October 2nd, 2009
03:29 PM ET

Formula One musical chairs begins in earnest

With three races left in the Formula One season the musical chairs have begun.

Alonso has signed a three year deal with Ferrari sparking off a host of potential driver changes for next year.
Alonso has signed a three year deal with Ferrari sparking off a host of potential driver changes for next year.

So far, the exchange of drivers will see Fernando Alonso of Spain switch from Renault to Ferrari next season in a three-year deal said to be worth in the region of $36 million to the two-time world champion.

At present, he is due to spearhead the Italians' 2010 title challenge alongside Felipe Massa, provided the Brazilian sufficiently recovers from the life-threatening head injury he sustained this season.

Of course, that means there is no place at Ferrari for Kimi Raikkonen, who won the title for them in 2007.

The Finn is apparently reluctant to leave, but the blow could be softened if, as is rumored, he gets to join Lewis Hamilton at McLaren next year.

All this is very interesting, as the teams start forming their ranks for what will be a very important season for the sport next year, when Formula One will surely hope to banish the memories of another scandal-ridden campaign.

However, just for the sake of argument, how about this for a radical idea to shake things up even further.

Why not make the drivers independent in future? By that I mean, sign them to the FIA but not to any specific team, and make them race in a different car at each grand prix?

As you know, there is an on-going discussion as to whether it is the driver or the car that makes the difference.

And, while it is obviously a combination of the two, it was interesting to hear Lewis Hamilton describe his title defense with McLaren this year as a “non-starter”, simply because his car was not up to scratch.

Here is how it would work. Drivers would test in all the cars during the off-season when the various mechanics and designers would do everything needed to get the dimensions and set-ups as close to ideal as possible for each man.

Come the start of the season, the drivers would then compete for each team in a season-long rotation.

To start the process at the opening grand prix, the last place finisher from the previous season’s driver’s championship would be first behind the wheel for the reigning constructor champions, and so on down the pecking order.

Newcomers to the F1 circuit would take the position in the order of the driver they replaced.

It is a similar idea to the worst teams in the NFL from the previous season getting the first pick in the draft for the following season in order to promote more parity, at least on paper.

Obviously, there would be a lot of technical issues to overcome, and I am interested to hear your views on the impracticalities.

However, some of the plusses would be that the potential for corruption and cheating would be reduced, as no driver would be affiliated to any one team.

It would provide some of the smaller teams, who currently just make up the numbers in Formula One, with a major boost, as a star driver might actually make them competitive.

At the end of the season, we’d not only know which is the best car, as the constructors championship would still exist, but also who is the best driver per se, not who had the best technology behind him.

What do you think?

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Filed under:  Motorsport
soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. jc

    I totally agree because if the drivers drove in different cars we would see who is the best

    October 2, 2009 at 4:03 pm | Reply
  2. john player

    Isn't it boring enough to even hear about the A1 GP, let alone watch it? Now you wanna suggest doing the same thing to F1! Granted, F1 looks to be, atleast from the outside, the cultured mans WWE, but drama (read: scandal) aside, F1 technology still needs to be backed up by human cojones, that extra pair of "who dares wins" between the legs which is the difference between 1st place and runner up. Pitstop strategy, fuel loads, etc.. do play a huge part in determining the outcome, maybe not so much next year when refuelling is banned; but that again, is human interaction & not purely technical. And then, there are the drivers themselves. despite having an "uncompetitive" car the past two seasons, Alonso still managed to win "two" races in 08 and attained 3rd place this year in singapore. you have kovallinen who has the same advantage as hamilton in terms of technical setup of the car, yet, who's the reigning F1 champ? which mclaren driver won two races this year? what about button? he was written off last year driving for honda, now, he's tipped to be the new world champ. and yes, to your point, the car did make a huge difference. put any other F1 driver in that car and you'd pretty much get the same result. BUT, look at how buttons lead has decreased over the past 6 races. is he choking? the answer is YES. it's not the car! alonso, hamilton or the two ferrari boys would have confirmed their world champion status by now. the only difference between real drivers and drivers reeling from "bad car" syndrome is that the former will make a bad car look competitive more often that not whereas the latter make the cars look like they have a mind of their own. . talk about budget cuts, imposing standard technical formats, heck even ban all pre season driver testing (let the test driver take care of that) if thats what it takes. But please leave the teams and drivers well alone!

    October 2, 2009 at 4:51 pm | Reply
  3. John Elich

    Rather a poor idea.

    First of all the number of races would have to be a power of the number of teams, otherwise there would still not be equality.

    However the more important problem is that cars are built to fit the drivers, both in size and in driving style.
    Drivers have a very important task in developing the cars, and while it is true that a bad car will not turn in to a good one over night, without the driver input cars would be much worse.

    A cleavar example is the current situation of Fisichella. A seasoned and gifted F1 driver, who clearly showed his talent in the car that was developed with his input, has major trouble finding his speed in another car that was developed around other drivers.

    The package of F1 is a team effort, and replacing any part of that with a ramdom factor is a recipe for disaster.

    October 3, 2009 at 12:51 pm | Reply
  4. Ethan Jan

    I like the idea.
    However, as a long time F1 fan, I've already accepted the fact that F1 is about the car and technology and the team behind the car.

    We already know that these drivers are the best of the best. Given the best car, any one of them will win the race. The margin of error is so less, that these guys come up the ranks and have to be almost perfect.

    So, F1 is mostly about cutting-edge technology which btw also contibutes so much to real-world applications.

    I also like to see drivers compete, but for that I watch F2 or GP1 or A1.

    Having said that, I would be open to try this new idea. It might work.

    October 4, 2009 at 12:32 am | Reply
  5. Robert of London

    F1 is, without a doubt, a team sport. The cars are developed with extensive driver input, and each driver has a style that suits different car set-ups. We can see that week in, and week out, with teammates in identical cars using very different set-ups, fuel strategies, tyre choices, etc. The F1 schedule has quite a few races that are back to back weekends, meaning that a driver and team only has 2 -3 days to get prepped for a given track – and that's WITH a known car&driver combo. Given a random driver, into a new car, onto a new track, and I just don't see how anyone could hope to get a workable setup in 2 – 3 days. The recent Japan GP showed how bad this could be, with Friday being rained out, and Saturday's qualifying becoming a slew of accidents and red flags due to untested setups – which greatly affected the outcome of the race unfairly, and led to one Did Not Start due to injury.

    If anything, the one thing F1 needs is MORE time for drivers to come to terms with their cars, as Fishichella has proven at Ferrari, where he cannot come to terms with a new car as he transferred mid-season. The current restrictions on testing cured some past excesses, but have perhaps gone to the extreme.

    Changing cars and drivers would make F1 a lot less about skill, and inject a huge component of luck into the mix. And it would have a very negative effect on overall track safety, as drivers would struggle to sort out their cars in qualifying and even into the race. You do NOT want 20 high-performance, close-spaced cars performing a standing-start to 200mph dash while half the drivers are still not comfortable in their cars...

    October 6, 2009 at 12:44 am | Reply
  6. Danny

    Interesting but not practical.

    It would take more effort for all the teams to adjust their cars accordingly to each and every driver in contention not to mention the budget involved in making the specific adjustment to each driver.

    If only we're out if this economic downturn, only then this idea would come into play.

    October 6, 2009 at 3:20 am | Reply
  7. Wilfrid

    The team spirit of drivers and engineers and their cars that stick with the same team through thick and thin would be gone. It would be a rather boring race to watch.

    With no disrespect to any driver, I am not sure if I have the same zest watching Hamilton on a McLaren or him on the Force India. The branding association is not quite there.

    Personally, I am not interested in which is the best driver who can drive any car, or which is the best car that is driven by any driver. I am interested in which one is the best winning team.

    October 6, 2009 at 7:34 am | Reply
  8. Aditya

    Unfortunately the idea has a basic flaw. Most circuits have different characteristics due to which it is pretty rare for a single constructor to have the best car in all the races of a season. Take this season itself where competitiveness has see-sawed between Brawn, Red Bull and McLaren. So even if a driver rotates between different constructors, his eventual winning of the driver's championship will have a huge luck component based on circuit-constructor allotment.

    Similarly the constructor's championship would not necessarily be won by the best team, if during wet races, their cars were driven by drivers not comfortable with the rain. So the proposal outlined above can only work if you standardize tracks, weather conditions, etc. But then who would want to see that?

    Personally I think the sport has been going in the wrong direction for the last decade and a half, with all the attempts to standardize the cars. If I wanted to watch stock-car racing, I would watch A1GP or NASCAR. F1 has always been about the technology and which is why marquee names and manufacturers participate in the sport – to tell the world that Mercedes is better than BMW. The only changes that I am in favour of are ones that increase track-width or change the track layout to allow more overtaking so the race is a battle and not a procession.

    October 6, 2009 at 2:15 pm | Reply
  9. Ernest from Spain

    Interesting idea, but I agree with some that it may not be very practical. How about changing the qualifying system? Maybe a Monza style start, or a draw like in Tennis, where the names of (in this case) all the drivers would be pulled out of a hat to see the starting order? That would make the races less dependent on the starting grid, as the best drivers would really have to put in a good race to make it to the top spot, if luck should have it they pulled spot 18.

    October 7, 2009 at 5:26 am | Reply
  10. kiawi

    What a bad ideas. F1 is about "Team Effort".

    October 7, 2009 at 6:10 am | Reply
  11. Ashley Becker

    I think it is a very bad Idea.

    I don't want to see Alonso or Kimi or Massa or Lewis in a Force India or any other small team and believe me, the sponsors wouldn’t want that either!

    This idea wouldn’t ever give the desired result as it is impossible to design a car that can be setup to fit every racer's driving stile. Formula 1 these days are all about cost cutting and this idea would reduce the quality of the technical aspect behind the cars but at the same time increase the cost of the sport. Why, because for one, they would have to design the car to be durable to suite all the drivers so that they don’t break. Remember, a Formula 1 car is a very fragile machine. You need to hook it up to a "Life Support" system just to start it up.

    October 7, 2009 at 7:45 am | Reply
  12. Rodgers Mavhiki

    I think this is a very bad idea though it may sound good.

    Lets apply your thinking to soccer for instance. It would mean that players will belong to FA then play for different clubs. Really that sucks! Can you imagine Drodga playing for Man U, Liverpool, Arsenal in one season. Of course one can say the analogy is not apt as race teams built cars but clubs also invest in training and developing the players and so on, which makes the difference between Hull and Chelsea for example.

    And where is the human element in this? For example some not all engineers like Hamilton, so how will that engineer work with him for just 3 days to be ready for a big race?

    The mere fact that drivers are changing teams does not in any way makes this idea look good, again apply the soccer analogy.

    October 7, 2009 at 8:02 am | Reply
  13. Captain Kizuke

    What a bad idea!

    Its not all about car and the machines they ride in but the behaviour of the driver behind the seat during race and their driving skills, their quick decision makings, their instincts and above all, their own strategy on the race tracks.

    Follow Fernando Alonzo, and you will find how he is able to drive his Renault car even it is on its bad shape.

    October 7, 2009 at 9:26 am | Reply
  14. FBrasileiro

    Well, if all F1 drivers were simply to show up at each race track to race, instead of actively participating in their cars development and testing, maybe such a simplistic idea would fly. Top drivers, such as Senna, Schumacher, Piquet and Prost were also masters in supporting their teams with precise feedback / insight, straight from the cockpit.

    Also, let´s think of the top teams delivering their highly developed (and expensive!!!) cars to some of the less talented drivers (what is Jaime Alguersuari´s current accident statitistcs??).

    F1 is F1 because it took competitiveness and developmento to the highest levels.

    October 8, 2009 at 9:08 pm | Reply
  15. Rudy

    In theory, you could one driver start in a car that does well on high speed tracks, then rotate to the next car that happens to work well on a slow speed track, and so on. The reverse could also happen, where you have a good driver continually stuck with cars with bad track characteristics strictly on the basis of how the rotation falls. So it would still be entirely possible that one driver could run away with the championship, just based on the "luck of the draw". It is unlikely that this simplified formula would succeed in equalizing things.

    Besides, hasn't it been fun watching teams respond to their situations over the course of this season? That's part of the nature of sports sometimes. You don't change the rules of basketball just because the Lakers fall flat on their face at the beginning of the season. The good teams work to get their act together even if they start badly, like McLaren did. I think it's made this season more interesting that the last few.

    October 9, 2009 at 3:46 am | Reply
  16. ridzal thajeb

    Let's not be half-hearted and add the number of cars and drivers, too – say, 3 to 5 for each constructor's team. Both ideas together will crank up the excitement in F1! It won't be the current "first 5 and last 5 laps to watch with the occasional upset in the middle" anymore and we'll have lots of possibilities unfolding every time they race. Nice.

    October 9, 2009 at 8:06 am | Reply
  17. ASV

    The only way to make Formula 1 less a parade and more a sport, is to get rid of the rule that allows people to block faster cars behind them. As this in not really practical because you would have to have stewards watching evry car on every corner, why not do what clearly works in the OTHER GP series and motorcycle racing worldwide??
    TAKE AWAY THE MIRRORS!! Drivers will be forced to ALWAYS take the fast line and will not be able to hinder truly faster drivers as they will not be able to block (much anyway).

    October 10, 2009 at 9:00 pm | Reply
  18. boogel

    the thrill is gone... why not try "only 1 car per team" format? f1 has become like showbiz and not a sport, there is scandal everywhere! i don't know if they're doin it on purpose to hug limelight and keep the sport afloat...

    October 14, 2009 at 10:56 am | Reply
  19. Temitope Alli

    Although, it sounds like a good idea but what will formula one be without the Braitore Crashes, the Hamilton Lies, the Barichello Last Chance, the Hamilton-Alonso Part-not-ship, the McLaren Spy Corporation, even the Schummies Come-Back.

    F1 has become like watching Big Brother or one of those captivating soaps...as much for the racing as well as the scandals, you can't but wait for "Next Week on F1"! Who's going to get it from who!

    100% about the car?!?...hmmm...go ask Fisichella, Piquet and Kovalenin...Car 55%-Driver 45%!

    October 15, 2009 at 7:22 am | Reply
  20. arnold

    we use to have some thing like that here in the states, it was call iroc, all the car were the same, but the driver did not no which car they would get, for the next race. was pretty good had some great races, ,

    October 15, 2009 at 10:40 pm | Reply
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