

We tried Jacques Villeneuve on them, asked him which he would choose, and he thought the steel was best. Not quite the same stopping power, but the best proportionality.

Still, it’s all very well to say ‘ban carbon brakes’ – that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone turns up with the same cast iron ones. It would cost you mega bucks to develop a completely new braking system, when you’ve already got a perfectly reliable one. The only thing that gets me is that I look at our bills for carbon brakes and it’s stupid.

“The current engines are miles more expensive than the turbo engines, and he says it’s just the number of bits – 10 cylinders, 40 valves, 10 rods, 10 pistons. The number of bits and the time it takes to build everything” Patrick Head

Because we’ve got much better suspension on the car now than when the aerodynamics were more critical, our car is braking a lot later. The brake people have made them less dense so that we get better response. In the process, wear rate has gone up enormously, so you go and do a two- or three-day test and you’ve done four or six sets of discs at something like £4000 a set!

The only thing you can do if you want to slow the cars down is supply everyone with the same brake. And then you’ll have one of the companies going off to the European court about restrictive practice.

TD: Moving on to engines, which way should we go, given that they are often cited as a crippling cost? And how much power do we need?

IP: We need enough power to be doing 200mph somewhere, just as a PR figure. But we don’t need silly power.

NR: Berger was saying recently that if you got a Benetton-BMW now, on qualifying boost, he was sure it would absolutely frighten the hell out of him.

PH: It would. I’ll tell you, the tension and excitement when you were going to have qualifying with those things… you could see the drivers were all twitchy. In the last bit of that last year [1986], we had 5.6 bar boost and the engine revved to 13,500rpm. We asked Honda how much power it was and they didn’t really know. The limit of the dyno was 1000bhp and we reached that at 9500rpm…

MB: But you know, the first car I drove in F1 had about 525bhp, then we went through the Renault Turbo that had about 1300bhp and now we’re back to about 700bhp but it hasn’t made that much difference.

PH: At Monaco in 1993 we recommended a new engine formula for 2.5-litre V6s. If I talk to Bernard Dudot, he says that the current engines are miles more expensive than the turbo engines, and he says it’s just the number of bits – 10 cylinders, 40 valves, 10 rods, 10 pistons. The number of bits and the time it takes to build everything. We were told 600bhp and so we recommended the 2.5-litre V6. And the very next day, the FIA announced stability of engine regulations to the year 2001…

BH: I don’t see there’s a lot of future in a 2.5-litre V6. If you take the horsepower figure for three-litres, you’re going to have to do some miraculous development and you will have cylinder bores so big it’s not true, so you’ll spend a huge amount on pistons, making them survive the rpm to get the horsepower you are getting now. It isn’t going to cost any less.

People make new chassis every week. I think it’s pathetic of Bernard to say that. The amount of bits doesn’t make any difference at all – whether it’s got 40 valves, 32 or whatever.

PH: Out of interest, Brian, what value would you put on one of your latest F1 engines? Roughly what would you charge for it?

BH: We’ve never costed it to sell, but a ballpark has got to be over £200,000.

PH: Yeah, that’s pretty much what Renault says to us – between £200,000 and £250,000. It’s easy to get all rosy-eyed about the old days, but the great advantages we had when we started were: a) we didn’t have to do all the races, so we could miss out the expensive ones like Japan; b) we could run one car if we wanted; and c) we could go to Cosworth and buy an engine for £12,500, which was as good as any other engine in a Cosworth car, and probably just as good as the Ferrari. It must be very difficult to come in today.

TD: So how do you impose workable budgetary restraints on F1?

PH: I don’t think you do. You’d have to say the three teams that have gone under in recent times were not doing a particularly good job, and maybe it’s a course of natural selection. If running the car costs more than people can find budgets to support, then the Flavio Briatores, Frank Williamses, and Ron Dennises get together and say ‘ban intercontinental testing’ or whatever.

“For years and years we were using wheel bearings that cost £15 each. But I was reading about teams with much less money than us using £600 ones. Talking about Simtek, I was told that their rear uprights cost £10,000 apiece!” Patrick Head

IP: You can’t go crying to Bernie. You come in with your eyes open and you know the rules. Eddie Jordan was very cost conscious about everything. Simtek were not capable of doing that. It may be because they were headed by a very enthusiastic young engineer who actually had no business acumen. I mean, Patrick, when Williams came in, if it had been your team, could you have done the whole lot?

PH: For years and years we were using wheel bearings that cost £15 each. But I was reading about teams with much less money than us using £600 ones. Talking about Simtek, I was told that their rear uprights cost £10,000 apiece! If you’re a small team, you’ve got to cut your cloth to suit what you have. I mean, commercially, I cut my racing teeth at Lola, and if you designed anything that was complicated, you got your knuckles rapped and they threw it out of the window.

PLUS: How to build a budget F1 car

Technically, I wouldn’t have wasted money, but I wouldn’t have known how to run an F1 team. I think some of the engineers in F1 today don’t have any idea about what they are spending relative to what they will get back. They’ve got this idea that, because it’s F1, you go for the most exotic, whatever.

TD: Does restricting the use of the T-car [spare] really help?

PH: I think the T-car rule works OK. It’s only a pain if someone has an off in the morning. Then their only way of qualifying is borrowing the other driver’s car.

IP: The amount of times it’s happened means you shouldn’t worry about it.

MB: But you’ve got the car here, you’ve got the people here and you can’t use it. That seems stupid.

PH: At least you don’t come back from a race with two engines with 250km on them…

MB: Yeah, but you could use the rest of the mileage for a test. I think the T-car should be reinstated. The cars are so critical to set up, you’ve got a very limited number of laps and you can’t go to the circuit in advance. It’s nice to put one set-up on one car and a different one on the other. You might then get the cars a bit closer.

That’s why we’ve got this eight- or 10-second spread now, like we had in the worst days of the turbo racing. And I think it’s just ridiculous that I’ll do one lap in my T-car on Sunday morning, and for the rest of the time this beautiful equipment and a load of guys are standing around doing bugger all.

PLUS: When was Formula 1 closest?

IP: That’s the first time I’ve heard Ligier described as beautiful.

TD: Has anyone worked out what it costs to run for one lap?

IP: We have a figure of about £750 a mile, taking into account all overheads. We went through the calculation last year when we were paying for everything. Small teams have to rein in on testing. You just don’t do it. As a small team you’d be in favour of doing 25 races a year and not allowing time for testing. You earn sponsorship and prize money for races, but go testing and you just tear up pound notes.

MB: Somebody told me the other day that it cost £2000 to run my car for a lap, which is a sobering thought.

TD: What about three-car teams?

PH: It only takes one car to win a motor race.

IP: I think a more sensible idea is that we should be allowed to sell chassis again.

PH: Yes, that’s another advantage we had. We could go and buy a March.

BH: But you need stability and rules to do that.

“To a certain extent, lap and testing restrictions make it harder for a new driver in F1. But then, the seats that they would normally have taken either don’t exist anymore or are taken by pay drivers” Martin Brundle

PH: Yes. We do appear now to have a situation whereby the rules are being changed every year, willy nilly. I don’t think that’s sensible. We need a bit more foresight than is being applied at the moment.

TD: Should we include qualifying as part of the show, and award points?

MB: Yes. There should be points for the first five maybe, and then reverse the order on the grid.

PH: There’s a case for reviewing things. I think rugby union is a good example, when they realised there should be a bigger distinction between a try and a kick. Thing shouldn’t necessarily be set in stone.

The constructors’ championship should possibly be thought about as well. With 10 points for a win now, you score the same number of points for winning as you do for finishing second and third. So you can win the constructors’ title with a driver who wins all the races. And don’t we know it…

TD: What about driver licencing? Someone wrote to us recently suggesting a points system like the ATP tennis rankings. If a driver didn’t qualify on merit, they couldn’t buy in.

Alan Henry: I think it would be too complicated.

IP: All the qualifications appear to have gone out the window and it seems anyone can have a licence. Flavio Briatore suggested three or four years ago there ought to be a stage where, when you’ve done, say, 100 grands prix and haven’t achieved a certain level of performance, points finishes or whatever, then you’ve actually got to go off and do something else. Go and win in sportscars or something. Just to keep the thing moving. There are people who have been around an awfully long time who’ve never looked like achieving anything.

MB: There’s a dearth of young drivers coming through who can get the job done. To a certain extent, lap and testing restrictions make it harder for a new driver in F1. But then, the seats that they would normally have taken either don’t exist anymore or are taken by pay drivers.

TD: What do you think of the 107% rule?

IP: You’ve got to keep the bottom end honest, which it isn’t. Perhaps you say qualification for the total number of entrants less one, like it used to be. Bernie has to make sure we don’t get back to the era of starting money specials.

PH: Which part of the bottom end isn’t honest? I mean, you’d have to say that Pacific is not doing a very good job technically, and that Forti Corse at the beginning of the year were a mile away but they have improved their act.

When you looked at a team like Andrea Moda, then I’d agree they weren’t honest. I agree F1 should not have room for that, but the current guys are making honest efforts to get in there.

IP: There are examples of people scraping something together just to be a part of the scene – Enzo Coloni was one. But Guido Forti runs a good show. Carlo Gancia’s a bit of a playboy but they actually have a bigger budget than we do!

2020 vision

Since 1995, F1 has undergone many changes, including a move from three-litre V10 engines to 1.6-litre turbo hybrid powerplants (via 2.4-litre V8s), the introduction and then banishment of grooved dry-weather tyres, and switches to narrower and then wider cars.

But what’s really remarkable a quarter of a century on from when the discussion at the 1995 Hungarian GP took place is that many of the questions and problems in F1 remain the same. The balance of pure sport versus entertainment, the tyranny of downforce, common parts, engine regulations and cost containment are still issues F1 grapples with.

The new regulations, aimed at addressing the issues raised many times before and since 1995, have had more time and analysis thrown at them than any other ruleset

To a certain degree, that’s because those rose-tinted spectacles often cause people to think the now is somehow inferior to the past and to demand changes. It’s worth noting, for example, that the 1994-2005 era was voted F1’s best in Autosport’s 2019 online poll (with 1974-82 winning the magazine vote), despite the issues outlined above and the fact that refuelling did not boost the on-track excitement, as Patrick Head pointed out.

But it’s also because, for a variety of reasons – including the inability of the teams to agree on decisive action for the common good – F1 has failed to address many of its limitations.

All the current teams have now committed to the new Concorde Agreement, which means they should all be around for the next F1 era due to arrive in 2022. The new regulations, aimed at addressing the issues raised many times before and since 1995, have had more time and analysis thrown at them than any other ruleset.

They should be the best attempt yet at balancing all the conflicting pressures but, as history has shown, things are rarely that simple in F1.

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