Following what appeared to be an effort to create artificial drama at the Australian Grand Prix, last week I delivered a robust criticism of Formula 1 and its apparent trajectory…
But is it really all that bad in F1-Land?
For balance purposes, I felt it would only be fair to acknowledge some of its recent successes. The grid was as close as it’s ever been in Melbourne, with just over a second separating pole to eleventh place in Qualifying and a second and a half up to nineteenth!
Countries and Companies are apparently queuing up to put on a Grand Prix or put their name on cars. This, together with an ever-extending new fanbase, has been created globally partly because of Netflix’s docudrama Drive to Survive (DTS).
Ferrari wheel cleaner in a tell-all expose
Whilst the brand capital of the drivers has expanded exponentially, the real shift in growth is the fame and interest in the bit part players. People who previously formed the blurred background to the action. Team Principals and even fitness coaches have now become celebrities.
Nobody was interested in Guenther Steiner’s autograph when he first joined Haas. However, following his role in DTS as the disser in Chief of Mick Schumacher, he’s become an F1 ‘face’ that fans now call out his name for a selfie.
No oinks please, we’re F1
None of this would have happened under Bernie’s reign. His approach was old school and very much in line with Brookland’s approach of “the right crowd in the right numbers”. He also kept things behind the scenes where they needed to be, wrapped in an air of mystique that the casual observer couldn’t quite fathom.
You may have been suspicious that there was some puppeteering going on in the background, but it was difficult to discern. Yes, it was elitist, but in many respects, that’s what made it so interesting. Ironically, this closed-door approach is probably one that could prevent F1’s slide into some kind of vanilla, social media-driven platform that is intrinsically no different to anything else.
Living in America
Nevertheless, once F1 was sold to an organisation like Liberty Media, change was inevitable. Let us be clear, I don’t blame Liberty. Their approach is one that has been effective in the past and is working now in pure dollar terms. Companies must generate profits; the sum must exceed the purchased parts. They (Liberty) are doing what they do best, and that’s selling F1 to America and, as many would argue, a younger generation.
If you want to know how this could pan out. At the venue, it’s where the main event becomes equal to the BB-Q in the car park or the big named music star appearing after the racing has finished. For the fans watching it at home, then it’ll be the exceptions in the race; Red Flags, Safety Cars. During the week, it will be the Inster or Twittagram story feeds around non-racing manufactured drama.
The ultimate expression of this strategy is the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment). I have taken the liberty of plagiarising Wikipedia for its description, and I quote: “As in other professional wrestling promotions, WWE shows are not legitimate contests but entertainment-based performance theatre, featuring storyline-driven, scripted, and partially choreographed matches; however, matches often include moves that can put performers at risk of injury, even death, if not performed correctly.”
I’m not suggesting we’re there yet or will ever be. WWE is quite extreme, but for now, F1 appears to be moving away from a sport and closer to the orchestrated entertainment end of the spectrum.
Finite margins, yes
To be clear, I welcome an increase in jeopardy within F1, but I think it’s a mistake and unfair on the individuals involved to make the “referees” the creators of this. Yes, get rid of tyre warmers, and yes, implement budget caps’, particularly with engine components. But at least this way, the drivers still have a contributing factor in the result.
But not standing starts when fifty per cent of the race is complete. That’s just too much of a lottery and open to abuse. Imagine a standing start as we had in Melbourne, and George Russel fires off Max Verstappen to hand Lewis Hamilton the World Championship! I’m not against standing starts. They’re great, but not when there are only three laps to go!
Let’s celebrate our sport’s popularity
Ultimately, F1 is growing in popularity, something we should all celebrate. However, there is a need to consider what made it great in the past and preserve those elements in tandem with expanding its franchise. For me, F1 had its balls cut when its screaming ICEs became PU hairdryers.
I’m sure some people will say I’m an anachronism from a time that’s passed. But hey isn’t that F1 too? In this day and age of electric transportation, isn’t the ICE ultimately going to go the way of the horse? And if so, doesn’t that make Formula E the heir apparent?
The roots and history of F1, together with all forms of motor racing, make it what it is today. It’s easy to criticise, but it’s also easy to forget that when the money is rolling in, you might actually be suffocating the Goose. If this is the case, what do you do if it stops laying?