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Weekend Debate: With the new 2017 F1 regulations, has the sport answered the wrong question again?

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Weekend Debate: With the new 2017 F1 regulations, has the sport answered the wrong question again?
Apr 29, 2016, 6:46 PM

As an F1 professional one frequently encounters people who used to follow the sport but stopped, or who don't follow it at all and I always ask the...

As an F1 professional one frequently encounters people who used to follow the sport but stopped, or who don't follow it at all and I always ask them - why not?

Nine times out of ten the answer is, 'It's too processional, there's not enough overtaking" or variations on that theme. Recently I've found myself saying, "Have you watched a race this season? There is masses of overtaking!"

I've yet to speak to a non-follower and for them to tell me the reason is 'because the cars don't look fast enough'. That is a complaint of serious fans and insiders - drivers and ex-drivers in particular - and others who are steeped in the sport. They liked the cars of the early 2000s, which looked really quick in the hands of Schumacher, Montoya and the rest.

They were massively quick and exciting to look at on a hot lap, but people forget - they hardly ever overtook each other.

Juan Montoya F1

I haven't forgotten. I took over from Murray Walker in 2001 as ITV lead commentator and I remember many races with fast looking cars that hardly ever passed each other. They had to do it in the pit lane, using fuel and tyre strategy. That was processional.

So in setting the new regulations for 2017 has F1 once again answered the wrong question, just as it did earlier this year by revamping qualifying, when qualifying had no need to be revamped?

Chasing the brief of making the cars five seconds per lap faster by piling on downforce, will they have made cars that find it hard to get close due to the disrupted air and can't overtake each other again?

If so, the consequences may be a bit more serious than with qualifying. It's not simply a case of going back to a tried and trusted format, we'll be stuck with cars that can't pass each other and all the teams will have spent millions on a new chassis which isn't attracting new fans to the sport.

XPB

These new cars will have a wide track, like in the Nigel Mansell days and wider tyres. So to go side by side will be harder. Passes like the one above didn't happen every day in the wide track days. Not so bad on great wide modern circuits like Malaysia and Bahrain, but less good on a number of others.

In fact, with the wider track and tyres and the sparks introduced from the skid plates, it's almost as if the rule makers have looked back to the days when TV audiences were much greater than today and tried to recapture some of the elements that may have created that excitement, rather than focus on what most fans and people who aren't watching today might like to see, which is close racing.

Looking on the bright side; there will still be the three tyre option rule, so you will still have cars on tyres of different compounds and ages battling each other and the ones with the softer and fresher tyres will overtake. Likewise DRS will continue to assist drivers in getting a move started, but one has to ask the question, has F1 followed the wrong brief?

As F1 business leader Zak Brown said on these pages earlier this week,

"If you think about it, if a consumer product group is testing a new product that is targeted at 14-year-old, you wouldn’t have a 50-year-old do your taste testing would you? But that’s something that we do a little bit.

"We, as an industry, we live in our own little world and we need to go out to the fans that we don’t have - and ask them why they aren’t fans."

The nine out of ten non-followers I meet who cite the lack of overtaking as the main reason for not watching F1 have not really been listened to here and as the reality hits of the new rules going through, quite a few people inside the sport are becoming concerned about that.

As Force India's Otmar Szafnauer said on Friday, "It’s a good question: will the show be better next year? I think that was the intent of the regulations and I hope that that will be the outcome. If it isn’t, I think we’ve recently seen changing sporting regulations where it didn’t improve and we quickly went back.

"The difficulty with these regulations is that it’s going to take some time to go to something that doesn’t improve the show quickly, so hopefully we’ve got it right."

What do you think? Has F1 answered the wrong question again? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

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Series Formula 1
Tags innovation