Analysis: Why rules not cars are key to exciting F1 races

Formula 1 could bring back refueling and introduce wider and faster cars, but it is the rules that need to change to make the racing more exciting and unpredictable, Williams' Pat Symonds tells Jonathan Noble.

Formula 1 has again been doing a bit of soul searching since a Canadian Grand Prix that underwhelmed fans.

A perfect storm of fuel saving and brake saving on a day when backing off ensured a quicker one-stop race produced one of the least exciting races in Montreal for years.

It has again put the spotlight on the impact of new fuel-efficient engines, and prompted debate about the current generation of cars that are nowhere near as fast as they were a decade ago.

But while talks continue between teams to finalise the delivery of wider and faster cars for 2017, there is also a truth that needs to be understood: it's rules not cars that ultimately produce the most exciting racing.

No silver bullet

The push by the Strategy Group to deliver cars that are around five seconds per lap quicker is aimed at trying to deliver a more exciting spectacle for 2017.

But, as Williams chief technical officer Pat Symonds explains, just making cars quicker is not going to deliver the kind of dramatic changes that some may be hoping for.

And that means there are things that can be done in the short term to improve matters greatly.

"There is this notion that a driver should sweat and be tired when he gets out of the car. Why?" Symonds told Motorsport.com. "What's that about? I don't understand that at all.

"I think that what matters is not having races that are deterministic. What I mean by that is knowing exactly how the race is going to pan out and who is going to win. That is what makes the racing rubbish."

Refuelling era proof

Symonds' claim about pre-determined strategies producing dull racing is borne out by the lack of overtaking that existed in the refuelling era, when Sundays were dominated by cars stopping on set laps.

It is why he is against the idea of it coming back to F1.

"In F1, in recent years, the worst era we have ever been through was the Michael Schumacher era at Ferrari [with refuelling]," he said.

"We all got so clever with our software; we were all doing the same thing and all the overtaking was happening in the pits. Once we got to the last pitstop we stopped racing and drove around until the end."

He added: "My friends who have a passing interest in motorsports said it was just not worth watching anymore. And it was hard to argue with them.

"We want good racing. We want close racing. We want unpredictability. Close racing comes from not messing with the rules. History shows and logic dictates that we all going to arrive at a similar solution, with a similar performance. The cars are going to get close together, and you get better racing.

"You want to mix things up a little bit? There are lots of things you can do. Single lap qualifying was quite good for us and it brought us fabulous racing like in Japan in 1995 when it rained halfway through qualifying.

"Those sorts of races are great and that is the sort of thing we want to do."

Varying profiles

Symonds suggests that the absolute key to a good race is having cars running on different pace profiles during races, as happened in recent years when Pirelli's tyres were more aggressive.

He thinks it essential that the sporting rules create such variability so that the outcome of each grand prix is not determined until the end of the race.

"What makes a good race is when the performance profiles of the cars is different at different stages of the race," he said. "All sorts of times we have had that in the Bridgestone/Michelin days.

"Racing flat out, what is that going to do? It is about being able to save yourself to push harder later? When we talk about not being flat out, we are not exactly driving one arm out of the window, it is still quite difficult to do."

Tyre choice an idea

One idea that Symonds is fully behind is introducing more tyre variability, so teams can pick their compounds for races.

Pirelli is working on this idea with teams, with one suggestion being for each outfit to choose from a defined range for each race weekend that will vary event by event.

"I think the idea of using different tyres, allowing the teams to play a bit of a joker, that's quite a good idea," explained Symonds.

"That will mix things up a little bit. You will get the midfield team who will say, 'come on let's take a bit of a punt here'.

"I am surprised that Pirelli are so against it, I can understand their sensitivity but I still think we could do it even if they impose certain rules like you can't take the super soft in Monza.

"And again it's the sporting rules not the technical."

As F1 looks for answers to why the racing is not delivering right now, it would be wise to look beyond just the cars and the technical rules.

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Series Formula 1
Article type Analysis