Analysis: Could Brawn's open inspection idea help end two-tier F1?

While Formula 1's leading teams Ferrari and Mercedes are separated by just tenths of a second at most, the gap behind them to the chasing pack is anything but small.

Analysis: Could Brawn's open inspection idea help end two-tier F1?
Listen to this article

It is why Red Bull has fallen back into what it calls 'no man's land', as the qualifying performances from the first four races have left F1’s midfield shaking their heads.

The margin between pole position and the best of the non-Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull teams has averaged more than 1.6 seconds – it was 1.8s in Australia and China, 1 second in Bahrain and stretched to 1.9 seconds in Russia.

It is little wonder then that midfield drivers like Carlos Sainz have got so disheartened at the situation, because they know that, at best, all they can hope for if the top three teams finish is seventh place.

“For me they are in a different category,” the Toro Rosso driver said earlier this year. “I don’t even look at them. It is stupid.

"It is a complete joke the way that we don’t race against them any more. It feels for me a bit of a pain, but I am sure if I was in one of those two teams I wouldn’t mind, for sure.”

Closing up the grid

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes F1 W08, Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF70H, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W08, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB13 at the start
Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes F1 W08, Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF70H, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W08, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB13 at the start

Photo by: LAT Images

While the likelihood is that the grid will converge as time goes on, it is also true that Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull have more resources than other outfits – so the potential is there for them to extend their advantage even further.

Should the latter scenario play out, then F1 risks a more extreme two-tier F1 where only the rich minority have the chance of winning. And that will fly in the face of the vision of F1’s new managing director of sport Ross Brawn, who reckons teams like Force India should be able win races on days when they get everything right.

But how to achieve such convergence without imposing either gimmicks that fans do not like or rewriting the rules, which would come with the risk of opening the gap further?

As Williams technical chief Paddy Lowe said: “It is a fact that when you change regulations you tend to spread the grid. And, as regulations become more stable and older, the grid closes up. So one of the first casualties of a large regulation change is bigger differences down the grid. “

While the answer to make the field more competitive is certainly not simple, perhaps one possible solution could come from simply a new mindset: that of the F1 field being forced to end its climate of secrecy and to reveal more of its secrets.

Open inspection

Car of Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota at technical inspection
Car of Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota at technical inspection

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

Speaking recently about changing directions for F1, Brawn brought up an idea that he was told about from NASCAR – a clever way that teams can understand what their rivals are up to, so that competitive advantages are not kept secret for long.

“I think that there’s a change of mindset as well within Formula 1 because there are opportunities that we shouldn’t be missing,” Brawn told Motorsport.com.

“You know, in NASCAR, as someone told me the other day, at a certain stage of the season you can go and look at someone else’s car and strip it apart and see what’s in it.

“And that’s their way of keeping everyone loosely competitive. And no one objects, no one has a problem. And it’s a philosophy that should be thought about.”

How it works

Fans at technical inspection
Fans at technical inspection

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

The actual scenario is more regular that even Brawn has suggested though.

For each week, cars must go through technical inspection prior to qualifying and the race, and then again following the race.

The entire process is held out in the open, where all competitors can witness what takes place at every inspection station.

In fact, many tracks now have brought fans into the picture, by placing some of the inspection stations near infield fan zones so spectators can watch teams go through the process as well.

In addition, each week NASCAR takes a handful of cars/trucks from each race (the winning car is always included) back to its R&D Center in Concord for a more thorough and intense inspection.

All of the teams there watch each other go through the tear-down process by NASCAR – and if anything untoward is found, then the secret is out in the open pretty quickly.

As NASCAR’s vice president for technical inspection and officiating, Chad Little, said of the inspection process at the R&D Center: "It's an open-door policy. So, any other team can come and observe. They're parked right next to each other just like they are in the garage; nobody covers anything up. When the parts come off, they're laid there for anybody else to see."

An F1 rethink

Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari SF70H behind the screens in the pits
Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari SF70H behind the screens in the pits

Photo by: XPB Images

What if this was the case in F1? Imagine a situation where Honda’s knowledge of what was needed for a state-of-the-art power unit is fast-tracked by close access to what Mercedes and Ferrari had done, or where teams like Williams and Force India get a better understanding of suspension technology or aero concepts from looking at what an outfit like Red Bull was really up to.

For Haas team principal Gunther Steiner, who has previously worked in NASCAR, the concept of such open-door inspections is one he knows well – and he thinks it would lead to an acceleration of progress for smaller teams to help close up the grid.

Plus, it would be a better thing for fans, too, because they would get to see F1 cars close up and under the skin – rather than constantly experience them being hidden away behind screens and garage doors.

“I think it could work because it's a good thing,” he told Motorsport.com. “So at least people show the technology to the fan because that is what we have to do.

“We have a fantastic story to tell, but we keep it secret, because we don't want to show it. But if it's by regulations that you have to show it, then that is good.”

There is a school of thought that suggests F1’s popularity has been built on technology secrets, but Steiner thinks that introducing such open inspections would not stop the quest for development – it would just make things more even between teams.

Car of Fernando Alonso, McLaren MCL32
Car of Fernando Alonso, McLaren MCL32

Photo by: LAT Images

“I don't know if it stops the development, but at least people can look at it and it should equalise it, because you see it and you can do it as well. You still have to work hard, but at least the fans can see it.

“That is part of F1. If you want make it cheaper, then go to the cheap series. That is not what F1 is. It should stay at that high technology because that's part of the appeal, but we need to make it accessible for the fans.

“If we just do it for ourselves then you wonder why the hell you do it and people start to question it. I think it would equalise the engines a little bit more.

"It can be an advantage or a disadvantage. Some you win, some you lose, but I think it makes the field closer together. If you are first, you don't want it, but if you have to show it, you are forced to do it."

Steiner is right that the introduction of such a rule would not be easy to accomplish – with bigger outfits almost certain to resist any attempt to bring in something that could wipe away their edge.

But at a time when Liberty Media has talked about overhauling F1’s commercial structure longer-term to even things up, the mindset appears there for such bold changes like open inspection to be made in the pitlane to make things closer on the track, too.

Additional reporting by Jim Utter

shares
comments
Haas appoints Maini as F1 development driver
Previous article

Haas appoints Maini as F1 development driver

Next article

F1 reveals its plans for better fan experience

F1 reveals its plans for better fan experience
Load comments
The historic clues that offer hints of Hamilton’s next move Prime

The historic clues that offer hints of Hamilton’s next move

OPINION: Uncertainty over Lewis Hamilton's future has persisted since the race direction call that denied him an eighth world title in Abu Dhabi last month. But while walking away would be understandable, Hamilton has time and again responded well in the face of adversity and possesses all the tools needed to bounce back stronger than ever

Formula 1
Jan 26, 2022
What the FIA must do to restore F1's credibility Prime

What the FIA must do to restore F1's credibility

OPINION: The first stage of the 2022 Formula 1 pre-season is just over a month away, but the championship is still reeling from the controversial results of last year’s finale. The FIA acknowledges F1 has had its reputation dented as a result, so here’s how it could go about putting things right

Formula 1
Jan 25, 2022
The six subplots to watch in 2022 as a new F1 era begins Prime

The six subplots to watch in 2022 as a new F1 era begins

As Formula 1 prepares to begin a new era of technical regulations in 2022, We pick out six other key elements to follow this season

Formula 1
Jan 24, 2022
Why newly-retired Kimi Raikkonen won't miss F1 Prime

Why newly-retired Kimi Raikkonen won't miss F1

After 349 grand prix starts, 46 fastest laps, 21 wins and one world championship, Kimi Raikkonen has finally called time on his F1 career. In an exclusive interview with Motorsport.com on the eve of his final race, he explains his loathing of paddock politics and reflects on how motorsport has changed over the past two decades.

Formula 1
Jan 23, 2022
Unpacking the technical changes behind F1 2022's rules shake-up Prime

Unpacking the technical changes behind F1 2022's rules shake-up

Formula 1 cars will look very different this year as the long-awaited fresh rules finally arrive with the stated aim of improving its quality of racing. We break down what the return of 'ground effect' aerodynamics - and a flurry of other changes besides - means for the teams, and what fans can expect

Formula 1
Jan 21, 2022
Why F1's new era is still dogged by its old world problems Prime

Why F1's new era is still dogged by its old world problems

OPINION: The 2022 Formula 1 season is just weeks away from getting underway, but instead of focusing on what is to come, the attention still remains on what has been – not least the Abu Dhabi title decider controversy. That, plus other key talking points, must be resolved to allow the series to warmly welcome in its new era

Formula 1
Jan 20, 2022
The Schumacher trait that will give Haas hope in F1 2022 Prime

The Schumacher trait that will give Haas hope in F1 2022

Mick Schumacher’s knack of improving during his second season in a championship was a trademark of his junior formula career, so his progress during his rookie Formula 1 campaign with Haas was encouraging. His target now will be to turn that improvement into results as the team hopes to reap the rewards of sacrificing development in 2021

Formula 1
Jan 19, 2022
The “glorified taxi” driver central to F1’s continued safety push Prime

The “glorified taxi” driver central to F1’s continued safety push

As the driver of Formula 1’s medical car, Alan van der Merwe’s job is to wait – and hope his skills aren’t needed. James Newbold hears from F1’s lesser-known stalwart.

Formula 1
Jan 15, 2022