Reverse grids and electronic track limits: Four things F1 needs to improve the sport

Verstappen and Leclerc clash
A five-second penalty for Max Verstappen running Charles Leclerc off the road at Las Vegas was not proportionate – it should have been more - REUTERS/Mike Blake
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Everybody has an opinion on how Formula One should be run but this season has shown there is plenty of room for improvement. Currently the FIA is too reactive and fails to see the bigger picture all too often.

The end of the year should be a perfect opportunity for the sport to look at F1 from a greater distance. There are several tweaks that I believe need to be made for next year to help improve it.

The penalty system needs a serious rethink

Sergio Pérez’s clash with Lando Norris in Abu Dhabi and his subsequent five-second penalty sums up a lot that is wrong with how penalties are applied in F1. We want to invite racing but it seems that the liberal handing out of small penalties is discouraging it by creating disproportionate punishments for minor incidents.

Pérez’s overtake of Norris was a reasonable racing move. Both drivers were responsible and could have avoided contact if they really wanted to. Neither driver suffered any damage and that is one reason why this should be deemed a racing incident. Norris went off the road to maintain his position so in effect that could be one of his three allowable track limits infringements, but we will come onto that later.

One solution is instead of handing out in-race penalties, notice could be put on the monitor stating that incidents like this would be investigated after the race, leaving the team and driver to consider their immediate options.

Both teams and drivers involved in that post-race process and the reaction of the team and driver at the time of the incident would be taken into account. This puts the onus on the teams to potentially police themselves.

Sergio Perez's Red Bull
Sergio Perez was unfairly penalised in Abu Dhabi - Clive Rose/Getty Images

If anyone is found to be significantly at fault and did not react, a black mark can go against their name, in addition to points or positions being lost if the incident is judged to be egregious and serious enough.

If a driver reaches three “black marks”, for example, then that could mean a penalty of some form with additional infringements leading to punishments of increasing strength up to a race ban. It would be similar to how the totting up of yellow cards happens in football.

Even so, quite often the five-second penalty is not enough of a punishment when it is applied for a larger misdemeanour. Max Verstappen ran Charles Leclerc off the road in the first corner of the race in Las Vegas leaving the Ferrari to run in dirty air but this allowed him to use his superior car to entirely negate the time disadvantage.

It would also hopefully put an end to the childish irritation of drivers and teams complaining on the radio in an attempt to see their rivals penalised.

Reverse grid sprint races

Sprint races as they exist in 2023 are essentially a glorified first stint of a grand prix with little strategy involved other than tyre choice. If they are to exist at all then they must be something significantly different.

Firstly, I would make the sprints reverse grid races. You could decide the reverse grid by taking the results from Q1 of the main qualifying session as that is when all 20 drivers are on track. You would also have to start the sprint race on the same set of tyres. That way it is more difficult for teams to game the system.

The biggest advantage of this is that the faster teams would have to fight their way past the slower ones and we have an event that is not just a scaled down version of the main race on Sunday.

Max Verstappen battles Orlando Norris in sprint race at the Brazilian GP
The FIA should reverse the grid for sprint races - Vince Mignott/MB Media/Getty Images

Teams would also be nudged, if not pushed, to design a car that can drive well in traffic and make its way through the field. The rules do not encourage a car design with robust aerodynamics as the car on pole usually goes on to win the race – and it is usually the fastest car on pole.  Things have improved recently with ground-effect but the current machines are far from their best in turbulent air, as tyres overheat and the car slides around because of the loss of downforce.

This change would also help improve racing in the main race as well, so it is almost a triple whammy of reverse grids leading to more on-track action. Purists might balk at reverse grid races in F1 but this is not a reverse grid grand prix.

Yes, some front running teams could try to be smart and try to take a risk in attempting to get near the front of the sprint grid by finishing, say 15th in Q1. But with track evolution and so on, you run the risk of not getting through to Q2 and starting the main grand prix, when more points are available, much further down.

Add jeopardy to qualifying with Q4 – a five-car shootout for pole

The “sprint shootout” qualifying is poorly named because it is anything but a shootout. F1 should look to that title for inspiration on how to improve the main qualifying sessions. The current format for the main race works pretty well but there is room to improve the show.

I would do this by adding a fourth mini-session so that we have a Q4 that follows on from Q3. Q1 and Q2 would be kept the same with five cars eliminated each time. However Q3, instead of setting the final grid for the grand prix, would become another elimination session where the fastest five drivers progress to Q4 and compete for pole.

Q4 would then be a one-run shootout with a new set of soft tyres with a time limit of around five minutes – only enough to do one flying lap. In Q3 the drivers currently have two shots at pole position, meaning mistakes are not punished as harshly and there is less jeopardy.

Sort track limits once and for all – electronically

Again in 2023, the policing of track limits was a major talking point. It simply has to be done better and more consistently. Other sports like cricket and tennis have technology and the facilities to view marginal calls and sporting incidents in real time. Why not F1?

I agree with the idea of policing track limits but you either do it correctly or you don’t do it at all. F1 is somewhere between those two points. With all the money and technology available in the sport, it has to do better. Leaving this to the human eye is an anachronism in 2023.

You could install bigger kerbs that wreck cars that would act as a deterrent, but then you stray into the realms of a safety and cost debate. Other suggestions like strips of gravel on the outside of corners or astroturf come with their own problems. Gravel gets spat up back onto the track and astroturf can come loose and detached. These all cause frustrating delays.

Electronic policing of track limits should not be that hard. All the cars have numerous sensors and it should not be that difficult to implement an electronic system at all tracks. If F1 can pay £190 million for a bit of land in Las Vegas they should be able to implement this system without too much fuss.

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