As part of Liberty Media’s grand scheme to revamp Formula 1, one particular change is being put forward is, F1 grid formation changes for a grand prix in the future. Former Williams chief technical officer Pat Symonds joined the FIA as one of the specialists working under new F1 sporting boss Ross Brawn. Their goal is to help define F1’s future direction.
Symonds said that F1 is testing out potential regulation changes in the virtual world using eSports to assess their effectiveness. He said, ‘We’re keen to use virtual environments to test some of these regulations. What we can do then is look at statistics. It gives you a chance to do things you can’t otherwise simulate in an easy manner. I’ll give you an example of something we’ve been thinking about this year.”
“For a number of years, the starting grid for F1 has been a staggered formation. We know one of our problems is that we put the fastest car on the grid and not only do we do that but we separate them. It used to not be like that, there was a time when cars started two abreast, there was a time when – we’ve got a photo in our boardroom in London where I think it’s Monza – there are four cars on the front row. What would happen if we did that again? It’s not the sort of thing you can simulate easily. We can go to our eSports group and we can say ‘look guys, let’s change the grid, let’s do 20 races’.
“They don’t have to be 300km races. We’re only interested in the first three laps. Then we see what happens. Are we going to get a much more exciting first lap or are we going to get a huge collision on corner one? By doing this, and looking at it statistically, we can start to understand these things. It gives us our evidence-based form of decision-making, a mantra I preach quite regularly.”
Symonds drew comparisons with the 2016 season when the qualifying format was changed. It was changed back almost immediately following backlash from fans and the paddock. He said, “Some might remember that a couple of years ago, someone who is no longer involved in F1 decided it would be a good idea to change the qualifying procedure and at a whim that was done. There was no simulation of it whatsoever. A few people with an IQ that ran into double figures did look at it and decided it was going to be a disaster and sure enough it was a disaster but nevertheless it went ahead and sure enough it was a disaster. How do things like that happen? We can’t let happen again.”
F1 grid formation changes that drastic do seem strange and nobody is sure how the paddock or the fans would react, but its a risk they may consider.