Today we had Sprint Qualifying for the first time in Formula One. It’s been coming for quite some time and while, since it was announced, I’ve considered it unnecessary, I didn’t give it too much thought. That is until this weekend. Particularly after it was done & dusted, and those with the requisite paddock passes took to social media to pronounce it a great success. The responses to these messages are… mixed, and certainly don’t appear to back-up Ross Brawn’s almost instant proclamation (via Racefans.net), “We’re already getting massive feedback, positive feedback from our fans on social media, they love it.”.
So here we are, in a world where the current custodians of the Grand Prix formula treat it like a new start-up. Keep chucking ideas at it. We have to appeal to a new (fictitious?) demographic. History is bunk and ‘disruption’ is good. What a load of horse… power! So, I have given a little thought as to what I think a Grand Prix meeting should be. A Grande Épreuve. An event with 115 years of history behind it. 115 years of heritage to leverage… and respect.
“First slide, please.”
For years the powers-that-be in Formula One have seemed to be on a push to ‘improve’ qualifying. Increasingly, they seem keen to make Friday running more ‘interesting’. This has always struck me as odd. Having pretty much succeeded in forcing Qualifying in to a sporting event in its own right, they now seem concerned that it isn’t *insert marketing adjective here* enough.
An analogy comes to mind, from my ‘previous life’. This is like a festival promotor selling tickets to the soundcheck, then telling the bands that they have to change their ways as the new punters find the soundcheck boring. Free Practice, even Qualifying, is there to serve the Race. A race weekend should build towards The Grand Prix on Sunday, and while we need to provide great value to ticket holders, the tail shouldn’t wag the dog.
So, an overview of my idea of a world championship Grand Prix meeting.
First day of the meeting, including media commitments.
1-hour Free Practice 1 session.
45-minute Qualifying 1 session.
1-hour Free Practice 2 session.
45-minute Qualifying 2 session.
Average of best times in Q1 & Q2 taken (come rain, shine, or act of God… and we aren’t in Parc Fermé conditions). These times set grid places 11-20.
20-minute Top 10 Shootout.
Parc Fermé from this point.
30-minute Warm-Up session.
The Grand Prix – over 250 miles or 2.5 hours.
And that Grand Prix…
I would ban tyre blankets, sighting laps and the warm-up lap before the start. (The ‘dummy grid’ would make a return). I would greatly reduce the number of team members involved in pit stops. I would change the Blue Flag rule, so that they were only shown at the final corner & startline, and had to be observed at Turn 1. Any asphalt run-off area would have to be preceded by a 2-metre strip of gravel, just outside the track limit line. Live data would be forbidden from being transmitted to any location outside of the circuit. Driver-to-pit radio would be available at all times, but pit-to-driver would only be available on the start straight – to reflect the traditional use of pit boards.
Away from the Formula One element, there should be a mix of support races. Promoters should be required to allow local or national series spots on the bill, to showcase local heroes. And we should see more of the F1 drivers over the weekend.
I would revive the concept of the Procar races from 1979-80. Current F1 drivers, reserve drivers, academy drivers and guests would compete in GT3 cars from various manufacturers. A ‘Balance of Performance’ would be applied to let current drivers race in cars that reflected their team / sponsor / engine supplier. Porsche would be encouraged to provide the guests’ vehicles.
This to me is how championship Grands Prix should be run. But I want to see the return of non-championship races.
For those I would take the old Monza Grands Prix or 500 Miglia di Monza as a model, or as inspiration. I would love to see literal big money races, perhaps over 2 Heats & a Final. Open the doors, discard some of Bernie’s shackles… 3 or 4 car teams, single entries, perhaps even Formula Libre. One-off liveries, multiple liveries in a team. Guest drivers, academy drivers, returning heroes. THAT is where you can let your imagination run riot. A spectacle at Monza, Silverstone or Imola to rival the Indy 500. Imagine the Tifosi when Valentino Rossi scrapes into the final on last year’s ‘Aramco’ Ferrari… when the Mercedes junior beats the works drivers, on a Petronas-green W12… Fever!
Formula One has over 70 years of heritage at its disposal. It needs to properly understand & acknowledge that, embrace it… and maintain its dignity.
In the meantime… Sprint Qualifying?.. bin it. 2021 is proving to be epic enough as is.