F1 makes me sad (Part 1)
A two part rant(ish) on the state of the pinnacle of motorsport
Let’s get this done early on. I’m not ‘down on F1’ in the sense that I’m jumping on any bandwagons but as a fan of over 20 years I am disappointed. I intend this to be undertaken in the most constructive manner possible and not merely another rant on the internet! So let's take some of the points raised at the start of the current season (more recent stuff in part 2)
Qualifying - On the face of it, the pre-existing system of qualifying wasn’t particularly broken. Yes, the same names kept appearing towards the top of the times apart from the occasions where weather or poor timing in the pits played their part. This wasn’t due to the system being broken, this was purely because they were the quickest guys doing the best job on a consistent basis. No matter how contrived you make the rules, a Manor is just never going to be on pole!
As we saw in Melbourne, the grid was extremely similar to a 2015 example with very few surprises. Only in this instance, drivers close to the timer didn’t even have an opportunity to finish the lap they were on. Right there is fix number one if the FIA was going to persist with this system (more on that later). The fact drivers were being eliminated in the pits actually meant the fans saw less cars on track than in the ‘old days’ of a straight one hour session where you'd be lucky to see anyone out in the first twenty minutes or so.
As was also picked up by tv, graphical information was added to the presentation as the session was running. Sorry, but that doesn’t even happen at TORA! It smacked of an ill organised concept that hadn’t been planned, tested or properly organised behind the scenes. The frustration from the commentators was apparent when even they couldn’t explain to the viewer what was actually happening on the track and how it would affect the outcome of the session.
Following the conclusion of that debacle (team’s words not just mine!) the decision was publicly made to revert to the 2015 system in time for Bahrain. Only for this to then be reversed subsequently. The media engaged in collective face-palming at this bizarre and frankly ridiculous step away from common sense. It literally stank of an organisation that didn't know what it wanted, where it was going or why.
Then we have the ‘halo’ device recently tested by Ferrari and dubbed the ‘flip flop’ or ‘Formula Thong’ and so on. I’ll make no bones about it. I’m into aesthetics when it comes to cars. I like my F1 cars pretty, Not too ‘wingy’ but certainly not brandishing something from the ‘small and dainty’ portion of the Ann Summers catalogue on it’s front!
F1 cars in their current state are not pleasant to look at. They have the look of a technical rules package designed by committee...where someone didn’t talk to someone else and we ended up with a stupid step for two years and horrible stunted noses to this very day. In my mind safety can be achieved while producing attractive cars that entice viewers. Isn’t that what we want? The casual viewer isn’t bothered with tyre types, pit strategies or who has DRS or not. They want cars they can go ‘wow’ at. For me, the cars of the mid-nineties and early 2000’s did just that. The vibrant liveries, different designs and aggressive looks made me want to watch these 200mph missiles every other week. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying, I’m seriously not bothered about how these current cars look. Yes there’s steps being taken to make them look better next year but do they go far enough? Also how short minded do you think fans are not to notice that the rear wings in particular will be reverting to an almost pre-2009 style. Wasn’t that one of the key areas of ‘change for the better’ identified last time round?
On the face of it, the changes are made to ‘improve the show’ except with each change and botched decision, less and less people are watching. Viewing figures are generally down the world over. Tickets to many events are prohibitively high. Merchandise is horrendously expensive. Even Haas F1, a team I really wanted to show my support for are selling shirts for well over the odds. Attending F1, indeed any motorsport event, is a luxury. If the sport has the opinion that fans will continue to blindly pay whatever is asked of them for the smallest trinket simple because it’s F1 they are sorely mistaken. I believe in value for money. When I’m trackside I want the best day out I can have. I don’t get that with F1. Limited track action and access and entertainment that I can get at a local fair - guess what I don’t attend them either!
Naming no names, I attend a wide range of motorsport events and other sporting events quite regularly and I feel I get proper value for my time and money. I also have a heck of a good time! At races, the paddocks are open, people can have a nose in garages and mix in with the teams and drivers up and down the paddock and yes, maybe even get that autograph. These are world class series I’m talking about. What makes F1 so special? What allows those within the sport to place it on this pedestal and demand so much from its fans while giving very little back in return?
These people are not gods, they are humans like you and I. Ultimately it’s a cyclical argument. F1 needs sponsors to survive (it’s lacking those too) those sponsors will only invest in a product they are likely to gain the most exposure. If fan numbers trackside and viewing at home drop the sponsors will move away to better alternatives. F1 needs it’s fans, there’s no hiding from that. Some pint-sized billionaire may well say that F1 only needs the rich who utilise the sponsors they have. Well your young viewer now may well be that Russian oligarch buying thousand pound watches in 20 years time. If F1 continues on the course to which it is currently set I fear that it won’t be there to welcome that grown up fan when they come back complete with watch and bulging wallet.
I first attended an F1 race in 2000, Having watched from home since 1992. I was in awe at the speed, the colour, the sound. My family saved for months to get us to Silverstone on that rather wet April weekend. Let's face it, it was more Somme that circuit that year! Yet, despite many fans disappointing experiences we had an amazing time. I took my granddad on a special trip to one of the testing events to be held at Silverstone in 2007. We took many pictures, we enjoyed the sound and we appreciated the effort the drivers were putting in even on this relatively simple test. It would sadly be the last motorsport event he would attend. I’d watch contemporary F1 with him and even he would comment that it just wasn’t the same. He didn’t mean the 70’s or the 80’s. He was referring to that test in ‘07.
Watching F1 as a fan right now is like watching a once great actor trying to reprise a legendary role and not quite capturing the same sparkle it once had. They try to adapt to new styles, try to make you think they can still deliver those iconic lines but the magic is lost. The wrinkles show, the motion just not quite as direct and the words recited more gingerly as the brain struggles to keep the pace of a moment recorded many years before. The actor becomes a parody of themselves and that makes me sad.