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FOTA on GP format: If it ain't broke, don't fix it

The landmark meeting between team principals in the guise of the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA) in Geneva this week has resulted in a resolution that the general format of grands prix and qualifying should not be tampered with – adhering to the old mantra 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'.

Whilst allowing that there may be 'justification for minor modifications to the current qualifying format', it was deemed that a major shake-up of the system would do little to increase fans' interest.

'When asked to consider alternative qualifying formats, all fan types expressed a modest preference for a meritocratically-determined starting grid,' explained a FOTA statement, referring to the global audience survey carried out in an effort to gauge supporters' desires. 'There was some degree of interest in allowing luck to play a part in shaping the starting order, but the general sentiment was that the fastest driver should always start from pole.'

What was agreed, however, was that there should be a further reduction in permitted testing mileage – to the tune of 50 per cent in 2009 alone – with race-starting fuel loads, tyre specifications and re-fuelling data all to be made public ahead of the grand prix. It is also suggested that re-fuelling eventually be outlawed altogether.

In 2010 it is proposed that testing be further limited to just four, four-day single-car pre-season tests in addition to one single-car pre-season shakedown, whilst grands prix should be shortened to 250km or a maximum of one hour 40 minutes, pending the approval of Bernie Ecclestone's Formula One Management (FOM) company. Ferrari star Felipe Massa contended earlier this week that the final 15 laps of races might as well be scrapped as 'too often nothing happens' [see separate story – click here].

'The current race format is not viewed as fundamentally broken,' the statement goes on, 'and therefore doesn't require radical alteration. There is a strong desire for Formula 1 to remain meritocratic, while consumer interest is driven most by appreciation of driver skill, overtaking and technology.

'There is no evidence to suggest that grand prix formats need 'tricking up' via, for example, handicapping, sprint races, reversed grids or one-on-one pursuit races. Formula 1 audiences appreciate the traditional gladiatorial, high-tech nature of the sport and would not respond favourably to a perceived 'dumbing down' of the current format.

'All audiences view pit-stops as integral to their enjoyment of grand prix coverage; however, they rank the most important and compelling aspect of pit stops as tyre-changing rather than re-fuelling. Race strategies were not highly ranked as a determinant of interest in Formula 1. Audiences are unlikely to diminish if re-fuelling is discontinued. Tyre-changing is an important driver of audience interest (in pit-stops) and should not be further automated.'

“FOTA has already achieved a great deal,” remarked Toyota F1 team principal Tadashi Yamashima. “We can be very satisfied with the progress we have made, but there is a lot of work still ahead of us. It is vitally important not to neglect the soul of grand prix racing.

“Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsport and our challenge is to retain the DNA of the sport as a technological as well as a human contest, while also delivering value for money for all stakeholders, and this includes the fans. We all embrace the need to cut costs, and the significant savings achieved by FOTA and the FIA at the end of last year are a promising start.

“FOTA's strength lies in the unity of the teams. This unprecedented joint initiative, which we hope will work in combination with the FIA and FOM, can inspire Formula 1 to conquer the challenges facing it and the wider world.”


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