KNUTSON: Format Changes For Formula One?

Dan Knutson

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Formula One drivers are almost universally against the idea of having a mini race on Saturday that would determine the starting grid for the following day’s grand prix.

The opposition began to swell during the Singapore race weekend where, when asked about the concept, Sebastian Vettel said, “I think it’s complete bull—-.”

Liberty Media, F-1’s commercial owner, is considering various ways to spice up the show and to make the racing less predictable. One proposal is to have a mini race on Saturday instead of traditional qualifying.

The grid would be set in reverse points order. The championship leader would start last and the driver who is last in the standings would be the polesitter. The results of that race would set the grid for Sunday’s headliner.

Making changes to the regulations this late in the year requires agreement from all 10 F-1 teams and the plan to try out the reverse grid concept at three events next year faced opposition from some teams.

Those opposed to the concept point out that the major rules changes for 2021 are supposed to spice up the show and create closer racing.

“If 2021 promises what it should, then there is no reason to change anything in the format,” driver Daniel Ricciardo said. “It would then dilute a lot of the weekend. We are already doing 22 races, imagine having 44 races. I love to race, don’t get me wrong, the idea of racing is great, but you dilute the product.

“You have costs as well, twice as much maybe, and then the potential of accident damage. I don’t know how teams would financially survive. I am against that because in 2021 there is enough changing, so the timing would not be right. That is a bit desperate and we are not in a desperate time at all.”

While Lewis Hamilton does not think the mini race is “a good idea,” he is not entirely opposed to the concept.

“Maybe in some places where there’s a massive deficit between first and last, maybe that’s not a bad race if it’s a track where you can actually overtake,” he said. “Would it make it more exciting? I don’t know.”

Hamilton supports juggling the format.

“I am not opposed to changing the weekend format because it can be very boring, the same format every weekend for 21, 22, 23 races,” he said.

One change that is not going to happen is having qualifying on Sunday morning and the race in the afternoon. The nasty weather caused by the typhoon during the Japanese Grand Prix weekend forced all track activity on Saturday to be canceled.

So qualifying had to be held on Sunday morning. That led to talk about having race weekends of two rather than three days. Race promoters the world over, however, remain vehemently opposed to any such plans as they need the revenue generated by Friday’s spectator attendance.

“It was a Super Sunday in Suzuka and that naturally reopened the debate about the shape of an F-1 weekend,” Ross Brawn, Formula One’s managing director of motorsports, said. “This is an aspect of the sport we have focused on in some detail as we work toward the rules that will govern F-1 over the coming years and we have taken into account the voices of all of the key players — the promoters, the teams and last but not least the fans.

“After careful analysis we have concluded that the best solution is to keep the event over three days, revising the Friday format but leaving the rest untouched, with qualifying on Saturday and the race on Sunday.”

The bottom line is F-1 needs to change to survive in the modern world.

“I understand that the purists might be concerned, but we should not be afraid to conduct an experiment otherwise we cannot progress,” Brawn said. “We don’t want change for the sake of change; we want to improve our sport because, rather like the development of the cars, if you stand still you risk slipping backward.”

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