MARCH 22, 2002
What are the rule changes all about?
Cost-cutting in Formula 1 is only achieved in one way: the money supply drying up. This means that teams can no longer justify their more exotic research programs and these are dropped. A recession therefore is the best way to cut costs in Formula 1 - which means that at the moment the sport is cutting costs but without really being seen to do so.
The other way of limiting expenditure is to leave the rules exactly as they are for as long as possible so that all the available technologies are exhausted and the cars are all running with the same basic level of performance. This is a nice idea and one might argue that then the skill of a driver is the deciding factor but this is not the case at all because with modern aerodynamics cars with equal levels of performance are unable to overtake one another - even if Superman is driving the car behind. The racing becomes dull.
Changing the rules tends to spread out the field with the haves getting ahead and the have-nots dropping back, but that means that overtaking is possible if the faster cars are behind the slower ones. In other words a good shake-up of the regulations makes for more interesting TV.
However, the sport does not like to be seen to be wasteful nor to be juggling with the rules to make a better show and so the best course of action is to be seen to be trying to cut costs - even if it is an impossible task - with new regulations. One has to assume that the one engine rule reflects this philosophy.
There is no argument that the one engine rule will make for more TV viewer-friendly races. For a start there are going to several cars each weekend which will be starting 10 places down from where they should be on the grid. This means that they will have to overtake the cars ahead of them. As we saw in Malaysia the question of overtaking is less of a problem than it used to be. Michael Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya were both able to drive up through the field after their incident at the first corner - and it made for good television. There are also going to be fewer finishers in races because the engines will be pushed much harder and some will inevitably fail. That means that we will see some unexpected results and, as we saw in Australia with Mark Webber's Minardi, this sort of thing is not only hugely popular with viewers (who always seem to support the underdog) but is a boost to the little teams as. Minardi received a huge amount of media coverage in Melbourne and that is good news for the team's sponsors.
It is also good for the car manufacturers who will be able to claim in their advertising (if they choose to do so) that they do not change engines at Grands Prix and this is a reflection of their reliability as much as their power. The anti-everything lobby around the world is beginning to make a fuss about cars being allowed to go fast and want health warnings attached to anything that goes above faster than a milk float. Thus it is in the interest of the car industry as a whole to be seen to be concentrating the sport on issues of reliability.
In a way everyone comes away with something from the new regulation.