Is Formula1 still an exciting competition or simply a foregone conclusion?
This year’s Silverstone Formula 1 GP is nearly upon us again. It is one of the world’s most iconic sporting venues, special in the F1 calendar, special because it’s British, special because it’s a truly testing racetrack and of course it advertises Britain to the massive viewership across the world.
The number of F1 teams in the UK makes me proud. These teams could go anywhere and 8 out of 11 teams have chosen England.
I’ll come clean, I am a big fan of F1, it has been my favourite sport for as long as I can remember and just like many fans, I have my concerns about the direction the sport is taking.
In recent years Red Bull have dominated, but then so did Ferrari, so did McLaren, so on and so on, right back to 1950. Some see this as a turn off, I don’t agree. This is simply the natural cycle of events.
I really enjoy the detail, the complicated tyre strategies, changes to the cars design, aerodynamics and engine. I love to hear the snippets of gossip about the team-mates relationships. It is all gravy to me, but as I said, I think of myself as a big fan. I accept that not everyone can maintain this level of interest.
When it comes down to it, what I really want to see is fast, skilful, unpredictable, astonishing driving. I want to see a race.
I do not begrudge the “big business” side of F1, of course it is commercial, R & D at this level does not come cheap. I want F1 to continue to be popular for as long as I can watch. It inspires technology, it generates revenue, it focuses attention. F1 is, and should always be, the pinnacle of what is possible in motorsport.
The Problem: It feels predictable and over complex:
For the last few years Red Bull were winning everything, the races did not have as much interest, when the outcome seemed so easy to predict. An obsessive fan like me can still enjoy the detail, but what of the less addicted or the casual onlooker?
This year, the regulation changes have mixed it up. New (amazing) engines have brought new winners and losers. Williams are coming back, McLaren are struggling mid table, but still there seems to be that predictability. Mercedes are trouncing the competition. This is clearly a reflection of their engineering prowess.
In an attempt to hang on to the regular spectator and answer the rising tide of complaints, Bernie and the FIA have consistently added more and more layers of complexity to the rules, limiting performance. Make the cars slower to make the races more interesting.
But this just makes all of F1 harder to understand. I enjoy the detail of the technology and the strategy, but it is far removed from the guts and glory approach of years gone by. I yearn to see power, watch the limits of speed and human endurance play out on a track.
I don’t mean to say it is easy. This is still the top level, winning is still difficult, Red Bull losing for a bit is slightly reassuring, but Mercedes have taken the same team approach, they are a marketing arm of Mercedes cars. It feels a bit like “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”.
McLaren and Williams are purist racing teams, about the technical. Both ways are valid, but marketing has a bigger budget than R&D, so will always win in the end.
So what is the answer?
So many people have ideas, some of them are not so good.
Many tracks make overtaking nearly impossible so adding a collection of “special attack” buttons to the drivers steering wheels that would offer a one-time negative effect to be applied to the car immediately in front, maybe lose 100BHP, or apply 10% braking or the opposite of DRS, a Drag Increase System. These sound fantastic, but aside from the danger, they would probably end up making for really confusing TV, not really knowing if the driver has passed because of skill of a magic button.
Another poor idea is adding a Saturday race. This would not spice it up, it would dilute the meaning of the Sunday race and be seen as a money grabbing exercise, an attempt to stretch the revenue.
My solution to the problems: Make it simpler!
I believe in the KISS approach. Instead of regulating to create interest and level the playing field, we should make the regulations as simple as possible.
There are so many opinions about how to develop the sport, but I find that often, the simplest ideas sound like they would make for the most interesting.
Not enough overtaking, DRS is complicated and has to be disabled. Why not just start the race with a reverse grid?
Qualifying can be dull, due to the tactical nature of a risk averse team strategy. In the very earliest days of F1, a point was awarded for fastest lap, why not make fastest lap worth points?
Reduced radio transmission – safety related messages only, no pit wall strategy directions, make the drivers work it out, human error is a great leveller in sport.
This year has been a little better than the last few, the new engines have mixed up the field a little, but the direction is still going wrong, I worry that Bernie’s quest for new income streams will lead to the creation of a predictable stage show and lead away from a sport.
Right now I love it, it doesn’t have the beautiful lustre of years gone by, Senna, Prost, Lauda, Mansell etc. but it does still hold my interest. I hope it keeps doing that. I want to be in awe again.
Bernie, please don’t spoil my dream.