Would a three-way battle in 2020 excite you?

I was reading a piece over at The Race by Glenn Freeman today and it struck me as a wen-considered argument he was making about the 2020 season and beyond with regards to the competitive nature of Formula 1. In short, should we celebrate if the 2020 season finds a three-way battle for the title?

Glenn does some nice number crunching to determine things such as the average number of different winners per season, average number of different front row starters and perhaps the most revealing, the average number of different race leaders per season.

They are all nicely considered for their nuance, such as re-fueling era impact, and I’d argue that Glenn has made a very cogent argument as to why the 2014 hybrid era has been a bust on many levels with regards to producing competitive racing. LEt’s look at Glenn’s numbers:

For the last three years, F1 has had five winning drivers per season – which isn’t too bad.

“The average number of winners per season in the 1990s was 4.9, and in the 2000s it was 5.3. For the 2010s that number was 4.8, although if you take the smaller sample set of the first four years of the decade, when the grid closed up through stable aerodynamic regulations and a freeze on V8 engine development, F1 was up to an average of 5.75 winners per season before the major rule changes for 2014.”

Interesting here is the 2010-2013 timeframe. I’ve argued this many times but what you have is an incredibly stable and affordable engine with regulations that are mature delivering some of F1’s most competitive racing. It is why I argued back then that the best path forward, as Steve Matchett agreed, was to simply starve the current V8’s of fuel flow and prompt new engineering to evolve the ICE V8 to become a more efficient engine. Regardless of my rants, how does this very competitive 4-year period stand up to Glenn’s other metrics? Let’s see:

“Since 2014 there has been on average 8.5 different drivers getting on the podium in a season. That compares poorly to the 1990s (11.2), 2000s (10.2) but it’s not far away from the 2010-13 period, where the average was nine.”

This is a challenging metric to be sure and highlights the lack of competitiveness beyond Mercedes since 2014. Glenn arrives at race leaders as the most damning and I don’t disagree with him but that magic period of 2010-2013 isn’t as wide as it would seem to have been with regards to podium appearances. Interesting. Let’s continue:

“Front row starters is another interesting fact, as it allows for a wider sample set than simply counting pole positions. In the 1990s the average was six drivers managing a front row start in a season, and in the 2000s that went up to 7.9, helped by the introduction of race-start fuel loads for qualifying from 2003. This number dropped slightly to 7.5 for 2010-13, and has fallen further to 5.6 since. Another sign that the front end of the F1 grid is becoming a closed shop.”

I think this stat is particularly exposing as it would reflect overall one-lap speed deltas between all the teams and it exposes the changes they made with regards to qualifying in general. No qualifying cars (due to cost reasons) and very little chance of any team outside the top three of ever having a great day on Saturday and mixing things up. Here, however, is the stat that Glenn felt was most indicative:

“In the 1990s F1 averaged eight race leaders per season. That figure jumped to 10.4 in the 2000s, despite the dominance of Ferrari and Michael Schumacher in the first half of that decade, and the 2010-13 figure was 10.5.”

There are many variables with this metric such as refueling, yellow flags etc, but I think Glenn takes that into account and does mention those variables. The numbers are pretty revealing by anyone’s measure and in the end, it exposes a real rift between the top three teams and everyone else. The system of four engine makers who own works teams is broken. Why do I say that? Here is Glenn’s final stat regarding race leaders:

“So how about the post-2014 number for race leaders? Over the last six years F1 has averaged 6.8 leaders per season. But that number is helped by the fact we had 10 in 2014, when there was no obvious challenger to Mercedes, so if the silver cars hit trouble the best of the rest fight was unpredictable enough to produce some mixed up race orders.

The more worrying trend here is that the last four years have only had six leaders per season. To make it worse, only four of those 4990 laps have been led by a driver outside of the top three teams, and that was Antonio Giovinazzi in the Singapore GP last year. There is nothing good about that, apart from making Giovinazzi a very difficult answer to a quiz question.”

In one sense, Glenn’s piece may be met with a, “tell me something I don’t know” response. Sure, we all know F1 is not producing a competitive model at the moment but what Glenn does achieve is multiple ways to assess the impact of a three-team series and asks a very important question, should be be elated if three teams battle for the title in 2020 or should we face the harsh reality that F1’s bloated system has run its course and a focus on privateers needs to come back? The elephant in the room is the hybrid engine.

I’m no luddite but affordable V8 engines that are stable, efficient with reduced fuel flow and competitive is a way to balance the shove and allow teams to fight on the chassis level using key partnerships with V8 producers such as Cosworth, Gibson et. al.

This notion of F1 needing to immediately move to all-electric seems daft when you consider that the series ships 750 tons of gear around the world 22 times. If the way in which F1 achieves their zero-carbon footprint involves offsets for the freight, then surely planting a few extra offsets (green taxes) will cover the V8’s “footprint”, which is a pittance compared to the freight to get them around the world. And that’s if you are of the notion that carbon is evil which I am not…in fact, I am based on it and so are F1 chassis’s.

Hat Tip: The Race

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