Since it was first created back in the 50s, Formula 1 has been the ultimate in racing and engineering. However, with the sport seeming to decline and the rapid growth of other forms of racing, is F1 still ahead?
Although F1 still attracts the best drivers and engineers around, the sport is decreasing in popularity, especially amongst the younger generations. The reason for this could well be due to the lack of excitement and complex nature of the current hybrid era. The younger generations don't want to watch cars, which they can't get their heads around, being driven in a conservative manner. It's just not Formula 1! And then you have the uneven distribution of money to the teams adding to what is already a financially draining sport.
Just 10 years ago F1 was at a peak. It was attracting fans of all ages and from all corners of the earth. In 2006 the field was a lot closer together, the cars looked and sounded far better and there were intense rivalries throughout the field. So, where did it all go wrong?
I, along with many others, believe that the current decline in the sport originates from the 2009 season, where huge aerodynamic changes were introduced. This ultimately led to the horrendous stepped noses in the Red Bull era. Then 2014 came and made things even worse. The cars somehow became even uglier (anteater noses) and the new power units pretty much destroyed any excitement in the sport. With new hybrid turbo power units, we were left with engines that the fans didn't understand or couldn't relate to as they aren't commonly found in road cars. To make matters worse, the iconic high pitched scream, unique to Formula 1, was replaced with a dull, quiet drone. This has meant that even though the cars may still be travelling fast, they don't seem nearly as fast to spectators as they just don't sound it.
There is also the problem with fuel and tires causing drivers to race in a conservative manner. This is not just frustrating for the fans but also the divers, who have spent their whole careers racing flat out to get to the top and then be forced to drive well below the limit. This is the result of yet another ill-advised decision from Mr Ecclestone and the FIA. The decision was taken to limit the amount of fuel in the car and to produce tires that had a finite shelf life in order to produce unpredictable and exciting racing. However, like many of the recent rules in F1, it was rushed through without being thought about properly.
Another key factor of the current decline of the sport is the uneven distribution of wealth. The current setup means that the top teams such as Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull receive the most money each season whilst the teams at the back of the grid get a small fraction of that money. This allows the fastest teams to get even faster and the small teams stay in roughly the same place each year. This in turn leads to one team dominating for years whilst the field is stretched out.
The sudden rise of WEC in the last three years has also contributed to the decline of F1. Many of the younger generation are rejecting F1 in favour of WEC as it is more exciting. WEC has much more open regulations than Formula 1 which is attracting a new generation of top engineers. The cars, therefore, are extremely fast and very exciting to watch. They are also relatable due to the top three teams; Porsche, Audi and Toyota, being producers of everyday road cars. This means that technology from the LMP1 cars is being introduced into cars that fans have access to.
Although F1 may not be the pinnacle at the moment, it is starting on a road to recovery. F1 has recently been taken over by an American media group which should see Bernie Ecclestone leave within the next few years. They also hope to finally bring the sport into the social media age which should attract new, younger viewers. To add to this, the regulation changes for 2017 should see step forward in performance and excitement.