|Ferenc Gogos, Canada|
One of my least favourite topics over the past year has been the implementation of the 107% rule. The rule, as many of us know, stipulates that if an entrant does not qualify within the top 107% of the best qualifying time, that entrant will be barred from participating in the race.
The rule, imposed by FIA, was enacted to keep slow cars from taking to the track and becoming nothing more than moving chicanes. "They" said it would make racing safer and would force marginal teams to better prepare their race cars thus improving the over all quality of F1 entrants. However, the last few weeks have revealed flaws in 107% mentality.
After a couple of lean years in the entry list, 1997 looked promising. With two new teams and four cars added to the list (including the DOME team who were still pondering entry), it looked like a full field was in the making.
But then Australia.
The Lola entry, backed by Mastercard, showed up to compete but failed due to qualifying times so far behind the field. They failed to make the starting grid, due to the 107% rule. Lola had an odd sponsorship agreement with Mastercard which did not provide the expected revenue. The prospect of dragging a team around the globe with little chance of qualifying within the 107% rule in the near future left the Lola Company to withdrawal from Brazil. Furthermore, without placing the cars on the grid, Lola would be hard pressed to find new sponsors for a car that would virtually get no television coverage. Without sponsorship dollars, Lola could not afford to fund a project out of their own pocket and had to pull the plug on F1 involvement. Formula One is a very expensive business.
So the field is down to 22.
My biggest complaint with Formula One is that decisions and rule changes are made by FIA without giving any consideration to the race fan. The 107% rule being only one of a long list. Have the powers that be ever taken a serious look at why racing series such as NASCAR and CART have become so popular?
One of the reasons is that they do not bar entrants from competing because they cannot reach some mythical qualifying speed. If 30 cars showed up for a 33 car field then all those cars would be allowed to start even if the last few were 50 miles slower than the top qualifier.
Why? Because it does not hurt to have action take place on the track, even if that action is a backmarker being lapped for the umpteenth time. I still get goosebumps every time my favourite driver comes up behind the likes of Diniz or Nakano, partially because I have not seen a pass in hours and I have no idea whether the lapped driver will a) move over peacefully, b) slow my favourite driver down so the guy following can catch up, or c) punt the poor bugger out! I may not be happy with the outcome. I may throw the odd beer can or two at the television, but at least my juices are pumping. That is a part of racing.
Because of issues like that of Lola, I will never understand the logic behind introducing the 107% rule to limit a field that is already limited -- financially, technically and talent-wise. Thanks in part to this rule we will have to live with a 22 car field out of a possible 26 and hope that the FIA does not decide to turn the 107% rule into the 104% rule.