Calls for ‘unpredictable’ F1…how predictable

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Reading Ferrari CEO Sergio Marchionne’s comments this weekend and juxtaposing them with Mercedes boss, Toto Wolff’s, I find the operative word seems to be unpredictability heading into 2016. Sergio said:

“Bernie should pave the way to prepare the future of the F1 world,” said Marchionne.

“This age issue is there, so we should ask ourselves: are we appealing to young people?

“This sport has great potential which has not been expressed yet.

“We need to make it entertaining because if everything is predictable, it gets boring.

“We should try to deliver more unpredictability, so to speak, so that results are unpredictable.”

While the original story is about F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone and a potential succession plan, the comment is toward the tail end of the article. I’m not trying to start a conspiracy but I find that F1 pundits start to dog whistle certain things they are wanting to get across to fans through relatively benign comments like these. Toto said:

“Now we need to align and find a compromise and ask what we can do to make it a little less predictable, give it a little more variability.

“From his perspective, from what I understand, there are other players who are much more opportunistic, who jump on that train for their own little cause.

“It is Bernie who is responsible for the show, and you need to listen.”

So two men have spoken to Ecclestone and the resounding word is predictability. Therefore, they would like to compromise and find some unpredictability in the sport to keep fans engaged. Is it that simple? Is that the secret to the future of F1?

If I’m honest, I’m not sure it is simply unpredictability that I look for in F1. Two years for McLaren, four years for Ferrari, two years for Renault, four years for Red Bull. Domination happens.

The fact is, has F1 changed or have the fans? Have attention spans shortened or has the racing grown stale? It’s easy to say that what fans want is unpredictability but very difficult to deliver such a product.

In hindsight, F1 hasn’t been that unpredictable or at least that hasn’t been one of its hallmarks over the years and I would argue that fans actually would like to see competitiveness throughout the field rather than unpredictable results. I’m parsing words here but I think you get my point. If the racing were closer between teams, the results would be unpredictable and perhaps that’s what Marchionne and Wolff are alluding to and in that, I would agree with them.

I believe that the generational change may have a impact on what fans would like from their sports and the way they consume them but I also believe one should be careful in wholesale changes to meet needs that could be fleeting or trendy versus sustainable and revolutionary. Prudence over pragmatism.

In the end, I would like a predictable F1 that places close, competitive racing as its core product offering. I would like to know that I can consume the sport in a predictable and consistent way. I would like to know that teams aren’t continually on the verge of collapse and that the regulations aren’t going to change to meet some political ideology putting global politics ahead of what was truly one of the most predictable elements of F1—competitive racing at the highest level.

Hat Tip: AUTOSPORT

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MIE

Unpredictability used to be down to the unreliability of the cars, a decade or more ago, then very few drivers would expect to finish every race due to mechanical failure of the car (engine, gearbox, suspension, brakes etc). Now with parc ferme rules as they are, the cars have had to be designed to last not just for a 190 mile race, but for the qualifying session as well (and gearboxes and Power Units for much greater distances). The result is the cars are a lot further from the bleeding edge of technological development that they once were, and the… Read more »

Sakae

Unpredictability is hard to quantify term, and therefore remains highly subjective topic of discussion, until you check reports how much bookies were betting on Hamilton to win races. (in 2015). Season even haven’t started, and they are alrready betting on Hamilton again. To me it represented a trend of predictable wins with that car beneath him, and I seriously suspect that this is exactly what chiefs had on their mind, and want to prevent from happening on regular basis. F1 never had at the front what is NASCAR experiencing, many lead changes, many winners, but we need more than two… Read more »

Paul KieferJr

In the end, do we want the engine to win, the aero to win, the tech to win, or the drivers to win? Is it any combination thereof?

In the end, we want drama, action, blood-pumping adrenaline. However, I would not advocate this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pHU6K47qgc8

Tom Firth

The vast majority look fondly at F1 1999-2006 … levels of predictability are not the problem.

Tom Firth

If the sport stopped putting people in boxes of either they have good attention span and must therefore be of an older generation, or are young and therefore can’t possibly have an attention span to last longer than a goldfish, we might actually get somewhere!

Angela

What has taken a lot of the excitement of F1 away for me is the current situation where you have two successful engine manufacturers who not only supply customer teams but also their own team. It is obvious even to a dimwit like me that there is a major conflict of interest’s right there. No customer team will be allowed to beat Mercedes or Ferrari and when and if Renault come up to speed, they will adopt the same philosophy as well. So I don’t know if that is predictable or not but what I do know is that takes… Read more »

Sakae

I think writer has it right. My voice goes on side of unpredictability in race result due competitiveness when at least two or three teams have fair chance to win a race on merit thus driving bookies crazy, in contrast to unpredictability of technical nature, when we do not know which engineering group screwed car design less than the others from one race to another. Unpredictability has to happen on the track, not in a computer room on a computational model. Unfortunately we aren’t sure what Wolff and Marchionne were referring to. I know what I want, which is fight… Read more »

geeyore

They blew it with “sustainability” and “efficiency” (the latter is now the stated number one goal of the FIA’s version of F1). They misread their demographics and believe that they need to appeal to a younger audience, even though they don’t know what that means, or how it might be relevant to anything (is it the Rolex and UBS and Petronas “younger audience” they want?). They fixate on “the show” rather than on racing. They continue to devise gimmicks and arcane variable rules because they’ve lost sight of raw and visceral competition. Even drivers have been saying this for the… Read more »

Sakae

Yeah, but this time Éric Boullier probably has it right – hard to understand trend, direction and whatever else you can find these days in the rule book under watch of one Ch. Whiting, who represents FiA on F1. All rules have one common root cause driving them, namely, cost down targets, which BTW are helping to no one. After several years of trying, perhaps we can say that today. Moreover, I am not sure you can divorce Ecclestone completely from the scene; I haven’t seen any of those, but I do suspect that his signature are on all exiting… Read more »

Junipero Mariano

Giving everyone the same dodgy tire just makes them predictably breakdown. ;)

William

I assume that the unpredictability desired is avoiding one team dominating.
Well, short of all using the same car or introducing weight penalties, the easiest way of achieving that would an open system where all the research and development data is open for all the teams to use.

Tom Firth

That doesn’t work in my opinion, having all spec cars, you still get domination by select teams and drivers, even with spec cars. Same with ballast.

Sakae

In mid summer of 2011 Benson of BBC published an article, in which he wrote how well hybrid related regulations shall be safeguarding competitiveness on the track, ensuring that no one runs away. Well, then Mercedes happen, and Benson’s assertion went down the tubes. I don’t like specification cars, but homologation and whole token system isn’t smartest thing what FiA has ever done, because these are all factors why teams are limping, instead catching up. McLaren musketeers, Boullier, Dennis and Alonso last year were all pretty vocal about it as well on more than one occasion. F1 is suppose to… Read more »

Negative Camber

In many ways, the amount of money a team is willing to spend to win a F1 title is only a testament to the brand of F1. That Merc would spend $300 million means that winning a F1 title is worth a lot. That has to be good for F1 as a brand but in the end, you’ll lose smaller teams unless they are not shooting for title wins. Williams has been relatively honest about that. I think regulations could be shaped around team-spend though and this might add some interesting dynamics.

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