Why F1 is so difficult to manage (2023)

Formula 1 is changing. The sport's bosses are in the process of creating new rules aimed at ensuring the cars that race in 2017 will be the fastest ever.

The motivation for this has been concerns that F1 is losing its appeal, a belief created by falling television figures last year in some important markets, such as Germany and Italy.

Commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone, governing body the FIA and the teams have decided to leave aside for now the question of whether the falling figures are a reflection on F1 itself, or of a splintering TV market, and take action.

The result for F1 is going to be a very different sport in 2017, when most of the changes will come into force.

So why is F1 taking the decisions it is, and what difference will they make?

Refuelling

Why F1 is so difficult to manage (1)

There was some dismay among F1 bosses when the media focused on the decision of the rule-making strategy group two weeks ago to consider the reintroduction of refuelling in 2017, rather than what they believed was the more fundamental commitment to make the cars five to six seconds-a-lap faster.

Part of that was down to the communication of the decision. An official statement by the FIA presented refuelling as a done deal - only for Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff to explain a few hours later that it was only a proposal.

Less than a fortnight later, that proposal is looking very shaky indeed, as not one of the teams wants refuelling to happen.

All realise that, as one team boss put it, "refuelling is not good for the spectacle". While it will also add up to a million euros to each team's costs because of increased freight bills.

But the idea is not dead yet.

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The teams' sporting directors have been mandated to explore the issue fully. Having met in Monaco last weekend and established the extra costs involved, they will reconvene at the next race in Canada to explore its effect on the show, having looked at the data.

They already know the answer. The data shows that all the refuelling years of 1994-2009 had fewer overtaking manoeuvres on track than any other season since 1980.

In the first year after refuelling was abandoned, 2010, the number of overtaking moves more than doubled compared with 2009. That number then nearly tripled in 2011, when Pirelli tyres and the DRS overtaking aid were introduced.

Whether the sport's big bosses will pay attention to these figures is another matter, though.

The idea was proposed by Donald MacKenzie, chairman of CVC Capital Partners, the main shareholder in the company that runs the commercial side of F1. It won support from Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne. It remains to be seen whether they and Ecclestone will be swayed by the data.

The fastest cars ever

One of the continuing complaints of F1 drivers about their cars is that they are too slow and, as a consequence, the challenge of driving them has been reduced because they are less physically demanding than in the past.

This is only partially true. Mercedes executive director (technical) Paddy Lowe says the cars of 2015 are "close to historical highs in both power and downforce". And this year's cars are approaching the ultimate lap times of those of 2004, which hold nearly all the records.

However, this is only the case in qualifying. In races, drivers do have a point; modern cars are as much as 10 seconds a lap slower than those of a decade ago.

Partly this is to do with the fact that there is no refuelling, so cars are much heavier at the start of races. The rest of the reason is to do with tyres, which we will come to shortly.

F1's bosses do accept, though, that the the current cars need to be faster to distance them from those of the GP2 feeder formula.

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Why F1 is so difficult to manage (2)

Because of this, for 2017, some things are already pretty much set in stone:

-cars will be widened from 1,800mm to 2,000mm

-rear tyre width will be increased from 325mm to 420mm

-front and rear wings will be made bigger

-aspects of the underbody will be changed to increase downforce generated beneath the car

-overall weight will be reduced

-driver aids will be removed, among them almost certainly power steering systems

Widening the cars will speed them up by a second a lap. Another second can be found by reducing the car's ground clearance.

Add in the wider tyres, tweaks to the wings, and taking perhaps 50kg or so off the overall mass and those five or six seconds are found relatively easily.

That in itself will automatically make the cars more demanding physically for the drivers.

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Why F1 is so difficult to manage (3)

Lowe says: "If we go four or five seconds a lap quicker, there is a human bandwidth aspect to that. You may well find that at a lot of circuits - and Monaco will be one of them - the lap time you do is a function of control and physical limits of the driver and not the car limit, and therefore not the tyre limit."

Some question the wisdom of making the front wing wider. That's because it is believed that the more a car depends on its front wing for downforce, the harder it is for a driver to follow another car closely.

But this misunderstands both the findings of a body called the Overtaking Working Group, which studied these effects in the mid-2000s, and also what is planned.

The OWG found that it is the central part of the front wing that is first affected by 'wake' - turbulent air produced by a car in front. The closer the car gets, the more that effect moves outwards along the wing.

The rear wing of the car in front creates turbulent air. But if the rear wing is narrow enough, this only hits the central part of the front wing. The downforce-creating end areas actually suck in 'fresh' air from the sides.

So if the new rules increase the size of the current 500mm 'neutral' area in the middle of the front wing, which creates no downforce, and move the ends further out, it should in theory make it easier for cars to follow each other.

Tyres and wheels

Tyres are a thorny subject in F1 right now, because more of the viewing audience is waking up to the fact that the nature of the Pirelli tyres means the drivers are hardly ever driving at the limit in races.

This raises a philosophical question about what F1 is. And another about what its stakeholders want it to be.

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner describes F1 as "entertainment". But many would say it was a sport which, in an ideal world, would be entertaining. Where you stand on that very much affects what you feel about the tyres.

The drivers are cautious about what they say publicly, out of a desire not to get into trouble for saying the wrong thing. But to a man they would like to have more durable tyres on which they could push hard all the time.

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Why F1 is so difficult to manage (4)

The Pirellis are not like that, as one senior engineer who asked not to be named explains: "There are two aspects to it. The first is the fact these tyres do actually run out of rubber. There is a point where the driver will say: 'I'm coming in, the tyre's finished.'

"If you look at a degradation curve, it will have a distinct kink in it, when the tyre will actually run out. I don't think that was such a strong feature in the past - the tyres just carried on and got slower and slower and slower.

"The second aspect is that if you push them hard, you pay the price. They degrade consistently, but that assumes you are managing them. Whereas if you mismanage them you will get something dramatically worse than that curve.

"So, for example, the first couple of laps out of the pits are important to sort of bed the tyres in and get the life out of them. You can easily wreck a set of tyres on those laps. Whereas in the past you would have been right on the ragged edge straight out of the pits if that's what you needed to do."

To a purist, this is anathema; an F1 driver should be flat out all the time, no matter what.

Create a tyre that does that - by, for example, asking Michelin to be the new tyre supplier from 2017 - and the cars would undoubtedly be much quicker, to the tune of three seconds a lap just from the tyres, according to leading engineers.

However, there would also be far fewer pit stops. And pit stops are regarded by many senior figures as crucial to the show.

Why F1 is so difficult to manage (5)

Equally, as another engineer puts it: "Because you have these more extreme degradation characteristics, you end up with people on different strategies. And when they interact they tend to have much bigger performance differentials. That's why the number of overtakes occurring in races has dramatically increased since Pirelli came into the sport."

This - and the fact that Pirelli pays handsomely for trackside advertising - is why Ecclestone has made it clear to teams that, as far as he is concerned, Pirelli will get the new contract, even though the FIA is running a full tender process and is expected to invite Michelin to apply.

Beyond that, there is the question of wheel sizes and lower-profile tyres.

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Michelin says it would only come into F1 if wheel diameters increased to 18 inches from the current 13, to make them more relevant to modern, low-profile performance road tyres.

But 18-inch wheels and tyres are much heavier. Low-profile tyres are also slightly slower, because they have lower levels of peak grip.

And that's not good when you're trying to speed the cars up by making them lighter.

FAQs

What makes F1 so difficult? ›

Formula 1 is an incredibly demanding sport. Formula 1 is so difficult because of these demands, both physical and mental, as well as the absolute precision required when driving at top speed. All these factors combined prove for a racing experience that is second to none in terms of difficulty.

How hard is it to control a F1 car? ›

Very difficult. A Formula One car is not only very fast, but also subject to heavy vibrations, particularly at circuits with a relatively bumpy surface. The fact that the drivers wear gloves and that the buttons are relatively small, doesn't make the operating the wheel any easier.

Is F1 mentally demanding? ›

Formula 1 racing is not just physically demanding, it's also mentally challenging. Drivers need to be able to concentrate for long periods of time, make split-second decisions, and react quickly to changing circumstances.

Why is F1 braking so hard? ›

F1 brakes are hard because regulations require all of the braking force to be generated by the driver alone, so there can be no power assistance. There is also rarely a need for gentle braking, so the pedal is almost like an on/off switch.

Why F1 is the hardest sport in the world? ›

During a race a driver is exposed to up to five times gravity pushing down on them, making it harder to breathe, pump blood around their body and move their arms and legs. Oh, and to top it all off, they are sitting in a position which means that the feet are raised up in line with the chest.

What is the hardest sport in the world F1? ›

Analysis: the sport requires the drivers to train like Olympic athletes while also having to do all of the work with the car and race. Imagine driving a car at speeds approaching 112 mph for around two hours, while at the same time having to negotiate twisting circuits and finding ways to overtake opponents.

Can normal people drive F1? ›

It's a matter of whether you can drive it well... though. The G forces in an F1 car take a great toll on you, and presenter Richard Hammond actually tried... and eventually managed to do a lap of Silverstone. So anyone can drive an F1 car without being an F1 driver.

Why do F1 drivers train so hard? ›

The conditions within the car and the race require drivers to be physically and mentally strong to complete the test drives and races. This means drivers have to reach a certain level of fitness and stay there throughout their whole racing career.

Is F1 easier with controller or wheel? ›

A set of pedals and wheels won't make you as fast as Jarno Opmeer, but it will improve your lap times by a few tenths compared to using a controller pad. This is down to the greater range in steering and control you can give while braking, accelerating and turning.

Is F1 a nerdy sport? ›

F1 fans love watching the incredible speeds of the machines, their physics-defying nimbleness at the hands of the drivers, and the high strategy of the competition, but beneath it all are some incredibly geeky people - and reasons - that should have you DVRing every practice, qualifying session and race.

Why is F1 so tiring? ›

An F1 driver needs strength to keep the car on the road. One area of the body that has to be strengthened are the muscles of the neck. With the G-forces pushing on the body it becomes harder for drivers to hold their heads upright.

Why is F1 so exhausting? ›

During a race a driver is exposed to up to five times gravity pushing down on them, making it harder to breathe, pump blood around their body and move their arms and legs. Oh, and to top it all off, they are sitting in a position which means that the feet are raised up in line with the chest.

Why is ABS banned in F1? ›

In some situations it may lead to ruined tires and sometimes cars can just plough through a corner and crash (although that's rare). ABS has been banned in F1 since 1994 for the sole reason of making drivers rely on more on skill rather than technology. To make races more interesting.

Why do F1 brakes smoke? ›

Lock-ups are a relatively common phenomenon in Formula One. They happen when too much force is applied to the brakes, causing the disc to stop or rotate slower than the car's motion. The tyre then scrubs along the surface of the track, sometimes creating white smoke.

How much does a F1 nose cone cost? ›

The front wings of a Formula One car along with the nose cone will cost $300,000 while the rear wing will cost about $150,000.

Is F1 harder than NASCAR? ›

F1 races also tend to have longer tracks than NASCAR, with some races lasting up to two hours. The tracks used in F1 races are typically more complex and feature more turns than NASCAR tracks. F1 drivers need to have exceptional skills when it comes to navigating tight corners and braking at high speeds.

Why is F1 harder than NASCAR? ›

Fans might not know how acceleration or deceleration in an F1 car is way more dangerous than that in NASCAR. The open-cockpit cars accelerate or decelerate incredibly quickly, which puts an enormous force on the driver's neck, making it feel five or seven times heavier.

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