It’s the product, Formula 1, not the window dressing

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Pic courtesy of Roderick Elme

New owner, same misplaced enthusiasm. That was the conclusion I reached as I read of Formula One’s latest proposals to sex itself up.

While additional American centres will help (after the way it spat in the USA’s face in 2005, the sport is lucky it still has a foothold there at all) I fear a triumph of hype over cool heads when I read about the vision of Super Bowl equivalency and plans to make each Grand Prix a week-long ‘event’.

This sounds like a fixation with brand and placement, when it’s the sport itself that is turning people off. Anyone who grumbles about soccer’s Premier League being a closed-shop is clearly a stranger to F1 – a form of motorsport where overtaking in the hierarchy is now as rare as it is on the track.

So underwhelmed was I by the nature of the “radical changes” being envisaged, I shaved and showered one morning last week while mulling over a few radical changes of my own. I warn in advance that I’m usually hopeless at devising Grand Plans – my enthusiasm for the bigger picture nearly always blinding me to snags with the small print – but what the hell. I throw this out there: shoot it down in flames if you will – I’m just happy to get it off my chest.

I propose essentially just one radical change – that Formula One drivers go from being employees to freelancers. Teams continue to design, build and refine cars. They take two to every race and at the start of the week, a draw is made to decide which driver gets which car.

One proviso – no driver can race for a team more than twice a season. Match the number of drivers and cars to the number of Grands Prix contested each season and everyone gets to drive each team’s car. Points are awarded as they are now to drivers and constructors alike, the champion in each category being those who made best use of the same resources as were made available to everyone else.

Three objections I have already envisaged: first, driver’s remuneration. I propose that each team pays into a salary kitty at the start of the season a sum equal to twice the average F1 driver’s salary in the previous season ( with an inflation top-up, if appropriate). Each driver is entitled to draw a guaranteed base salary throughout the season ($1m, $2m?) – the rest is divvied up after the final race and awarded proportionally, each driver collecting an additional amount directly linked to where he finished in the championship table.

Secondly, cockpit requirements. I’m no engineer, so I acknowledge that this could be an insurmountable problem, unless it’s possible to build a cockpit surround tailored to each driver’s build, which can then be fit into whatever car he is drawn to drive.

Third, new driver intake. I’m thinking here of a system similar to that in professional golf, where the top 125 or so in the money list at the end of each season are guaranteed what are known as Tour cards, which grant them entry to the next season’s tournaments, while a limited number of additional Tour cards are competed for by those outside the top 125, along with newcomers to the pro ranks, at a tournament known as Qualifying School or ‘Q-School’.

Translating this to F1, say the top 16 points finishers in the Drivers’ Championship qualify to compete in the  following season’s events. The bottom six take their chances with those newcomers eligible for an F1 licence at F1’s own version of ‘Q-School’, held over several days during the close-season, when each driver takes turns to drive 10 or 15 laps in the same car, with the six fastest aggregate times earning an F1 ‘card’.

All sorts of commercial and vested interests will ensure that my proposals are never more than that, of course. After all, they would bring to the sport concepts that no self-respecting big business can countenance – surprise, uncertainty and all the entertaining possibilites of a level playing field. It’s the logistical objections I’m interested in. What  practical objections did I miss in my bathroom musings?

Over to you.

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