The climax of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday brought with it a bunch of controversy, after race leader and eventual winner Lewis Hamilton attempted to slow the pace to back his title rival Nico Rosberg into the traffic behind the two Mercedes cars. The strategy ultimately proved fruitless, with Rosberg securing second and sufficient points to take home his maiden World Championship, although the final few laps were given a welcome jump-start of excitement for the watching thousands at Yas Marina Circuit.
The widespread horror from knee-jerk pundits and Formula One team company men about Hamilton trying to – shock horror – turn a comparative parade into an actual race was rather sad, however. It should be noted that former and current racing drivers lining up to lay into Hamilton were rather noticeable by their absence.
Among this reactionary theatre, it got this writer thinking: what if, like cricketers can request extra overs near the conclusion of a Test match to try to force a result, F1 drivers in contention for a win could radio for an extra few laps at the end of the race? It certainly could have made for essential motorsport entertainment on Sunday.
That left-field theory would never get past the F1 powers that be, naturally, but could F1 increase its appeal by taking some nods from other top-level sports? Here are seven such radical wild-card ideas for the 2017 season.
*Adam Workman, The National
An NFL-style draft
If your American football team is no good, you always have the background hope that next season could be better. How so? Because each year, the top prospects from college football and beyond are dropped into the annual draft, with the worst team from the previous season being given the first pick of the talent. The second-worst team gets second pick, and so on. Now nobody is suggesting that Nico Rosberg or Lewis Hamilton would jump into a drive with this season’s whipping boys Manor, but if the trailing teams were given access to, say, one piece of new technology or the pick of a pool of top engineers, perhaps the playing field could be levelled a tiny amount.
As anybody who caught the GP2 Series races supporting the F1 in Abu Dhabi this year can affirm, single-seater racing can be swashbuckling and incident-packed. Mirroring numerous motorsport series around the world, GP2 makes it mandatory for all teams to use the same chassis, engine and tyre supplier, thereby making the racing much more influenced by driver ability than technology or massive financial clout. At Yas Marina Circuit, that meant wheel-to-wheel action aplenty. Across the entire 2016 GP2 season, the different drivers who claimed race victories stretched into double figures, smashing any notions of dominance from one team or the top few drivers.
Engineer transfer market
For better or worse, football has become the purest depiction of a sporting capitalism in action. More often than not, if you have the cash, you can buy the best players. The best players lead to success on the pitch, which in turn usually leads to financial windfalls, then the process repeats. In a sport where technology genius is arguably more important than the human piloting the car, what if there was a full transfer market or window for F1 teams to bid for the best engineers? Adrian Newey to Ferrari? Ross Brawn on a free transfer to Haas? As the continuing success of football superpowers such as Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Abu Dhabi’s own Manchester City shows, such an open market does tend to strengthen the status quo. But last season’s English Premier League champions Leicester City – and this season’s Bundesliga pacesetters RB Leipzig – have shown that outside investment still gives the also-rans a chance to hit the big time.
The British Touring Car Championship is one example of a motorsport series that reverses its grid positions based on final positions in the previous race – the process is a little more complicated than a straight reversal, involving a draw, but it shakes up the order to ensure that the same drivers and teams aren’t constantly at the front of the grid for every race. Admittedly, BTCC has multiple races across each race weekend, while F1 has just one plus practices and qualifying, which would make the reversal idea a little more unfair. But as many back-to-front charges in F1’s past have proved, when a top driver has been forced to start from the pit lane or at the rear of the grid after crashing in qualifying, it makes for some thrilling overtaking potential.
A round on ice
At an event run by the Swiss watch brand Richard Mille at Yas Marina Circuit on Monday, the day after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, former F1 driver and current top commentator Martin Brundle conducted a short public interview with Haas's Swiss-French driver Romain Grosjean. When casually asked about his postseason plans, instead of trotting out some boring clichés about heading to the beach, the 30-year-old revealed he's looking forward to partaking in one of his favourite pursuits: ice driving. Somewhere, F1 overlord Bernie Ecclestone's eyes lit up. What a legacy he could engineer, by taking F1 to the final continent that it's yet to conquer: Antarctica. This season, there were no fewer than four competing drivers from the Nordic countries, traditionally a hotbed of ice-driving brilliance: two Finns (Kimi Räikkönen and Valtteri Bottas; Nico Rosberg's fellow World Champion dad Keke is also Finnish), one Dane (Kevin Magnussen) and a Swede (Marcus Ericsson). You can bet that Russian driver Daniil Kvyat has seen a bit of snow in his 22 years on Earth, too. Add the aforementioned ice-loving Grosjean, slap some studded tyres on the cars and it's slip-slidey game on.
Picture the scene: your F1 team has a racing incident, the driver spins, clips an armco and ends up having to pit for minor repairs. They’re at the back of the grid, trailing round behind the other 21 cars, but said driver’s skills lie in defensive manoeuvres rather than hard-charging, white-knuckle pyrotechnics. What if they could dive into the pits one more time and switch drivers for a sub who specialises in overtaking? Substitutions happen in just about every major sport you care to mention, so why not F1? And it’s a meritocracy, sure, but after a couple of test-driver false starts, isn’t it time that a female driver was added to the mix? You’re alienating 50 per cent of the world’s population right there, Bernie.
This is probably the hardest sell of all the suggestions, but over the years, F1 has seen many great rivalries that have sometimes spilt over into physical confrontations. Ayrton Senna grabbing Michael Schumacher by the collar at a test session for the 1992 German Grand Prix; Nelson Piquet Sr and his Chilean protégé Eliseo Salazar after a crash at the 1982 German Grand Prix; James Hunt and, err, a marshal at the 1977 Canadian Grand Prix. So why not take off the gloves – and probably helmets, too – and let wronged rivals duke it out à la NHL. Who wouldn’t pay good money to see the featherweight bout of the century that would be Lewis Hamilton versus Nico Rosberg?
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