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Formula 1 Leaders Should Test New Regulations Before Implementing Them

Matthew Walthert@@MatthewWalthertFeatured ColumnistFebruary 28, 2016

F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone (left) grasps Lewis Hamilton's hand at last year's Monaco Grand Prix.
F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone (left) grasps Lewis Hamilton's hand at last year's Monaco Grand Prix.Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Everyone has an idea (or six) for how to improve Formula One—from louder engines to additional downforce to more durable tyres to revamped qualifying.

The problem is no one knows which, if any, of the currently proposed ideas will make the sport better (whatever that means). Williams technical director Pat Symonds recently told ESPN F1's Laurence Edmondson that even the people making the rules are not sure what the effects will be, particularly in terms of promoting close racing and overtaking.

Forty-two per cent of respondents to an AutosportF1 Racing and Motorsport News survey last year said the main reason they watch F1 is the "rivalry and competitiveness between drivers and teams." The next most important reason, at 14.8 percent, was "the speed and risks involved."

So competitive racing is (unsurprisingly) important to fans, but according to Symonds, the rule-makers aren't sure how to make the racing closer. In other words, the rule changes flowing down the pipeline are the equivalent of throwing things at the wall and hoping a few stick.

Symonds did have a good idea, though, saying: "If we took an aerodynamic group out of any of the teams and sent them away for a year and gave them plenty of money and plenty of facilities and gave them nothing to do other than understand overtaking, you would have some very interesting answers."

Williams' Pat Symonds.
Williams' Pat Symonds.Charles Coates/Getty Images

What a novel idea. Instead of change for change's sake at the fastest possible speed, slowing down and thinking through the proposals—maybe even applying the scientific method—to ensure the changes will have the desired effects.

But let's take that even further: Why not use GP2 or GP3 as a testing ground for some of the new ideas for F1?

Take the new qualifying proposal, for example. It is being rushed into F1 this year and could make Saturdays more exciting. It also could be a spectacular flop. No one knows because the system hasn't been seen anywhere but on paper.

And F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone told the Independent (h/t ESPN F1) that the software to implement the new live-elimination format won't be ready until the fifth round of the season.

At least that will preserve F1's recent propensity for midseason regulation changes.

But instead of rushing the change through, why not test it in GP2 this year and, if it works, implement it in F1 next year?

Granted, not every proposal could be tested in GP2, such as the new aerodynamic regulations, but the ones that can should be. GP2 races are already twinned with grands prix, giving F1 decision-makers a front-row seat to observe whether any proposals they decide to test in the lower series are actually working.

The National Hockey League employs a similar strategy, testing new rules in the American Hockey League before implementing them at the top level of the sport. This also gives fans a chance to adjust to new regulations and changes to the game before they actually take effect.

Can F1 learn something from ice hockey?
Can F1 learn something from ice hockey?Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images

At least by demonstrating and testing some of the changes before they are enacted, F1 might quell some of its internal dissension. Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton, for example, recently said, per F1i.com's Chris Medland: "I don't agree with the changes that are made and have been made for many years, so you just live with it."

With some rigour behind the new regulations—whether it is Symonds' Imitation Game-style group of aerodynamicists or a GP2 walkthrough—would at least give the powers that be in F1 something to point to in the face of any criticism. It would also show some strategic thinking that has been sorely lacking lately.

Otherwise, if the new rules do not produce the desired results, everyone will be just as disappointed in the sport as they are now and F1's rule-makers will be back to aiming at the wall, hoping something sticks.

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