Opinion: Does F1 need gimmicks to spice up the show?

Would a "caution clock" system like the one introduced by NASCAR for its Trucks series boost the F1 show? Jonathan Noble and Valentin Khorounzhiy offer opposing views on how to improve the grand prix racing spectacle.

Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has made no secret of the fact that he wants the excitement injected back into the sport that he has long ruled over.

Indeed, according to sources, Ecclestone offered some of the more extreme ideas about ways to spice up the show during discussions earlier this week in the Strategy Group and F1 Commission.

While the outcome of the Geneva meetings did not deliver a repeat of the universally hated double points concept - indeed only some more fan voting interaction and less stewards' involvement were pushed forward - there is some thought being given to shaking-up of the grand prix weekend.

But just how far should F1 go in its bid to ramp up the thrills and please the fans - while at the same time maintaining its sporting purity?

Here are two opinions on the direction the sport should head in.

FOR GIMMICKS: Caution clock a bold idea for F1

By Valentin Khorounzhiy, Editorial Assistant

The same day that F1 teams, through the F1 Commission, continued to meander in trying to adjust the sport's engine rules, NASCAR announced a "caution clock" system for its third-tier Truck series – a sweeping, monumental change that automatically forces a yellow flag race suspension if one doesn't naturally occur in 20 minutes.

A lot of NASCAR fans, to put it nicely, didn't care for it. Some would say that's due to it being a miserable idea; some, yours truly included, would suggest that the idea fell prey to the fans' usual reluctance to change; and some would correctly point out that, as far as motorsport championships go, none of NASCAR's series are in dire need of livening up.

NASCAR, after all, doesn't have one team on pole for all but one race in a season, nor does it have its titles decided with three races to spare and won by the exact driver who was predicted to win it, by an absolute majority, at the start of the campaign.

Everybody is well-aware that Formula 1 needs a shot in the arm, but the solutions usually range from the perplexing, like "go back to the V8s and everything will be good again", to the completely inane, like "uninvent the laws of aerodynamics".

F1's big problem in 2015 boiled down to the fact that races felt over five laps in. The Mercedes duo would settle into a comfortable 1-2, running a few seconds apart, with Sebastian Vettel often a distant, lonely third.

And while one or two fights for the lower point-paying positions were almost always a given, they are unlikely to captivate spectators – even with F1's grid being arguably as good as it has ever been.

What's to blame? Well, according to some, the gimmicks – DRS and Pirelli's degrading tyres – because removing those would somehow magically do away with Mercedes' one-second-a-lap advantage.

But could it be that F1 actually doesn't have enough gimmicks? That, as it stands, it's too vanilla, too predictable, too devoid of the moments that fans can savour and discuss weeks on after they happen?

F1 can't take on just any gimmick, of course. Some of the ideas floating around – reverse grids, random grids, Saturday races – would, perhaps, alter the grand prix weekend a little too much for it to still be, in essence, Formula 1.

But the very caution clock introduced by NASCAR is, in many ways, a fantastic idea, forcing teams to mix up strategies and making dominant cars run in the middle of the pack at least at some stages of the race – the latter also being the exact thing that made Hungaroring, Silverstone and Austin the best races of the 2015 season.

The purists will turn up their noses and demand a return to the glory days, when the leader could lap the entire field and then retire on the final lap with a mechanical failure.

Clearly, that's not an option these days. Instead, what we have is the equivalent of a football match in which the top team – the only top team in the league – scores two goals early on and then passes the ball around, running out the clock. And making the cars quicker and louder won't fix that.

But, hey, if F1 and its fans think noise and speed are the priorities, that's what the sport should go for. Then maybe Mercedes can be not one, but two or three seconds a lap quicker - and maybe the entire fanbase will finally develop tinnitus.

AGAINST GIMMICKS: Better rules key to spectacle

By Jonathan Noble, F1 Editor

While Formula 1 fans would love every race to be a thriller that was decided on the final corner of the final lap, the reality is that if each grand prix produced that it would soon become the norm and therefore boring.

Quite quickly, fans would realise that there was no need to watch the race apart from the final two minutes.

The essence of sport is that there has to be some dull events along the way to make the more exciting events even better. Even football needs the 0-0 draws for fans to really appreciate the 6-5 grippers.

F1 has to have us on the edge of the seat for the potential of a great overtaking move at any point: be it the first lap, mid-distance or right at the end. It has to draw us in for two hours each Sunday.

F1 has built up its worldwide following because it is - and always should be - about the fastest racing drivers battling it out in the fastest racing machinery. Nothing more, nothing less – although current cars have left the latter element a subject of debate.

When a driver wins a race, it has to become a major achievement and the result of very hard toil: not simply the result of someone tossing a coin and ultimately deciding that today he should be the victor because variety is simply better.

To think of gimmicks that boost overtaking, shuffle the order or hinder the championship leader, is to cut through the very fabric of F1. And it is almost a case of ordered the barn door to be shut after the horse has bolted.

Gimmicks - like reverse grids or the caution clock - may well ensure that we get a bigger variety of winners, but equally they will take away some of the achievement of an F1 triumph and the value of the sport.

When the Grand Prix Drivers' Association (GPDA) in association with Motorsport.com conducted the biggest ever Global Fan Survey last year, one message came ringing loud and clear: fans do not want gimmicks.

There was not much support for reverse grids (only 18 percent in favour), success ballast (26 percent) or customer cars (44 percent).

Only a few liked the ideas of teams using the same cars and engine (16 percent), a standard engine (16 percent) or having fewer teams running more cars (14 percent).

Instead, 74 percent of fans believe the rules should be relaxed to allow greater diversity of cars and technology. They preferred to see a tyre war (80 percent) and the return of refuelling (60 percent).

The message was clear: yes, we all want better racing and we do not want the battle for victory to be solely between two drivers - but let's go about achieving it through better thought-out rules.

I concur with Gerhard Berger, who said this week that F1 has got 'too perfect', in that there is very little scope for mistakes any more. Indeed, with rooms of engineers and banks of computers telling teams exactly how to execute the perfect weekend, all eventualities end up getting taken care of.

What F1 needs is more jeopardy engineered into the system. It requires teams not being able to fully understand the exact degradation of tyres; it requires drivers and teams not being able to race safe in the knowledge that their machinery will easily get to the end of the race.

The rules have to be fair and equal for everyone; not the result of luck of the draw - but each step of a grand prix weekend has to be a bigger step in to the unknown - and drivers have to go in to the race with much less preparation than they have now.

Last year's United States Grand Prix was the perfect example. The poor weather limited running to such an extent that there was no comfort zone for teams nor drivers; they were running blind on Sunday. And it helped create a fantastic battle where performance swung backwards and forwards between a host of stars: which is exactly what F1 wants and needs.

So rather than think reverse grids or caution clocks are the way, what about delivering rules that make it easier for mistakes from drivers and teams?

Let's limit those reams of telemetry data that are giving teams the answers to the problems. Let's limit understanding of the tyres that will be used in the race, force drivers and teams to make compromises at every step of the way, and balance the rules in such a way that good drivers, a brilliant car or the best engine are all equally important in the fight for victory.

We don't need gimmicks. Better rules designed from the start with the aim of delivering better racing is all F1 is in need of.

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Series Formula 1
Article type Analysis