This year DTM proved that making small changes to the rules can be more effective than making big ones, and here's why
The 2017 DTM season has just finished, with Rene Rast being crowned champion for Audi in his first full year in the series. Now DTM can have something of a bad reputation for being boring, and in any other year, I’d kind of agree. It always used to be the championship I’d stick on in the background while I focused on something else, or would simply stop watching halfway through the year because I’d just plain forgotten it existed.
But not this year. Surprisingly, DTM has been one of the most consistently entertaining championships in 2017. And it’s not because of a massive rule change which made it easier for the cars to overtake, or loads of wet races keeping things close or anything like that. No. It’s because the series made lots of small changes which, on their own, do very little to improve the product, but put together completely transformed it.
Now I’m not going to sit here and tell you all sorts of reasons as to why you should watch DTM next year (you should, though!), but I am going to suggest that Formula 1 could take a look what DTM did this year and make some small rule changes of its own - mainly because those rule changes are ones I’ve been wanting to see in F1 for years. I’m not trying to suggest that F1 has been boring this year either, because I’ve really enjoyed it.
For me, the best thing DTM did was change the rules for the pit stops in two major ways. One of them was to dramatically reduce the number of people who can work on the cars.
DTM used to be like F1. When pitting, an army of mechanics would change the tyres and they’d be off in a couple of seconds. This year, only two mechanics could work on each side of the car, more than doubling the amount of time the car was stationary.
This would work so well in F1. The difference between a good or bad pit stop now is only about a second or two, but in DTM this year the longest pit stops took more than 10 seconds, with the quickest being completed in around six seconds. That enormous difference would have more of an effect on the race order and give teams more opportunity to gain - or lose - positions. It’d also make pit stops longer, dropping cars further down the pack, again creating the potential for more racing.
Sure, you lose the spectacle of cars getting all four wheels changed quicker the time it takes to say it, but if the trade-off for losing that is better racing, I know which I’d rather see. Also, you get to actually see what’s going on because there aren’t a couple of dozen bodies obscuring everything.
In DTM, this effect of longer stops was then exaggerated by another rule change - the banning of tyre warmers. F1 has tried to do this in the past but it’s always been blocked on ‘safety grounds’. I’m sorry, but there are plenty of other top line series that manage without them, so why not F1? It’s not even a question of it saving energy or resources or anything like that - it’d simply make the racing better.
Why? Well, it adds another element to the strategy. It would no longer be enough for someone to exit the pits ahead of the driver they’re trying to beat, they’d also have to allow a cushion of a few seconds to allow them time for their tyres to warm up before the other driver can catch and pass them. And if they can’t manage that? Well, then we’ve got a situation where we might see some overtaking. This isn’t just me guessing what will happen either - it’s the sort of thing you can see in IndyCar or Formula 2, and it makes for excellent racing.
Combine the tyre warmer ban with having fewer mechanics in the pits, and suddenly there’s a situation where a pit stop doesn’t cost around 20 seconds (as it does now), but closer to 30 seconds. Why is that good? Because pit strategy becomes even more crucial as leaders run the risk of getting stuck behind midfielders, but most importantly, pit stops (and the laps surrounding them) become less predictable. And unpredictability is a good thing, right?
DTM also got things right with the DRS. Unlike in F1, which has had essentially the same DRS rules since the system was introduced, DTM has tinkered with it and has finally come across a less-awful set of rules. Drivers have a limited amount of them to use during the race, and although they can only use it when they’re within a second of the car ahead at the start of the lap, they can do so at whatever part of the track they like, and for three times on that lap.
It’s the limited number of uses part that F1 would benefit from though, as it actually places an emphasis on drivers using them wisely. A Mercedes driver wouldn’t need to waste one getting ahead of a McLaren-Honda, but what about a Renault? Or A Haas? Or a Ferrari on old tyres?
Different circuits could also have different limits depending on how easy or hard it is to pass. Singapore or Suzuka? Sure, give the drivers a few uses. But at Spa, or Bahrain? Surely they wouldn’t need more than a couple…
DTM also introduced a couple more awesome rules this year, but they probably wouldn’t work in F1. After all, F1s partial team radio ban quickly turned into a farce last year, so what would happen if it followed DTMs lead and banned it completely? And double-file restarts are spectacular in a touring car series, but F1…? After all, even IndyCar dropped that idea!
The point though is that these changes aren’t drastic. They don’t cost loads to implement, they don’t give a massive advantage to the richer teams, and they wouldn’t be difficult to undo if they don’t work out.
For a while now, F1 has had the attitude that if something isn’t working, the whole sport needs to be reworked. New aero rules, new engines, new qualifying formats. But when making such massive changes there’s no way that everything is going to be right straight away.
Liberty Media and Ross Brawn have already gone someway to addressing that, with the promise that all future rules and regulations will be carefully thought out and planned well ahead of time. But that shouldn’t mean that the idea of the small and seemingly insignificant rule changes should be forgotten.
Because even if you’re not a fan of the specific examples I’ve outlined here, DTM has shown that the smallest changes can sometimes have the biggest effect.