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Formula One changes: are they enough?

Alex Woodward goes over the changes coming to Formula One in 2021, pondering if they are enough to save it.

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Even with the 2019 Formula One season just over a third of the way through, speculation of how the sport will look from the 2021 season onwards have been ramping up over the last few months, with a deadline for an agreement set for the end of June. By then, regulations governing the sport from 2021 must be agreed upon by the FIA (the motorsport governing authority), Formula One owners Liberty Media and the ten current teams competing. The new regulations would determine how the cars work and look, as well as finalising spending and prize money. The main topic of debate however has been surrounding how to ensure the competitiveness of the grid.

Since the change to the current hybrid era in 2014, all constructors and drivers’ titles have been won by Mercedes, including 80 of 106 races (prior to the Canadian GP). The only other teams to win are Red Bull and Ferrari. The main reason for this is the shift from aerodynamics being the emphasis of the car, to the engine and power unit being the emphasis of the car. This has meant that the price to produce a winning car in Formula One has increased exponentially, thereby pricing smaller teams out of the competition. More importantly for Formula One, is that this has damaged television ratings, with the sport losing 40 per cent of its viewing figures since 2008, even in the British market with Lewis Hamilton winning his five titles in this time frame.

It’s no surprise then that changes to the engine had been top of the agenda. Formula One saw it as a priority to get more engine manufacturers into the sport, there had even been noted interest in the past from Aston Martin and Porsche. This was to be implemented alongside a budget cap that would restrict each team’s spending to $150 million. However, not much seems to have changed; the current V6 turbos will be remaining past 2021, with proposed upgrades to the power unit making the cars more expensive. This has been met with criticism from McLaren CEO, Zak Brown, who said: “more power is great, less expensive would be out-standing”. Porsche have also ditched plans to enter the sport in 2021 after previously developing
an engine, deciding to stick with Formula-E instead. The universal gearbox planned has also been ditched. Teams currently in the sport have been pushing against big changes, suggesting that with no big potential new teams or engine manufacturers in the pipeline, consistency is more important. While F1 have been doing all they can to pump up the new regulations, others have been sceptical. Former Formula One driver Martin Brundle, said: “I’m frustrated with F1 and the FIA because the 2021 regulations offer the opportunity for a root and branch change that the sport needs and, from various conversations I had in Spain, I don’t sense it’s going to happen.”

There could be other big shake-ups to Formula One before the start of the 2021 season though, mostly to the tracks that the sport currently races at. Races in the Netherlands and Vietnam have already been confirmed for the upcoming season. F1 CEO, Chase Carey, has said that he wants the number of races to remain “stable”. This would mean axing more races. The
races in Mexico, Germany, Italy, Spain and Britain are all up for renewal before the start of the new season, making them prime for leaving.

The final big change is surrounding and will affect when and what will happen once teams arrive at the tracks. The first two practice sessions will be pushed to late on Friday with scrutineering and parc ferme conditions (in which only mi-nor changes can be made to the car) starting before practice. This will signify a change from the current conditions, where parc ferme only comes into effect before qualifying. The reason for the change, according to F1, is to eliminate the need for workers to come to the track on Thursday, which would ultimately serve to reduce their workload. Among critics of the plan is Mercedes Team Principle Toto Wolff, who said: “The idea of how we can add more variability, unpredictability, have more cars breaking down - we will achieve the contrary... We will spend more time and re-search in the virtual world, more cars on dynos to make them
last be-because we know we can’t take them apart over three days”.

Somewhat surprisingly, the more things change the more they stay the same. With the current progression of negotiations, many of the changes that will be implemented will not actually be that easily visible, and their impact will ultimately be most
noticeable in behind the scenes.

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