In an year of boring races with little or no overtaking, Brazil 2009 stood out for the amount of overtaking on display.
Button, Vettel and the rookie Kobayashi were all in the thick of things as they either fought to gain places or to overtake to gain back places lost. It made for fun racing and probably provided much needed entertainment at a time when races are tending to be rather processional and boring.
Teams and drivers seem to be depending on their qualifying performances and pit stop strategies to gain places and points. While the sentiment is understandable—points get results, overtaking offers none—it is not doing much to attract spectators.
How much sense does it make to try to get a newbie to the sport to appreciate the logic of a sport where places are gained or lost when cars stop for fuel and tires? The sport is supposed to be about "racing"?
So here is an amateur's viewpoint on making racing more interesting. The secret is in qualifying.
With a refuelling ban in place next year, it is possible that the current qualifying format will need to be reconsidered. The existing Q1-Q2-Q3 format seems to be at odds with the refuelling ban, unless drivers do qualifying with race fuel right from Q1.
If there is no change proposed to the current format, the first thing it would require is a format change to qualifying.
Instead of the current three-session format, qualifying would need to revert to a one-hour format which used to be in place until a few years back. During this one hour session, drivers get to do a maximum of 12 laps, with race fuel on board —take away at least one lap each for their in and out laps, and drivers get to do a maximum of 10 timed laps—or fewer if they choose to do more than one run.
With a 26/28 car field, the old 107 percent rule might also need to make a comeback.
The top six qualifiers earn points, with six points for the pole sitter, progressively reducing by one point with the sixth placed driver being awarded one point. These points will count towards the title, but more about that later.
At the end of qualifying, and with points awarded for qualifying, names of all drivers who qualify for the race will be entered into a draw of lots. Conducted publicly post-qualifying, this draw of lots will follow the old-fashioned FIFA-style pick-names-from-a-box format.
Only, there will be two boxes for the draw. One will contain the names of the drivers, while the other will contain a numbered card representing the "position" of the qualifying cars. So if there are 20 qualifiers, the second box will have 20 cards in it.
Drawn simultaneously, they will together show the driver's name and position on the starting grid.
The draw of lots determines the position of the drivers on the grid. So you could have the pole sitter start the race in 15th if the draw of lots comes up with that result.
The effect of penalties will be as per the current format—only, drivers get demoted based on their post-draw position on the grid.
Race points will continue to be awarded as is done presently. All drivers from positions one to eight will receive points.
At the end of the season, the driver with the maximum points wins the title. If drivers tie on points, the race points will have higher weight over qualifying points to determine where drivers finish in the standings.
The main benefit of this format seems to be that it shuffles the grid each race—one of the factors which contributed greatly to the amount of action on display at Interlagos.
The second benefit is that while it could offer an incentive for drivers to qualify up the grid and take points, they would be aware of the need to gain race points as well. Coupled with a random grid order, this would place a greater emphasis on overtaking.
The third, incidental benefit may well be the need to reprofile race tracks such that they are made more overtaking friendly. We would still have the Hungarys and Monacos, but tracks like Silverstone, Canada, Indy, Sepang, Interlagos etc. would be even more important.
The fact that the grid order is determined by a draw of lots might horrify a lot of purists—but if teams will not gamble on track, this seems to be one way to get them to do things differently.
However, overall this seems to be one way to force more action on race tracks, and that cannot be too bad a thing for fans.