Formula One finds itself at a crossroads. Confused as to what it wants to be. Pondering ridiculous points gimmicks. And ignoring the simple solutions that will see it rise to the top of world motorsport again. So without further ado, I give you my 2014 F1 State of the Union address.
1. Back to the Drawing Board
This year, the F1 cars will have tiny 1.6 litre engines, because ‘it will bring F1 into line with road car technology’.
So the elite of motor racing, which historically has pioneered technology that eventually filters down to road cars, is now at the whim of aforesaid road cars? Are you kidding me?
The defense is that the classic era of F1 in the 1980s featured small turbocharged engines, like now. But the likes of Nigel Mansell had low downforce, a manual stick shifter, and up to 1,500hp under his right foot. In his day, the designers had free reign to build fighter aircraft with wheels, then challenge their drivers to extract the maximum from the beasts they had created.
Playing in historic mode on the F1 2013 videogame, it really struck me how different each car both looked and felt to drive. Each team would come out with radically different designs to try and gain an edge on the opposition. Ground effect, six-wheel configurations, wings on the nose, you name it. For 2014, the great leap forward in aero design is a penis on the nose. I’m not joking.
The ruleset has become so restrictive; designers have no real way to upset the established order and create cars that go down in history as leaps forward in design. Open up the rulebook and let the designers battle it out – and maybe cars that are once again a challenge to drive will be created as a result.
2. I like you, you’ve got the money-I mean talent!
Lotus admitted to signing Pastor Maldonado not for his talent, but for his significant financial backing. Motorsport has of course always been a costly game, but when hugely talented drivers are left on the outside looking in at the expense of inferior ‘pay’ drivers, you know the problem has escalated. And as a result we have to call into question the belief that F1 is the pinnacle of driver talent.
Pinnacle of Daddy’s chequebook, maybe.
One common goal for teams is to agree to new cost-cutting regulations, which can only be good for the sport going forward. Bring costs down will help level the playing field, giving underdogs more of a chance to spring a surprise or climb up the order. Remember: the Red Bull behemoth wasn’t born overnight. I’m not saying Marussia could one day grow into a dominant title force, but at least give them the chance to aspire to be more than just colorful cannon fodder.
3. Less ‘race management’, more ‘race’.
‘Got to manage the tires’.
‘Got to manage our fuel’.
‘You’re driving to a good pace to manage our strategy’.
When I start hearing phrases like this five laps in, I sigh and reach for the remote. Because you know exactly what’s going to happen – nothing of any interest whatsoever for two hours. Like a Transformers film, then.
Yes, strategy is an intriguing part of motorsport, but that on its own isn’t enough. Strategy should be a part of the overall story of a Grand Prix – not its defining aspect. When the only topic of conversation after a race is about tires, it’s clear that the race itself was uneventful. And that’s because of the biggest problem of all…
4. Rule 716B: No Overtaking.
The point at which I lost patience with the 2013 season was when Sergio Perez made a brave move down the inside of Romain Grosjean at Spa. It was a fantastic move – only the stewards disagreed and penalized Perez.
For what reason? ‘Moving in the braking zone’.
I’m not joking.
This was after Grosjean had been penalized after a spectacular move around the OUTSIDE of Felipe Massa in Hungary – because he strayed an inch off track.
And then we had the Monaco GP, on a track many have criticized for being impossible to overtake on. So when Perez and others started actually overtaking people in the race, what did the media, organizers and fellow drivers do? Criticize Perez for being ‘an idiot’.
Yes, it really has come to this. F1, the sport which celebrates daredevils and risk-takers, now slaps down anyone who dares to take a risk and actually be a racing driver.
That banging sound you hear is my head hitting my desk.
F1 legend is built on drivers who are prepared to race on the edge and go for broke. Fangio, Villeuneve, Hunt, Senna, Schumacher – all were prepared to do whatever it took to claim victory. Modern F1 shouldn’t be demonizing maverick drivers. They should be celebrated as the faces of the sport. Cut the ridiculous rules, and let the drivers go head-to-head in the heat of battle. After all, that’s kinda the entire point of motor racing.
Note the word RACING.
You want to get the fans back, Bernie? Stupid points gimmicks will only alienate them further. Letting the world’s best racing drivers actually BE racing drivers will bring the fans back in droves.
5. DRS? Doesn’t Really (make) Sense.
I can hear you disagreeing with me. ‘But they can and do overtake, all the time! We have more overtakes than ever!’
No. Pressing a button and whizzing past another driver who has no way of defending against you is NOT racing. It’s Mario Kart made real.
If the drivers were allowed to cut loose and actually race each other, we wouldn’t need such ludicrously artificial gizmos. The Indycar Push-to-Pass system is much superior due to it’s flexibility of deployment both in attack and defence, as well as it’s limited uses. Either allow DRS to be a freely useable weapon all the time, or get rid of it.
6. I wasn’t expecting that…said no-one ever.
All of these leads me to the biggest problem with F1 – it’s just so predictable. And therefore enormously boring.
A modern F1 race isn’t a motor race anymore. It is a micro-managed procession of drivers bound and gagged by rules, team orders, team strategy, restrictive design, stupid tracks and Mr Ecclestone’s power-crazed hand. Dress it up however you want, but you can’t fake out fans. And fans are leaving in droves because they are sick of watching drivers unable to push the limits, race each other, spring a surprise result or even speak out of turn. Why bother having humans at all? Put R2-D2 behind the wheel, program in a strategy and pace setting, and away you go.
When fans boo Sebastian Vettel, they don’t do it because they hate him. They do it out of sheer frustration at seeing the sport they love descend into crippling mediocrity. Like NASCAR, F1 needs to cut the bull and get back to basics – before it’s too late.