After the announcement that drivers are soon to ask fans to comment on the state of the sport, I find myself compelled to write my feelings, as a long serving lover of F1, to stipulate what I think needs to be considered to bring the sport back to the fans and the right side of the track.
The first issue (and these are not in any particular order) is the phenomenon of money, and how it has changed the ethos of the sport to promote an ethos of disillusionment and mediocrity. I am of course referring to the Pastor Maldonado effect. I have nothing against Pastor at all… if anything he amuses me, but that is at the cost of the safety to himself and of the other drivers. The truth of his situation is this… He has his own finances backing him, which has meant that he has landed an F1 seat, regardless of previous experience or merit. He has bought his way into F1, whilst more talented and proven drivers who do not have those finances, like Paul Diresta and Bruno Senna for example, sit languishing in an alternative line of the sport, instead of at the cutting edge where they belong. Pastor is not the first or only driver to be in this position, as many know, the sport has been setup this way round for some time now… but at what cost? It does not mean that there is no such thing as a great and talented driver who also has the required reservoir of personal finances backing them either… But the fact that the sport is littered with Teams who would struggle to exist without the finances the driver brings, regardless of talent, is a hole in the bucket of F1 and has been now for long enough.
It is fundamentally incorrect in my opinion to promote to the young people of today that those with the most money succeed and those with the most talent get nowhere without money. It is what has soured the sport and spoiled it for the past 10 years at least… people from the outside of the sport looking in scratch their heads as another Lotus flies over the bough of a Ferrari whilst knowing that sat at home somewhere is Paul Diresta… A driver who has no financial backing, but who has more talent in his little toe than Pastor does. That sounds harsh… but Pastor is the perfect example of this issue which highlights it as night and day. The simple fact is… if you have money… you’re in. That is not the right message to send to our youngsters and long-serving F1 fans around the world.
The message has to be about excellence and the promotion of hard-working your way to the top and that hard work and skill combined merit reward. Look at Stuart Bingham in World Snooker… He has served his time and earned his World title, with more public support than most snooker players have enjoyed in years, *because* he has gone out and earned it. That is no accident… it is a fundamental ingredient to successful sport. Allowing “paying drivers” to top trump talented ones who have proved their worth in the lower formulas completely undermines and belittles the very excellence that the sport should be trying to portray. The image should be to the public that F1 is the cream of the crop… the best, racing toe to toe… not the best getting a DNF because Pastor Maldonado took them off at the first corner… again. Who wants to watch a team of 500 people who work at 150% only to be shouted at whilst enabling the 500th member of the team to whizz round a track doing what they are told at 80% of their limit capacity? Not me… but I have done for too long now because I love this sport so much. F1 has been diluted, and now the sport is in how the teams cope with the ridiculous constraints placed upon them, rather than in the excellence with which they perform. Now, the sport is contrived, with Teams being shouted at to produce the goods when they already do, when in reality the winner is not who is the best, but who made the fewest mistakes.
In my opinion it should be against regulations for a driver to be able to financially assist the team that they drive for, in shares or any way whatsoever. Obviously a backing company might simply tell teams to employ a certain driver and that they will buy into that team if they do… but to combat this there should be a requirement that Teams can only approach drivers who have achieved in the sport through the ranks with victories in the previous formulas and other agreed divisions. Again, just another suggestion. At the end of the day whatever method gets decided, the overall message and purpose needs to be the priority… get F1 back to the top of excellence.
The finances in F1 have been an issue for teams for a long time now, and this does need to be tackled as a matter of urgency. I have no magic answers for how to fix this, but the fans want Manor and teams like them on the grid, for the same reason… because of the belief in sport that maybe, just maybe, a Manor Team might just earn their right to a win one day… because they’ve earned it through hard work, not because they got financially lucky. This is why the FA cup is so successful after all… this HAS to be harnessed in my opinion, to pick F1 up from its current Slim-Fast diet, and plonk it on the table as a proper Sunday roast. To achieve it, and to generate that buzz for the fans and to make the sport more accessible, prices for F1 weekends simply HAVE to come down too.
I am a bigger F1 fan than I am of any other sport… I love it more than football, more than snooker, more than rugby… and have followed it for the longest time of all the sports comparatively through my life. My earliest sport memories are of the yellow Jordans racing in the rain and when I was growing up, I wished people would ask which F1 team I supported, rather than beating me up because I didn’t support Manchester Utd. As a fan of F1 the only realistic race I could ever get to would be Silverstone… and that would cost anything from around £177 to £410. To get a good seat I would have to spend more than a month’s rent. That is fucking ridiculous. How can I justify going to something, regardless of how much I LOVE it when it is more than my rent!? I can’t. Judging by the numbers in the stands… Many others can’t either.
Do you want 100 people attending paying £100 each? Or do you want 1000 people paying £25 each. Easy maths.
Moving on I have to pass comment on Bernie Ecclestone’s ridiculous statement regarding the commentators in F1 media “speaking in a complicated way”. I’ve rarely felt so patronised as I did when Bernie made this rather odd statement. Whichever media outlet you choose to watch the F1 on, the lingo and explanations of what is happening are pitched absolutely on point. There is now an interaction between fans and commentators through social media too, meaning that any misunderstandings can be asked anyway so at all times things are kept very clear. I can only imagine the faces of Martin Brundle and David Coulthard when Bernie made this ridiculous statement. I’m sure I speak for the majority when I say, that the media coverage is actually very good on all channels, when they decide to show the F1 in the case of the BBC, but the link between fans and the sport is at an all-time high, and so to suggest that the complicated nature of commentary is alienating audiences is ridiculous… the reverse is true, the commentators from all quarters enable the fans to understand the tactics and deeper levels of the sport in such a way as to always introduce newcomers by revisiting facts that seasoned fans already know and understand all too well. The media do a great job in F1, and my only quibble is that the BBC let the ball drop massively when they underestimated the interest in F1 and find themselves squabbling for the right to show a race, sending a message to fans that the BBC don’t care about F1 enough to give it full coverage throughout the season for every race. I’ve never known a sport where as a fan you actually struggle to find a method of watching the sport I love, and many fans are affected by the availability and the recent development of paying £6.99 for 24hrs of SKY sports on Now TV is at least a big step forward, but even this is a saturation of the corporate nature of the sport… It has to come back to the fans, and currently we have to struggle way too much to be able to watch a race weekend with no interruptions or switching channels and pressing red buttons. It’s a mess, and it’s not because of the lovely commentators.
Another major problem is the inconsistency of F1. How many rule changes and attempts to get the recipe right are we going to witness as fans before we get an excellence based sport that is exciting and fair and maintainable? If football changed its rules as often can you imagine what state the game would be in now? The overall effect of the constant rule changes is what alienates fans. Commentators *have* to explain what is different this time round to last time round, and that is down to the lack of consistency of the rulebook. Safety measures are the only aspect of the rules that should be regularly reviewed… but what the sport needs is a number of years with the same rules being applied… *this* is what will bring F1 back to the fans and allow teams like Manor to have a ten year plan, instead of a two or one year plan. The ability to hard-work your way up the ladder suddenly becomes much more viable if the rules are kept consistent. I would much prefer to see a delay to the start of a season, if it meant that a time-out was made available to spend the time that is needed amongst all teams and management to finalise the rules that will be in force for a set time period *longer* than a year or two. Sustainability can only truly come about if this consistency is applied in my opinion.
As far as the big money goes, there is no easy answer, and Bernie is in a right old pickle, quite rightly. There is a status quo that simply must be broken if costs are going to be brought into the here and now, which is, that it has to be regulated from above, and some people have to accept some loses for the sake of the sport. Customer cars are not the way forward. Fans want to see talent driving the best cars in the world, not the richest people. That will BREAK the sport forever if that is allowed to happen. What must be considered is a period of finishing up of business for the current setup of how things are… but with a firm date that say from 2020, some financial regulations come into effect and that is that. All must obey. Maybe after that then there should simply be a maximum limit on spending per major branch of development. X amount for aerodynamics, X amount for brakes etc. but that if money is saved, much like in the current development points system, teams could earn extra development points in another area for saving resources somewhere else. It’s an idea.
Refuelling. It’s dangerous and expensive. I beg the sport not to do this. I don’t find seeing people engulfed in flames a very nice way of spending a Sunday afternoon, and I’m sure the person being burned doesn’t either. Despite the obvious advantages of smaller fuel reservoirs taking weight and increasing the pace of the car, I honestly believe the speed gains that are hoped for in the new proposals are achievable through different means. Horsepower, aerodynamics and fuel quality (richer mix) and wider tyres might take the cars forward by around 5 or 6 seconds which would be enough in my opinion. If refuelling does reappear then one idea might be to have the fuel tanks exactly half or 2/3rds the current size to ensure one fuel stop is required per race only. Maybe the safety requirements should force that one fuel stop to be a specific fuel stop that takes a longer amount of time to a tyre stop and observes a different pitting procedure which maximises safety. The problem with refuelling before was that the act of putting a flammable substance into a car at high speed is simply not safe when you are in race mode… accidents happen even during tyre stops, and so to not develop the old refuelling system to a modern day equivalent if we really do have to have it back in the sport would be going backwards and someone will end up getting hurt.
Tyres. Pirelli need a competitor to really give the sport a boost. If the cars are going faster, the tyres will be eaten more, and so current tyres will need to be developed anyway. I really do hope that a second and even third tyre company will come into the sport in 2017 and provide some much needed competition to Pirelli. When Bridgestone and Michelin were the suppliers, a whole race could be in the balance depending on which Tyre Company had been utilised by a certain team and that only added to the excitement of the racing back then. I don’t know a single F1 fan who would not love to see this happen to be honest.
In any event the cars need to be quicker and the drivers need the facility to put in 100% physical effort. I don’t believe for a second that Lewis Hamilton has not earned his World Championship and that what it took to achieve that was extremely hard and demanding and it is important not to undermine winning in an F1 car in this day and age, as the current skills needed to win are just a different set of game rules where the outcome happens to have not pushed the driver physically as much as they could have… however I’d be brave enough to stipulate that Lewis himself knows that winning in this day and age is very different to Senna winning in his day… It means there is a hole in the skill set and I believe the current drivers know this and that they would love the opportunity to race “properly” at 100% capacity.
I do not believe that people want to see cars crash. The fear factor as it has been described needs to be treated very carefully. Fear in sport should come from the fear of not completing a race… not a fear of crashing and being injured. It’s because of this that I think the cars need to be a little more robust, so that a single tap to the back of someone’s wheel does not end someone’s race, but allows them to recover, even if they have lost a few places. Maybe this is too hard a thing to achieve, and I don’t know how it could be implemented, but either stronger tyre walls or wings that aren’t as sharp might be a place to start looking.
Right. I’ve made my case and I’m delighted that there is a survey that I can take part in to give my opinions and hopefully help get the sport back to where it needs to be… at the top, being the shining beacon of excellence it ought to be.
To take the survey yourself visit this link and have your own say… hopefully it will make a big difference.