As a commercial sporting giant of the very top level, attracting fans and more importantly enticing sponsors is key to the ongoing upkeep and business success of Formula 1. After a couple of relatively tepid years in terms of true excitement and competition, certainly when compared to recent vintage seasons such as 2010, F1 bosses have been making concerted efforts to maximise the sport’s global appeal by ‘levelling the playing field’ and stamping out the sort of dominance enjoyed by Red Bull in recent times.
Certain new regulations introduced for the current 2014 season are indicative of this trend; think the controversial double points rule for the final race of the year. The irony is that, given Mercedes’ clear superiority so far this season, the furore stirred up over that particular bone of contention looks unlikely to count for much when we do get to Abu Dhabi in November; at least as far as the constructors title is concerned.
Perhaps as a direct result of the steady and inevitable flow of Silver Arrows’ lock-outs, the F1 powers that be had yet more surprises in store at the official announcement of the latest series of rule changes for 2015.
The stand out news is undoubtedly that, from next season, standing re-starts will be brought in following safety-car periods. The news has been received differently in various corners of the F1 paddock. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso refused to be drawn on the issue whilst Championship leader Nico Rosberg has expressed his dismay at the move and implored the FIA to rethink their decision. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who recognised the added excitement proposed by such a change from a spectators point of view, also warned that standing-starts could be too “artificial” and could prove too much of a disadvantage for a Gran Prix leader.
Ultimately, any rule aimed at reducing the margins between teams will always be poorly received by the big-guns and come as music to the ears of those playing catch-up. What is undeniable is the added excitement factor that this move will bring with it. What trackside fan of TV spectator would honestly prefer to watch a relative precession at the head of the field than enjoy a repeat of what is often the most adrenaline-filled part of a Gran Prix? However, concerns have been raised in some quarters over the questionable logic of following a big accident with the potential for an even bigger one, as the entire grid is bunched up and funnelled wheel-to-wheel in to the single most dangerous part of the race; the first corner. And when the first turn dash yields yet more carnage, as is quite often the case, do we then repeat the entire rigmarole over and over again until only a handful of cars remain in one piece, destruction derby style?
The debate will of course rage on and on. Alternative solutions will be offered. Could one potential halfway-house, for example, be to adopt the standing-start but only allow drivers to set off based on how far behind the leader they were at the time the race was interrupted? But in that scenario, why not simply retain the original rolling-start? Besides, what happens when Nico Rosberg rounds the last corner only to be confronted by a pair of stationary Caterhams idling on the grid, a lap down on the front runners?
Change for the sake of competition has a firm bases. Like all major sports series, Formula 1 is ultimately a global business that relies on its global appeal to flourish. However, the way in which that change is implemented must be given some very careful thought indeed to ensure that the safety and overall integrity of the world’s premier motorsport is not put in peril. Over to you FIA, the ball is back in your court.