I wrote an editorial last week about the reasons Fernando Alonso was leaving the sport. He left the door open for a possible return but unless Formula 1 gets itself sorted, I doubt he would come back. Later in the week, I read an interesting article about Haas F1’s Kevin Magnussen viewing the series as a class A and class B championship with Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari in the former and everyone else in the latter.
In an article today at Autosport, Sergio Perez reckons this is more indicting of F1 than something to be celebrated. With only five non-Mercedes, Red Bull or Ferrari cars on the podium since 2016, the discussion is centered around the disparity between the top three teams and everyone else.
“That is quite difficult,” he told Autosport.
“The difference in budget these days, going into a new generation of cars, is tremendous.
“You cannot compete. The last four or five years it was simply two categories in Formula 1.
“I’ve never heard before, that people were talking about ‘yeah, I won the race’, when you are best of the rest, or ‘I’m leading the championship’ if you are best of the rest.
“That shouldn’t be the way. That is damaging the sport a lot.”
The sport is no stranger to eras of team domination such as the early 2,000’s and Ferrari, late 90’s with McLaren, Mid-2,000’s with Red Bull etc. It has also had its eras of good competition between teams that experienced a more competitive field and developed over a season to become competitive and that, for me, is one of the bigger issues the series faces today.
The exorbitant cost of today’s hybrid engine makes full-time, rapid and repetitive development upgrades very expensive and, as it turns out, it isn’t allowed. With only three engines allowed this season, you have three chances. That means that the engine you show up with in Australia is going to be the one you trundle around in for several races until mid-season when you release your second iteration along with everyone else.
To be fair, the challenge is also the point of diminished returns. If you consider the last iteration of engine, the V8, that specification had just about been developed to its fullest extent. If the FIA had changed the spec’s for the V8 with regards to fuel flow rates, piston angles, overall size and engine mapping, the development war would have started again but perhaps it wouldn’t have been as expensive as the current hybrid?
There is also a consideration to be made about the parity of the engines. At the end of the V8 era, all of the engine development was effectively frozen and the teams had pushed the innovation as far as that spec would allow them to. What we had was multiple engine manufacturers with varying design differences of their own V8’s achieving near parity in performance output and competitive reliability. I recall reading hos this was a bad thing. Is it?
Multiple manufacturers making their own V8 engines and developing them to the point of diminished returns were all competitive with each other with slight variances that made some better on certain tracks than others. The differentiator was then the chassis, aerodynamics, driver, electronics, reliability, tire management and pit crew efficiency. Red Bull won four titles with an engine that was on par with all the others but did so with superior chassis and aero designs. Ross Brawn won a title with the same engine as everyone else but with a dual diffuser design.
The point here is that for racing’s sake, I don’t view a V8 developed to its final conclusion a bad thing. It retains the true constructor’s notion of F1 but then allows for cost effectiveness, reliability and competitive performance. The differentiators then become other elements of the car including the driver.
At the end of 2013, if the FIA had written the new engine formula regulations around a V8 with reduced fuel-flow rate, reduced oil loads, increased RPM and power output, I believe we would now be seeing Renault, Mercedes, Ferrari and Honda all competing on a relatively level playing field with the chassis, drivers, teams and reliability moved forward in the competition equation.
As It is, the current regulations saw Mercedes nail the hybrid, which then became a baked-in advantage since 2014, and with limited development (initially via the token system and now through a 3-engine rule), it is very difficult for anyone to catch up and this means we have a class B championship.
Hat Tip: Autosport
What if we didn’t react at all and left the rules alone for another 4-8 years, zero changes to the rules (tires, chassis, aero, engine etc). We’ve seen after a few years with these rules Ferrari have clawed their way back. I posit that if we froze the rules for another 4-8 years others would eventually catch up and over time more would enter into “class A”. The parity issues aren’t with the rules or money, it’s with the rule change cycle not matching the budgets of the average team. High budgets mean you get to maximum solutions faster but… Read more »
Again 4-8 years with possibly no change would be such a waste of driver careers.
My hunch would be that as new technologies come into the sport, changes would have to be made to thwart unfair advantages etc. Think “Fan car”, right? Aero changes, wings et. al. My thought is really down to the engine in particular. I’m curious if the engine formula being more static over a longer period might not bring more parity on track leaving the random elements such as aero, chassis, driver and team more to the forefront of the equation. Could be wrong, I’m just thinking out loud.
Cannot put anything on your car you are not willing to sell to every other team?
Good post Darrel, many of those periods of closer competition came when the rules had been stable for a period.
Though if you look at the past couple of seasons, the pace difference between the A and B teams has closed right up, so its the reliability of the cars and the p.u’s that is keeping the A teams ahead at the moment.
Sergio… drive better.
“With only five non-Mercedes, Red Bull or Ferrari cars on the podium since 2016″… How many of those podius were his?
My feeling is that Lotus, Brabham, Chapparal, BRM, and a whole host of innovative, break-the-rules, racing constructors would never be able to come along. Remember when Honda came with the transverse engine? What did that lead to? See millions of cars around the world with front wheel drive transverse engines. The fact is F1 has lost it’s rule-breaking, try anything to be first spirit. A rule tweak here and a rule tweak there are only decisions by committee–committee designed to support the cash flow of the top echelon only.
Left behind? 1. Fans. 2. Innovation, 3. Excitement.
I’m all for promoting the wonderful innovations that have come to road cars from motor sports, but Honda’s 1964 F1 1.5l V12 transverse engine (midengined and rear wheel drive) as the precursor of the ubiquitous transverse engined front wheel drive p.u’s?
I think road cars from Cord and Citroën from the 1930’s, and DKW, SAAB from the 1940’s and Austin in the 1950’s get the credit for that innovation.
To me it just comes down to budget. Mercedes and Ferrari have around 1000 staff compared to a force India where there are about 200 maximum. Imagine what you could achieve if there were 5 of you. In addition the big teams will pay better wages so the better staff will go there. Couple that with a very modern dynamic management (missing at McLaren) style and it is almost impossible to see how they would get beat. When the engines weren’t a factor (V8 era) then it favoured the team with the best aero set up. Like someone else said,… Read more »
Wasn’t the big difference in competitiveness vs what you started with that you used to bring out the new car mid season which meant you got more competitive once your actual new car arrived, unless you were McLaren then the new one was a dog and you went back and built another one!
That was back in the big budget days Tom, when the top teams could afford to have a testing team, and massive mid season development upgrades.
Arguably the only reason don’t have a massive testing team today is the rules today don’t allow them to spend the money in that way which goes to some of what Perez is saying.
I feel like the testing ban is a classic backfiring attempt at cost-saving. Yes, on-track testing and windtunnel time are expensive. But what’s even more expensive is running an entire B team like Toro Rosso to get your testing done during grand prix weekends. We’ve seen Williams for instance desperately trying to get both track practice and testing data simultaneously from the FP sessions. They would probably benefit tremendously from several days of dedicated testing. They can’t do that though, and obviously running an entire second race organization is beyond everybody but the very richest teams. It’s a classic F1… Read more »
When did the class A and B (and C) team thing become the ruination of F1?
I’ve been following f1 a long time, and the periods where more than three teams have been able to win races and compete for championships exist mainly in the fevered imagination of old guys like me nostalgic for ‘the good old days’.
This would be a great topic for MIE to write one of his fact checking ‘Then and Now’ articles on.
Jako die Facto steps up! Two five year periods, more or less at random, how many competitive teams?….. 1998 – 2002 – Total races 83, Races won by WCC – 50, Races won by top 2 teams – 74. Seasons where more than 3 teams won a race – 1. 1999 (McLaren 9, Ferrari 6, Jordan 2, Stewart 1). 2008 – 2012 – Total races 92, Races won by WCC – 45, Races won by top 2 teams – 75 Seasons where more than 3 teams won a race – 3. 2008 (Ferrari 8, McLaren 6, Renault 2, BMW 1),… Read more »
You’re right in that we’ve always had A and B teams. The rules do stifle a lot of potential progression though, particularly in the midfield. Personally though I think things like RRA and other such agreements have hurt F1 too as well as the current regs by banning testing, reducing staffing and other cuts to what can and can’t do compared to a decade or so ago.
Thanks Tom – some feedback in reward for investing a hour in abit of fact checking ;-) You’re right that its the progression of teams from entrant to midfield to front of field that seems to have been stagnated. For me that’s down to few organisations being prepared to spend enough to compete with the three front teams. It was getting a bit tasty in the early to mid 2000’s when manufacturers like Toyota, BMW, and Honda came in with big budgets and high ambition. But the Global Financial Crisis put an end to that, and a shift in their… Read more »