Missing mistakes

Words: Pip Hammond

Ok so while the Austrian Grand Prix satiated some community hunger, there’s still a lot of talk about uninteresting races and what can be done. There’s a lot of online engineers around in the forums using words like “ground effect” and demanding a reduction in aero, but these measures will make little difference to current-spec F1 in terms of the racing.

Austrian Grand Prix. Photo: Renault Media

How do you organically make a race of it when the cars start in fastest-to-slowest order?


People yearn for the days of cars that went sideways and the extraordinary humans that drove them. And whilst you can argue which era looks best in hindsight, they all look good when you only recall the good ones. However, the key word is human.


Cars were crafted by a small handful of people, often with parts repaired rather than replaced.
Cars fettled on the fly, trial and error gains and losses. Lob a wing on it and see what happens.


In 2018 appending “by hand” to a manufactured part implies a skilled and caring touch, but the
reality is that modern machines, quality control and computing power have a greater
repeatability. The hand cannot match the machine, no matter how romantic the opposite would
seem.

Stressed humans make mistakes, and professional sport is where the best humans make the fewest mistakes


So cars are more reliable, strategies are chosen by supercomputers, and everything is adjustable to compensate along the way. The humans behind the cars are now steps behind the machines, writing algorithms and creating CAD models, feeding instructions to machines to make the parts that make the cars.

Austrian Grand Prix. Photo: McLaren Media

We live in an age where the machines are now nearly infallible. Racing needs more humanity


And what of the drivers? In the quest for reliability, drivers are asked to slow down. Preserve
tires, preserve engines, gearboxes, and fuel. So these extraordinary people, capable of feats
most of us can only dream, are asked to dial it back. Drive at 8 tenths for two hours for an
optimal day. The training, diet, simulator sessions, these drivers are achieving higher fitness and
focus levels than ever before. So mistakes are at an all time low.


We live in an age where the machines are now nearly infallible. Predictable machines mean
predictable results, especially when the drivers are asked to slow down - potentially masking the
truly-extraordinary from the merely excellent. This is Formula 1 so artificially jumbling the order
is frowned upon, so what can we do to spice up the show? The purists won’t want reverse grids,
and casuals won’t understand the systems. How do you organically make a race of it when the
cars start in fastest-to-slowest order?


One answer is mistakes. Stressed humans make mistakes, and professional sport is where the
best humans make the fewest mistakes. But look at the FIFA World Cup. Even the highest paid
and best professionals make mistakes in stressful situations, Willy Cabalero in the Argentinian
goal could tell you that. When you see the best in the business making mistakes you appreciate
the victor more for their resilience. But drivers aren’t typically as stressed throughout a race in
current F1 because their situations are managed by expectations for the machine-simulated and
chosen strategy. So we need more human elements.

Make it harder to be the best, and make it organic. Let’s put the humans under some pressure again


More-and-more fragile tires won’t work, the drivers will just be asked to drive even slower to
compensate. How about the pitstops? Strategy has taken a beating with the current generation
of 2-second pitstops. Beautifully choreographed groups of people, each which a single, set task
change all 4 wheels in 2 seconds. Amazing initially, the norm after a few years.

Austrian Grand Prix. Photo: Sahara Force India Media

We live in an age of predictable machines where drivers are asked to slow down - potentially masking the truly-extraordinary from the merely excellent


So how about we increase the stress? Let’s look to the US, namely NASCAR. Fewer members of the crew involved, and multiple wheel nuts per wheel. Increase the stress, induce mistakes. We’ve seen the 18-inch wheel concept, make it a 5-stud while you’re at it. Jumble the order organically when they get it wrong, marvel at the skill on show when they get it right. And maybe we’ll see the aggrieved driver try to claim back the loses on track? Increasing their stress, and allowing us to marvel at the swashbuckling skill, or wince at the stress-induced mistake that follows.


Multiple wheel nuts per wheel is potentially safer too. A car that has it’s wheels held on by at
least 1-of-5 wheel nuts can be brought to a more controlled stop than one that simply sheds a
wheel.


The racing needs more humanity, in a way the rules can fairly enforce without feeling artificial.
The machines have their place, the teams have their size, and that cannot be undone. But for
the sport we need to hand a greater role to the the people. Make it harder to be the best, and
make it organic. NACAR have lost the plot with its current championship format, but the
principles behind the sport itself are sound. Sport is about humans operating at excellence
levels in the highest stress positions. 2018 F1 cars handed some stress back to the drivers, but
not enough... yet. Let’s put the humans under some pressure again, and maybe we’ll see a
better race.