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5 Alternative Rule Changes That Would Improve Formula 1 in 2014

Matthew WalthertFeatured ColumnistDecember 11, 2013

5 Alternative Rule Changes That Would Improve Formula 1 in 2014

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    The 2008 season needed no gimmicks to produce a dramatic finale, with Lewis Hamilton passing Timo Glock in the final corner of the final race to win the World Championship.
    The 2008 season needed no gimmicks to produce a dramatic finale, with Lewis Hamilton passing Timo Glock in the final corner of the final race to win the World Championship.Clive Mason/Getty Images

    On Monday, the FIA announced several regulation changes for the 2014 Formula One season and beyond.

    Some are mundane, some should actually improve the sport, but one has caught everyone's attention and made a lot of people very angry: The attempt to manufacture exciting finishes in the Drivers' and Constructors' Championships by awarding double points for the final race of the season.

    Lost in the (well-placed) anger—amongst fans and drivers—over the cheapening of every Grand Prix other than Abu Dhabi's is the fact that some of the FIA's announcements are actually good for F1. These include a tyre test to help Pirelli develop suitable rubber for next season; a team spending cap (to be introduced in January 2015); and five-second penalties for minor infractions (had that option existed in 2013, would Felipe Massa have ended his Ferrari career on the podium in Brazil?).

    With the double points change, F1 is trying to keep casual viewers engaged further into the season. However, as the swift, negative reaction has shown, it is doing so at the cost of alienating the more devoted fans.

    It is a knee-jerk over-reaction, and is not even necessary. In the previous eight seasons, the Drivers' title has been decided in the final race five times. In only one of the other three seasons (2009) would the double points system have extended the championship to the final round.

    Besides, if the FIA wanted to make the championship more exciting to reach new fans, all they had to do was ask us. Here are five alternative rule changes that would improve F1 in 2014.

    Follow Matthew Walthert on Twitter @MatthewWalthert

Honourable Mentions

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    Sometimes in-race refuelling can provide too much excitement.
    Sometimes in-race refuelling can provide too much excitement.Pool/Getty Images

    Since 2010, in-race re-fuelling has been banned in F1. This means that the cars start the race quite heavy and get quicker as they burn off fuel. It also means that all the cars always have approximately the same amount of fuel onboard, all the time.

    When re-fuelling was allowed during races, drivers always had different amounts of fuel, depending on how many pit stops they were planning and how long their stints were. This made the on-track action more exciting, as slower cars could sometimes gain an advantage by using a different re-fuelling strategy than faster cars.

    The strategies themselves were also more exciting, with teams, TV commentators and fans constantly trying to figure out how many laps of fuel were left in each car based on how long the fuel hose had been attached at the previous pit stop. 

    Although reversing the in-race re-fuelling ban would certainly make F1 more exciting, the change would not be that noticeable to casual fans, and so it remains off our list.

    Another potential change is the return of single-lap qualifying. The format, where each driver takes the track by themselves, with only one flying lap to set a qualifying time, has real potential to shake up the order on the starting grid.

    However, it can also be unfair. Mistakes are punished severely, but drivers can also be punished through no fault of their own (for example, if it starts to rain halfway through the session).

    Although it might add to the spectacle, this change does not make the list; it is too unfair. 

Bring Back the V-10s

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    In a (futile) attempt to contain costs and appear eco-friendly, F1 engines are steadily declining in size. At the beginning of the 2000s, V-10s were in use. In 2006, engines were limited to eight cylinders. Now, for 2014, turbo-charged V-6 engines are the new standard.

    Part of F1's appeal is its unique sound. The new engines do not seem to produce the same high-pitched, ear-shattering sound as their predecessors.

    A return to V-10s would end the eco-friendly charade, as the teams produce far more pollution flying thousands of miles around the world each season than the cars ever could. It would also mark a return to what makes the sport appealing in the first place: The best drivers, driving the fastest cars, with the biggest engines.

    For anyone who wants eco-friendly racing, they can start cheering for Leonardo DiCaprio's Formula E team.

    On television, a return to V-10s may not make much difference, as the engine noise is significantly muted during broadcasts, anyway. At the track, though, the difference would be quite noticeable, just as it was when the change from V-10s to V-8s occurred.

Get Rid of the DRS

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    Felipe Massa uses the DRS to overtake Lewis Hamilton at the 2013 Chinese Grand Prix.
    Felipe Massa uses the DRS to overtake Lewis Hamilton at the 2013 Chinese Grand Prix.Clive Mason/Getty Images

    The Drag Reduction System (DRS) was introduced in 2011. Since then, it has certainly accomplished its goal of making overtaking easier. In fact, it is now too easy.

    As soon as a trailing driver is within one second of the car in front it is pretty much inevitable that he will get past. It is usually in a very undramatic fashion. Rather than trying to out-brake each other into corners, drivers know they can easily pass on a straight-away with the DRS.

    As former driver, Eddie Irvine, said, per Atlas F1:

    Loads of overtaking is boring. It's like fishing. You go fishing and you catch a fish every ten minutes and it's boring. But if you sit there all day and you catch a mega fish—and an overtaking manoeuvre now has to be mega, it isn't going to be easy—and you come back with stories that you caught a fish this size [indicates big fish] instead of 55 this size [indicates small fish].

    In other words, quality over quantity. The DRS definitely places the emphasis on the latter.

More Durable Tyres

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    Lewis Hamilton's tyre explodes at the 2013 British Grand Prix.
    Lewis Hamilton's tyre explodes at the 2013 British Grand Prix.Lars Baron/Getty Images

    One of the biggest problems with the high-degradation tyres currently used in F1 is the need for drivers to slow down to preserve them.

    Again, F1 is supposed to showcase the best drivers going as quickly as they can. Instead, in 2013, we often saw drivers going much slower than the cars were capable of, just to save their rubber. At the Monaco Grand Prix, James Allen pointed out that, early in the race, the leaders were putting in lap times 10 seconds per lap slower than in qualifying.

    If the drivers and cars are not pushing their limits, there is really no reason to watch F1. More durable tyres are needed to ensure drivers are going as fast as they can, rather than driving to a pre-determined target time that will allow their tyres to last until the next pit-stop window.

Less Asphalt, More Gravel

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    David Coulthard, probably not gaining an advantage in the gravel at the 1995 Canadian Grand Prix.
    David Coulthard, probably not gaining an advantage in the gravel at the 1995 Canadian Grand Prix.Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images

    At all the new circuits, and at old ones where retro-fitting is possible, the current trend is to eliminate gravel traps and replace them with wide asphalt run-off areas.

    The effect is that drivers are no longer punished (and are often rewarded) for leaving the circuit. This, in turn, encourages reckless driving. Why bother to properly slow down for a corner when you might even gain time by running off the circuit and carrying more speed?

    This is not an actual regulation change, but it is a change that would improve F1. Sure, sponsors do not want to see their cars beached in a gravel trap, but fans do want to see the drivers challenged. 

    As an ancillary benefit, many of the controversies this year about passing off the circuit would be solved. Rather than gaining a position by running wide, drivers would be digging their car out of the gravel.

Keep Each Race Equal

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    As the final race of the season, the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be worth twice as much as any other race next season.
    As the final race of the season, the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be worth twice as much as any other race next season.Paul Gilham/Getty Images

    It cannot be over-emphasized how ridiculous the new rule to award double points for the final race of the season is. Therefore, the final alternative rule change to improve F1 in 2014 is not a change at all. Rather, it is maintaining the status quo.

    The only way the double points fiasco could be worse is if it were applied to the final four races of the season, as seems to have been the original proposal.

    This is what happens when F1 becomes about who can make the most money, rather than who can make the fastest car. The final race of the season has now been infused with more meaning, but will anybody be around to watch?

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