RORY'S RAMBLINGS - An Occasional Column from the Antipodes

Rory's Ramblings

Aspiring to the Pinnacle
No. 24, 27 August, 1996
by Rory Gordon

For most people who read this journal, there would be little disagreement with the statement: "Formula One is the pinnacle of world motorsport".

As quite a few teams have found recently, the costs of attaining, and staying at, that pinnacle are very high. It's the familiar loop of needing lots of money to achieve success, getting corporate sponsors to provide that money, but sponsors not providing that money without success. No success means no sponsors and no sponsors means no success.

On top of that, the greater success a team has, the more money it gets from within the sport, in terms of appearance money, prize money, travel money, TV money and so on.

With Brabham, Lotus, Simtek and Pacific dropping out of F1 recently, there have been some calls for some sort of financial support programme for struggling teams. In particular, F1's "assisted travel" package has come under quite a lot of fire for the way it is structured.

But with a maximum grid of 26 cars and fewer cars than that entering, all cars were guaranteed a position on the grid. Obviously, this leads to F1 becoming something of a joke, with grids that have cars that really don't belong on the same grid as cars at the front of the grid.

In the first issue of Atlas for 1996 (Winter Issue 1), in his article "An Alternative To The 107% Rule", Paul Rushworth proposed the counter-idea of making up the grid of all the cars entered ... less one, the slowest qualifier.

At first, I wholly agreed with Paul and believed that this idea would provide suitable encouragement to the lower teams. Now, I have to disagree with him.

Why? Well, mainly because Paul's method could be abused quite easily by some people. For example, a lower team might decide that since they get only a little TV coverage anyway, why not formally enter two cars, but seriously enter a single car and focus all their efforts on that single car?

The ploy would have to have the connivance of the team's sponsors, management, mechanics and drivers, and it would soon become screamingly obvious to the rest of us what they were up to. But it would still be totally within the rules. And, who knows, by focusing on the single car, the team might just scrape together a few points ... enough to get travel assistance the next season, so relieving some of the financial burden.

Also, the team may even find that, with this directed focus, they manage to get their driver a spot on the podium, thereby greatly increasing the sponsor's return on their investment. Which, in turn, might lead to a greater investment. Highly improbable, I think you'll agree ... but in the world of F1, anything is possible.

So where does that leave us?

For now, the 107% rule does seem to be heading along the right path. The great advantage of this rule is that it maintains the dominance of F1 as the pinnacle of world motorsport - a sentiment with which we would all agree, I think.

The 107% rule isn't totally without its faults. For example, it is still perfectly possible for a team to concentrate all its efforts on a single car. But there could be a slight problem for a team, to say the least, if neither of its cars was to get within 107% of the pole time.

And therein lies the beauty and simplicity of the 107% rule. The leaders set the standard that has to be attained by all the other drivers ... and it's a moving standard, a standard that can, will, and does change as the qualifying session progresses.

To me, that is what F1 should be about ... setting standards. Those standards should be constantly evolving and renewing, forcing drivers and teams to push themselves to achieve and to win.

Huge doubts were put forward by many people that the Forti team would not be able to make the grids with the 107% rule in place - I probably would have been one of them. But, to their great credit, the Forti cars have attained the grids in 1996 on a regular basis. They have shown that it is possible.

The 107% rule doesn't solve what many people see as the underlying problem, though. That problem lies in the size of the field; simply, they are dwindling quickly: for every two new teams that come into F1, there seem to be three dropping out.

But is this really a valid problem? Looking back over the modern GP era (ie. since 1950), fields have varied quite considerably. The 1958 GP at Argentina had only 10 cars entered. In the same year, actually the very next race, the Monaco GP had 30 entries, of which 14 didn't qualify - one of whom was the illustrious Bernard Ecclestone.

Why should there be a full grid at every race? Surely, in safety terms alone, it makes sense to have as few cars as possible on the grid for each race.

While F1 should encourage people to enter, it should not allow just anyone to race just to fill up the grid, as seems to be the case in certain, nameless, North American racing series. In the 1958 Monaco GP, as I've said, there were 30 entries, many of them one-off privateers. Why not retain the 107% rule, but allow entries from any Tom, Dick or Rory to enter and attempt to qualify?

To be at the pinnacle of motorsport is not easy, and getting there should be a battle too. Allowing any Tom, Dick or Rory to roll up and race is not the answer - unless they can prove that they are capable.

And that is what the 107% rule should be all about: keeping F1 at the pinnacle of world motorsport, while allowing the enthusiasts without multi-million dollar budgets to have a chance to prove themselves.

But that's just me.

Rory Gordon
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