Racing legend Jacky Ickx, has questioned the appeal of Formula 1, despite witnessing the most exciting season in recent memory, he believes over-policing is tarnishing the sport’s allure.
The former F1 driver and Le Mans Legend, questioned questioning if awe and fantasy still exists in F1 during an interview with RTBF, regarding state of affairs of the sport, amid one of most closely contested seasons in recent time, courtesy of Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, and there respective teams, Mercedes and Red Bull.
In addition to on-track sagas, the title fight this year has been contested very much off-track as well, with protests, penalties, and policing of racing incidents, too often stealing limelight.
Special racing moments, like the ones we are witnessing this year, require some perspective in an effort to have a greater appreciation of what we have been witnessing between the two standout drivers of this generation.
F1 should be about taking a given risk freely
The perspective of someone like Ickx, with his legendary pedigree, surviving an era of motorsport when many of his peers perished, is always useful as we put this year’s title fight into context.
Ickx began: “Personally, I’m frustrated with Formula 1, and in particular with the current rules of what should be, for me, philosophically speaking, a fight.
“It’s a battle between men who are freely taking a given risk,” he explained. “And these are men who are fighting at 300 km/h and more.
“The course of events is refereed by people who are certainly of goodwill but who, in my eyes, maybe I’m wrong but, except for one of them at each race, are people who have never driven race cars.”
Racing cannot be treated as traffic accidents
The Belgian, who famously protested the Le Mans starting procedure on safety basis, by walking to his Ford GT40 Gulf in 1969 instead of running, and went on to win the race after starting dead last, is never shy to speak his mind.
“I’m not sure that we can, in terms of the event, in terms of the way the race is run, in the name of heightened safety, treat racing as a traffic accident,” the eight-time F1 winner pointed out.
“We have broken the essential momentum of the fighting spirit and the very nature of this sport and of these drivers, by a succession of penalties, fines,” Ickx argued, clearly not happy with the way Stewards – whose inconsistencies have always been in the spotlight recently – hand penalties out to drivers.
Taking Verstappen’s incident in Brazil – when he was fined for touching the Mercedes of his title rival – as an example, Ickx said: “I find it mind-boggling that they dare to penalize with a $50,000 fine, they dare to apply this, for having laid a finger on the spoiler of an opponent’s car.
“I find it mind-boggling that they would dare to put $25,000 on Hamilton, if true, for unbuckling his belt before returning to the pit to carry the Brazilian flag in honour of Senna,” he added.
“There is something wrong here, there is no joy of victory. There are only constraints that, for me, are inexplicable,” Ickx insisted.
F1 should learn from MotoGP
The six-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, referred to how things are done in MotoGP as an example to support his point of view, which is quite ironic, as the latest F1 race was held at a venue originally meant for MotoGP, with the Losail International Circuit being one of, if not, the most popular venues in the two-wheel racing world.
“Why is there such success today in MotoGP?” the 13-time F1 pole-sitter asked.
According to him, the “freedom” that still exists in MotoGP makes the big difference, along with the camaraderie between the riders, and their willingness to celebrate even if it means “the awarding of trophies must wait.”
That, as per Ickx, creates “such enthusiasm for the public” especially as the riders “who are not afraid to do burn-outs with their bikes, who are not afraid of wheelies, who are not afraid to stop here and there” while celebrating victories create even more enthusiasm for the crowds.
The veteran of 114 grands prix is “pained” by the absence of big crowds at some race weekends, it is they the fans who are “the very basis of our sport” in most F1 races these days, he lamented: “No audience, no race.”
Ickx went on to hail the retiring nine-time MotoGP Champion, Valentino Rossi describing him as: “25 years of happiness, enthusiasm, fantasy,” before concluding: “Does fantasy still exist in Formula 1?”