F1 evaluating changes to grid formation

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Formula One bosses are considering changing the way the grid forms up before the start of a grand prix in the future, according to Pat Symonds.

The former Williams chief technical officer, who is working as part of a group of specialists under F1 sporting director Ross Brawn to help determine the future direction of the sport, said F1 is looking at using eSports to test out and evaluate potential regulation changes.

“We’re keen to use virtual environments to test some of these regulations,” Symonds said at MIA’s Entertainment & Energy-Efficient Motorsport Conference. “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 pointed to the uproar caused by a sudden qualifying format change in 2016, which was scrapped after just two races following criticism from both fans and drivers, to back the idea of simulating a proposed change rather than making a knee-jerk decision.

“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.”

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