Solving Formula One’s prize money problem

 

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Credit: Bleacher Report

Last week, Autosport revealed that Formula One teams had been awarded a prize pot of some $965m for their performances last season.

The money was given by Formula One Management (FOM) to the ten teams that competed in the 2015 world championship, with newcomers Haas not yet eligible for a share of the pot.

While the teams were all awarded some part of the cash for participating in the series, as well as for performance, a staggering $295m of prize money was awarded not on merit, but to a select few teams as a result of pre-signed agreements with Bernie Ecclestone.

It means that Ferrari – which benefits from a $35m constructors’ championship bonus as well as a controversial $70m payday for its status as Formula One’s most historic team – took home $192m for its 2015 efforts, while runaway champions Mercedes – which enjoys $74m in bonus payments – earned just $171m.

A further $74m in bonuses for Red Bull meant that the Austrian concern was given $144m, while Williams – which is entitled to just $10m in added payments and beat them to third place in the constructors’ standings – earned just $87m.

McLaren – which endured a wretched 2015 and placed a disastrous ninth – were the fifth most successful team in the earning stakes, with a generous $32m bonus handout netting the Woking outfit $82m.

Beneath McLaren are the teams not deemed eligible for these funds in the eyes of the sport’s elite. Force India earned $67m, while Lotus (now Renault) took home $64m. Toro Rosso was rewarded with a $57m piece of the pie, while Sauber benefitted to the tune of $57m. Manor, the only team not to score a point in 2015, earned $47m.

A full breakdown of the prize fund for 2015 can be seen here:

Pot 1 ($335m) Pot 2 ($335m) Pot 3 ($295m) Total Prize Money ($965m)
Ferrari $33.5m $53.5m $105m $192m
Mercedes $33.5m $63.5m $74m $171m
Red Bull $33.5m $36.5m $74m $144m
Williams $33.5m $43.5m $10m $87m
McLaren $33.5m $16.5m $32m $82m
Force India $33.5m $33.5m N/A $67m
Lotus $33.5m $30.5m N/A $64m
Toro Rosso $33.5m $23.5m N/A $57m
Sauber $33.5m $20.5m N/A $54m
Manor $33.5m $13.5m N/A $47m

Thanks to gift-wrapped bonus payments, what these figures create is a huge disparity between the teams fortunate enough to have been around long enough or been successful enough in the past, and those whose efforts have not been rewarded on the track.

That Formula One currently finds itself in a situation where teams at the back of the grid are struggling to make ends meet while the sport’s coffers are being divided in such an unfair manner is a damning indictment of those at the top.

Ferrari may be the longest serving and most successful team in Formula One history, but what gives a team that has won nothing in the way of championships since 2008 the right to a healthy bonus of more than $100m, while teams like Sauber and Manor earn nothing as they face a desperate struggle for survival?

Mercedes may be the team of the moment, and Red Bull, McLaren and Williams have certainly enjoyed many a day in the now firmly set suns of yesteryear, but in the here and now, prize money should be what it says on the tin. It needs to be distributed in a fair way, based on performance, and not as a note of thanks for their contributions to the sport.

That a team like Force India has produced such fine cars in the face of such a raw deal from the sport’s kingmakers is a glowing testament to the talents of their workforce back at Silverstone. With a fairer share of the prize pot, their potential to achieve would only be greater still.

A redistribution of funds

F1 Grand Prix of Italy

Credit: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Now, armed with a calculator and with my Bernie Ecclestone-styled wig firmly donned, I have devised an alternative prize pot with the aim of rewarding teams on performance rather than prestige.

To make this a fair experiment, I will be playing with the $965m that the teams were given in the real world, but I have changed the way in which it is handed out.

I have split the total prize fund into three distinct pots, the first two worth $432.5m apiece, with the third pot containing $100m.

Pot one will be given to teams for their participation in the sport, ensuring that, straight out of the box, everyone earns a nice starter of $43.25m.

Pot two is a tiered performance bonus, with Mercedes, as champions, earning 14.5 per cent, with Ferrari netting 13.5 per cent for coming second and so on until you get to Manor, which gets 5.5 per cent of the pot. This ensures that each team earns a minimum of $67.05m, more than Force India got in real life for finishing fifth.

This brings us to pot three, which is a pure $100m performance bonus, and is shared between teams based simply on how many points they scored in the previous season.

Mercedes finished with 703 points in 2015 – 36.6 per cent of those available, and therefore, they take away $36.6m, with Ferrari – who amassed 22.3 per cent of the possible points on offer – bagging $22.3m. This filters down to McLaren, which earned just 1.4 per cent of the points last season. Manor, which failed to score in 2015, gets nothing from this pot.

This leaves us with the following breakdown:

Pot 1 ($432.5m) Pot 2 ($432.5m) Pot 3 ($100m) Total Prize Money ($965m)
Mercedes $43.25m $62.7m $36.6m $142.55m
Ferrari $43.25m $58.4m $22.3m $123.95m
Williams $43.25m $54.1m $13.4m $110.75m
Red Bull $43.25m $49.7m $9.7m $102.65m
Force India $43.25m $45.4m $7.1m $95.75m
Lotus $43.25m $41.1m $4.1m $88.45m
Toro Rosso $43.25m $36.8m $3.5m $83.55m
Sauber $43.25m $32.4m $1.9m $77.55m
McLaren $43.25m $28.1m $1.4m $72.75m
Manor $43.25m $23.8m $0 $67.05m

As a result, the amount of prize money that each team earns reflects fairly their on-track performance during the 2015 season.

While in real life, the difference between the amount of money awarded to the highest-earning team and the lowest was $145m. Under my system, this disparity falls to $75.5m. Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren all find themselves worse off, but the four richest teams in the sport aside, every other constructor benefits to the tune of at least $20m.

This boost in revenue would give the midfield teams more funds, which could be used to invest in better personnel and facilities, increasing the chances of added competition on the grid. Teams would be less likely to need to procure the services of pay drivers, opening up more room for the most talented youngsters to progress to Formula One.

At present, teams only begin to earn prize money at the end of their second season, and only the top ten in the championship benefit from the system. I would change both of these factors, which would allow the Haas team to immediately reap the fruits of their vast investment into the sport and prevent the risk of any one team being cut adrift as a result of a lack of money.

With a formula in place that rewards teams on current endeavours rather than past glories, the message would be simple: if you want more money, do your talking on the track.

Stephen D’Albiac

Return of 2015 qualifying – a victory for common sense

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Common sense has finally prevailed.

After what could be fairly described as the most farcical Mexican standoff in sporting history, Jean Todt and Bernie Ecclestone have relented to pressure and agreed that the only way forward is for Formula One to ditch the metaphorical car crash that has been elimination qualifying and revert back to the tried and tested system that has served us so well for many years.

They say there are two sides to every story. In this case you would have searched far and wide before you found anyone who was backing the beleaguered FIA president.

While the teams must share some of the blame for the fact that elimination qualifying ever saw the light of day, the fact that they realised almost immediately the scale of the disaster that had been created and united as one to have the 2015 system restored for the good of the sport can only be to their credit.

The same could not be said for Todt and Ecclestone, who, while fully aware of the negative press swirling around the paddock as a result of the decision in which they were partly complicit, persisted in defending the indefensible in what can only be described as a misplaced attempt to salvage pride.

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Jean Todt and Bernie Ecclestone

If Todt, as he claims, had read social media and, presumably, seen how widely detested the new qualifying system was, then in what way could he possibly have believed that the shambles that had unfolded in Melbourne would not be repeated in Bahrain?

As for Ecclestone, who famously engages in shenanigans as part of wider attempts to gain the upper hand in negotiations, it is astounding that he saw this as a battle that he could win. The fact that he was not a supporter of the elimination system – instead favouring an even more confusing time ballast or a reverse grid that would have been just as reviled had they seen the light of day – makes his part in this elongated malaise all the more frustrating.

The saddest aspect to this needless saga is that it has completely overshadowed the fact that, on the track, the season has kicked off with two exciting races. Mercedes look like they might just have a fight on their hands against a promising challenge from Ferrari, and behind the top two teams the pack has bunched up to the extent that it is anybody’s guess who will occupy the rest of the spots in the top ten.

Ironically, the fact that this story has been allowed to play out for so long has done the FIA much more damage than if they had agreed to revert qualifying after Australia. Nobody likes to admit when they are wrong about something, but had humble pie been digested and the 2015 system used in Bahrain, this whole sorry mess would have been long forgotten.

The return of the much loved three-part system still has to be rubberstamped by the F1 Commission and the World Motor Sport Council, but with the FIA having now backed down, this should be a mere formality.

The most important thing now is that the sport moves on from this debacle and that focus quickly returns to the action on the track.

Stephen D’Albiac

F1’s next generation seizes the moment in Bahrain

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While the predictable fallout of another failed attempt at a flawed qualifying system dominated the headlines at the Bahrain Grand Prix, it was also a weekend at which Formula One’s young talents truly flourished.

A storming drive by Pascal Wehrlein and Stoffel Vandoorne’s cameo appearance under the desert lights left little doubt that the future of the sport is in safe hands, so long as the current political malaise in which F1 currently finds itself off the track can be resolved.

In an era in which criticism has been levied at the number of so-called pay drivers that have found their way onto the grid at the expense of genuine talent, it is heartening to see two prodigious youngsters snatching the chance to grab the limelight.

Wehrlein left Sakhir having accomplished what was arguably the finest drive in the history of the Manor team. While his 13th place finish may at first glance look unremarkable, to do so, he dragged what is still the weakest car on the grid beyond what could have been expected of it and beat a Sauber, both Force Indias and teammate Rio Haryanto to the chequered flag.

This followed an astounding display on Saturday when he qualified in 16th place, again counting among his scalps the Saubers, Renaults, Sergio Perez and Haryanto.

The 21-year-old is highly rated by Mercedes, and earned his F1 break by becoming the youngest ever champion of the DTM series last year. While it is still early days, the impact he has made thus far has put him on a par with the late Jules Bianchi in bursting onto the scene with the Manor team.

Such displays in backmarker teams were what brought Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel to the attention of the sport’s big-hitters in recent times, and with Wehrlein having started at a bottom of a ladder that brings with it a potential route to the Mercedes team in future – perhaps via Williams or Force India first – he is doing all the right things to get himself noticed.

For a man who only found out on Thursday – and several thousand miles away in Japan – that he would be making his Grand Prix debut in Bahrain, Vandoorne’s display was a masterclass in speed and maturity.

Making a substitute performance in Formula One is tough enough at the best of times, but when you are filling the shoes of Fernando Alonso and racing against the yardstick that is Jenson Button, all in a car that you have never driven, you are well and truly up against it.

That Vandoorne outqualified Button before notching McLaren’s first point of the season with a fine drive to tenth place proves beyond any doubt that his appearance on the grid should not have been a temporary measure.

That the most dominant champion in GP2 history is being made to settle for a drive in the Super Formula series this season is a travesty given his vast potential, but having announced himself in such style, few will bet against the Belgian being a permanent fixture on the grid in 2017.

Wehrlein and Vandoorne saw precious little of each other during Sunday’s race, but they have already shown enough to suggest that their paths will cross at the sharp end of the grid in years to come.

Stephen D’Albiac

Driver Ratings: Bahrain Grand Prix

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Credit: Formula1.com

Under the lights of Bahrain, we were treated to a fine spectacle as plenty of dicing in the midfield more than compensated for a rather sedate affair up front. But how did the drivers fare in the third night race at Sakhir?

44) Lewis Hamilton (6/10) – Lost the initiative to teammate Rosberg at the start. Was not at fault for the first lap collision with Bottas but would have been out of harms way with a quicker getaway. Decent recovery to third.

6) Nico Rosberg (8/10) – Flawless drive to a fifth straight win. Beat Hamilton off the line and never looked back as his rivals hit trouble to record a convincing win.

5) Sebastian Vettel (6/10) – A day of wretched misfortune for Vettel, who didn’t even make it to the start after the German’s engine blew on the formation lap, robbing him of the chance to challenge for victory.

7) Kimi Raikkonen (7/10) – A strong drive for Raikkonen who bounced back strongly from his non-finish in Australia to record a deserved second place. Consistent speed meant he was never under huge threat from Hamilton.

77) Valtteri Bottas (5/10) – The Finn ruined his race with a lunge at Hamilton that earned him a drive-through penalty. Battled back to ninth place, but could and should have been so much better.

19) Felipe Massa (6/10) – That the other Williams of Massa finished eighth was through little fault of the Brazilian, who was hamstrung by a poor decision from his team to run two stints on the medium tyres.

3) Daniel Ricciardo (7/10) – An entertaining race from the Australian as he found himself involved in good battles throughout the race. The speed of the front three meant fourth was the best he could have hoped for.

26) Daniil Kvyat (7/10) – The Russian recovered well from a dismal qualifying performance to take seventh from Massa on the final lap, with some exciting battles as he recovered through the field. Quickly needs to improve his speed on Saturdays.

11) Sergio Perez (5/10) – A day to forget for Perez, who made contact with Carlos Sainz Jr’s Toro Rosso on lap two and was forced to pit for a new front wing. Wound up a disappointing 16th.

27) Nico Hulkenberg (5/10) – Hulkenberg’s race proved as inauspicious as Perez’s, with the German also forced to change his nose after first lap contact, condemning him to 15th place.

20) Kevin Magnussen (6/10) – A respectable job from the Dane, who finished just one place outside the points after a pit lane start. A good effort in a Renault that was clearly lacking in speed.

30) Jolyon Palmer (5/10) – After an action-packed debut in Melbourne, it was back down to earth with a bump for Palmer, who pulled in and retired from the race at the end of the formation lap with technical troubles.

33) Max Verstappen (7/10) – After flattering to deceive in Australia, Verstappen bounced back in Sakhir with a strong drive to sixth, Toro Rosso’s first ever points finish in Bahrain.

55) Carlos Sainz Jr (5/10) – A thoroughly forgettable time under the lights for the Spanish driver, who suffered a puncture in a collision with Perez early on and endured a botched pit stop before he retired from the race.

12) Felipe Nasr (5/10) – Sauber have clearly dropped back in performance over the winter and it looks like the Brazilian has suffered the same fate. An almost anonymous drive to 14th place.

9) Marcus Ericsson (6/10) – The Swedish driver looks to have gained the upper hand on teammate Nasr, with 12th place the best he could have achieved in what is clearly a dog of a car.

47) Stoffel Vandoorne (8/10)*** – Having only found out he would be making his Grand Prix debut on Thursday, the Belgian hotshot announced himself to Formula One in style with a mightily impressive drive to the final points finish in tenth, having outqualified world champion teammate Button the day before.

22) Jenson Button (5/10) – A weekend to cause nightmares for Button, with his outqualification by Vandoorne and early power unit failure sure to result in questions about his McLaren future beyond the end of this season.

93) Pascal Wehrlein (8/10)** – Another eye-catching performance from the German youngster, who outperformed his Manor all weekend with a fine drive to 13th after a superb qualifying display.

88) Rio Haryanto (6/10) – Although overshadowed by the mercurial Wehrlein, the Indonesian drove a solid, clean race on his way to a first Formula One finish.

8) Romain Grosjean (9/10)* – Driver of the Day. The Frenchman’s move to Haas looks even more inspired now after an astonishing drive which bettered his fairytale sixth place finish in Melbourne.

21) Esteban Gutierrez (6/10) – An encouraging performance by the second Haas driver, who would surely have scored his first points since 2013 had car failure not ended his race after just ten laps.

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Credit: Clive Mason/Getty Images

These scores will be added up throughout the season and will be used to calculate both mid-season and end of season driver rankings. To take into account individual performances, the driver of the day will receive an additional three points, the second best driver two points and the third best driver one bonus point. These are signifed by the number of asterisks next to their names.

After the Bahrain Grand Prix, my top five drivers of the season so far are as follows:
1) Romain Grosjean (Haas-Ferrari) – 23 points
2) Pascal Wehrlein (Manor-Mercedes) – 17 points
3) Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) – 16 points
=4) Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull-Tag Heuer) – 14 points
=4) Jolyon Palmer (Renault) – 14 points
=4) Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) – 14 points

Stephen D’Albiac

 

Can Ferrari challenge Mercedes for the title this season?

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Credit: Mercedes-Benz

Hopes that Ferrari could take the fight to Mercedes in 2016 were raised from the moment the lights went out at Albert Park, even if the race ended with the familiarly predictable sight of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton atop the first two steps of the podium.

Most of the proceedings in Melbourne were led by Sebastian Vettel, whose barnstorming start sprung him to from third on the grid to the lead by the first corner, and with Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen – who was to retire from third place with engine failure – acting as his rear gunner in the first stint, the German found himself on course for victory in the opening Grand Prix of the year.

That Vettel did not emerge victorious at Albert Park was down more to the ultimately wrong decision by Ferrari not to fit his car with the same medium tyres as the Mercedes during the red flag – brought out by the terrifying crash of Fernando Alonso and Esteban Gutierrez on lap 19 – than any wrongdoing on his part.

The super-soft tyres that had served Vettel so well in the opening stages never looked likely to build him enough of a gap to come out ahead of Rosberg or the recovering Hamilton, meaning that the third place that he has become so accustomed to in this era of Mercedes domination was his once again.

What Australia did not tell us, though, is the true speed of the Ferrari in race trim compared to the Mercedes. The only period of the race where both teams were on the same tyre was following the start, when Rosberg and Hamilton were bottled up behind Raikkonen and the Toro Rosso of Max Verstappen respectively, there unable to properly show their hand.

The straightforward manner with which Rosberg held onto the lead once Vettel stopped, and the way that Hamilton began lapping more than a second faster than the Ferrari once he had rid himself of the Toro Rossos, was a fairly conclusive indication that Mercedes still holds the upper hand, if not to the same extent as 2015.

Ultimately, there are two ways of looking at this.

Last year, Australia was one of Mercedes’ most dominant performances of the season. Hamilton and Rosberg were streets ahead of the rest and crossed the line together without breaking sweat, more than half a minute clear of Vettel, leading to fears that Mercedes would once again be as untouchable as they had been in 2014.

However, it was at the very next race in Malaysia that Vettel took full advantage of a strategy error by Mercedes following a safety car period to jump into the lead and take an astounding victory.

Given how hard Mercedes were made to work for victory at one of their strongest tracks from last year, once we hit the more conventional circuits of Bahrain and China, few people will discount the possibility Ferrari may just be able to take the fight to them, particularly in race conditions.

On the other hand, Ferrari were handed an open goal by the poor starts of Rosberg and Hamilton, and yet Vettel was still unable to translate that into victory.

Had the Mercedes drivers got off the line as well as their Italian counterparts, would they have been left scrambling to fend off Vettel, or would they instead have calmly built a gap over the rest of the field and taken a comfortable 1-2 finish? Nobody knows the answer, but Ferrari are unlikely to be handed an opportunity so golden next time out.

The Australian Grand Prix was a tale of missed opportunity for Ferrari, but only time will tell whether they truly have the speed to make this a real battle for the title, or if circumstance came together on Sunday to create a false dawn.

Stephen D’Albiac

Driver Ratings: 2016 Australian Grand Prix

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In the first of what is planned to be a recurring feature throughout the 2016 season, I will give a brief summary of each driver’s race and give them a score out of ten. The scores will be added up throughout the season and will be used to calculate both mid-season and end of season driver rankings.

44) Lewis Hamilton (7/10) – Strong recovery following an awful start that left the polesitter sixth at the end of the first lap. Good use of strategy by his Mercedes team to help him back to second.

6) Nico Rosberg (7/10) – A fully deserved fourth win in a row for Rosberg. Kept calm after a poor start to jump Raikkonen in the pits before calmly staying within reach of Vettel to allow himself to take the lead when the German pitted.

5) Sebastian Vettel (7/10) – Strong drive from the four-time champion. Only deprived of victory through a poor call on strategy by Ferrari under the red flag. Mistake when chasing Hamilton towards the end the only blip in an otherwise fine performance.

7) Kimi Raikkonen (6/10) – Engine failure cost Raikkonen the chance of a podium finish after a strong first stint that saw him run second to teammate Vettel.

77) Valtteri Bottas (5/10) – An underwhelming first weekend of the season for the highly rated Finn. A poor showing in qualifying was followed by a low key run in the race that deserved little more than his eighth place finish.

19) Felipe Massa (6/10) – A solid start to the season for the veteran Brazilian, whose fifth place was the most that could have been achieved with a car that was lacking in ultimate pace.

3) Daniel Ricciardo (7/10) – The home favourite gave the locals plenty to cheer with a battling drive that saw him pull off several overtakes and set fastest lap en route to a charging fourth place.

26) Daniil Kvyat (5/10) – An inauspicious start to the season for the Russian, who failed to get underway after stopping short of his grid box and forcing the first start to be abandoned. Had already suffered a difficult Saturday after qualifying a disappointing 18th.

11) Sergio Perez (5/10) – Perez had looked like picking up where he left off in 2015 by outqualifying teammate Hulkenberg, but slipped behind the German at the start before late race brake troubles left him 13th.

27) Nico Hulkenberg (6/10) – A decent showing for Hulkenberg who, while lacking in race pace, started his season with a decent haul of points by coming home seventh.

20) Kevin Magnussen (6/10) – A strong recovery by Magnussen to fight back to 12th after an opening lap puncture, but the Dane struggled to assert himself in Melbourne having been outqualified by rookie teammate Palmer on Saturday.

30) Jolyon Palmer (7/10) – Britain’s latest Grand Prix driver enjoyed a strong debut, surprisingly outqualifying Renault teammate Magnussen before showing fine racecraft to make life difficult for several faster cars who came up behind him.

33) Max Verstappen (6/10) – The 18-year-old showed his petulance after a poor pit stop dropped him behind teammate Sainz Jr. Having qualified a stunning fifth, the Dutchman will be disappointed with tenth place after a spin late in the race.

55) Carlos Sainz Jr (6/10) – A solid drive by the Spanish youngster to make the most of a well-balanced Toro Rosso. A questionable strategy choice following the red flag gave him a ninth place finish which was less than he deserved.

12) Felipe Nasr (5/10) – On the evidence of Melbourne, Sauber have a lot of work to do to compete in the midfield this year, with Nasr enjoying an almost anonymous run to 15th place.

9) Marcus Ericsson (5/10) – A day to forget for the second Sauber driver, who was handed a drive-through penalty after his mechanics carried working on his car too late during the red flag before the Swede retired with driveshaft failure.

14) Fernando Alonso (6/10) – The main thing is that Alonso walked out of Albert Park in one piece after a terrifying collision with Gutierrez that sent him rolling through the gravel and cost him a possible points finished.

22) Jenson Button (6/10) – A 14th place finish was poor reward for Button who was close to Alonso’s pace all weekend before a wrong call by McLaren to fit his car with super-soft tyres after the red flag dropped him out of contention.

93) Pascal Wehrlein (7/10) – DTM champion Wehrlein proved why he was given his F1 bow by Manor with a highly impressive first stint that saw him running in the midfield and keeping pace with stronger packages.

88) Rio Haryanto (6/10) – A decent debut for the Indonesian rookie who outqualified Wehrlein on Saturday before mechanical problems during the red flag brought his first Grand Prix to a premature end.

8) Romain Grosjean (8/10) – Driver of the Day. Grosjean produced a masterful display to run non-stop from the red flag and keep a train of cars at bay to finish a remarkable sixth on Haas’ debut.

21) Esteban Gutierrez (5/10) – Gutierrez’s return to the Formula One grid with Haas will be remembered more for his role in Alonso’s horrifying crash than for his performance, which saw him languishing behind Grosjean all weekend.

Stephen D’Albiac

Formula One breathes huge sigh of relief as Fernando Alonso escapes terrifying crash

Fernando Alonso clambers from his wrecked McLaren-Honda in Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix (Credit: Sutton Images)

The sight of Fernando Alonso climbing from his destroyed McLaren in Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix was one that engendered a huge sigh of relief among viewers around the world.

Alonso’s crash with Esteban Gutierrez’s Haas on lap 18 will rank among the most terrifying seen in Formula One in recent years, evoking memories of similar accidents suffered by Martin Brundle and Jacques Villeneuve at the very same corner in 1996 and 2001 respectively, as well as Robert Kubica’s horror smash in Canada in 2007 and Mark Webber’s cartwheel over Heikki Kovalainen at Valencia in 2010.

That the double world champion was able to climb from his car unaided within seconds of the devastating impact was nothing short of remarkable, and provides yet another tribute to the ever-growing safety of these Grand Prix cars, which have no doubt saved countless lives over the past ten years.

Alonso has been cleared of injury by medics and will almost certainly compete in the Bahrain Grand Prix in a fortnight’s time, something that seems scarcely believable given the ferocity of his crash.

Right decision not to penalise either driver

Fernando Alonso - GP Australien - Crash - 2016

Credit: Sutton Images

The decision by the stewards not to hand down a penalty to either Alonso or Gutierrez in the aftermath of the incident was no doubt the correct one in a sport that has increasingly taken to finding someone to blame for collisions in recent years.

Both drivers played some part in the incident. Alonso was caught out by the Haas’ braking point and left himself no time to avoid contact with the Mexican, but Gutierrez, perhaps expecting the McLaren to try to pass him on the inside, moved to the left just before turn three and closed the gap that the Spaniard was trying to move into.

It was a classic example of a racing incident. When drivers are fighting over positions at 200mph, invariably there are times that contact will occur. Sunday was just one of those examples, albeit with terrifying consequences, and the fact that Alonso and Gutierrez found themselves out of the race was punishment enough for their sins.

A grid penalty for either driver for Bahrain would not only have unnecessarily compromised their race in Sakhir, but would have been a damning indictment on the sport’s governing bodies’ attitude towards wheel-to-wheel combat.

Tarmac may not necessarily have lessened impact

Fernando Alonso - GP Australien - Crash - 2016

Credit: Sutton Images

One of the main themes on social media in the aftermath of the crash was widespread criticism of the gravel trap at turn three, with many blaming the way in which it pitched Alonso’s car into a roll for making the accident worse.

While a tarmac run-off area would almost certainly have prevented the McLaren from flipping, the one thing that the roll did do was dissipate the force that Alonso was subjected to throughout the crash, making his final impact against the tyre barrier fairly innocuous.

Had a tarmac run-off been in place instead, it is likely that Alonso – unable to brake or steer – would have continued across the run-off area at high speed before striking the tyre barrier head-on, in a manner not too dissimilar to Carlos Sainz Jr’s crash in practice for last season’s Russian Grand Prix.

Nobody wants to see cars launched into the air like Alonso’s was, but there is simply no guarantee that he would have been unhurt had the crash occurred in a tarmac run-off area. The ideal solution would be a material that can slow cars to a stop in a safe and predictable manner, but until that mystery compound is found, there will always be an element of compromise.

Stephen D’Albiac

Another own goal…

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On Saturday in Melbourne, Lewis Hamilton became only the third man in Formula One history to take 50 pole positions.

The prodigiously talented Max Verstappen continued to show just why it is only a matter of time until he earns the right to sit in a car capable of challenging for the title with a stunning lap to put himself a stunning fifth on the grid in Albert Park.

McLaren and Honda showed that they have made real progress over the winter, with Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button qualifying 12th and 13th respectively and looking serious contenders for a points finish in tomorrow’s season opener, while further down the grid rookies Jolyon Palmer and Rio Haryanto defied expectation by outqualifying highly-rated teammates in Kevin Magnussen and Pascal Wehrlein.

These should have been the main talking points from the first qualifying session of the new season, but instead what we got was almost universal derision of a convoluted system that both baffled and failed to produce excitement in equal measure.

An estimated 100,000 fans were at Albert Park – notwithstanding the millions across the world who arose from their slumber at an ungodly hour of the morning to watch on television – to witness the culmination of a pre-season that had so many questions to answer.

What they deserved was a thrilling qualifying session that gradually built to a crescendo across all three segments and a full hour in which the drivers that they had shelled out hundreds of Australian dollars to see entertained them in uninterrupted fashion.

Instead, what they got was a shambles in which the teams appeared just as flummoxed by the new format as the fans themselves. All the meaningful running was done at the beginning of the sessions, countless drivers – hamstrung by a lack of tyres – were unable to react when on the brink of elimination and the final minutes of each segment were so quiet that the collective sounds of pins dropping could doubtless be heard across the Victorian landscape.

The sight of Lewis Hamilton wrapping up pole with four minutes of Q3 remaining, followed later with the appearance of Sebastian Vettel in the post-session presser in team jacket and jeans, would have been comical had it not been such a farcical PR disaster for the sport.

Worse still were the reports from Albert Park itself that the fans that had paid good money to watch the metaphorical car-crash unfold were unable – thanks to big screens devoid of any timing graphics – to follow the action, with many leaving their seats while the session was technically still in progress.

Yet the saddest part of all was the fact that those inside the sport had seen this coming a mile off. Drivers and engineers had warned that changing the format would result in confusion and a lack of action towards the end of the session, yet in spite of their pleas, the F1 Commission voted this system through regardless.

Fans at Albert Park reportedly left their seats while Saturday’s qualifying session was still in progress (Credit: Twitter user @chrisraynesf1)

What resulted after the session was the equally farcical sight of those same team bosses – chief culprits among them Toto Wolff, Christian Horner and Niki Lauda – rushing to condemn the very system that they had been partly responsible for pushing through in the first place.

Regardless of the apologies of the aforementioned trio, or the description of the new system by none other than Bernie Ecclestone himself as “crap”, all of this could have been avoided by simply not touching qualifying in the first place.

Martin Brundle summed it up perfectly in commentary when he said that if he was asked to change ten things about Formula One, qualifying would not be on his list. The old system that had been in place since 2006 ensured that cars were on track for the vast majority of the session, but also had the ability to catch out a big name and invariably led to an exciting conclusion.

Almost no one was calling for it to be changed, and now on the evidence of this sorry mess, even fewer people can see why it was.

The fact that an urgent meeting at which the new elimination-style format is almost certain to be ditched will be held tomorrow is proof, if ever it were needed, that those responsible for rushing through this system are now nursing self-inflicted gunshot wounds to their feet.

The only logical solution to this mess is to go back to the system that has served the sport so well over the last decade and ensure that it is in place in time for the next race in Bahrain.

What we got in Melbourne was an ill-conceived experiment that did nothing but attract a deluge of negative headlines and further embarrass the sport on a global stage. Many more debacle of this nature, and the very credibility of Formula One as a serious competition is in grave peril of exceeding tipping point.

Saturday should have been the day that we celebrated the return of Formula One following the end of the winter famine. Instead, it will be remembered for its latest own goal.

Stephen D’Albiac

Elimination-style qualifying – another sorry mess

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News that plans to introduce a new “elimination-style” qualifying system to Formula One will be delayed until at least the Spanish Grand Prix is just another clear indication of the haphazard and disorganised world in which the rulemakers of the sport operate.

The new system, which will see drivers eliminated at 90 second intervals throughout three segments of qualifying until just two remain on track for the final part of Q3, came about as a bombshell thrust upon the fans and the media just last week, while the first pre-season test was underway.

It immediately drew the ire of fans across the internet and social media, and this latest hiccough in F1’s attempt to push through an ill thought-out and unwanted system is likely to do nothing but further get the backs of the viewing public up.

The question that needs to be asked is why it took until just three weeks before the start of the season for this idea to be mooted? Why was this system not made public when there was still time to create the software needed for it to be a viable television spectacle?

There has been three months in which to implement this and ensure that everything is up and running in time for Melbourne, yet the Strategy Group appears to have thought this up in a manner reminiscent of a university student loading up Microsoft Word the day before an important assignment is due to be submitted.

Introducing a new and convoluted system in Spain is not the way Formula One should be going about things. Rule changes, unless for safety reasons, should never take place during a season. By moving the goalposts in the middle of the championship, it risks damaging the integrity of the series’ position as the pinnacle of motorsport.

While you would be hard pressed to find someone who felt that the qualifying system needed changing at all, now that it appears that we are likely to get it, the only logical step is to delay its introduction to 2017, when all of the ins and outs have been explored and all of the software put in place to allow it to run as smoothly as possible.

New qualifying format is fundamentally flawed

That aside, many fans are up in arms at this new system, and it is easy to see why.

One very simple fact is that the current qualifying format has been one of the great success stories of the Grand Prix weekend since its introduction in 2006. It provides every driver on the grid with a fair chance to achieve the best result possible, and, with between 12 and 18 minutes to get things right depending on the session, gives them ample time to get as far up the grid as possible.

The beauty of the current system is that it’s simple, easy to understand, yet also rewards those who are on the ball. The dying seconds of Q3 has become one of the most thrilling parts of the weekend, more so than ever in the last two seasons as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg exchange blows in one of many fights for pole position.

When numerous teams are competitive, it is not uncommon for as many as four or five drivers to be in the hunt for pole right up to the end of the session, each of those men’s final laps crucial in making the difference between clear track at the start of Sunday’s Grand Prix or an opening stint stuck in traffic.

Under the new system, the final 90 seconds of qualifying will only ever be contested between two cars. While drama will most certainly not be lacking when you have a pair of closely matched cars vying for honours, it will rob the viewer of the possibility of a three or four-way fight for pole.

That also assumes that the only aspect that piques the viewer’s interest is who starts in front. Some of the most thrilling moments of qualifying have come when an unfancied runner suddenly pops up at the sharp end right at the end of the session. This will now be lost, as a Force India or Toro Rosso driver clawing their way into the top five will be known for several minutes rather than coming out of nowhere in one short, sharp jab.

One of the main arguments made by proponents of the new system are that it will mean an end to the dead time at the start of qualifying when few cars venture out onto track.

Mercedes and Ferrari may appear on circuit in the opening two minutes of Q1, but does anyone truly believe that when they pop in a lap fast enough to see them through they will continue to circulate for the remainder of the session?

You may see more of the midfield scrappers, but with no increase in the sets of tyres that teams can use, it is likely that – first lap banker aside – it will only be when a driver becomes in danger of elimination that we will see him on track again.

In some cases, when a driver knows he will be unable to improve his time and avoid elimination, viewers will be treated to the sight of a defeated car cruising into the pit lane, a move that is hardly likely to increase tension.

Is the current system perfect?

While this post may appear as a blanket opposition to any change to the qualifying format, one change that I would advocate to the current system is to remove the restriction forcing the top ten to start the race on the tyres on which they set their best lap in Q2.

Allow drivers free use of tyres in qualifying, free choice of which rubber they start the race on and guarantee everyone a new set of both compounds they choose to run on, and you automatically open the door to the possibility of differing strategies at the sharp end of the grid.

Imagine the possibility of Lewis Hamilton at the front of the grid on fresh, soft tyres, Nico Rosberg alongside him on new mediums, with both men given the freedom of running their own race without having to make compromises on a Saturday afternoon.

Now that would be worth watching.

The last thing F1 needs is yet another rules overhaul

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Those following testing in Barcelona this week only have to look at the lap times to see that there has been a clear step forward in speed.

We are still nowhere near seeing the true potential of any of this year’s cars, but that has not stopped Sebastian Vettel and Nico Hulkenberg lapping already more than a second under Nico Rosberg’s pole time for last year’s Spanish Grand Prix.

Just three weeks remain until the start of the third season of the current hybrid era, a period that has been crying out for stability while the teams continue to conquer an array of new technology that, once properly honed, should naturally provide us with the fastest cars that have ever graced the sport.

Yet while the need for time and patience is staring the rulemakers in the face, it seems as though we are about to have another handful of changes thrown our way.

News that plans to rip up the rulebook and introduce yet another set of regulations aimed at producing high-performance cars and make them seconds faster will most likely get the go ahead for the 2017 season is disappointing, but not unsurprising, given the manner in which we have seen the F1 Strategy Group and F1 Commission work in recent years.

These, after all, are the same bodies that brought us double points, the thankfully never introduced standing restarts and are now attempting to have a new “elimination” style qualifying system – a part of the Grand Prix weekend that did not need changing – rubberstamped in time for Melbourne.

Once we see the class of 2016 truly unleashed, those already improved times will only tumble further. A step forward of between two and three seconds looks more than achievable. Take into account the inevitable development of the cars over the course of this season and into next, and come 2017 they will be faster still.

This would be more than achievable by sticking to the set of regulations that exist now, not by forcing teams that are already strapped for cash to spend millions building new cars that, while likely to increase speeds, will be more aero-dependant and almost certain to harm the quality of the racing.

Formula One is far from in rude health. Fans are being turned off for a number of reasons, chief among them the domination of the Mercedes team that, at first glance, is likely to continue into 2016.

Yet the fact remains that when naturally aspirated V10 engines made way for hybrid power in 2014, the Silver Arrows simply did the best job with the set of rules that each person in the paddock was given.

Single team superiority has always existed in F1. Each decade is underpinned by an era in which one manufacturer was better than the rest.

It started with Alfa Romeo in the 1950s, before Lotus took over in the sixties and again in the seventies. The late 1980s saw McLaren in a class of their own, before Williams dominated the nineties and Ferrari ruled the early 2000s. Entertaining it may not always be when we are in the midst of such a spell, but history dictates that a dominant team is always caught.

Mercedes may not be beaten this year, but they will be eventually. If the current rules remain, the laws of diminishing returns will take over and they will be caught. Completely overhaul the regulations, and what’s to say that they won’t simply steal another march on the opposition, aided by their vast reserves of wealth, and pull even further ahead of everyone else?

Formula One is crying out for changes that encourage more competition, but by going after the technical regulations, it is its own product that is being harmed.

One idea would be a complete overhaul on the way in which prize money is distributed, scrapping payments to constructors just for being there longer than everyone else and ensuring that all teams receive a fair slice of the cake for their efforts.

Testing is another aspect that requires urgent attention, with an increase in pre-season running needed so that teams no longer turn up in Melbourne still battling to get to grips with their new cars.

The number of engines available to each driver over a season is also in need of reassessment, as are the senseless grid penalties handed down to anyone who dares go over their allotted amount.

These are changes that would be pure and easy to implement with the right people in charge. It would result in a more competitive sport as the gulf in class closes up, and in turn would get people watching again, but instead a combination of yet another aerodynamic revolution and laborious gimmicks such as a Driver of the Day award appear set to win the day.

If those at the top remained sensible and focused on promoting the fact that the current hybrid powerplants are some of the most impressive innovations seen in the history of the motor car, did not use the media to publicly lambast their own product and stopped suggesting laughable ideas in a futile bid to “improve the show”, maybe, just maybe, the sport would not be in its current predicament.

Someone just needs to hand them the memo.

Stephen D’Albiac

NOTE: I will be writing a series of follow-up blogs in the coming days about the changes that I would make to Formula One. Stay tuned!