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GP Week : Issue 221
OPINION mat COCh Editor Formula 1 is in trouble. It’s on the verge of meltdown, collapse, implosion. Only it’s not. The fact is the sport is, currently, pretty healthy if you really want to take a good look. What really matters is what’s happening on track, and there the product has been pretty good. Okay, Mercedes is making it a bit boring but at least Ferrari is keeping it honest and the midfield pack is so tightly-knit you could make a jumper from it. Good racing is all but guaranteed, and that is what Formula 1 is and always should be about. All the happenings off track are distractions and get more column inches than they deserve. Sure, television figures are down but teams don't mind since FOM’s income is still healthy thanks to hefty pay television deals cut with broadcasters around the world. Race fans may not like it, but the sport doesn’t give a damn about them. It’s proved that more than once. That’s the bit that really hurts; the realisation that the sport doesn’t give a second thought to fleecing its fans for every penny they’re worth. Don’t believe me? Try and get some decent live timing information without paying for it. Even when you do cough up your hard earned cash it’s less reliable than Renault’s latest effort. Hence we look back with rose tinted glasses and recall the glory years of the sport which, depending which generation you’re a part of is every decade since the start of the sport. Lately there’s been growing support for a return to the style of racing we saw during the late 1990s and early 2000s when drivers sprinted from pitstop to pitstop putting in a series of qualifying laps as they pushed themselves and their cars to the absolute limit. It’s got so much support in fact that the Strategy Group, which met in the week after the Spanish Grand Prix, is putting some effort into recreating those halcyon days. It was refuelling that set that era apart. It meant drivers pushed as hard as they could and saw ridiculously good reliability as teams came to grips with the formula – certainly far better than we’d seen even at the start of the 1990s. But the action on track was about as exciting as a watching grass grow. There was precious little in the way of overtaking because there was little to no delta in the strategies being used. Teams quickly worked out the fastest strategy and gravitated towards it, differing only when it presented an opportunity to gain a spot on track. Passing a car stationary in the pits is far easier than passing it on track, mostly because passing on track was all but impossible. For the life of me then I can’t understand why there is such a growing movement in favour of that formula. What we’ll end up with is a glorified qualifying session which will detract from the on track action. We’ll have the drivers pushing to the absolute limit but the difference on television between drivers pushing to 100% and drivers managing their car and cruising along at just 90% is negligent. What we gain in spectacle is more than offset by what we lose in, well, spectacle. Perhaps the real problem is not with the show, or with our expectations, but actually with those of the drivers. It’s those brave souls who’ve been most critical of the sport in recent years, lamenting that they can’t press on like they used to and complaining that they’re managing this or that and doing a million things other than actually driving. But what we gain from the current set of regulations is a true picture of a drivers ability. Not only do they need to be able to put in a fast lap or two when needed but they must also be able to absorb and react to information gained throughout the race. They’ve got to constantly adjust their car, understand the tactics of those around them and use whtever tools they have in such a way that they are able to gain the advantage. Formula 1 is motor racing, not a regularity. It’s my fear that we are about to return to an era of hot lapping with little in the way of on track action. Rather than doing that, I think the real challenge for the sport is understanding the strong points of the current regulations and what its fan base wants, then using that to create a roadmap for the future. Currently the sport is reacting to criticism and making rash decisions. What it needs to do is take a step back and truly understand what makes the racing now so much better than it was in the years gone by and what can be introduced to bring fans back. If, after that, it is a reintroduction of refuelling or an opening of tyre regulations then bring it on, but I’m just not sure that due diligence has been done. The risk is that rash changes will only drive fans away. It might bring a few back for a couple of races but if the spectacle isn’t there they’ll quickly disappear again. And with the sport less accessible than it’s been in decades it can’t afford to gamble. Formula 1 should play to its strengths, one of them is the racing the current formula produces. 18 GPWEEK.com // 18 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: OPINION what's the real problem with formula 1?