Sports News

Formula 1 2020: Your questions answered by Andrew Benson

As Formula 1 prepares for a new season, we asked for your questions about what 2020 holds for the drivers, the sport and you…

The sport

Ian Bignall: Will the racing be improved this year or will tyre degradation still dominate how drivers manage their race?

The two parts of this question are not necessarily related. It is possible to have good racing and the sort of heat-related tyre management required with the current Pirelli tyres – just look at many races last year. But if you’re asking whether there will be a change this year in the drivers being able to push the tyres much harder than in previous years and drive flat out in races? No. The tyres are the exact same ones used in 2019.

Is F1 selling out countries with questionable human rights records?

Stephen Burnett: Do you believe F1 is succeeding?

Unquestionably. Television audiences are stable, despite an increasing move to pay TV; its social media reach has grown enormously over the past year; and it remains one of the most popular sports in the world. The racing gets a lot of flak, but there were loads of good grands prix last year, despite Lewis Hamilton’s dominance of the season. There is too big a gap between the top three and the rest, but a budget cap and new rules in 2021 should start to address that.

Shaun Romain: Why does F1 go to so many undemocratic countries with poor human rights records?

The short answer is money. The countries I assume you refer to – Azerbaijan, Bahrain, China, Russia, United Arab Emirates etc – are prepared to pay huge fees for the privilege of hosting a race in the hope of what critics call ‘sport-washing’ their global reputation.

But F1 is hardly alone in this – most major sports hold events in such countries. And in some – like football – the countries own participants, as in the case of Manchester City or Paris St Germain.

Another defence F1 would employ would be to say it is not for them to judge a nation’s politics. And that if it started taking a moral stance, the calendar could be very short indeed. Because even some of the more ‘acceptable’ countries can often be criticised, depending on one’s perspective.

Mark Macca: I used to be a huge fan of F1 in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I haven’t watched a race for five years, it’s just boring. Convince me to watch again.

You’re missing out. In Hamilton, you’re watching an all-time great making history. Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc are two of the brightest talents to emerge in ages. The cars are faster than they’ve ever been. And the racing, despite criticisms, was often terrific in 2019, and should be again this year. Give it another chance.

Derrick Timms: Formula E, Indycar and Nascar all have fantastic racing with tight rules and budgets. How can F1 ever have close racing without similar rules?

I’m not sure I agree with the premise. F1 does have close racing. Look at the Canadian, Austrian, British, German, Hungarian, Belgian, Italian, Singapore, Russian, US and Brazilian Grands Prix last year – that’s more than half last season. Do those other series provide better racing? That’s questionable and depends on your perspective.

If you’re asking about the field spread from front to back, that’s to do with the disparity in budgets, yes. But that’s being addressed with the budget cap from 2021. It may be coming in a bit late, in that the big teams will be able to devote their existing large budgets to their first stab at the new rules (which are, yes, very tight, in your words), but over time it ought to level things out.

F1 has close racing – too close sometimes…

Glenn Rawding: Based on the UK decision to ban petrol, diesel and hybrid cars by as early as 2032, where does that leave F1 and the development of race engines?

Good question. The short answer is no-one knows. The slightly longer one – if you ask engine/car manufacturers in F1 – is that, despite legislative plans such as this, there is no agreement as yet as to where road-car technology will go in the future. Electric will be part of it, but there are well established infrastructure issues with that, and already people are talking about other technologies, such as hydrogen fuel cells and synthetic fuels. Most car makers believe small-capacity turbo-hybrid combustion engines will remain relevant in one form or another for a good time to come. One thing you can be sure of though, is that F1 is very aware of this. It recognises the potential threat to its future. And it is determined to stay relevant to road cars.

Will live F1 coverage make it back on to freeview TV in the near future?

Sky has an exclusive contract with F1 until 2023, so until then you’ll get what you have at the moment – only the British Grand Prix live on free-to-air (on Channel 4 for the next three years at least). What F1 decides to do with the next contract is not clear. They have gone different ways in different markets – going full free-to-air in Germany, for example, but doing a UK-style deal in Italy. F1 owner Liberty Media criticised the Sky deal – which was done by Bernie Ecclestone – when they took over