Formula 1 should learn from MotoGP

At a time when F1 viewership numbers – both track-side and at home – are dropping rapidly, it’s time for change of some nature. Talk of a massive crisis may be fear-mongering, but all is not well in the world of F1, and rather than stick heads in the sand and hope the problem will go away, it’s time to act.

Formula 1 is not the first motorsport, or sport for that matter, to face questions of reinvention, and it won’t be the last either. 

In 2011, MotoGP faced an ever-dwindling grid, with just 16 riders taking part in the 2011 Italian GP. Not a single race in the 2011 season was won by a rider not on a Honda or a Yamaha and Ducati only featured on the podium twice. 

Recognising that they had to act quickly to rescue the premier two-wheel motorsport, MotoGP's powers-that-be opted to entice teams to the sport by splitting the field into two class: Factory and Open (previously known as CRT).

Factory Class refers to factory bikes using official Magneti Marelli ECUs but their own free-to-develop software. This means they can develop their own electronic strategies for traction control, launch control, engine braking and other aspects of the bike. Honda, Yamaha and Ducati originally fell into this category.

While Open class bikes, which in 2012 included Suzuki, Aprilia, BMW and Kawasaki, make use of official Magneti Marelli ECUs and have standard software. As more standardised bikes, they were given leeway in other regulations in the hope of levelling the playing field. 

Bikes in the Open class are permitted 24 litres of fuel per race compared to the Factory class' 20, so they can burn more fuel thus making the bikes faster. Added to that, they have 12 engines per season where the Factory teams may only use five before their riders begin to incur penalties.

Tyres, though, are perhaps the Open class' biggest advantage. Whereas Factory riders have the Hard and Medium Bridgestone tyres, Open class can use the quicker Medium and Soft compounds.

There is also a sub category for Factory teams 'with concessions' which applies to Factory teams based on how many wins they have and also how many podiums in the dry. One win in the dry boosts them up to the standard Factory while three podiums in the dry does the same. This currently applies to Ducati, Suzuki and Aprilia and has seen the former two running up at the front.

Four years on and while Honda and Yamaha are the only race winners thus far this season, the Ducatis have been ever-present on the podium and are more competitive than ever, while the grid has swelled from 14 to 26.

So would this work in Formula 1?

Theoretically it would. Could you imagine if Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull were having to run on hard or medium tyres through the streets of Monaco whereas the rest of the field had soft and supersofts? That trio on the harder rubber would be spinning their wheels, struggling to keep the cars on the road, and basically would be sitting ducks for those on the softer tyres to attack.

Or what about if that leading trio had only four engines for the year (as they do now) and the rest of the field had 10? Red Bull would be a one engine failure from a penalty and Toro Rosso would be pushing all the more hard.

Or if the chasing pack had more fuel to burn on a grand prix Sunday. They wouldn't be fuel saving or calculating the optimum speed to cover 60-odd laps. They'd be putting their foot flat from start to finish.

It could – and probably would – shake up the order, give fans more than two teams fighting for podiums, while also cutting costs for the majority of the field. And when the likes of Williams, Lotus, McLaren and Force India were consistently up there challenging – like we see of Ducati and Suzuki in MotoGP – they would fall into the same category.

But this is F1 and in F1 the ego rules.

When Eddie Jordan arrived in the sport, Ron Dennis uttered those famous words "welcome to the Piranha Club" and little has changed in the years since. In fact, F1 is such a cut-throat business that when Marussia (Manor) wanted to run a 2014 car this year in order to save the team, Force India blocked it. Now you know it wasn't because they feared Marussia would take points off them – the team had managed just two since entering the sport. Rather it smelt of greed and wanting a share of Marussia's prize money from the 2014 season. One-ninth of it to be clear.

Money is, and probably always will be, a huge debate in F1. It costs teams millions of millions to compete. For example Marussia, who are running a lap down on the other lapped cars, reportedly have a budget of $92m – and that's to do pretty much nothing except exercise the arms of the blue-flag wavers.

At the recent Strategy Group meeting, instead of agreeing to give the smaller teams more money from the pot or any other cost cutting initiatives, they went with customer cars. Another way for the big teams to earn money and the smaller guys to pay. But that's life.

But would the big boys in any way do what MotoGP have done and say yes to those customers having better tyres, more fuel, more engines? There's more chance of Marussia winning a race than that happening.

Michelle Foster

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