The three P’s of Formula 1: Points, Penalties and Prizes

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The 2017 Italian Grand Prix served to highlight once again that current Formula 1 regulations around grid penalties for exceeding allocated allowances of power unit components over a season are not fit for purpose. With drivers, teams, and the media calling for an urgent review and challenging the viability 2018 regulations around further reducing component allocation. In a sport seeking to broaden its fan base, a starting grid in which 11 competitors start in different positions to that which they qualified is incomprehensible and will serve only to turn fans away.

It would be simple to suggest the grid penalty system should be removed entirely and teams be left free to use power units as they see fit. This however ignores the principles under which the system was introduced in the first place, that of cost saving and technology application across the automotive industry. Of course, it could be argued that well-funded, underperforming teams manipulate the system, electing to take penalties in races where they are unlikely to perform well in a bid to artificially elevate their performance potential in other races, but the principle under which the limited power unit allocation regulation was determined remains valid.

As Formula 1 seeks to re-engage with its audience and appeal to a new generation of fans, issues such as grid penalties for power unit usage should not be looked at in isolation. The sport should consider an approach addressing a number of challenges it is facing. The following article outlines a clear roadmap for the sport to address a number of these issues, and does so in a way which requires no investment from the sport itself.

Points

Purists of Formula 1 HATE the mere suggestion of adjusting the points system. Each and every season the sports leading publications will feature extensive articles around the how the outcome of the championship would have been different had the points system used in 1990 been applied. However, a points system is not sacred and should evolve with the sport. As was first muted earlier this year at the Spanish Grand Prix, Formula 1 should move towards a points system rewarding consistency and reliability. Fans want to see cars on track, a points system in which only half the grid are rewarded does not encourage teams to fulfil this desire. There is no incentive for a car running in 16th place with 5 laps to go to finish the race. As such a points system in which all classified finishers (i.e. completing 95% race distance) should be awarded points.

In following this roadmap Formula 1 can address many of the challenges they are currently facing without investing any new capital into the sport.

Jon Wilde

Similarly, it is time for points to be awarded in qualifying and for fastest lap. Again fans want to see cars on track and they want to see them pushing to the limit whenever possible. A top 10 qualifying session in which a Haas for example makes it into the session but is unlikely to be able to qualify above P9 so does not run in the session is not good for the sport. By offering points 10-1 for Pole to 10th, the inclination for teams and drivers to get out on track is heightened. Awarding points for fastest lap will reduce situations as seen in Monza whereby the dominant cars turn down their engine performance after 12 laps. It keeps the competition alive and encourages drivers to push whenever possible.

Penalties

Grid place penalties do not work. On a grid of 20 cars, when teams and drivers can incur 65 place grid penalties over a single weekend and simply start at the back of the field, the system is meaningless. The application of grid penalties for the Red Bull Racing duo at the Italian Grand Prix robbed fans of the prospect of any realistic challenge for the podium outside of Mercedes and Ferrari. The system is damaging racing, and possibly of greater concern, it is confusing fans. A system under which the times set in qualifying have little or no bearing on the starting positions of the race does not work.

Replacing grid penalties with points deductions under the current system would be a hard pill to swallow. Teams such as McLaren would have a negative points tally close to the total points score of its leading rivals. Adopting a points system in which reliability and consistency in the race is addressed as outlined above could serve to address this. If instead of awarding a 5 place grid penalty for the use of power unit component exceeding a cars allocation a 1-point deduction was applied, there would be no impact on racing, no confusion around starting positions, and by increasing the number of points awarded to a team/driver a points deduction is seen as a less adverse punishment.

There is no incentive for a car running in 16th place with 5 laps to go to finish the race.

On the subject of points deduction, in my opinion, any deductions should be applied to both team and driver. They should not be limited to the constructor championship only. Formula 1 is a team sport. Points systems should reflect this, by separating drivers from constructors the sport will increasingly focus on drivers as heroes who aren’t impacted by the team.

Prizes

After suggestions around adjusting points systems and modifying penalties, it is conceivable that well-funded teams will look at a new system as proposed and immediately look at ways to game the system to artificially elevate their position. This is to be expected, and under the final element of this roadmap could actually be encouraged.

Many pundits claim that applying a financial penalty to certain teams in Formula 1 can be irrelevant. The manufacturer or FMCG supporting the entry will simply absorb the cost. This to the fan can be difficult to comprehend and again alienating, suggesting the sport is reserved for the elite. To address this issue in addition to awarding points for consistency and deducting points as a form of penalty. Formula 1 management should take control of the highly coveted prize fund.

For every points deduction a team receives over a season Formula 1 should remove £1,000,000 from that team’s prize fund. This £1,000,000 does not disappear, quietly slipping into the dividends paid out by Liberty Media at the end of the year. It becomes a public prize fund. At the end of the season 50% of the total fund value will be allocated across all circuit hosts of races over the completed season and deducted from their race fees for the following year. The remaining 50% is a fund for fans. Formula 1 should create a lottery system in which fans register through the year for free tickets to races. The total number of free tickets available is determined by the value held in the funds collected from teams incurring penalties through the season.

In following this roadmap Formula 1 can address many of the challenges they are currently facing without investing any new capital into the sport.

Teams and drivers push as hard as they can at all times to maximise points available, fans engage with the sport and tune it to see each race in the hope of seeing their chances of a free ticket increase. Circuits inadvertently receive a reduction in race fees without having to renegotiate contacts. Everything is possible and it all starts with the three P’s.




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