Cast your minds back to the 2010 F1 season. OK, you may need some reminding that it was the year that Sebastian Vettel won his first world drivers crown at the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi. Now that we’ve reminded you, you may also remember that Fernando Alonso spent the bulk of the race stuck behind Vitaly Petrov’s Renault, as Ferrari shot themselves in the foot (again) with a strategy error that pitted Alonso to cover Webber, and promptly forgot about Vettel. But the other peculiarity about that season was that the top 4 drivers were separated by only 26 points. Or a race win (plus fastest lap) in todays money. So what happened?
Technical regulations in F1 typically last around 3-4 years, before a major reset. So when new rules are introduced the F1 field (in terms of qualifying times) tend to have a greater spread, which tightens as the years go by and everyone converges on the ‘best’ aero package. 2010 was one of those years. At qualifying of the final race, a mere 1.5s was the difference between 1st and 18th place in Q1. In summary, the field was tight and it was a classic season.
F1 prides itself on the technology that it produces and it very much at the forefront of aerodynamic and mechanical design. Stand next to a contemporary F1 car and most of us would happily have it screwed to our living room wall. They truly are works of art. But from the grandstands, can you see that? Search for “2010 GP2 Car” and (colour scheme apart) I defy all but F1s biggest geeks to distinguish that from an F1 car of the same era. The point is that they don’t need to be works of art, the racing just needs to be good.
Here’s an interesting stat for you – in F1, 80% of a teams budget is spent on R&D, meaning the car. And as we pointed out, the best seasons are when the bulk of the R&D has been done and you cant really go any further. What about other series, such as indycar? Well, a typically indycar team spends around 10% of their budget, the rest is logistics. And the racing is generally fantastic. Sure, the cars are not works of art, but neither are the V8 stock cars racing at the Bathurst 1000, and I know which I would spend an afternoon watching (I can barely name more than a couple of Supercars drivers).
So what’s our point? Well, if F1 wants to get past this difficult period, perhaps a move towards being more of a spec series would be no bad thing. Costs would fall by a massive margin and the smaller teams would survive. The racing would improve dramatically, which would please the drivers and the fans. And while it may be against the ‘ethos’ of Formula One you’d make the same criticism of front-engined F1 cars. But have you seen how beautiful the Ferrari 246 is?!