OCTOBER 12, 2002
What happens if the weight penalty scheme is voted through?
The proposal made by Max Mosley that Formula 1 cars should be made to carry extra weight, depending on the number of World Championship points that they score, is one which has not really been taken seriously by the Formula 1 community. Mosley is seen to be politicking for change and by casting the net wide he may be able to get through changes which he actually wants to see. It is an old trick in F1 circles. The idea that drivers could swap from team to team is a step beyond even that - and no-one is taking that idea seriously. But the weight penalty idea is one that is worth looking at closely - even if it will risk upsetting the traditionalists.
The major worry is that such a move would cast the sport in a bad light. Punishing success with one kilo of ballast per World Championship point is a system of handicapping which could backfire. The general public has already made it very clear that the kind of race-fixing we have seen from Ferrari this year is not acceptable and the idea that weight will be used to balance performance is, philosophically at least, a dangerous idea.
Mosley says he does not believe that there would be any backlash from the public and has even argued that the change would create interest in spectators to see what will happen when the top drivers have to compete with extra weight in the cars. He also argues that the tweak to the regulations would have no effect on the outcome of the World Championship. The best driver, he says, will still win the title but the title race will be closer because as a dominant winner adds more weight to his car, the opposition will be able to score more points. That will slow them down.
This will spread out the points scoring, keeping the title rivals together and giving the smaller teams the chance to pick up points when the big teams are carrying too much weight. Mosley says that the best driver in the best car will still win.
There is a certain logic to this argument although the traditionalists argue that it might be the start of a slippery slope towards a system of handicapping. Convincing enough of the teams to agree to the proposal is something which Mosley may be able to achieve but there is still going to be a resistance to the idea as the concept of punishing success is one that has never been used in F1 before. Many argue that F1 does not need saving as it will eventually save itself as Ferrari's rivals build up their challenges and knock the Italian team off the top.
Mosley's argument breaks down when it comes to statistics because a driver carrying extra weight will win fewer victories than a driver with the same weight at each event. This will make it more difficult to assess just how good a driver is. It can be argued of course that statistics are irrelevant because of the many other variables that exist in motor racing.
There is also some potential for the idea to backfire as the big teams would immediately turn their research and development people to making cars operate more effectively at different weights. This would create a whole new area of research (and would therefore cost money) and it may be that the big teams would be able to continue to dominate even with more weight being added. Small teams would be less able to handle the weight and so the gaps could increase rather than decrease.
There is one way in which all parties may end up being happy. Weight penalties could be used without accusations of the sport being fixed if the weight penalties were applied only in qualifying conditions. This would mean that the dominant cars would have to start further down the grids. That would mean that the racing would improve as the fast men would have to work their way up through the field. But they would race without the extra weight so no-one could argue that the result was being directly affected by the ballast. The outcome of the races would be affected because grid position is an issue but it would be a more subtle form of manipulation. As a means of improving the show this would be quite successful and it may be that such a compromise solution is the way to go.
It is, fundamentally, an argument about philosophy. One might say that there is nothing pure about F1 but there is a certain purity in the fact that the aim is to produce the fastest car. Success brings money and money brings more success and so over a long period of time one can see the possibility of change, even if change itself has not happened much in the last 15 years. The question is really how much the sport is willing to give to play to the peanut gallery - and whether the peanut gallery will get up and leave...
Of the other proposals put forward by the FIA President the restriction on the number of engines will add to the logic that manufacturers should supply two teams. If there were free engines for all the teams the current gap between the rich and the poor could reduce a little and a wider ban on testing would help to save money as well. These are logical aims for the sport to have as there is simply not enough money for everyone to be able to compete at the moment.
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