It has been a good season in F1 but a few changes could see next year become more competitive, captivating and accessible
Make it more competitive
Sebastian Vettel won his second world championship with a stifled yawn and four races still to go. Red Bull won the constructors’ title in the next race. This has been another very exciting season in Formula One, with more overtaking manoeuvres (1,120 going into the Brazilian race on Sunday) than in any season in the 62-year history of the world championship thanks to DRS, Kers and fast-vanishing tyres. But it should have been more competitive.
Don’t blame Red Bull, who have now set the benchmark for the past two seasons. But McLaren finished a long way behind in second place. Then there was another big gap before Ferrari, another wide space before Mercedes and yet another one before the best of the midfielders, Renault.
It is high time those slumbering giants Ferrari and Mercedes came to the party so the Big Four means exactly that. It was not good enough that Ferrari, the biggest team of the lot, did not understand their tyres or aero and were happy to copy Red Bull instead of coming up with their own ideas. Mercedes have been on a recruitment drive and should be stronger.
Get Lewis Hamilton back to his best
He is the most important driver in Formula One and it is up to McLaren, his family, his friends, his agent, his sometimes estranged girlfriend but most of all himself to ensure that he is back to his best next season.
Is he the best? Most experts say that title belongs to Fernando Alonso. OK, Hamilton blew him away in his brilliant rookie year of 2007 but McLaren’s egalitarian DNA never suited Alonso’s matador spirit.
Sebastian Vettel, too, may be a better all-round driver than Hamilton. But the very fast and aggressive Hamilton is pure box office. And Formula One needs him like no one else.
He made a number of bad decisions this year, on and off the track, and too often looked like one of JM Barrie’s Lost Boys. His mind appeared in turmoil for much of the time. He is most anxious to be a celebrity but the best way to ensure that is to concentrate on his driving and become world champion again.
Make it younger
Formula One’s abiding image is of its 81-year-old ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone. Ecclestone has done an astonishing job to make F1 what it is but, as with Fifa’s Sepp Blatter, it is time to move on.
There are too many old men clinging on, and that applies to the drivers as much as anyone else. Rubens Barrichello (40 next year) may have had his last race but he is desperate to continue. Michael Schumacher will be 43 in January but, it seems, wants to drive on, Pedro de la Rosa, 42 in February, has just signed for HRT. The current fashion for pay drivers is also stifling young talent.
At the front of the grid a shake?up is badly needed. But that is unlikely to happen before 2013, by which time Felipe Massa, Mark Webber and Schumacher will surely have moved on. At least a number of lesser teams (Force India especially) are giving younger drivers a go before matters get serious on Sunday afternoon.
Saturday qualifying, so compelling last year, has become a bit of a bore with too many teams conserving their tyres for race day and too many drivers making only one run. Sometimes there is hardly anyone out there. Some drivers argue that this is making qualifying tactically more intriguing but they are talking out of the top of their helmets.
At least Pirelli’s Paul Hembury is aware of the problem and is working on a bespoke qualifying tyre for next year. Pirelli’s highly degradable tyres have been a major success this year but canny teams are already adapting to them so they need to be given fresh challenges next season.
Pit stops have also become a little too slick. What about cutting down the 19 men who crowd round a car in the pits to four (as in Nascar) or two (as in GT Racing), put names on their backs and promote the rivalry between them?
Address ticket prices
Formula One is in danger of pricing itself out of the market. Prices change from venue to venue but overall they are far too high. That is why the crowds at Monza and São Paulo (two of the sport’s greatest venues) were appallingly low for the Friday practice sessions.
Prices must come down and youngsters should be admitted free, which is the case in many other sports, including a number of motorsport events. Some new venues, such as India, have been very successful but there must be a pyramid structure supporting the big event. The fans must be made to feel important and building new tracks outside the city centres (think Shanghai, Malaysia, Delhi, Barcelona and others) does not help much.