Column: Addressing the weight issue

Column: Addressing the weight issue

5 April 2014 – Height is an important yet frequently disregarded aspect of a sportsperson. In football, taller players tend to be goalkeepers due to the greater height and reach, thus being able to protect more of the goal. Up front, attackers must play to their strength. The likes of Lionel Messi [5ft 7in/169cm] can weave in and out of defenders due to his agility, while others such as Zlatan Ibrahimović [6ft 5in/195cm] have more strength and visibility.

Both have pulled off the sublime and the ridiculous; Messi's goal against Arsenal in the Champions League in 2011, or his solo effort against Real Madrid in the same competition show his brilliance. For Ibrahimović, witness his goal for Sweden against England for sheer wonderment. Would Ibrahimović have been able to do what Messi did, or vice versa? Possibly, but unlikely. They played to their strengths and did so in captivating fashion.

So what relevance does this have in the world of Formula 1?

Well, talent comes in all shapes and sizes yet in Formula 1 this season the tallest drivers are supremely disadvantaged. Lighter drivers are at an advantage in terms of ballast; those with additional height simply cannot be as light as their shorter rivals. Sauber's Adrian Sutil has been most vocal about the subject.

"There is a danger," said Sutil. "You are driving more than 300 kilometres per hour on the straights and we need to be in good shape, in our bodies and our mind. It's not so easy any more, and you can't guarantee every driver is 100 per cent from a physical point of view. And I can feel it. I lost three or four kilos compared to last year.

"All the tall drivers, not just me, have to lose so much weight. There's not so much you can lose anyway. You can't even train because you want to lose the muscles you have. It's a difficult situation at the moment and I don't think it's fair. Small drivers can eat whatever they want, get a belly, yet because we are naturally heavier we get a penalty, something like half a second per lap or more. That's not because they are better drivers, just because they are lighter. This is not as it should be in Formula One because I still see it as a sport."

It would be naïve to suggest that Sutil could suddenly become a top competitor if the weight issue is resolved, for some of his issues are caused by Sauber's heavy car, but he has a point. Mark Webber revealed last year on social media that the minimum weight has been too low for "ages", and says 60/65kg is the target for drivers.

The minimum weight limit for 2014 is 691kg, up from 642kg in 2013, but the majority of that has been taken up by the new, heavier power units. Every driver has been slimming beyond belief across the winter to hit the minimum limit, with a couple now looking absurdly skinny. The figure banded about for an extra 10kg is in the region of 0.3s/lap, with heavier drivers also penalised in terms of the distribution of ballast. So why has Formula 1 once again found itself in a predicament?

"The lightest drivers have a problem with it, they block it," said Sutil of possible rule changes. "I think it's unfair. I wouldn't like to win against a driver who is 20kg heavier. If I win by a tenth in qualifying, this is not the truth."

"We want to have a good sport and us drivers could do a bit more if we hold together. Everyone should think about what we do and why we are in this situation. Is there any reason for it? No. The sport would be the same or better if we had a normal weight limit. We could eat properly, be happy at the circuit and not have this discussion.

Of course, as ever in Formula 1 it is about gaining a competitive advantage. Felipe Massa, one of the shortest drivers on the grid and therefore least affected by the weight issue, takes a different viewpoint.

"I think this is a problem with his team," said Massa. "If a team has a heavier engine or a heavier car, it's up to them to do a better job. I am light, and I am happy to be light, but if I was 10kg heavier I wouldn't have any problems. My team did a better job and I don't think it's fair for a team that did a better job on the rules to be put on that level. It's like if somebody finds something better with the engine or aerodynamics. These are the rules."

Massa has an advantage that neither he nor Williams will want to give up in a sport dominated by politics and money, the latter of which is of vital importance to any team. However, Massa misses the point. Sauber can undoubtedly improve their car and make it lighter, but no amount of tweaks to a front wing or changes to a bargeboard will alter the fact that Sutil will never be able to be as slim as Massa. It is a physical impossibility that leaves him at a disadvantage. This is not just a Sutil versus Massa battle, as it affects drivers up and down the grid but it is an issue that needs resolving in the interests of the sport. Just last week Lewis Hamilton, a driver towards the shorter end of the height spectrum, tweeted a picture of himself looking forlornly at a jar of cookies, captioned 'if only'. No-one would be foolish enough to suggest that drivers are only winning because of their height, but it is absurd when Nico Hülkenberg is praised for a strong race and pundits have to add "considering his height".

For next season, the minimum weight limit will be raised by 10kg to 2015, which will ultimately be seen as aiding the plight of the taller drivers. The move was voted on by the F1 Strategy Group to come into force for 2014, but one team objected. Yet designers will always design a car to be as quick as possible, irrespective of the driver, who is just seen as a fleshy inconvenience. Teams will still require drivers to be as slim as possible, and so the problem will remain. A fairer method in the Machiavellian world of Formula 1 would be to introduce a minimum limit for the combination of a driver plus his seat. In theory, that would result in a level playing field.

This might not happen, but something has to be done to avoid taller drivers putting themselves in danger. Formula 1 should be able to appreciate both the Messis and Ibrahimovićs of the racing world.

Phillip Horton
Twitter: @PHortonF1

related

Comments

Latest News
Full
Compact

  1. Wednesday 18 January 2017

  2. 18:02

    New: Follow GPUpdate on Instagram!

    F1
  3. FIA approves Liberty Media F1 takeover 17:41

    FIA approves Liberty Media F1 takeover

    The FIA, motorsport's governing body, has approved the takeover of Formula 1 by Liberty Media, following an extraordinary…

    F1
  4. Video: Inside Mahindra's testing garage 15:02

    Video: Inside Mahindra's testing garage

    Follow Mahindra as they head to Barcelona to prepare their machines for Buenos Aires.

    FE
  5. Rosberg labels Bottas a 'great solution' 12:14

    Rosberg labels Bottas a 'great solution'

    Retired World Champion Nico Rosberg reckons Mercedes has found a "great solution" by replacing him with Valtteri Bottas, whom he…

    F1
  6. Red Bull's Gasly to race in Super Formula 10:02

    Red Bull's Gasly to race in Super Formula

    Red Bull-backed GP2 Series champion Pierre Gasly will follow in the footsteps of McLaren's Stoffel Vandoorne by racing in the…

    F1
  7. AJ Foyt switches to Chevrolet power 08:40

    AJ Foyt switches to Chevrolet power

    AJ Foyt Racing will switch to Chevrolet engines for the 2017 IndyCar season. It will mark the first time since the latter…

    Indy
  8. IndyCar announces new Firestone deal 08:20

    IndyCar announces new Firestone deal

    IndyCar has announced a multi-year contract extension with tyre supplier Firestone. Firestone, a subsidiary of Bridgestone…

    Indy
  9. Liberty stockholders approve F1 takeover 07:55

    Liberty stockholders approve F1 takeover

    Liberty Media's plans to acquire Formula 1 have taken another significant step forward after stockholders voted in favour of its…

    F1
  10. Lauda: Bottas can be as fast as Rosberg 07:42

    Lauda: Bottas can be as fast as Rosberg

    Mercedes Non-Executive Chairman Niki Lauda believes that Valtteri Bottas can be as fast as the driver he replaced, retired World…

    F1
  11. Video of the Day: Valtteri Bottas fan Q&A 05:32

    Video of the Day: Valtteri Bottas fan Q&A

    Valtteri Bottas answers questions posed by fans on the first day of his new job at Mercedes.

    F1
  12. Tuesday 17 January 2017

  13. Pigot retains road, street deal with ECR 15:17

    Pigot retains road, street deal with ECR

    Spencer Pigot has retained his road/street track deal with Ed Carpenter Racing for 2017. Pigot, who won the feeder Indy…

    Indy
  14. Video: Márquez rides MotoGP bike on snow 15:02

    Video: Márquez rides MotoGP bike on snow

    Marc Márquez rides his MotoGP bike on snow at the Austrian ski resort of Kitzbühel for a promo video.

    MotoGP
  15. Fittipaldi joins Binder at Lotus for 2017 12:55

    Fittipaldi joins Binder at Lotus for 2017

    René Binder and Pietro Fittipaldi will form Lotus' Formula V8 3.5 line-up in 2017. Austrian racer Binder, 25, contested his…

    FV8 3.5
  16. Bottas sees 'no problem' with Hamilton 10:33

    Bottas sees 'no problem' with Hamilton

    New Mercedes signing Valtteri Bottas says he expects to develop a constructive relationship with Lewis Hamilton during their…

    F1
  17. Newey boosted by expected Renault gains 09:24

    Newey boosted by expected Renault gains

    Red Bull technical chief Adrian Newey is optimistic that Renault has made a "good step forwards" with its power unit, as the…

    F1
  18. Video: Felipe Massa returns to Formula 1 09:02

    Video: Felipe Massa returns to Formula 1

    Felipe Massa talks about reversing his retirement to return to Formula 1 with Williams for 2017.

    F1
  19. Why Bottas is the right choice for Mercedes 08:10

    Why Bottas is the right choice for Mercedes

    Valtteri Bottas will link up with Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes in Formula 1 this season, following champion Nico Rosberg's shock…

    F1
  20. Video of the Day: Valtteri Bottas Q&A 05:32

    Video of the Day: Valtteri Bottas Q&A

    Valtteri Bottas speaks about his move from Williams to Mercedes for the 2017 season.

    F1
  21. Monday 16 January 2017

  22. Haas' 2017 challenger passes crash tests 16:27

    Haas' 2017 challenger passes crash tests

    Haas' new Formula 1 challenger has passed the FIA's mandatory crash tests. Formula 1 will enter a new era of technical…

    F1
  23. Video: Bottas addresses Mercedes staff 16:12

    Video: Bottas addresses Mercedes staff

    Watch as Valtteri Bottas addresses Mercedes staff after joining the team for the 2017 campaign.

    F1
  24. Rosberg becomes Mercedes ambassador 15:57

    Rosberg becomes Mercedes ambassador

    World Champion Nico Rosberg has accepted an ambassadorial role with Mercedes, following his retirement from Formula 1, the team…

    F1
  25. Wolff: Bottas a 'great fit' for Mercedes 15:45

    Wolff: Bottas a 'great fit' for Mercedes

    Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has described Valtteri Bottas as a "great fit" for the team, after confirmation that he will replace…

    F1
  26. 15:12

    Confirmed driver line-ups for 2017 season

    F1
  27. Mercedes officially confirms Bottas deal 15:05

    Mercedes officially confirms Bottas deal

    Mercedes has formally announced that Valtteri Bottas will replace the retired Nico Rosberg and partner Lewis Hamilton for the…

    F1
  28. Massa re-joins Williams on one-year deal 14:38

    Massa re-joins Williams on one-year deal

    Williams has announced that Felipe Massa has agreed to re-join the team on a one-year deal for the 2017 season, to race…

    F1
  29. McLaren to launch car on February 24 12:16

    McLaren to launch car on February 24

    McLaren has announced that it will launch its 2017 challenger on February 24. McLaren will present its latest Honda-powered…

    F1
  30. Wehrlein completes Sauber's line-up 12:11

    Wehrlein completes Sauber's line-up

    Sauber has announced that Mercedes junior Pascal Wehrlein will represent the team in the 2017 Formula 1 season, alongside Marcus…

    F1
  31. Video: IndyCar drivers in 'breakout room' 12:02

    Video: IndyCar drivers in 'breakout room'

    Find out how Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Alexander Rossi fare when locked in a 'breakout room'.

    Indy
  32. Repsol Honda to launch on February 3 10:24

    Repsol Honda to launch on February 3

    Repsol Honda will conduct its 2017 presentation in Jakarta, Indonesia on February 3. Repsol Honda collected four successive…

    MotoGP
  33. Rookie Stroll not creating 'false expectations' 09:32

    Rookie Stroll not creating 'false expectations'

    Williams rookie Lance Stroll says he is not setting himself any targets during his rookie campaign in a bid to avoid creating…

    F1
  34. Video of the Day: DS Virgin car rebuild 05:24

    Video of the Day: DS Virgin car rebuild

    DS Virgin Racing looks at how it repaired Sam Bird's car following a practice crash at the Marrakesh ePrix.

    FE
  35. Sunday 15 January 2017

  36. Williams sure Massa will still be motivated 14:54

    Williams sure Massa will still be motivated

    Williams Deputy Team Principal Claire Williams is sure that Felipe Massa would still be motivated to compete in Formula 1…

    F1
  37. Bautista: Fighting in top five 'realistic' 13:28

    Bautista: Fighting in top five 'realistic'

    MotoGP rider Álvaro Bautista has set himself a "difficult but realistic" objective of fighting in the top five when he returns…

    MotoGP
  38. Video: Yamaha teases 2017 M1 launch 12:24

    Video: Yamaha teases 2017 M1 launch

    Yamaha gears up for its 2017 launch with this teaser video, featuring Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales.

    MotoGP
  39. Newey: 2017 regulation changes 'a mixed bag' 11:19

    Newey: 2017 regulation changes 'a mixed bag'

    Red Bull Chief Technical Officer Adrian Newey has described the 2017 Formula 1 regulation changes as a "mixed bag" and is wary…

    F1
  40. Yamaha set for 2017 launch on January 19 10:23

    Yamaha set for 2017 launch on January 19

    Yamaha will conduct its 2017 team presentation in the Spanish capital, Madrid, on January 19 (Thursday), where it will unveil…

    MotoGP
  41. 08:55

    Photos: TRS at Mike Pero Motorsport Park

    Toyota
  42. Verschoor takes early TRS title advantage 08:54

    Verschoor takes early TRS title advantage

    Red Bull protégé Richard Verschoor carved out an early points lead in the Toyota Racing Series after the opening round of the…

    Toyota
  43. Video of the Day: IndyCar's 'breakout room' 05:00

    Video of the Day: IndyCar's 'breakout room'

    How do IndyCar drivers Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Alexander Rossi fare when locked inside a 'breakout room', with only 60…

    Indy
  44. Saturday 14 January 2017

  45. Moss recovering from 'serious chest infection' 18:22

    Moss recovering from 'serious chest infection'

    Sir Stirling Moss is in a stable condition in a Singaporean hospital after suffering from a serious chest infection in the…

    F1
more news