Monday, November 30, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: Driver-Constructor Conflict

November slips on its coat and prepares to walk out the door while December makes its way up the driveway with a bag of goodies in store. We are 11/12ths of the way through 2015. One month to go and there are very few series still competing. Formula One put the bow on its 2015 season, as did its support series and the World Touring Car Championship did the same. The next few weeks will see a race here and a race there as the wait for Christmas and the countdown to the New Year is underway. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Driver-Constructor Conflict
Watching Friday practice from Abu Dhabi and the NBCSN broadcasters were talking about the Brazilian Grand Prix and how Lewis Hamilton wanted to get off strategy to try and beat his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg. However, the Mercedes drivers have the same race strategist and both drivers were kept on the same strategy. Rosberg went on to win while Hamilton finished second.

The Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix were not great races at all. In fact, I would say they were boring. I don't normally say a race is boring. I think there are plenty of things going on that can kept a race interesting even if the leader has ran away from the field but I just felt both races lack great battles anywhere on track.

Leigh Diffey brought up that in IndyCar you have multi-car teams and each driver has their own strategist and the races are great. I have little faith in the FIA, especially with Jean Todt in charge, but the easiest thing to do would be to make a rule that each driver must have their own strategist. The only problem is hierarchy of a Formula One team will make sure everyone is on the same page, even if strategists are designated to specific drivers.

How can Formula One overcome the hierarchy to improve racing? The one issue is the Constructors' Championship. Though Mercedes clinched the title many races ago, the team still wants their cars to come home one-two. Switching Hamilton's strategy could have caused him to jump Rosberg or it could have set him further back and dropped him to third. The team had no incentive to change strategies, as it was set for the best result possible by keeping the strategy the same. IndyCar doesn't have this problem because the only title that matters is the drivers' title. However, Formula One can't just abandon the Constructors' Championship, as it is too ingrained into the system of Formula One by deciding what each team gets paid each year.

I have been thinking about a few ways this conflict between the two titles could be alleviated:

1. Split the season and have half of the rounds count toward the Constructors' Championship and half toward the World Drivers' Championship.

2. Have a Constructors' Championship race on Saturday with a World Drivers' Championship race on Sunday.

3. Similar to the first option, have half the races on the schedule count toward both championship with one quarter only toward the Constructors' Championship and another quarter count only toward the World Drivers' Championship.

4. Have a separate points scoring system for the Constructors' Championship and have only the best finishing car from each team count toward the Constructors' Championship.

Here are problems with each option:

1. How do you decide which race counts toward which and would fans feel cheated if their grand prix was counting only toward the Constructors' Championship? I think we all like the Constructors' Championship but it is not the reason why we all tune in. We watch for the drivers. The drama is just different. People don't care if the constructors' title goes down to the final race but they do care about the drivers' title.

2. I think this option is the most intriguing but it would really water down the record books. Think about it. 38-40 races a year. Michael Schumacher's record for most grand prix victories would be surpassed by many drivers simply because there would be more races in a year than every before. The Constructors' Championship races could get their own section of the record book and be separate from grand prix victories. My idea would be to reduce qualifying to one, 15-minute session followed by a race that would last for 45 minutes.  It would give the fans more action and than the results from the race could be combined with the results from qualifying and averaged to set the grid for Sunday. For example, if a driver wins pole position but finishes fifth, that driver's average score would be 3 but if a driver starts and finishes second and the winner of the Saturday race started third, those drivers' scores would be 1 and 2 respectively and they would start first and second ahead of fastest qualifier.

3. Just like the first option, how would you decide what races would count to which championship and how do you convince fans that the Constructors' Championship-only race is just as exciting and worth the same price for a ticket of a World Drivers' Championship-only race?

4. I think this is the most doable but it really doesn't really solve the problem. Let's say the separate Constructors' Championship points system only paid the top five teams and it went 25-12-6-3-1, what incentive would there be to put Hamilton on another strategy? Sure, it wouldn't matter if he finished second or third because the second best team would still get 12 points but I don't think it would be worth it to a team to change it up.

I am sure there is a way to overcome these issues. I don't think the entire makeup of a grand prix weekend has to be altered and a simple rule change could produce better racing but I don't believe the powers in charge will make any changes anytime soon.

Champion From the Weekend
Esteban Ocon won GP3 Series championship with a fourth and third in Abu Dhabi.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about what happened in Qatar but did you know...

Nico Rosberg won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Stoffel Vandoorne won the GP2 Feature Race from Abu Dhabi. The sprint race was abandoned after a first lap accident involving four cars damaged the barriers that could not be repaired in enough time to finish the race before the Formula One race. It was the first abandoned race in GP2 history.

Marvin Kirchöfer and Álex Palou split the GP3 races at Yas Marina. It was Palou's first career GP3 victory.

Coming Up This Weekend
V8 Supercars season finale takes place on the streets of Sydney Olympic Park.
The 25 Hours of Thunderhill.