I started watching Formula One with the 1998 Spanish Grand Prix – won by Mika Hakkinen – and since that day I have not missed a single race, watching around 95% in their entirety without fast forwarding. That makes a streak of 295 consecutive F1 races. However, over the last three years I have had a growing feeling that I may just be watching for the sake of watching. The powers that be have decided to make changes to the sport to ‘improve the show’ that have led to me feeling alienated. In this post I am going to outline these changes and then outline some of my own ideas that I think could make me love the sport again.
DRS (2011 – today) – The Drag Reduction System (DRS) was brought in as a solution to aerodynamic efficiency leading to a lack of overtaking in the sport. The system allows a following car within 1 second to open a flap in their rear wing to reduce drag and give them a speed boost along a particular straight. To me, this is an unfair system as you are being punished for being ahead. If you are ahead, you deserve the chance to defend in a position that is stronger or equal to the driver behind; there should not be a rule that enables them to drive around you.
Poor attendance at tracks (ongoing) – F1 has always attracted new tracks and races. Some of these – such as Circuit of the Americas where this weekend’s race takes place – have been a big success. However, poor tracks that receive a poor attendance do no-one any good: just look at Korea. A lot of the circuits that are on the calendar are there as a marketing exercise for car manufacturers or are the pet project of a rich consortium for their pleasure. The circuits are poor, the racing they give is poor, but they are being used for the world’s premier single seater series.
Ever younger drivers (2014) – To me the intention of F1 is to have the best drivers in the world doing battle on track. Having a 17-year-old racing next year does not reflect this. Max Verstappen has one season of single seater racing under his belt and yet in 2015 he has a drive with Toro Rosso. To me that is a joke and disrespectful to drivers who are working their way up the ladder properly and have gotten where they are deservedly and not on their name. If F1 is easy enough for an inexperienced 17-year-old to take part in then it clearly is no longer enough of a challenge.
Engine noise (2014) – This is a minor point for me; I love the new power units and their general efficiency against previous cars. I also don’t particularly mind that the lap times have dropped since last year. However, that all being said, I still personally prefer the high pitched whine over the lower grumble this year. The old cars just sounded better and faster.
Domination (2014) – Again, a small point for me. I sat happily through five years of Schumacher domination and four years of Vettel domination. However, with Mercedes a second and a half quicker than the chasing pack it isn’t close to being a fair fight. We need more equalisation between the engines, otherwise we can get ready for many more years of Mercedes driving straight past people if they have to start from the back.
Financing (ongoing) – Two teams have just announced their inability to take part in a race in the same week. Meanwhile the teams at the top of the sport are being given extra money for showing up. By all means have performance-based prize funds, however, don’t reward teams that already have more money for attendance. Based on figures in Autosport magazine 30/10/2014, the smallest team, Caterham, is spending approximately four times less per year than Red Bull (the biggest team that doesn’t produce its own engines), and yet it is that small team that is failing. The cost of third party parts needs to be reigned-in to help smaller teams.
In addition, the costs of watching F1 in 2014 are prohibitive; it is now harder to watch F1. Few will pay £50+ per month to watch the racing on Sky, and going to a circuit is also ridiculously expensive. For the cost of general admission at Silverstone I can go to approximately six BTCC race events (18 races of 30). If the teams and the circuits aren’t making money and the fans are over-spending, do we really want to be lining the pockets of the sport’s owners?
Bernie paying his way out of a bribery case (2014) – Should you really be allowed to PAY to end a BRIBERY case?
Double points (2014) – If a driver wins the championship because they won a race that was worth more than all the other races I will stop watching and not turn back. This rule in a sport where reliability is a factor is not sporting.
Poorly thought-through regulation changes – F1 has become so desperate to improve the ‘show’ that it is practically no longer a sport. Artificial overtaking now rules, with the championship potentially no longer won by the most consistent driver, but the one who gets lucky in the last race. Next year there are plans for standing starts after safety cars, because starts are “more exciting” (with the clear potential for yet more safety cars). I want to see racing where overtakes are earned, and where the best driver in the best car is not cheated out of the championship.
Remove bonuses for ‘legacy’ teams – Instead give all teams an even share of the pot as soon as they have completed their first full season. Allow prize money to spread the best teams from the worst. In addition, if you want to engage the fan base, lower the cost of entry, because if no-one is watching, there is no money.
More difficult super-license – Having young inexperienced drivers does not do the sport any favours, to be in F1 you should have to earn your place by working up the ladder, not by jumping several rungs.
Allow for a maximum cost cap of £100m – In 2009 Max Mosley attempted to enact a restrictive £40 million cost cap. For the big teams this was never going to be achievable. however, setting the bar higher so that it is lower than the large teams spend and bigger than the small teams spend means that there is still a small window for buying success. This would need to be balanced for teams that also produce their own engines, perhaps defining a separate cost cap that applies to engine production, which in turn defines a maximum price that an engine supplier can demand from teams.
DRS limit – DRS as it currently stands diminishes overtaking. However, it has proven itself as a means for getting one F1 car past another. An approach that I would like to see taken would be to change the rules so that each driver gets 10 uses of DRS per race. They can then plan when to use that, whether it be to attack or defend or pull away. It would have the current provisos regarding no use during wet conditions or within two laps of a start/restart, however, could be used anywhere on the track.
Ask the fans what they want – Instead of a group of old men making decisions about what the fan base wants or the sport needs, would it be so hard for the decision makers to ASK and listen to the fans? There has been overwhelming negativity for a number of recent rule changes, the loudest response regarding double points. It may be that fans want dumb gimmicks, but do some research and explain how the results led to the decisions made instead of just deciding on things like double points or medals or standing starts after safety cars.
F1 is not the sport that I started watching in 1998, in many ways it is a shadow of its former self that has continued down a path of allowing money to dictate both success and priorities. The victors are currently neither the drivers, the teams, nor the fans, just those at the top raking in millions of pounds off the sport each year. The racing is almost as entertaining as it has ever been, however, gimmicks being piled on top diminish the appeal and I have questions about how challenging the sport is now for drivers.